If The Lord Wills: Learning to Live in the Light of God’s Providence
Is it possible for a Christian to live like an atheist? Continue reading . . .
Is it possible for a Christian to live like an atheist? I don’t mean “live like an atheist” in the sense that one actually denies the existence of God or commits sin repeatedly and feels no conviction or experiences no repentance. That person would have no basis for claiming to be a Christian in the first place. What I have in mind is a person who is born again going about his or her business and daily affairs without the slightest regard for God’s intimate personal involvement in what happens. I have in mind the person who gets up each day and pursues whatever responsibilities they have all the while presumptuously taking for granted that they are alive. I have in mind the person, born-again mind you, who rarely if ever pauses to consider that whether or not they live another 10 seconds or another 10 years is dependent on the sovereign will of God.
This is the sort of person who professes faith in Jesus but lives as if God either doesn’t care about the minor details of our daily existence or does care but is helpless to do anything about it. Where this person falls short is in their failure to believe and behave consistently with what we read, for example, in Proverbs 16:9 and 33. There we read:
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9).
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).
What I’m getting at with this is that some Christians live either in total disregard for or indifference toward the truth of God’s providence. Is it really all that important that we know and believe in the truth of God’s providence, that we actually live and make our decisions each day conscious of the fact that he is working all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11)? Yes, it is important. It is critically and crucially important, as numerous texts make unmistakably clear.
Perhaps it would help if I briefly defined the word providence. The word itself does not appear in the Bible. But neither do the words trinity and atonement, among others, and yet we all agree that the concept or idea or doctrine of each is found repeatedly in Scripture. Providence is a theological term that points to God’s sovereign oversight or governance of all things in creation. J. I. Packer refers to providence as “purposive personal management with total ‘hands-on’ control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute” (Concise Theology, 54).
How God can accomplish his perfect will when Satan and human sin are involved is a profound mystery. But we should be encouraged and find comfort in knowing that our all-wise, all-loving, omnipotent, infinitely just and holy God will prevail and bring his purposes to their proper consummation. Again, I love the way Packer puts it:
“The doctrine of providence teaches Christians that they are never in the grip of blind forces (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice, knowing that all is for one’s spiritual and eternal good (Rom. 8:28)” (56).
Look with me at how the apostle Paul understood the providence of God and the way it affected his perspective on life and its many daily decisions.
“But on taking leave of them [Christians in the church at Ephesus] he said, ‘I will return to you if God wills,’ and he set sail from Ephesus” (Acts 18:21).
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you” (Romans 1:9-10).
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company” (Rom. 15:30-32).
“But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Cor. 4:19a).
“For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Cor. 16:7).
“And I trust in the Lord that shortly I will come also” (Phil. 2:24).
These statements by Paul are not religious clichés designed to make him sound pious and humble. They are expressions of his deepest and most cherished belief, namely, that God’s will ultimately determines where he goes, when he goes, and what he accomplishes if he goes.
In a subsequent article we’ll turn our attention to how James addressed this issue in chapter four of his letter. Until then, make the conscious effort, by God’s grace, to submit all of life, indeed every breath, to the overruling and merciful providence of God.