Pastor Cosand: January 2019
THE MYSTERY OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
God's holy governing of all things
We love to quote Romans 8:28, especially when we are in trouble or in pain. Some manuscripts read "For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God" and other manuscripts read "For we know that God causes all things to work together for good . . . ." In either case, the idea is the same. The promise is that for believers, every event in life is part of a divine plan which ultimately results in that which is good. But it is one thing to say with our heads that this is true and quite another thing to respond deep in our hearts to rest in its truth.
God rules in His universe by His providence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines God's providence as "His holy, wise, powerful activity by which He preserves and governs every creature and every action." That does not mean that human beings are like machines responding as if they are somehow programmed. The great mystery of providence is that while still allowing the liberty of choice, God governs the outcome of 'every action' so that His holy designs are all brought to their appointed ends. There are many statements in the Bible declaring God's sovereign rule:
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens;
And His kingdom rules over all. Psa 103:19
[God] works all things after the counsel of His will. Eph 1:11
. . . the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will. Dan 4:25
. . . not one of them [sparrows] will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Mt 10:29
But our God is in the heavens;
He does all that He pleases. Psa 115:3
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Prov 16:9
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Prov 19:21
God's providential rule even governs the outcome of sinful acts, as in the case of the treachery of Joseph's brothers or Judas' betrayal of Jesus. "The wishes of sin are the wishes of man. Man is guilty; man is to be blamed. But the all-wise God prevents those wishes from producing actions indiscriminately. He compels those wishes to take a certain Divinely narrowed course. The floods of iniquity are from the hearts of men, but they are not allowed to cover the land. They are shut up to the channels of God’s sovereign appointment and men, unwittingly, are held in bounds, so that not one iota of God’s purpose shall fail. He brings the floods of the ungodly into the channel of His providence to turn the mill of His purpose" (Percy Heward in Definitions of Doctrine, by Claude Cole, 157).
The question often is 'Why does He allow, and within His design, pain and sorrow?' Though the Bible does not answer every question regarding this that we might have, there are some answers given in the Scriptures.
God brings painful experiences … to do a greater thing later, like in the life of Joseph (Gen 50:20); to bring salvation to someone, like through Paul's blindness (Acts 9:1-19); to bring repentance over some sin, like in Miriam's leprosy (Num 12:9-15); to produce an opportunity for the gospel to be preached, like in Paul's imprisonment (Phil 1:12,13); to bring honor to His own name, like in Peter's death (probably a crucifixion - Jn 21:18,19).
Every event in our lives has purpose in His providence and the purpose is always good, though not always pleasant nor comfortable. If through sorrow or pain God is disciplining us or teaching us as His children, that is a good thing. If He is bringing honor to His name by some heartache in our lives, like in the case of Job, that is a good thing. We are the children of a Father who governs everything, and that means that everything that comes to our lives comes to us out of His love for us … everything. We must come to trust that in a fallen world, God knows best how to govern all things for His wise and holy purposes. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), the great English pastor, summed up this point well: "Had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you find yourself, divine love would have placed you there."
Trusting God's holy hand,