Blogging the Institutes | 1.16.9 | Importance Distinctions When Thinking about Providence

It’s really hard for our minds to grasp the full depth of God’s providence. Therefore, breaking things down a bit with distinctions can be helpful for us to understand what’s going on. While all things are ordered by God’s counsel, they appear to us as being by chance or fortune. They appear this way not because such a thing as “fate” actually exist but because te order, method, goal, and necessity of events are often hidden in God’s counsel. It is certain that all are produced by the will of God, they have the appearance of being fortunate.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that someone was walking along in a city and strayed from his group. As he wondered down an alley way, he ran into a criminal and was killed. Now, his death was not only foreseen by the eye of God but also had been fixed by his decree. For it is said that God not only knows how long people live but also determines how long their lives extend (Job 14:5). Still, such an event appears to us to be random or by change in relationship to our capacity to figure things out. So how should a Christian feel about this even? While he will think that every circumstance which occurred in that person’s death was indeed by change, he will have no doubt that God’s providence overruled it and guided it for his own purpose.

The same thing holds in the case of future contingencies. All future events seem uncertain to us. Still, nothing will happen outside of the Lord’s control not matter how uncertain it might seem to us. The reason why the book of Ecclesiastes uses the word “event” so much is that at first glance people often are unable to see the primary cause of an event. Yet, what is taught in Scripture about God’s providence is that it was never fully removed from the human heart like sparks shining in the darkness.

Unlike believers, the soothsayers of the Philistines waver in uncertainty, attributing the adverse event partly to God and partly to chance: “Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.” (1 Samuel 6:9). Foolishly they flee in their thinking to believe in fate and chance when good things befall them. But they blame God when bad things happen.

The truth is that God can turn events in whatever direction he pleases. Here’s an example. At the very same moment when David was discovered in the wilderness of Maon, the Philistines make an inroad into the country and Saul is forced to depart (1 Samuel 23:26-27). If God, in order to provide safety for his servant, put an obstacle in the way of Saul, we surely can’t say that the Philistines, contrary to human expectations, took up arms by chance. What appear to us as change, faith will recognize it as the secret work of God. The reasons for God’s work is not always apparent, but we ought to believe that all changes which take place in the world are produced by the secret power of the hand of God.

At the same time, we must also believe that what God has determined, though it must come to pass, is not in its own nature necessary. We have a familiar example in the case of Jesus’ bones. Because Jesus took on a truly human body, no sane person would deny that Jesus’ bones were capable of being broken. And yet it was impossible that they should be broken (John 19:33, 36). Therefore, there is a good ground for this distinction between the necessary and the necessity absolute and the distinction between the necessity of the consequent and of consequence. God made the bones of his Son breakable, though he exempted them from actually being broken. Therefore, because of his counsel, God made impossible that which might have naturally taken place.

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