Question: What is the extent of God’s “Divine Providence”? Does it encompass all things that happen?
Response: We believe that God is sovereign, omniscient, and His providence encompasses whatever happens. The English word “providence” comes from the Latin word providentia, which means “foresight.” God sees all that happens before it happens and allows it to happen. This is not to say that God causes all things to happen, as some Calvinists claim. Colossians:1:17 tells us, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” In other words, by Him, all things are established. The Lord provided the seasons in order that life on earth might be sustained. The earth goes through seasons with times of rest and times of production. Our Creator set all these things in motion. He doesn’t need to continually cause them to happen.
We can clearly see the benefit of the Lord’s providence in these things. What we struggle with is that which He allows to happen in this sin-cursed world. The seasons continue, but we also have drought, tornadoes, floods, and other calamities.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David wrote in reference to God’s actions in the life of man, “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (Ps:139:3). The word translated “compassest” literally means “winnows” (as in removing the chaff from grain). This tells us that in the “providence” of God, believers can trust that the Lord has thoroughly “winnowed” the path we walk in life. “All” that happens has been allowed. It is good to remember the perspective of Joseph concerning his brothers selling him into slavery and everything that came afterward. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gn 50:20).
Consequently, we may ask, “Lord, why have you left this tragedy, this disappointment, and these trials in my path? They sure look like chaff to me.” In truth, the Lord in His providence leaves these things as part of His express will. They are designed to accomplish his purpose. Since God is omniscient, His providence does encompass all that happens. He allows these things.
John Rippon, wrote these words in How Firm a Foundation:
In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
For the believer, the providence of God is a particular blessing.