Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10
Q 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A 27. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
Q 28. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A 28. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
One of the chief characteristics of God that we hold to be true is His sovereignty over all of Creation. Essentially, this means that we believe that God has power and authority over all of what He has created, and He exercises that power and authority to bring about His will in the world. For some, this makes God appear to be more like a dictator, especially if their experience of life has been substantially harder. We start to ask questions like “why did God make this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this.”
If God is a dictator, however, He certainly is a benign and loving one. Perhaps, in this instance, the language that the Heidelberg Catechism uses is much better and more appropriate for the discussion. The writers talk about God’s sovereignty in terms of “providence,” the root word of which is of course, “provide.” This offers a much more appropriate context for God’s ruling and works in the world. God is indeed love, and Scripture says that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him. We also know that God is actively working to bring restoration to the world which will culminate in Christ’s return and the setting right of all things. In addition to this, we also know that God is patient, not wishing that any would perish, but providing ample time for people to turn to Him because of His great love for us.
The language of the questions and answers in Lord’s Day 10 can be a bit uncomfortable, though, as well; “all things come from [God’s] hand.” All things? Really? Something about that makes us cringe on the inside. It’s definitely easier to blame sin, satan, or our own foolish acts for some of the difficult times in life that we experience. Certainly, our difficulties can come from those things, but Scripture is clear that “all things come from God’s hand,” which means that even if the difficulties we face are a result of a spiritual attack from the satan himself, it is under the direction and purview of God’s power and will.
Let’s be clear about a couple things, though, as we talk about God’s providence. This is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully, only to blame the results on God. Scripture affirms human responsibility when it comes to the results of actions in our lives, hence the need for a Savior. The Bible is also clear that temptation to sin does not come from God, which would also allow us to blame God for sin. But there are seemingly negative things in our lives that do find their source in God in some way. God is sovereign over creation, over nations and rulers, over both good people and bad. God has sent trouble and calamity, destroyed nations and people groups, and even hardens the hearts of some. He uses all of the created order to work His will in the world and His plans cannot be thwarted.
So what does this mean for us? Should we be scared and living in fear of a God who can do anything at any time just because it pleases Him? No. I don’t think so. When we understand God in human terms, we often think of the worst case scenario. If we give a ruler too much power, He/She can do whatever they want without any check or balance. God is not like that. All of God’s power is exercised in love, as a loving parent exercises loving authority over their children for their benefit.
Lord’s Day 10 is very clear about how this benefits us as well. When things seem to be going against us, we can be patient knowing that God is working His will and that God is always working for the good of those who love Him. Think of Joseph or even the Israelite slavery in Egypt, both seemed profoundly negative at the time. Out of those events, however, great things came to be. This does take a profound amount of trust, something we have and will continue to talk about here. These are the times when our faith is tested; they are also the times when God does some of His deepest work in us.
We can also be thankful when things go well, remembering that all good and perfect gifts come from God. How often do we stop to thank God when we’ve had a good day, a successful meeting, a positive experience with a friend, or anything else for that matter. It is easy for us to run to God in the bad times, but do we do so in the good times as well?
Finally, we can have confidence in the future knowing that, even if all of our worries and fears come true, God will never leave us and He is always working out His perfect will. God’s ways are higher than our ways, and He is far above all rule and authority on this earth, but He is always with us and always ready to listen. We can face the future unafraid because we know that nothing moves except by the hand of God.