Recently I was checking through the feed of blogs I follow and came across a timely post from a well-known blogging team on the doctrine of providence. Timely because I recently experienced an accident through which I was able to observe the providence of God (more on that in another post). This particular blog post began with the following statement: “Reading providence is a fool’s game, yet it never lacks players.” God’s providence can simply be defined as the manner in which the Sovereign Lord cares and provides for, governs, and orders His creation. The blog author continues:
“Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God’s personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.”
Keep in mind the context of this particular post was supposed to be the doctrine of providence and it’s thesis statement was that “reading providence is a fool’s game”. After another statement describing how “feelings” of individuals cannot adequately describe one’s relationship or closeness to God when encountering a certain experience, the post then proceeds to reference the account of Jesus walking on the water from Mark 6:46-50. The following observation is made from this passage, “It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant. Read God’s stance towards you, and discern God’s will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.”
Up to this point in the post, I’m not sure if they’re trying to discourage the observation of God’s providence or the elevation of Christian experience above Scripture, but the author makes the following conclusion:
“Is the Lord “in the storm”? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39 [“Hush! Be still!”]).
But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God’s love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life’s storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).”
Finally, the post is concluded with the following summation:
“Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the “afterwards,” the “later” — as in “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).”
At this point, I’ve asked myself if the blog quoted extensively above is meant to be a polemic against observing God’s providence or if it is an argument for the sufficiency of scripture over against the elevation of experience above God’s written word. The two issues seemed to be blended and confused, quite frankly leading to misunderstanding the Christian life. If their argument is the latter case, then I can fully agree; if the former then I must object on the basis of Scripture.
Let me first point out that the post with which I’m interacting provides no scriptural proof against observing God’s providence in the Christian life, but would seem to agree to its potential by stating its occurrence “after the fact”, if at all. I’d like to provide 3 passages affirming the practice of observing God’s providence in the life of believers.
- Matthew 6:25-34 “25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
With a simple study of this passage we can glean several details on the Providence of God. In the context of the Sermon of the Mount, this particular passage is an exhortation against the sin of anxiety. The first detail is in verse 26, “Look at the birds”. Here Jesus is encouraging His hearers (and us) to observe the providence of God over the rest of His creation, in this case the birds. Note how anxiety is combated with the observation of God’s providence. Jesus then connects this example of observing the providence of God in operation with the birds to the lives of His followers, “Are you not of more value than they?” It’s important not to miss the progression of His argument here A) Observe the Providence of God in the life of birds B) God cares for His people more C) God will be providential in providing for them.
Secondly, we Jesus turning from anxiety over food to anxiety over clothing by drawing observation to flowers, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Here, Jesus directs our attention to the work of God’s providence in clothing the lillies and connects this to unecessary anxiety over the provision of clothing.
2. Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
In our second example concerning the ongoing activity of God’s providence, we arrive at a well-known passage in which Christ informs us that it is He who will build His church. This verse is the response to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, concluding that upon it and Peter, as a representative of the apostles, He would build His Church. Our focus is upon the surety that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” How can Jesus make a guarantee like this if God is not actively providential in both the building and the defense of His church? Likewise, what comfort can His church take when they are faced with persecution, slander, tribulation, and suffering for the sake of the Gospel if they cannot look with confidence to this promise from Christ? Therefore, it is with great assurance that we can observe the providence of God in the life of His church as He executes His mission to build His church.
3. Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Finally, we come to one of the great providential and assuring passages for the Christian life; one which was actually referenced in the blog post quoted above. We see here that “those who love God” can rest assured that “all things work together for good”. The implication here is not a generic good, but for the good of the believer who loves God and has been “called according to [H]is purpose.” This means that in the life of the believer, he/she can look to the circumstances which they face, be it death of a loved-one, terminal disease, financial woes, or whatever may come and take great comfort in knowing that God, the providential, sovereign Lord of His creation, is working all things together for good…and for their good too, which ultimately is to make them more conformed to the image of Christ. It therefore is a great assurance for the believer, regardless of the circumstance, to observe God’s providence working in their life.
In the blog post referenced above the author stated that “Reading providence is a fool’s game”, while I remain uncertain whether that particular post is a polemic against feelings, impressions or “casting lots” and leaving the choice up to God or if it is argument against observing the providence of God in the believer’s life. But it is clear in the passages above that we see the Word of God pointing straight toward the providence of God as a comfort to the anxious soul, strength for the church, and a balm for the weary Christian. Meditating on God’s providence is far from foolish, it’s a necessity. In closing, three thoughts on neglecting the duty of mediating on God’s providence, by Puritan John Flavel, author of The Mystery of Providence:
1. Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them.
2. Without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others.
3. It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what He manifests of Himself in His providences.