Thursday, April 6, 2017
The word “providence” is found once in Acts 24:2. Tertullus, a Jewish orator, uses the expression to honor governor Felix.
Although the word “providence” is not used to describe God’s actions in scripture, Christians use it as though it does. This article looks at three of those views.
One group describes “the providence of God” as the heavenly Father interceding in a “miraculous” way to answer prayer or to direct history so it will fulfill His ultimate goal. This group believes that any activity on God’s part must be miraculous since He is God. They refuse to see God operating in a non-miraculous fashion. This group believes God’s miraculous providence continues until the end of time. They do not believe this miraculous intervention is equal to the miracles of walking on water, raising the dead, or feeding several thousand people, but is in that category due to its divine source.
A second group sees “providence” as an act of God setting aside His natural laws to perform a miraculous action. This group takes the position that all such “miracles” took place in the first century and ceased at the end of it. Their conclusion is that since miracles ceased, providence did too. They believe that God continues to be concerned with man’s spiritual welfare but does not involve Himself with the physical requests. The value of prayer is in asking for forgiveness and being thankful for the spiritual blessings begun “in Christ” over two thousand years ago (Ephesians 1:3). They believe God is not willing to alter his natural law by setting it aside to miraculously assist physical problems. Therefore, to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” is a waste of time! God expects us to provide our own solutions to answer our physical needs. According to this group, a scriptural prayer must be void of all physical requests. Rather than pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” we should thank God that He made us smart, strong, and intelligent enough, to take care of ourselves without His miraculous intervention. Whatever freewill, coincidence, or luck brings, it is up to us to handle it. God only observes. This group, like the first, will not accept the view that God intervenes in man’s history with a non-miraculous action.
A third group believes in God’s providence, but understands that He answers prayer by assisting with physical needs through the natural scheme of things. In other words, God works through natural law, not sidestepping it. They believe God’s providence was evident during miraculous periods when God assisted in both natural and miraculous ways.
For example, John the Baptist sees Jesus and calls him “the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples were present when he made that statement and decided to follow Jesus. Were the two disciples put there miraculously at that precise time or was it just a coincidence that Jesus passed by? Maybe coincidence was the mover rather than a non-miraculous providence? Maybe it was just luck that Jesus happened to pass by at that particular time and the two just happened to be present with John when he did? Rather than being “a God thing,” it was merely coincidence and a touch of good luck?
Judas Iscariot was ordained as an apostle. Did he have a choice or was it by miraculous predestination that he was to be the betrayer? Did he hang himself because it was predestined and he had no say in the matter, or was it all done through natural law encased in the freewill choices he made?
Pilate was afraid of Jesus and attempted to release him. Was that release thwarted by a predestined, foreordained miraculous pressure, giving him no ability to do so, or did he turn Jesus over to the Jews and wash his hands of the matter because his decision was governed by natural circumstances? In other words, God used natural events and Pilate’s freewill to fulfill His eternal plan?
Jesus himself prayed “Let this cup pass from me.” But, he also added, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 27:39). Jesus had a choice. Temptation was present. A decision was needed. Was Jesus controlled by the miraculous, or by the natural law of freewill? If it was freewill, is it possible that prophecy can be fulfilled in a natural, non-miraculous way? Wouldn’t that be “a God things”?
The third group sees things happen that causes them to rejoice, not because prayers were answered due to good luck, coincidence, or Mother Nature, but because “it was a God thing”! If others wish to attribute it to blind luck, Mother Nature, or happenstance, that is their freewill choice. The third group believes Yahweh is capable of working through natural events to answer prayer and fulfill His mission among mankind.
Is it possible for God to work His will in man’s history by following natural law rather then invoking the miraculous to bypass it? If not, then groups one and two may be closer to the truth than group three.
If providence is miraculous, then natural law is suspended in favor of the miracles that replaces it. However, why would such miracles not be equal to walking on water, feeding thousands, or raising the dead? Since the Bible does not explain providence in such limited terminology, why would the miracles of “providence” be less than those we read about? Why would “providence miracles” continue but not these others?
If providence is a miraculous act, surely there must be some passage that ties “providence” with the “miraculous” that can be cited? Since these miraculous acts are not on a par with feeding thousands, walking on water, or raising the dead, it must be a special category of miracles. If so, where is that category outlined in scripture?
The word “providence” is defined as “God’s intervention into the world.” Is the Almighty God limited so that intervention can never be through natural law? If so, what passage reveals that impossibility?
Daniel, through miraculous inspiration, revealed a dream that involved Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Isaiah foretold of the Babylonian captivity and that Cyrus would be God’s servant in releasing the Jews to return to Palestine (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Although the revelation to Daniel was miraculous, was the fulfillment? If the fulfillment was not miraculous, but exactly as God wanted it, was it due to blind luck, circumstantial events falling into place accidentally, or was it “a God thing?”
What is your view on the “providence of God”?