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The God of Powerful and Preserving Providence

Author
Category Articles
Date June 19, 2009

And God blessed them, saying, ‘. . . fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ (Genesis 1:22)

On the fifth day of creation Elohim created swarms that swarm in the sea and flying birds that fly in the sky. In his commentary on Genesis, John Currid says that the Hebrew makes use of two polyptotons – verbs with their cognate nouns, used for the sake of great emphasis – swarms swarming and flying birds flying. We are also told that God made the tannin, the sea monsters of the deep. This word is sometimes translated serpent, dragon, or Leviathan. It is used in Exodus 7 where Aaron’s rod became a tannin that swallowed up the tanninim of Pharaoh. Later the word is used in Psalm 74:13-14 and Isaiah 27:1 in referring to Yahweh who destroys tannin or Leviathan with his great and mighty sword. The allusion here is to powerful nations at enmity with Yahweh but he overcomes them. Then we are told that God called the fish and birds good, that he blessed them, and called them to be fruitful and multiply. We find here a clear reference to God’s powerful and preserving providence, that he directs and disposes all things for his glory and the good of his creation.

I wonder – do you see God at work in the details of your life? Are you resisting him in those details? People have always resisted the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the corresponding teaching on his providence. We like to think we are in control, that we can ‘fix it.’ This manifests itself today in neo-deism and neo-spirituality. Deism – the religion of preference in the mid to late eighteenth century in Colonial America, best known by Benjamin Franklin and his adage, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ – taught that while God did in fact create the world, he is no longer engaged in the affairs of this world. We must make things happen ourselves. This fits well with today’s psyche of rugged individualism, of pulling one’s self up by one’s boot straps. You are a neo-deist, even if you claim to be a Christian, if you fail to realise that God is in the details of your life, even the hard things happening to you right now. And neo-spirituality is seen today in the religiously intolerant, those who call themselves religious or spiritual, who claim to be open and affirming of all religions, yet despise the ‘narrowness’ and exclusivity in the claims of Christ. The neo-spiritual person is syncretistic – so called ‘Zen Christians’ or ‘Presbyterian Buddhists.’ The problem with neo-deism and neo-spirituality is that these weak, powerless forms of religion tend to inoculate people against vibrant, Biblical faith. These give people the false impression that a little religion is all one needs.

But understand this – you will only find peace, even while going through deep waters of sorrow or the uncertainty of our present world, when you embrace the God of powerful and preserving providence. He makes his providence known in creation, redemption, and restoration. Consider first his providence in creation. ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth, all their host’ (Psalm 33:6). The bald eagle (the word ‘bald’ in eighteenth century parlance meant white) weighs between seven and fifteen pounds and has an eight to ten feet wing span. They can soar at ten thousand feet, cruising at speeds of forty-five miles per hour, and when coming in for their prey, can reach speeds of one hundred miles per hour. God created them as marvellous displays of his power. You need to argue from the greater to the lesser when facing difficulties in life. It goes like this – if God made the vastness of the universe, if he made the powerful bald eagle, then surely he can take care of me.

But you may object by saying, ‘All this talk of arguing the greater to the lesser is not working for me right now. I am behaving sinfully.’ If so, then you need to remember that God also, in redemption, is powerful and preserving in his providence. He delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of his beloved Son, the One from whom you gain redemption, the forgiveness of your sins. The slave girl in Acts 16, living in demonic possession, the object of her master’s manipulation, met Paul when God directed him through the Macedonian vision to go to Europe to preach the gospel. God, in his marvellous providence of redemption, delivered the young girl by his grace. If you are a believer, then God has done the same for you.

But you may object and say, ‘I am not feeling it. I don’t see how what has happened to me in the past, though glorious, is going to help me in the present.’ Well you also need to see the powerful, preserving God of providence in his work of restoration. Paul said in Romans 8:21ff that he is convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits us, that the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God, the redemption of our bodies. God promises to restore all things on the new earth to the beauty it had prior to the fall into sin. Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon entitled ‘True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord,’1 which he preached at the funeral of the missionary David Brainerd in October, 1747, said that at death we see Jesus in his glorified human nature. More than that, he sees us and calls us his friends. Revelation 3 says that we will sit down with Christ on his throne, as he overcame and sat down with his Father on his throne. And we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, meaning that all Jesus received by virtue of his death and resurrection, we will have in fulness on that great day. Jesus owns everything – the vastness and beauty of space, this inhabitable world. It will all be ours.

Are you striving against God, fighting him in his powerful, preserving providence? Are things inciting anger in you? You need to make a decision right now – will you surrender to the God of powerful, preserving providence? Surrender is the only way to peace. When Abraham was told by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, on the third day God provided a ram in the thicket. When Joshua led Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land, the waters parted on the third day. When Esther told Mordecai to have her Jewish subjects pray and fast for three days, God granted her favour and the genocide of the Jews was averted. When Jonah fled to Tarshish instead of going to Nineveh the God of powerful and preserving providence had him swallowed by a large fish where he stayed for three days. Are you seeing the pattern? And our Lord Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, was sorely tempted in his humanity to skip Calvary, but said, ‘Not my will, but thy will be done.’ On the third day he was raised from the dead. These trusted the God of powerful, preserving providence, surrendering to his will in the details of life. Will you do the same, or will you continue to grumble and complain against his frowning providence, not realising he works all things for good in his own?

Notes

  1. Sermon III in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2 (Banner of Truth, 1974).

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

www.christcpc.org

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