Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.
“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Ps 145:17)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matt 10:29)
“…Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:27-28)
“And [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17)
We learned that God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence. Now we turn to God’s works of providence.
“Providence,” simply put, means God provides. As the answer to this catechism teaches us, the character of God’s works of providence is neither neutral nor left for us to guess. All that God does to provide for us is holy, wise, and powerful. It can only be so. A holy, wise, and a powerful God leaves no other imprints of himself. Thus everything God does has a character of holiness, wisdom, and power.
God’s works of providence take two forms of expression. First, he preserves all that he has created. Nothing in this world has an inherent ability to exist. At every moment all things in this world are completely dependent upon God’s will to exist. Let’s stop and wonder for a moment how God maintains the order of this world by upholding the so-called the laws of nature. Of course, we have a tendency to think that the laws of nature are somehow independent of God, that it just keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny. It isn’t so. For example, the laws of gravity, time, quantum mechanics, the changing of seasons, biological imperatives, and etc. are all mechanisms both designed and sustained by God. These things cannot exist apart from God’s will, who through them kindly grants us life and stability. Life, because without these things mentioned above, life as we know it would not exist. If God does not will to sustain the bonds between the hydrogen atoms in our body, if he does not sustain plant photosynthesis, we simply could not exist. And stability, because without an orderly unfolding of events and the predictable cascading of cause and effect, living will be unbearable. Can you imagine if one day the sun rises but the next day it doesn’t? What if water freezes one day at 0 ℃ and the next day at 37 ℃? These (and, of course, many other things) should cause us to acknowledge the goodness of our God’s providence.
God’s works of providence also takes the form of his governing all his creatures, and all their actions. Every so often people without sense teach that God has no control over the future. Thus some people have believed that God is “open to the future.” They mean by that God cannot know what the future will bring. God takes risks, they say, and it is the only way he can be sympathetic toward us. He, they say, knows our pain because he himself experiences pain and frustration. Another version of this nonsense says God chooses not to know in a certain and sure way what the future will bring because he so respects the free choice of men and women. He could, but chooses not to, know the future. He just makes (pretty good) guesses.
Whether God is incapable (the first view, which most recently went under the title “openness theology”) or unwilling to know the future (your garden variety Pelagianism/Arminianism), it should be clear that they are both thoughts unworthy of our great God. They both fly squarely against the Bible’s clear teaching that God governs all his creatures and their actions from beginning to end. Thus Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egypt, but God sent him into Egypt (Gen 45:5). Thus Judas’ betrayal of our Lord was surely according to his own greed, but at the same time according to the Scripture (Acts 1:16). God leaves nothing to chances. His purpose will not be thwarted. Instead, in a most complete and sovereign way, he ordains everything from the beginning to the end, and he brings them to pass.
This includes not only the good and pleasant things, but also things that are not. In a mysterious, but in holy, wise, and powerful ways, God governs all his creatures and their actions. Creatures, and even sinful creatures, act according to their own desires without any external compulsion. Thus they are morally responsible for what they do. But at the same time, God governs all their actions so that not one thing happens apart from his pleasure. And yet all that God does is holy and wise, and so we do not blame God for human sins.
Yes, this is an involved subject. But we have to be on guard to avoid the two extremes, either falling into the trap of thinking man has no responsibility if God sovereignly works out his purpose, and also avoiding the trap that God has no sovereignty if man is to be morally responsible. At this point we must acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s word, though we do not understand it fully, and praise and thank the One that we know to be holy, wise, and powerful. Or we have not learned anything from the son of God hanging on the cross.
DV - Lord willing - we will consider the two particular contexts in which God carries out his works of providence in the coming weeks. We will first see how God provides for his Church, governing over things from creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Second, we will also see how God governs our individual lives through his law given to us and through prayer we offer up to God.