The doctrine of the providence of God has always proven to be a great source of peace and comfort to the believer in Christ. Sad to say, providence is a word that has largely fallen out of use among many in the church today. Worse yet, a right understanding and affirmation of the doctrine itself in some ways seems even more scarce.
What is providence? The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:
“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.”
God not only created all things from nothing in the beginning (Genesis chapter 1), but He also preserves or sustains all things as well. As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, Christ Himself “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV) But more than that, the Lord governs or rules over all things as well, including not just “all his creatures” (i.e. everything that God has made), but also “all their actions” as well.
In other words, God’s providence is all-encompassing.
And this truth should be of great comfort to every believer in Christ. John Calvin writes,
“[I]f the light of God’s providence shines in the believers’s heart, not only will he be free of the fear and anguish which afflicted him before, he will also be relieved of every doubt. For as we have a justified fear of fate, so we are rightly bold to entrust ourselves to God. We are thus wonderfully comforted to know that the Lord so holds all things in his power, rules by his will and controls by his wisdom, that nothing can occur except as he has ordained it; and moreover that he has taken us under his protection and has given his angels charge over us [Psalm 91:11], so that neither flood nor fire nor sword nor anything else can hurt us unless his will determines otherwise.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1541 Edition, p.511)
“Where does the believer get this assurance that can never be taken from him, except from the knowledge that, while the world seems completely topsy-turvy, God is actively guiding him, and from his hope that all God’s works will prove salutary to him?” (Ibid)
Our Lord Jesus Himself taught the truth of providence in order that His disciples might not fear. In Matthew 10:29–31 He says,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (ESV)
“Fear not.” That is the lesson and the comfort of God’s providence to the believer. Providence means that trouble and affliction may indeed come, but God will make all things work together for our good, even for our salvation (Romans 8:28-29)!
Calvin goes on to say:
“I would say that the greatest misery which can befall a man is to know nothing of God’s providence, and conversely that it is an exceptional blessing for him to know it well.” (p.512)
May every believer in Christ make it their aim to know the “exceptional blessing” of knowing God’s providence well, that in time of trial or affliction he or she may say with the Psalmist:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”” (Psalm 91:1–2, ESV)