Point one: Have you ever been watching television and heard a word that shocked you? Of course you have! I have heard words through the media that have not only shocked but also embarrassed me a bit. A few nights ago we were with our grandson watching the western channel on cable the 1950s version of the “Lone Ranger.” All of a sudden Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s “Indian sidekick” referred to something as being providential. I was shocked! Providential? You would not hear that word in a new TV series. It isn’t one of those politically correct terms that you hear in the media. It was like President Bush saying the 9/11attack was an evil act performed by evil men. Evil? What is that?
Point two: We have recently gone through an agonizing time with the deadly shootings from the “beltway snipers.” Innocent people were killed in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and possibly, many other places. I have been asked where I see God in those tragic deaths and evil acts. A pastor and wife approach me, forlorn and confused over being asked to leave their church, not knowing why. Then, one of the members our church was soon to give birth only to find the umbilical chord had choked the life out of the infant. Several people asked, “Why did God allow that to happen?” Finally, just last week my two-year-old granddaughter jumped up on our sofa and snuggled up to me shivering and shaking because of a thunderstorm. I tried to explain to her that God was in control and she could trust God to take care of her but at two, I am not sure how comforting that was to her.
We face similar situations everyday and either think to ourselves (or muster up the nerve to ask someone) where is God in all of these things? That’s a legitimate question, and we should not be afraid to ask. That is one way we can grow, and if we are successful in “thinking God’s thoughts after him,” we will grow in those circumstances.
How does this relate to Tonto’s reference to providence? To answer that question we have to define our terms and the first place to begin is not with that word, but with God. We have to begin with God if we want to come to the right conclusion because He is the author of the grand narrative that brings together all the pieces of the puzzles of life. In Him, said the Apostle Paul, all things cohere or hang together (Col. 1:17). If we believe the Bible to be God’s word of truth then we have a framework whereby we can struggle with some of life’s deep, perplexing, and frustrating happenings.
In order to understand providence, we have to relate it to God-specifically God as the creator of all things. If God is not the creator, truth is up for grabs and one explanation is as good as another. That’s why we have heard repeatedly that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are the key to the entire metanarrative of the Gospel. What God teaches us there establishes the framework to know Him and something about how he relates to his creation.
You cannot stop with the first chapter of Genesis, as important as it is. There have been people through the centuries who have done that and ended with a distorted view of God. You’ve heard of the Deists. They believe that God created the world then retreated to let things run their course, like people used to do with clocks and watches. They would wind them up and let them run on their own momentum, until they finally ran down. Deists believe that there is a creator God but He has no ongoing relationship with His creation. Events are not connected with God because they are all up to man and his free will. Of course, there are those who deny the existence of God hence God as creator, but that’s another part of the story for another time.
If you read the opening article by Marvin Padgett, you’ll discover another group of people who believe God is the creator and has an ongoing relationship with His creation. They believe that the way creation plays out really depends on man’s libertarian free will. In other words, God has no predetermined control over what happens, hence the only way to deal with tragic events is not to relate their happening to God but rather to trust him to come to the rescue and pick up the pieces. R. C. Sproul’s book, When Worlds Collide, reviewed in this issue, deals very effectively with the biblical teaching that nothing happens by chance or happenstance. God makes, sustains, and governs all things by the power of His word. This means everything that happens somehow relates to God’s grand story. There is no “blind chance” or “lady luck” or “Mother Nature.” Those terms are not in line with the Bible.
God the creator is also the God of providence. This means that He sovereignly controls all things that come to pass, not that He is simply aware them, but he is the final and ultimate cause of all things that happen. What about evil, wickedness, senseless events such as 9/11, the beltway snipers or the death of that little infant? We must know and not apologize that the Bible teaches that God is in control of and is the cause of all things that happen, except evil. Do we understand that? Can we explain it with any rational satisfaction? Probably not! We cannot understand those things but if we think God’s thoughts after Him, we have to know that both good and evil, light and darkness are part of His will. John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that a person is pathetic if he believes that he is at the mercy of unpredictable events.
When we understand that all things that happen do so according to God’s will, we will be positioned to see God’s involvement in His creation. God’s will has different aspects, a secret will and a revealed will. We have to breathe a sigh of relief that the Bible teaches that. That means that some things that God wills we can understand because He reveals them to us by His graciousness. It also means there are some things, like my explanation to my little granddaughter, we cannot understand and may never understand. Whether or not we understand the things that happen listed above doesn’t really matter. What matters is that God understands them fully and tells us that they are not random, chance, irrational events. Paul says that “we see through a glass darkly”, at this present time, but one day “we will understand fully even as we have been understood” (I Corinthians 13).
God is not in the dark regarding the future, and things do not have to happen before he knows them. They happen because He ordained them and one day He may allow us to understand what is presently a mystery to us. Some open theists actually believe that God does not always get what He wants hence; there are no guarantees for us in the things that happen. Thank God that His Word teaches differently. Sproul rightly says that 9/11 happened within the will of God, but can we explain how? Probably not, but that does not negate the truth.
God is not absent in the everyday events of life. His hand is implementing His will in all things that occur. I can be comforted and offer that same comfort to anyone willing to operate his or her life based on God’s framework of understanding and experiencing life. He is not far off or standing in the shadows, watching. I can be comforted as long as I think about God as He reveals Himself by His Word and Spirit. As I do that, I will never be without hope in this life.
In case you are asked, as I have been, is anyone in charge? I can say with full certainty that God is controlling all things that take place: therefore, I can trust Him to do what is right. That truth is not the least bit dependent on any rational explanation. Am I a fideist saying that I merely have simple faith with no rhyme or reason to work with? No, I am a Christian theist who believes the testimony of God’s revelation in the Bible. I believe that all the events of reality fit into God’s grand story. I know along with the Apostle Paul several wonderful truths, “If God be for you, who can be against you?” “God will work all things together for good to them who love Him…” “He that has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.”