Summary: God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.
On December 4, 1929, a baby boy was born to a working-class couple who lived in a hovel of a home in Tyler, Texas. The infant was born with several deformities—his eyes were crossed, he was completely deaf in his right ear, and his breastbone and spine were deformed. To top things off, he was born left-handed in a right-handed world. It was, as he himself terms it, “an unpromising beginning.”
This lowly baby’s name was Jerry Bridges, and he would grow up to serve our country in the navy, to serve the Lord effectively in ministry, and to author several bestselling books, including The Pursuit of Holiness. This book alone has sold millions of copies and has impacted countless lives for the Lord. In his recent autobiography, God Took Me By the Hand, Dr. Bridges writes:
"Amazing, isn’t it, that the infinite God who created the entire universe merely by His spoken word would condescend to intervene in the life of a cross-eyed, half-deaf young man and literally open up to him a future he could never have dreamed of. But this is the way God often works. He sometimes chooses the weak and lowly to accomplish His purposes so that He may be glorified in their weakness (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-29).” (Chapter 5)
Dr. Bridges shapes his autobiography around a thoroughly biblical theme that theologians call providence, and he uses events from throughout his eight-plus decades of life to illustrate this concept. The providence of God is a topic that relates to every second of every day for each of us, whether we recognize it or not. Such a life-pervading reality deserves our attention and understanding.
1. Providence Defined
Definition: God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.
Let us parse the above definition of providence:
a. Note the absolute terms: constant care, absolute rule, all creation (Lamentation 3:37-38). God’s providence influences every detail of the universe—even the ordinary details of our lives.
b. Note also the two major divisions of God’s providence:
i. His care for His creation (Matthew 10:29).
c. And God accomplishes His glory and His people’s good at the same time (Romans 8:28-30). Despite the way things may seem to us, there is no conflict between God’s will and the best interests of those who love Him.
Clarification: A miracle is God’s contravention of natural law (for example, the immaculate conception and virgin birth, Luke 1:30-37). In contrast, God’s providence is His orchestration of normal human and natural events to bring about His will (for example, the events that determined Bethlehem as Christ’s birthplace, Luke 2:1-7). Both miracles and providence involve God’s wise, loving intervention in earthly events, and He can use either at any time to accomplish His will.
2. Providence Demonstrated
The story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) shows how God’s sovereign, intimate rule includes perfect orchestration of...
• Joseph’s circumstances.
• Joseph’s choices and actions.
• The choices and actions of Joseph’s hateful brothers.
• The choices and actions of foreigners (the Midianite traders).
• The attitudes of authorities toward Joseph.
• The malicious actions of Potiphar’s wife.
• Joseph’s understanding of dreams.
• Joseph’s wisdom regarding preparation for famine.
• The interactions of Joseph and his brothers.
• Jacob’s decision to go to Egypt.
God made sure that the coordination of all of these circumstances and human decisions would set the stage for the birth of the nation of Israel (Exodus 1-15), and through it salvation for all peoples (Genesis 12:1-3).
3. Providence and Human Will
c. Both of these apparently contradictory realities are taught by God’s Word, so we believe them both (just as we believe that God is both one and three). By some means beyond our understanding, God integrates our free choices into His providential plan (Proverbs 21:1; Ezra 1:1; 2 Corinthians 8:16). He even weaves our sins and mistakes into His plan (Genesis 50:20), although God is never responsible for sin or temptation (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5).