Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Works of God (3)
Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50.19, 20
We may think of the providence of God as His continuous attention to, care for, and ruling over all His works of creation. The basic idea of providence – or provide-ence – is captured in the Latin root, providere: to see beforehand so as to supply as needed. God sees all His creation and all its needs, and He exerts Himself in power to supply everything creation needs to fulfill His purposes. The Hebrew word, מָשַׁל, mashal, while not used of God in the Law of Moses, expresses His exercise of dominion, power, authority, and rule over the creation. As the sun and moon were provided to rule over the day and night, so they merely function as agents of God, obedient to His Word, in His continuous and comprehensive ordering, governing, and providing for the creation in whole and in part.
In the Law of God, the nature and beauty and mystery of His providence can be seen in the story of Joseph. When Joseph assured his brothers that “God meant it for good”, he was referring to everything that had transpired between them, from the time they sold him as a slave to Egypt to the time they stood before him, seeking bread. God provided for Joseph, despite their evil intentions; and now God was providing for them, through Joseph, despite their evil works.
Consider all that came under the power of God’s providence in the story of Joseph: his finding his brothers, the Midianite caravan; his being sold to an Egyptian of prominence; the gifting of Joseph with organizational skills, and the opportunities afforded him by Potiphar and then in the prison; Pharaoh’s dream; Joseph’s exaltation; the seven years of bounty and the seven years of famine; the kindly disposition of Pharaoh’s heart toward Joseph’s father and brothers (even though Egyptians despised Hebrews and shepherds); and all the myriad details of weather, crop cycles, political conditions, human decisions, and more that combined to unfold this story. God was providing them all, both immediately– as in sending a dream to Pharaoh – and mediately – in the circumstances of Joseph’s imprisonment and his service to Pharaoh’s butler and Pharaoh.
In His providence, God rules all of creation, down to the most minute details and in every moment of existence, to accomplish the salvation of His people and to bring His goodness to the world. The providence of God is yet another of the great works of God which begins to emerge in the Law of God as foundational to the Christian worldview.
In the place of God?
The doctrine of divine providence has been under assault by proponents of a secular worldview at least since the middle of the 18thcentury. The French encyclopedists who compiled the first great compendium of human knowledge, did so for the express purpose of writing God out of the picture. Denis Diderot, Jean la Rond D’Alembert, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and the others wrote, over a period of some twenty years, more than 74,000 articles covering every aspect of life and culture then known to the European mind, removing knowledge and life from the providential oversight of God, and placing them in the hands of human reason.
So successful has been the effort they launched, that now, in place of divine providence, the rationalism of human beings is considered to be that which sees and meets the needs of the world.
Joseph understood the folly of presuming to be God in the circumstances of life; the modern scientific and academic community knows no such humility. Rather, the hubris of the secular worldview consists precisely in its insisting that God has no place in the cosmic order, that He is either irrelevant or nonexistent, and that everything that exists can be explained with the simple formula, time + matter + chance + the rational mind. We don’t have to look far to see how successful the rationalistic effort to replace God has been. Look at the public school curriculum. Look at the entrenched hegemony of humanism in the colleges and universities. See how all matters of religion have been systematically hedged in, minimized, and vilified over the past generation. Note the marginalizing of religion and churches, which continues apace to this day.
Even among Christians the idea of God’s providence is curtailed – the idea, but not the actual providence of God. We have ceded large segments of society, culture, and human relations to the dictates of rationalism; and we act as if God no longer is able to work miracles, or has no role in the seasons and harvests and political conditions of the world. We barely believe that He rules in our hearts, for we pay but lip-service to the relevance of His Law and the calling to seek His Kingdom and glory.
But the providence of God is no less true, no less comprehensive, and no less powerful today than it was in Joseph’s day.
The end of God’s providence
The proponents of a rationalist and secular worldview want no part of God, because they believe He has nothing good or positive to contribute to the wellbeing of the world. In truth, the unbelieving world prefers to be its own arbiter of what is good and true, than to submit to the holy and righteous and good Law of God.
In the Law of God, three purposes of divine providence are consistently in view. We see them all in the story of Joseph. In His providence, God thwarts the progress and effects of evil, which entered the world in the fall of Adam and Eve. Given the evil in men’s hearts – as in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers – we should be amazed that there is not more evil in the world than is present at any time. God works – mediately and immediately – to restrain the progress and effects of evil, and to overcome evil by His goodness.
The second purpose of divine providence is to continue His original plan for the creation, that it should know, enjoy, produce, flourish in, and refract His goodness in bountiful seasons, useful culture, justice and love, and the everyday wonders of creation and community.
And finally, God in His providence works for the salvation of His people, as Joseph explained to His brothers. For it is the people of God who, acknowledging His providence, give Him worship and thanks and praise, and thus realize His joy and power to serve Him in every area of their lives.
The providence of God over all creation is thus critical to the Christian worldview. Understanding this doctrine, and living in the light of it, we can be overcomers like Joseph in the midst of even the most adverse of conditions and circumstances.
1. How would you define the doctrine of divine providence? Why is this such an important facet of the Christian worldview?
2. What do we mean by saying that God exercises His providence immediately as well as mediately? Give some examples of each.
3. How can being assured of the providence of God strengthen our faith and equip us to live in joy and power in every area of life?
Next steps – Transformation: Spend an extended time in prayer – 30-60 minutes. In this time, thank God for everything in your life. Praise Him for as many of His attributes as you can recall. And surrender every area of your life to His good and glorious purpose. Then begin to live more confidently in the providential care of the Lord.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.