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From Tolerance to Embrace

27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved.

The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10

Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

—Isaiah 46:8–11

Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

—Job 2:10


For many Christians, coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how they look at the world. It requires changing our vantage point—from seeing the cosmos as a place where man rules and God responds, to being a universe where God creates and constantly controls with sovereign love and providential power.

The definition of providence in the Catechism is stunning. “All things”—yes all things—“come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand.” I will sometimes ask seminary students being examined for ordination, “How would the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly Lord’s Day 10, help you to minister to someone who lost a loved one in Afghanistan or just lost a job?” I am usually disappointed to hear students who should be affirming the confessions of their denomination shy away from Heidelberg’s strong, biblical language about providence. Like most of us, the students are much more at ease using passive language about God’s permissive will or comfortable generalities about God being “in control” than they are about stating precisely and confidently to those in the midst of suffering “this has come from God’s fatherly hand.” And yet, that’s what the Catechism, and more importantly the Bible, teaches.

Let me be clear: God’s providence is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully. Herod and Pontus Pilate, though they did what God had planned beforehand, were still wicked conspirators (Acts 4:25–28). The Bible affirms human responsibility. But the Bible also affirms, much more massively and frequently than some imagine, God’s power and authority overall things. The nations are under God’s control (Pss. 2:1–4; 33:10), as is nature (Mark 4:41; Pss. 135:7; 147:18; 148:8), and animals (2 Kings 17:25; Dan. 6:22; Matt. 10:29). God is sovereign over Satan and evil spirits (Matt. 4:10; 2Cor. 12:7–8; Mark 1:27). God uses wicked people for His plans—not just in a “bringing good out of evil” sort of way but in an active, intentional, “this was God’s plan from the [beginning]” sort of way (Job 12:16; John 19:11; Gen.45:8; Luke 22:22; Acts 4:27–28) God hardens hearts (Ex. 14:17; Josh. 11:20; Rom. 9:18). God sends trouble and calamity (Judges 9:23; 1 Sam. 1:5; 16:14; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Kings 22:20–23; Isa. 45:6–7; 53:10; Amos 3:6; Ruth 1:20; Eccl. 7:14). God even puts to death (1 Sam. 2:6, 25; 2 Sam. 12:15; 2 Chron. 10:4, 14; Deut. 32:39 ). God does what He pleases and His purposes cannot be thwarted (Isa. 46:9–10; Dan. 4:34–35). In short, god guides all our steps and works all things after the counsel of His will (Prov. 16:33; 20:24; 21:2; Jer. 10:23; Ps. 139:16; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11).

These verses are not meant to pound you into submission. I list dozens of verses for two reasons: First, so you can check this teaching out for yourself and see that God’s superintendence is the unavoidable conclusion written large of the pages of Scripture. And second, so you will move past merely tolerating God’s sovereignty to joyously embracing it.

—Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody Publishers, 2010), 59–60.

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