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The Mystery of Providence: Unseen, Never Unnoticed

‘And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.’

- Romans 8:28 -

 

I dreamed I was writing at an exceptionally messy desk. The room had narrow slits for windows. A little yellow daylight poured in. Roman-style pillars adorned the place and candles burned in bronze sconces as a mob grumbled outside. In front of the desk was a strong wooden door that I knew was locked from outside the way you know things in dreams. My setting was ancient, but when I looked down, I was typing on a laptop and not parchment. Thoughts were coming rapid-fire, like I was racing to finish an article before a buzzer went and the game was over.


Just then, the wood door swung open and a Roman guard strode in. My fingers quickly hit keys, writing: “Jesus went to the cross knowing no priest or prefect had authority to order His death. God alone ordained His sacrifice for sin.” As I hit the final key, the guard unrolled a scroll and angrily slammed my laptop shut. I looked up and met his angry eyes. I shuddered where I sat, lost for words. I knew what was coming, the way you do in dreams. I was about to be led outside to the angry mob and crucified for my faith.

 

And then … I woke up.

 

It turned out my son was having a nightmare in the room across the hall. Ninety-nine nights out of a hundred, the little lad sleeps like a log. But when Elliott started crying that night, my wife (wiped from feeding our newborn) nudged me away and asked if I’d help the boy. I can’t tell you how relieved I was (even as a tired dad) to be woken up instead of being nailed to a cross and left to roast in the Roman sun. All I thought was: “What are the odds?”



I leapt out of bed, grabbed a sweater, and crept past the bassinet where little Molly was sleeping. I quickly opened Elliott’s door, tiptoed in, and fixed my little buddy’s blankets. I patted his back and his crying stopped. As he quickly calmed down, I whispered that the bad dream was over. His and mine both.


“It’s all better now, buddy,” I said. “The nasty old nightmare is gone. God’s watching over you.”

 

“God’s here, daddy?” Elliott sniffled; his pillow wet with tears.

 

“Um-hmm,” I yawned. “God’s right here with you.”

 

“OK daddy,” he yawned too. “Goodnight daddy.” And that was that. Back to dreamland.

 

I snuck out, mindful of Molly’s bassinet as I crept back to bed. I thanked God that I’d woken up when I did. Lying there listening to the ceiling fan, a deep peace washed over me. Not only had I escaped an awful dream, but I remembered how I’d felt entirely ready to die for Christ. I listened to Elliott’s monitor, just in case he woke back up, and quietly basked in ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension’ (Phil. 4:7). I was bowled over by such powerful providence. What were the odds of Elliott waking me up in the nick of time like that? I thought and prayed and thought some more. Then I fell back to sleep too. When morning came, I knew what my next article would be about.


 

Providence describes God’s ceaseless involvement in creation. It concerns His governing of the greatest to the least of things, mysteriously ordering life to accomplish His glorious goals. If that feels like a mouthful, Paul puts it more concisely: God ‘works all things according to the counsel of His will’ (Eph. 1:11). Trust Scripture to keep it short, sweet, and certain. As Christians, we worship the God of ‘all things.’ The God who knows and controls ‘all things.’ As R.C. Sproul said: “There are no maverick molecules in creation.” And yet, the wonder of providence is that ‘all things’ work toward God’s ends by seemingly ordinary means. This explains why Paul erupts in praise that Christ ‘is before all things, and in Him all things hold together’ (Col. 1:17). Not some things. Or even most things. But ALL THINGS! OK, moving on.



Miracles stand in contrast to providence. Miracles are extraordinary works of God that transcend and contravene natural law. They are supernatural acts that help confront unbelief, elicit awe, or authenticate God’s agents of divine revelation. Think the parting of the Red Sea, or the sun standing still for Joshua, or Jonah being eaten (and then regurgitated) by the great fish. Problematic offshoots of Christianity like to chase the miraculous, believing the supernatural will appeal to fleshly emotions. Tragically, these groups not only end up citing miracles where none exist, but they overlook the wonder of God’s everyday providence.

 

Modern hucksters aside, the serious real question is this: Compared to bona fide Bible miracles, is providence a second-rate act? Puritan John Flavel didn’t think so. The noted evangelist said providence was “the great support and solace of the saints in all the distresses that befall them. It is not worthwhile to live in a world devoid of God and providence.” Strong words indeed! Flavel even called meditating on providence his own “little heaven.” Another faithful Puritan, Stephen Charnock, added poetry to theology when he wrote: “All God’s providences are but His touch of the strings of this great instrument of the world.” What a way to put it!



Flavel and Charnock marveled at providence as they felt it magnified God’s sovereignty and the beauty of His works. These men were burned in effigy by clamoring mobs who despised their gospel preaching, but they kept the faith and ran the race because God’s providence told them Christ was on His throne! Providence’s intricacy taught them that God governs with unparalleled artistry and is worthy of all faithfulness. The Lord of all the earth was no ugly dictator. He was the grand conductor leading nature’s orchestra in spectacular fashion. For three fast proofs of providence’s majesty, let’s look at Joseph, Esther, and Judas Iscariot.

 

Despite blessing Joseph with powerful dreams and wisdom, God still let his brothers sell him into slavery. As is true of all wickedness, the brothers’ actions grieved God. Yet their sin brought about a greater good. Joseph rose to rule Egypt, saved millions during famine, and even preserved the line of Messiah! The Book of Genesis ends with Joseph reminding his brothers that God providentially ordained their abject evil in order to weave this tapestry of spectacular good: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to do what has happened on this day, to keep many people alive” (50:20). What unrivaled faithfulness Joseph showed in trying times, and how he longed for his brothers to glorify God as he did.



Esther, an orphaned Israelite exile, was elevated to monarchy according to God’s perfect timing to prevent a Jewish genocide. Her cousin, Mordecai, saw God’s hand on her life and asked the deep question that kicked Esther into action: “Who knows whether you have not reached royalty for such a time as this?” (4:14). Thanks to Mordecai’s prodding, God’s providential power steeled Esther enough for her to petition no less than Xerxes the Great to save her people from annihilation: “I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16). What bravery! And all this in a book that never names God directly. Yet all the while His invisible power inspires boldness.

 

Finally, only God could have providentially turned Judas’ heinous betrayal of Christ into history’s greatest good: the salvation of mankind! If Christ weren’t handed over to Rome and raised up by crucifixion, God’s prophetic word would have been proved wrong and Christians would only deserve pity (1 Cor. 15:19). We would still be in our sins; forever cut off from God. Thanks be to God that the opposite is true. Now, while Judas’ choice was tragic, God used his sin to orchestrate Christ’s triumph. No wonder Paul had no choice but to look at redemption and rejoice that ‘for those who love God, all things work together for good’ (Rom. 8:28). May we meditate on providence more often and give God all the glory going forward.


No more nightmares would be nice too …

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