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The Providence of God | Theology Matters

  • November 2009 Issue
Practical Theology

The biblical doctrine of providence teaches that the God who created all things continues to be involved with His creation. God exercises His control over the animate and inanimate world and has established the “laws” that govern nature (Job 38:4–12). He supplies food for His creatures and cares for unbelievers as well as believers (Ps. 104:14; Matt. 5:45; 6:26). Indeed, adverse circumstances are not necessarily an indication of God’s displeasure. Although Jesus was the beloved Son in whom the Father was “well pleased,” the Savior had “no place to lay his head” (Matt. 3:17; 8:20). He was despised by His own people and abandoned by His friends.

This underscores the most mysterious aspect of divine providence. Through providence God orders all human affairs. While men and women exercise their own volition and make “free” choices, God incorporates their actions into His greater purposes. He does this with the great affairs of nations as well as with the small concerns of the individual. Even actions that seem to work against God’s purposes are included in divine providence. In fact, God does not sin, nor does He entice anyone to sin (James 1:13–17). Yet He uses what is meant for evil for His own good purposes (Gen. 50:20). 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that Christians should believe that their circumstances “are running in a direct line” toward the accomplishment of God’s promises, even when things seem to go contrary to them. God is using these unlikely circumstances to fulfill His purposes “though we cannot see it at the time.” 

Nowhere is this more evident than in the death of Christ. Those who crucified the Savior “with the help of wicked men” acted according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Though they acted on their own volition and were accountable for their sinful choices, they did what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27–28). 

It is the doctrine of providence that enables us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). When we do so, we are not saying that we are pleased with all that happens to us. Nor does our thanksgiving imply that everything that happens to us is good. We give thanks because we know that through His providence, “God works for the good of those who love him” in all that happens (Rom. 8:28).


To learn more about biblical doctrine of providence, read The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (Banner of Truth).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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