“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
God’s Providence in the World
God is not an absentee Creator, who made the world and then left it to run on its own. Instead, God’s power perpetually upholds the world. Even those who do not believe the gospel are often forced to believe in a Creator by merely viewing the earth and the sky. Yet God’s preservation of the world inspires praise among the faithful. As the author of Hebrews writes, “the world were framed by the Word of God” (Heb 11:3). We cannot fully understand what it means for God to be Creator unless we take into account his providence. Once unbelievers perceive the power of God in creation, however, they stop there. They never get around to pondering the wisdom, power, and goodness displayed by the Creator of such works (often such thoughts arise spontaneously upon them and force themselves to be reckoned with even on the unwilling). They might resort to believing that some general power preserves and governs the world. In short, some unbelievers think that all things are sustained by energy divinely infused into them.
But faith must look deeper. After learning there is a Creator, believers should infer that he is also a Governor and Preserver. He does not produce a kind of general motion in the world. Instead, He sustains, cherishes, and guides all things which he has made even the smallest sparrow. God’s care and power inspire David to speak of God’s providence after he reflects on God’s creation of the world: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens framed, and all the host of heaven by the breath of his mother” (Psalm 33:6). Then he immediately adds, “The Lord looks from heaven; he sees the children of men” (Psalm 33:13). David joins God’s creation and providence together.
No one can seriously believe that God is the Creator of the world without also believing that he takes care of it as well. Naturally, David works from one concept to the other. In general, philosophers teach (and the human mind conceives) that God oversees all parts of the world. They typically don’t reach the same level of understanding as David, however. For example, he speaks for all believers when he says, ” They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:27-30).
Although most people would agree with Paul that in God “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), they do not understand the special care that God bestows on the world.