The Certainty of His Providence
A Christian husband flew in a private plane to another city to give his testimony at an evangelistic meeting, taking his son with him. On the way home they ran into an electrical storm that caused the plane to crash. Both father and son were killed. A heist Ian friend, in an effort to comfort the bereaved wife and mother, said, “One thing you can be sure of; God had no part in the accident.” According to this friend, God was apparently looking the other way when the pilot got into trouble. A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our Father’s will, but apparently a plane with Christians aboard can.
I read a blasphemous statement by someone who said, “Chance is the pseudonym God uses when He’d rather not sign His own name.” A lot of Christians are doing that for God today, unwilling to accept the fact that He is working because they don’t understand how He is working.
It isn’t easy to believe in the doctrine of God’s Providence, especially in these days when the doctrine seems to have fallen upon hard times. In The Providence of God, G.C. Berkouwer speaks of the “catastrophic terrors” of modern history, then asks, “Does not pure honesty force us to stop seeking escape in a hidden, harmonious super-sensible world? Does not honesty tell us to limit ourselves realistically to what lies before our eyes, and without illusions, face the order of the day?
All people- believers as well as unbelievers- experience anxiety, frustration, heartache, and disappointment. Some suffer intense physical pain and catastrophic tragedies. But that which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for Bis glory and our good.
I recognize that is is difficult to make all that is happening in our world make sense right now. How can we understand, for example, the pandemic and its effects on our lives. We know that it is causing not only physical suffering and even death, but it is also causing interruptions to our lives. The effects it is having on the economy, with jobs disappearing, the effects it is having on the mental health through isolation, the rise in drug abuse and alcoholism, and the escalation of violence, hatred and racism, to name a few, has yet to be seen in its fullest way. More so for Christians and the church, it has deeply affected the way we worship, how we gather, how we fellowship and how we care for one another. It is difficult to process that we are restricted in gathering, we must keep our distance, we can’t be at the hospital with loved ones during procedures and the like, our fellowship meals have become a thing of the past and feelings of disconnection are becoming the norm.
We must ask the question that if God is in control, and we believe He is, why would He allow, permit or cause such a catastrophic situation to happen to us especially His church in light of its effects on our ability to have “normal church.” Since we know that God is sovereign and that He has promised to build His church, we can hardly comprehend why He would allow something that seems to interrupt the programs and ministries of His church. Perhaps He has allowed all this to help us refocus on the mission He called the church to rather than all the busyness we have substituted for mission. I believe that this place we’re in is designed to give us opportunity to evaluate the purpose and mission of the church as it pertains to the mission of God. I pray that we think about the things we have had to forego and ask ourselves it they were necessary to the mission or whether they were just thing we became occupied with that have no eternal value.
One of the devil’s strategies is to distract us with temporal things at the expense of focusing on eternal things. He usually does that through good things or at least good sounding things at the expense of the more excellent things.
Please know that I am not minimizing all that’s happening in our world. I am deeply troubled by what has and is taking place in the political environment. I am heartbroken over the division I see in our nation and especially in the church. I am distressed with the inability to have the connections with and provide care for those who are suffering and struggling. And I must confess it’s challenging trying to in someway provide ministry and spiritual life in this environment. But in spite of all these things, I know that our God is the Sovereign Lord over all things and nothing happens that He does not notice.
What I believe is that all these things have a purpose and that purpose is to remind us that in spite of our knowledge, creativity and abilities, there are those things that are far beyond our scope of handling them. I believe this time especially for the Christian ought to be one of drawing nearer to God, seeking His will and focusing on His mission.
While we have read and heard of all the things that will happen in the world before Christ comes, I think as we see it unfold we struggle accepting that God is bringing to pass all that He said would come. Whether we see these things as God doing them or allowing them, we know that they will surely come. Jesus had a lot to say about what the world would be like in the last days before His coming.
“Jesus answered, “Be careful that no one misleads you [deceiving you and leading you into error]. 5 For many will come in My name [misusing it, and appropriating the strength of the name which belongs to Me], saying, ‘I am the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed),’ and they will mislead many. 6 You will continually hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end [of the age]. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs [of the intolerable anguish and the time of unprecedented trouble]. 9 “Then they will hand you over to [endure] tribulation, and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will be offended and repelled [by their association with Me] and will fall away [from the One whom they should trust] and will betray one another [handing over believers to their persecutors] and will hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will appear and mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, the love of most people will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures and bears up [under suffering] to the end will be saved. 14 This good news of the kingdom [the gospel] will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end [of the age] will come.
21 For at that time there will be a great tribulation (pressure, distress, oppression), such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will [again]. 22 And if those days [of tribulation] had not been cut short, no human life would be saved; but for the sake of the elect (God’s chosen ones) those days will be shortened. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not provide its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And at that time the sign of the Son of Man [coming in His glory] will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth [and especially Israel] will mourn [regretting their rebellion and rejection of the Messiah], and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory [in brilliance and splendor]. 31 And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet and they will gather together His elect (God’s chosen ones) from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 36 “But of that [exact] day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son [in His humanity], but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man (the Messiah) will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the [very] day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know or understand until the flood came and swept them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be [unexpected judgment].
Matthew 24:21-31, 36-39
Then Jesus told them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be violent earthquakes, and in various places famines and [deadly and devastating] pestilences (plagues, epidemics); and there will be terrible sights and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, turning you over to the synagogues and prisons, and bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 This will be a time and an opportunity for you to testify [about Me]. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you [skillful] words and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed and handed over even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be continually hated by everyone because of [your association with] My name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your [patient] endurance [empowered by the Holy Spirit] you will gain your souls. 25 “There will be signs (attesting miracles) in the sun and moon and stars; and on the earth [there will be] distress and anguish among nations, in perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting from fear and expectation of the [dreadful] things coming on the world; for the [very] powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with [transcendent, overwhelming] power [subduing the nations] and with great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to occur, stand tall and lift up your heads [in joy], because [suffering ends as] your redemption is drawing near.” 34 “But be on guard, so that your hearts are not weighed down and depressed with the giddiness of debauchery and the nausea of self-indulgence and the worldly worries of life, and then that day [when the Messiah returns] will not come on you suddenly like a trap; 35 for it will come upon all those who live on the face of all the earth. 36 But keep alert at all times [be attentive and ready], praying that you may have the strength and ability [to be found worthy and] to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man [at His coming].”
Because we know these things are going to come to pass, Christ says we are to lift up our heads in joy knowing that our redemption is drawing near. What a contrast that is to what we see in the world.
Revelation was written so that we might understand that behind all that is visible in the world is God seated on the throne always in control.
It is our faith that causes us to rise above the waves of despair and discouragement. As Paul tells us in Thessalonians our view as believers is quite different from the view of unbelievers. He says that we do not sorrow over the death of loved ones as those who have no hope. The Christian eternal view even holds death in a different light than those of the world. Unbelievers see death as the end, Christians see it as the beginning of the glorious eternal life with Christ in heaven. What appears to be a tragedy, and it is for those left behind, is in reality, for the one who dies the ultimate victory.
As we continue to live through these days, let us do so with expectant faith for the Lord’s return. Let His coming bring us the joy and peace the angel proclaimed at His first coming, filling our hearts with hope. Let the hope of His coming also produce an urgency in us to share the gospel with those who have no hope. Let us recognize that the evil of this world stems from sin and change comes one heart at a time beginning with ours.
Paul in addressing suffering and calamity gives us these words:
Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Just as it is written and forever remains written, “ For Your sake we are put to death all day long; We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter .” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us]. For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Notice that Paul did not say we would be exempt from these things but in all these things “we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him
that loved us” and we know that nothing “will be able to separate us from the unlimited love of God.”
So take heart, beloved, God is with us, for us and over all things so that we might have the assurance that in all these things His purpose is ultimately for our good. So we rest and trust in Him even in the storm.
Dr. John Thompson