Blogging the Institutes | 1.17.2| Providence Denied by Some, but Proved by Scripture

Only those who worship God with reverence will make good use of the doctrine of God’s providence. That’s why so many people rage against the doctrine, even though they give more weight to their own reasoning ability that to God. Some people criticize us for believing that God’s revealed will can be known from the Scripture and also the whole world is maintained by God’s secret will. Such doctrine is not a figment of our own imagination, but is actually directly declared by the Spirit and repeated throughout the Scriptures. While some feelings of shame restrain people who object to this from belching forth blasphemies against the Lord, they instead pick a fight with us.

If they refuse to admit that every event which happens in the world is governed by God’s incomprehensible will, then they need to reckon with the Scriptures. Psalm 36:6 declares that God’s “judgments are like a great deep.” Furthermore, Moses claims that God’s will is “not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’” (Deut 30:12-13). Because God’s will was expounded in the Law, then there must be another hidden will which is the “great deep.”

It is of this will, Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Rom 11:33-34). It is true, indeed, that we can come to know mysteries which far transcend our senses in the law and in the gospel. Yet it is God who enlightens our minds to understand those mysteries, which he delighted to reveal in his word. These things are now no longer a deep, but a path in which believers can safely walk—a lamp to guide their feet—a light of life—a school of clear and certain truth. But it makes perfect sense that God’s method of governing the world would be rightly called a “deep” because it should be rightly adored, even though it lies hid from us. Moses captures the sentiment we should adopt beautifully: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29).

Moses not only calls us to study and meditate on the law, but to look up with reverence toward the secret Providence of GOd. The Book of Job describes God’s providence in order to keep our minds humble. The author of the Book, after taking survey of the universe, and speaking about the works of God, says this, ““Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him! But His mighty thunder, who can understand?” (Job 26:14). In another passage, he distinguishes between the wisdom which dwells in God, and the wisdom given to humanity (Job 28:21, 28). After speaking of the secrets found in nature, he says that wisdom is “hid from the eyes of all the living” but that “God understands its ways.” Shortly after, he adds that it has been revealed so that it might be investigated, “to man he said, ‘Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Augustine refers to these words when he writes, “As we do not know all the things which God does respecting us in the best order, we ought, with good intention, to act according to the Law, and in some things be acted upon according to the Law, his Providence being a Law immutable,” (August. Quest. lib. 83 c. 27).

Therefore, since God claims for himself the right to govern the world, let us bow to his supreme authority regarding his will as our rule of justice and the most perfect cause of all things. God’s will is not like that “absolute will” that the sophists speak of when they separate God’s justice from his power. Instead, let us bow before the universal overruling Providence of God, from which nothing flows that is not right, though the reasons for why things happen may be concealed.

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  1. Pingback: Blogging the Institutes: List of Posts | Raising Lazarus

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