A Remedy for a Poor Reading of God’s Providence

Mar 9, 2023 | Articles, by Guest Writers, Marrow Ministries Free Content

Providence Explained

God’s providence can bring sweet comfort and consolation to Christ’s church, yet, we are often poor readers of it. When we read God’s providence poorly, we turn this sweet doctrine of comfort into a place where our pride and unbelief are exposed, or it demonstrates a faulty perspective. Before I further elucidate the problem, there must be a clear grasp of what God’s providence is.

The doctrine of providence is beautifully summarized in chapter five of the 1689 London Baptist Confession and packaged in bitesize theology in question fourteen of the Baptist Catechism which reads, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer given is, “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”[1]

The LORD who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10), also directs, preserves, and upholds every minute detail of His creation. From the feeding of a small sparrow (Matthew 6:26; 10:29) to the boundaries of the sea (Psalm 74:17, Job 38:8).[2] God providentially cares for His entire creation. A single leaf does not fall nor does a grain of wheat come forth apart from God’s providential hand.

All of this God does in accordance with his wise and holy character (Psalm 145:17; 104:24; Isaiah 28:29). Our God is a good creator. He is neither morally indifferent to the details of His creation nor capricious in His providential care. He is neither fatalistic nor forgetful. He is the ever-present gardener that tends and cares for His creation and redeemed people for His glory and their good. All things fall under God’s work of providence which displays His Fatherly hand.

A Poor Reading Explored

A poor reading of God’s providence is nothing new to the people of God. Job’s friends proved to be miserable comforts. They slung all sorts of theological truths in Job’s face in order to answer the “why” question concerning Job’s suffering. Job’s friends assumed that suffering was always a result of sin,[3] but we know from the early chapters of the book why Job is suffering (Job 1-2). Job’s friends were terrible theologians, and coincidently, terrible readers of God’s providence.

Then, there is the example of Christ’s disciples in John 9 when Jesus and the disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples’ immediate question is, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?’[4] Jesus corrects their poor theology, which was exposed in their poor question, telling them that the man was born blind so that the work of God might be made known to the blind man (John 9:1-3).[5] In other words, this man’s suffering was so that he would see the Light of the world.

We cannot always read God's providence rightly, but we can always trust God's providence, and perhaps, this is the very point. Click To Tweet

Sin

There are several reasons why we are poor readers of God’s providence. First, we, like Job’s friends and Christ’s disciples assume our suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure and judgment. We are surprised by suffering, and immediately ask why the suffering has come. Further, we are full of pride. We see God’s providence as an “untimely interference” in our plans. Third, we simply do not believe that God is good in all that he does toward us. We despair over the “good” that we believe he has withheld from us. We become bitter and depressed when the LORD gives to others what we have prayed about for so long or when there does not seem to be an end in sight to our suffering.

Finitude

Not only do we poorly read God’s providence because of sin, but we also read it poorly because of our finitude. We are creatures that are limited in knowledge, power, and wisdom. But God is not a creature. His ways are higher than ours, and this is why Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that trust in God is the opposite of leaning on our own understanding.

A Proper Remedy

How do we fix this poor reading of providence and apply this sweet doctrine to our souls? First, we must remember the God of providence. We as creatures will not always comprehend the reason or the “why” of God’s providence, but we can find rest in the good God of providence. He knows our frame; he knows our weaknesses; he cares for us as a compassionate father (Psalm 103:14-19). Take comfort in your soul in the midst of difficult circumstances in life. Remind your soul to hope in God for He is your refuge and help in times of trouble. He is a safe stronghold that will preserve your life (Psalm 46).

Second, we must reframe our perspective on suffering. This is not to make light of real and terrible suffering in this sin cursed world, but it is to come to a place where we rejoice in suffering because we know in our weakness, God’s power is displayed (2 Corinthians 11:30-12:10). In our suffering, God is refining us, and all that comes from the Father’s hand to His children is for their good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Again we do not have to understand the why of the suffering, but we can delight in the work God is doing in the suffering.

Third, we cannot lean on our own understanding. God is working in what we cannot see in ways that we often cannot comprehend for His glory and our good. So will we entrust our lives to God’s providential care and lean not on our own understanding? Will we submit to the one who holds and perseveres all things in His hands? Who else can better care for our life and soul?

We cannot always read God’s providence rightly, but we can always trust God’s providence, and perhaps, this is the very point. We would do well, in the midst of difficult seasons of life or disappointments not to immediately ask the LORD why, but rather to ask ourselves, “Will we believe that God is good, He is at work, and He is caring for me?”

Herman Bavinck succinctly explains the sure and full confidence that the Christian can have in God’s providence:

In this case faith in God’s providence is no illusion, but secure and certain; it rests on the revelation of God in Christ and carries within it the conviction that nature is subordinate and serviceable to grace, and world [is likewise subject] to the kingdom of God. Thus through all its tears and suffering, it looks forward with joy to the future. Although the riddles are not resolved, faith in God’s fatherly hand always again arises from the depth and even enables us to boast in afflictions.[6]

Even in the midst of suffering, the Christian can stand confidentially in God’s providential care because he knows who has authored the story, who is moving the story along, and who will ensure it reaches its final divine conclusion. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 28 asks, “What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still uphold them by his providence? The answer is, “We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand.” 


[1] Pillars of Truth for Baptist Churches: Second London Confession of Faith, Baptist Catechism, and An Orthodox Catechism (Knightstown, IN.: Particular Baptist Heritage Books, 2022), 84.

[2] The LORD in his answer to Job, in Job 38:1-40:2, exposes the lack of Job’s wisdom by reminding Job that God is the sovereign Creator and providential sustainer of all things.

[3] While a large portion of the book is an ongoing conversation between Job and his three friends, chapter 8 demonstrates well this assumption of Job’s friends.

[4] This is my abbreviated version of their question.

[5] See also Luke 13:1-4 for another example of a poor reading of providence. Jesus rebuked the crowd near the end of Luke 12 for being able to discern the weather but not the time that was hand, and now, in chapter thirteen Jesus rebukes them for assuming that those Galileans who died by the tower were worse sinners since they suffered in that way.

[6] Herman Bavinck, Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (Grand Rapids.: Baker, 2003), 2:594-595.

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