The Scripture describes God as working providentially in specific ways. These ways seem to reflect his orderliness, in contrast to the mythological gods, who generally act impulsively, selfishly, and even without regard to the consequences of their actions.
God is committed to maintaining what he has created, in an orderly state, even in its brokenness. When we create systems, we aim for simplicity; the more complicated something is, the more critical points of failure there are, and the more likely they are to grind to a halt. God has created the most complex physical thing imaginable—the universe—and even though we have broken it, it continues to run with remarkable smoothness.
After the most violent upheaval in history—the Flood—God says to Noah,
While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease (Ge 8.22).
For all its brokenness, it runs like a clock, and the sun will indeed come up tomorrow. He has kept that promise.
Providing for Creation
The Psalmist describes the sea’s creatures as waiting on the Lord for their food:
25 There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. 26 There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. 27 They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. 28 You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good (Ps 104.25-28).
Now, we know that animals think constantly about what they’re going to eat next. I suspect that the Psalmist is describing not so much the psychological processes of fish as the simple fact that God provides what they will eat. All earth’s creatures, in all its varied biomes, are provided for, often in remarkable ways. (Check out the anglerfish sometime.) And again, this despite that fact that we have broken what he has created.
Directing Natural Events
God most famously sent a three-year drought at the request of the prophet Elijah (1K 17.1-2; Jam 5.17-18), and there are references to other actions as well (2K 8.1; Is 50.2-3). One prophet describes God as having his “way in the whirlwind and in the storm” (Na 1.3), and Jesus demonstrates that fact for his disciples directly (Mk 4.35-41).
Directing Historical Events
Paul tells the Athenians that God has determined where peoples shall live as well as when they shall come into existence and when they shall disappear (Ac 17.26-27). I grew up in Washington State, where the state’s political and social culture is directed by its topography: the Cascade Mountains cause lots of rainfall in the west, and the resulting rainshadow makes the east a desert. Today western Washington is reliably liberal Democrat, and the irrigating dirt farmers in the east are reliably conservative Republican. And never the twain shall meet. 🙂
Of course, God also directs in more, um, direct ways. He sets up kings and takes them down again (Da 2.21), and he works in innumerable other ways to direct the outcomes of history.
Directing Personal Events
David tells us that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD” (Ps 37.23), and his wiser son notes that “a man’s heart devises his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Pr 16.9). We see God’s providential direction of human choices and outcomes throughout the Scripture, and we see it in our own lives as well. I’ve recounted one personal example here.
There’s much to learn from all this. We learn that God is involved; in theological terms, he’s immanent as well as transcendent. And that means that he cares—something that opens up the possibility of personal relationship, and a positive one at that. It also begets confidence that God will direct our own lives in love and grace, and also in power—his will in fact will be done in us. That’s a liberating thought.
I think we’d benefit from some specific examples of God’s providential working. The next few posts will dip into that.