Like any partnership, it usually takes a newly married couple some time to figure out what each spouse is good at. It didn’t take long for my wife and me to conclude that I needed to be the one who balanced the checkbook. My wife is vastly superior to me in many ways, but mathematics isn’t one of them. I’ll never forget the moment of discovery. I was reviewing our finances for some reason and realized she had made a subtraction mistake. As I continued to follow the line in the right column of the checkbook register, I noticed a couple more mistakes. However, as I got to the bottom, somehow, her total balance was right! Her mistakes had uncannily cancelled each other out and corrected one another!
I often think about this memorable story when I try to understand an aspect of God that theologians have labelled God’s “providence.” For a good summary of what the Bible teaches about this doctrine, consider the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith: “God, the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, arranges and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by His perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created.”
Somehow, God in his infinite power, love, and wisdom, guides history in such a way that his ultimate aims and purposes always come to fruition. In other words, our human mistakes are no hindrance to what God is trying to do. Somehow God works through our mistakes and ensures that the right answer always comes out. Nothing we do can thwart his purposes, and somehow everything we do folds into his purposes. It’s a mystery beyond comprehension, but its undoubtedly what the Bible teaches. Let me illustrate.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him to a caravan of foreign merchants. He ends up in the land of Egypt and endures a series of unfortunate events. However, God is with Joseph, so much so that he eventually rises to a position of power second only to Pharaoh. Years later, a famine strikes the land of his family, and his brothers, reduced to begging, arrive at Pharaoh’s court for relief. Joseph recognizes them and acts to ensure their salvation. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph speaks these remarkable words to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” That’s God’s providence.
In Acts 2:23, the apostle Peter stands up and preaches these words to those gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Which one was it? Was it God’s plan for Jesus to die or was it the result of lawless men? The answer, God’s providence teaches us, is both. As sinful men drove nails into his wrists to stop God’s plan, they were unknowingly participating in God’s plan to save the world.
Later in Acts, Saul, who would become Paul, leads a violent persecution of the church, and believers from Jerusalem are scattered abroad. It appears that God’s plan to spread his gospel message is being stopped, but Luke reports, “Now those scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his apostles that they would be his witnesses beyond Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth. This feeble attempt to stop Christ’s plan only results in God providentially accomplishing it.
Check this out: It’s not just that the actions of men cannot stop God’s purposes. It’s that God uses the very attempts to stop his purposes within his plan to further those very purposes!
Last night, I sat around a table in my dining room with our small group and listened as various members asked for prayer. One of those members recounted recent suffering in her life and uttered these words, “I just don’t understand how anyone endures the suffering of this life without knowing that God is providentially working for their good.” She was referencing Romans 8:28 where Paul comforts the church by assuring them that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Do you live with an awareness of God’s providence? When you endure hardship and suffering, do you have assurance that it’s not meaningless, that somehow God is going to use these painful experiences to bring about his loving purposes in your life? He promises he will do just that for his people in Christ. May you find rest in that promise today.