The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.(Psalm 103:19)
In order to profitably investigate the nature of God’s providence we must first come to terms with His sovereignty. Sovereignty as related to God implies that His decisions and consequent actions are in no way limited by us. That is not to say that God is prevented from freely choosing to take into account our opinions and actions, as He is shown to have done at various points in Scripture. The point to understand is that God is utterly unconstrained by anything external; that His acts are directed only by His own nature.
But God’s sovereignty also relates to us, His creation. If God is indeed sovereign, then it is we who must submit to Him. If God is sovereign, then it is we who are judged by Him, not Him by us.
If God is sovereign (and He is), then were we to discover that His counsels are in deviation from our own, it is we who must give way. For, in a disagreement between humans and God, there is no possibility that we will prevail. We can opine and complain to our heart’s content, but God will continue unaltered.
Which brings us to the issue of God’s providence. The Westminster Catechism provides the following definition:
Q 18. 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; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.
On the one hand, God’s providence is comforting; for it gives assurance that we are not abandoned to the cruel fates of chaos and meaninglessness. On the other hand, the idea is deeply disquieting, for it implies ultimate limitation on our own free wills.
We bridle at the thought that we are not in control. Thus, the issue of God’s providence has caused great controversy. This issue will be in the background as we consider Abraham and Sarah’s lives, the creation of Christ’s church and the transformation from Saul to the Apostle Paul. We will take it up directly as we meditate on the mystery of God’s providence.
Deep and impenetrable is this mystery. For God’s providence is exerted within the chaos and complexity of human acts. Its driving power on events is masked by the noise of our own wills. In the end, it is a matter of trust – trust in God’s love and justice.
As we travel this road together, let’s keep these words of Saint Augustine in mind.
Manifestly these things are ruled and governed by the one God according as He pleases; and if His motives are hid, are they therefore unjust?