Providence! Providence? Providence—yes.
There are varying responses to the word. Even more varied responses to the idea. Barely recognition of the doctrine. It seems to most that providence, and the One to Whom it directs us, have been solved by an apparent problem of evil.
In fact, any suggestion of providence to those decided upon this apparent problem only produces cries of ‘evil!’
Today, this apparent problem of evil is simultaneously friend and foe. Friend because it numbs the consciences of many to any thoughts of a Creator. Furthermore, many deem it provides effective debate material as it is used to label any such Creator as wicked! No need to get into all the rigmarole.
However, I also put that this same anti-Creator cry is foe. In a culture possessing no place for suffering, it leaves us devoid of hope.
It seems today, that the problem of evil is perceived as only friend, never foe. Whilst any thought of providence is only foe, never friend.
Is there any comfort to be found in providence? Is there any way to conceive of Creator as friend?
I want to postulate that there is matchless beauty in God’s providence.
A great espouser of providence is John Calvin. I will share some thoughts from his Institutes throughout this post.
How can I suggest that providence is beautiful?
The heart of providence is that God is intimately acquainted with, and in absolute control of, every single detail of each of our lives and all that takes place in the world and universe around us. This is both astonishing and profoundly comforting.
It has long been put forth that God is a Being who is far off from us. Distant. He created the earth, then backed off—allowing the laws of nature to govern all that takes place. Perhaps He created humans, but now He lets us live out our days without any concern at all.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
God is intimately acquainted with all that takes place in His creation, from bringing rain to flourish the land (Job 5:10), to changing the seasons in due time (Daniel 2:21). Not only that, but God, as Creator of humankind, is absolutely interested in, and intimately acquainted with, all of our ways!
Psalm 139 tells us of God’s care for us:
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether…
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me…
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
He even knows the very number of hairs on our heads! (Matthew 10:30).
This is not an aloof Creator busying Himself with more important things. He is intimately involved in every moment of our lives and the very upholding of the universe and earth we inhabit (Hebrews 1:3).
This is not just astonishing, but comforting.
The same God who is intimately acquainted with every single detail of our lives, the One who oversees every component necessary for the universe to function as He intends—He is the One who is in absolute control of everything and anything that happens to us.
Now, herein lies the problem. We think, that’s not very comforting considering the fact that I was abused as a child. That’s not very comforting considering my sibling died in a car accident last week. That’s not very comforting when I contemplate my best friend being shot five years ago. What happened then?
Calvin offers, in the words of Augustine, something profoundly true, yet unimaginably difficult to believe while in the midst of our suffering:
“In a wonderful and ineffable manner nothing is done without God’s will, not even that which is against his will. For it would not be done if he did not permit it; yet he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil.” (Inst. 1.18.3).
If God is good, and truly in control of EVERYTHING, then why does He allow evil?
This is an undeniably real question with which we must wrestle. However, Calvin offers us a profoundly greater truth to find rest in:
“For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills.” (Inst. 1.18.3).
Calvin is not some theoretical idealist theologian sitting in an ivory tower making light of the pain of real people.
You might be surprised to learn that Calvin suffered terribly. His son Jacque died after 22 days. His wife died, while in his care, suffering from dire mental and physical illness. Calvin himself suffered greatly from ill health, enduring extreme cases of gout, kidney stones, pulmonary tuberculosis—causing hemorrhaging in his lungs, constant migraines, and more. In fact during his last days, his health was so troubling that he would be carried, still laying in his own bed, up into his pulpit to preach!
Calvin endured great suffering but never took his eyes off of his God. Nor did he slow down—he continued writing, preaching, and influencing at a rate which would put most ‘healthy people’ to shame. Even more challenging, he praised and trusted God in the very midst of his pain. Delighting in, and teaching of, His providence over every aspect of human life.
He says something even more difficult to swallow:
“For our wisdom ought to be nothing else than to embrace with humble teachableness, and at least without finding fault, whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture.” (Inst. 1.18.4)
‘Ludicrous,’ some may respond, he’s advocating blind faith! On the contrary, Calvin is calling us to trust in the character of God—which we can know.
Calvin knows his God so intimately that because of who his God is, he can abandon any wisdom of his own and consider any suffering he endures, no matter how horrendous, always in light of his God’s character. And that is an eternal comfort.
Calvin isn’t comforted because he understands every detail about why he is suffering. He is comforted because he knows the God who allows the suffering into his life. And He is good. He brings about His own good purposes despite the evil intents of men, and the wickedness of the powers of spiritual darkness. And this is comforting. Eternally.
We too can be comforted in God’s providence. It just means shifting our focus.
Take your eyes off of your suffering.
Fix your gaze upon your Creator.
He loves you. He knows all of your ways. He can bring about incomparable good from even the most horrific evil.
Where will you focus your eyes?