THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JONAH (5) THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
During the Sunday service Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The Gospel according to Jonah’ (5); “The Doctrine of Divine Providence”. Her main text was taken from the Books of Jonah chapters 3 and 4 and Genesis 45:3-8; 50:18-21.
JONAH IS ANGRY WITH GOD
After his death and ‘resurrection’ Jonah finally obeyed God and preached a simple sermon to the Ninevites. God’s grace was given to the people. They all repented at the prophets’ message. This caused revival in Nineveh, the wicked great city. But Jonah became angry (again). He did not appreciate God’s mercy and grace given to these sinners. He was not happy that God used him to ignite the greatest revival in history. He was not grateful at the success of his ministry. He became angry and depressed. What is the reason for this depression? Jonah struggled with his emotions. The main reason is because Jonah does not understand God’s ways and in particular, he is ignorant of God’s Providence. May the revelation of this doctrine heal our hearts in the name of Jesus!
Reading the Book of Jonah, we discover great revelations about the character of God. Jonah is not the main hero of the Book. God is! The Grace of God is clearly manifested in the story. Another revelation is God’s providence, His work ‘behind the scenes’. Try to imagine, what type of God is this who provides a windstorm, a fish, a covering plant, and even a worm, all to achieve His purpose? As you can see, God is actively involved in the life of Jonah, not just in general, but in the details. This is amazing! Then this is another story… during the great storm, the disciples complained to the Lord Jesus, who was sleeping in the stern of the boat. Afraid and angry, they asked Him: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”. He rebuked the wind and the storm stopped immediately. Then He gently rebuked them saying: “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41). The disciples accused Jesus of not ‘caring’ for them. He told them that they do not have faith in Him, who is the God of providence. Doubt or ignorance of the doctrine of divine providence weakens the faith of the believer. May the Holy Spirit open the eyes of our understanding to receive this great revelation! For God’s glory and for our good!
THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE – DEFINED
Before we start the subject, let us humble ourselves. God was pleased to reveal His mind, His will, and His purposes for His creation. He has done that thru His Word. Like Moses before the burning bush, let us not approach the Word in a spirit of adventure or curiosity. Let us remove the shoes of our fleshly pride and in worship, consider who God is. The doctrine of divine providence is one of the most difficult doctrines, to preach and to understand. We shall not study it just for intellectual and religious interest. We study it to know God better. Many children of famous people did not know that their parents were ‘stars’ until much later. There was a time in their lives when they discovered that their parents were rich or famous. That changed their attitude to their parents and matured them as children. God is pleased to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to grow up spiritually, to know that our Father in Heaven is the greatest Father in the universe. He wants us to know His plans, not only for us, but for His whole creation. We are co-heirs with Christ to this universe. Therefore, it is time for us to know the greatest inheritance of all. This doctrine is not for the unbelievers. Do not argue with them about God’s providence. This revelation is to strengthen and comfort only the believers. It helps in the spiritual battle against doubt, anxiety, and bitterness, which may lead to backsliding. Trials and sorrow in life makes many people confused, even the believers. The Bible does not explain the reason for every trial, but it gives us doctrines, and principles so that we can apply them. Some problems do not have a solution. We must trust God and His grace to the end even when we do not understand God’s ways.
Like the word ‘Trinity’, the word ‘providence; does not appear in the Bible. But the doctrine of providence is Biblical. The word ‘providence’ relates to the word ‘provision’. It means “to provide what is needed, to sustain and govern the world”. God’s name Jehovah Jireh is closely related to His work of Providence, by which He cares and provides for His creation, to bring it to its appointed end and all for His glory. Divine providence says that everything happens according to God’s sovereign will. That includes man’s thoughts, choices, and actions. God is sovereign in and over everything that happens!
The doctrine of providence is closely related to the doctrine of creation. God is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible, natural, and spiritual. God brought forth the universe that did not exist before. God created all things out of nothing, just by the Word of His Power. Creation has a beginning and has an end. God alone is not created. God never makes mistakes! He has no beginning and no end. As Creation is God’s work of making something out of nothing, Providence means the work of God by which His creation is sustained by Him in fulfilment to His own purpose. The word purpose is defined as the reason why something was created and exists. God always has a purpose for everything He does. “I am God, and there is no one else; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, And from ancient times the things which have not [yet] been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will do all that pleases Me and fulfills My purpose” (Isa 46:9, 10; AMP). God’s purpose and His will are the same. What God purposes, He wills it!
Providence reveals the Government of God. The simplest definition for providence is this: God is actively in charge and He governs His Creation. This doctrine does not mean that God knows the end from the beginning. It is more than that. God is continuously involved in His creation. He works to make sure the universe continues to exist to fulfill His own plan and purpose for it. In particular, the doctrine of providence applies to mankind. God is the power sustaining and guiding all human destiny. God cares for men. This care in providence manifests itself especially as wisdom, power, and love. God controls human beings for His glory and for their good. God is good. He cares for all people, but He cares for the believers in a special way. He works ‘behind the scenes’ using all things, good and bad, even failures and sins, for His own purpose. He always brings them to ‘an expected end’ (Jer 29:11). This is a great definition: Providence ‘is God’s purposeful sovereignty in which He will be completely successful in the achievement of His ultimate goal for the universe” (John Piper). God’s providence is an amazingly good news for us who are in Christ!
CLASSICAL DEFINITIONS OF PROVIDENCE
Question: What do you understand by the providence of God? Answer: The Almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches, and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand” (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).
“God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646). According to these definitions, the primary purpose of Creation therefore, it is to display God’s glory, wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. The second purpose is to bless His Children!
A wonderful scripture to describe God’s work in providence is this: “But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now [He has never ceased working], and I too am working.” (Jn 5:17, AMP).
In the believers, God works mostly thru His Word in their hearts. Apostle Paul said: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13)
FALSE TEACHINGS RELATED TO CREATION AND PROVIDENCE
This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the idea that the universe is governed by chance. The philosophers who say that the universe exists by chance, they reject God as the Creator. For something to exists by chance, it means that it came accidentally, randomly, without a plan or a purpose. This is a false idea that has done great damage in the minds of many.
There are false teachings related to the doctrines of Creation and Providence. Some teachers say that God is inside His creation and not separated from it. They say this is how God upholds all things. This is the truth: God created the universe but as a Person, He is separate from it. Others say that God has created the universe, but that He withdrew from it. God is not actively interested in this world. He allows His creation to live according to the natural laws He created. He only looks from a distance. He intervenes in our lives only when something is terribly wrong. They say God is like a watchmaker. The watch He made works on its own. He only touches it if it needs repairs. Other false teachings say that God does not intervene thru miracles. They do not believe in miracles. Others say that God only cares for big things in life, and He ‘has no time’ for the small. These are false teachings and are not Biblical.
God is absolutely perfect. Think of God as a Father who has three main qualities: Goodness, Knowledge, and Power. God is perfectly good; He knows everything, and He is all-powerful. God does not learn anything new. He knows all things as they are from eternity. Nothing takes God by surprise. God does not forget anything. God cannot be deceived by anyone. Nothing is impossible for God to do. Therefore, God who created the universe, is able to sustain it, so that it fulfills God’s purpose for it. The doctrine of Providence has been rejected by many people. They say: ‘If God is good, all-knowledgeable and all powerful, then why there is so much suffering in this world. Every living being dies. Many people die without a clear purpose for their lives. There is poverty and war. Sin and evil seem to prevail. The rich oppress the poor, the strong bully the weak. They say, where is God in all these things? You need the Holy Spirit to believe God and to understand His ways.
THE BIBLE REVEALS THAT GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER ALL HIS CREATION
*Over the Universe: “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps 103:19). “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).
*Over the Physical and Animal world: “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth… The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God” (Ps 104:14, 21)”. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45).”Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Mt 6:26).
*Over the Nations: “He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them” (Job 12:23).
*Over Man’s Conception, Birth, Death, and Every Decision of men: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps 139:13-16). “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (PV 16:33)
*GOD PROTECTS HIS PEOPLE: “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore” (Ps 121:7, 8). “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mt 10:30)
*GOD PROVIDES FOR HIS PEOPLE: “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years” (Deut 8:3-4). “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).
*GOD ANSWERS THEIR PRAYERS: “O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come” (Ps 65:2). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7)
*GOD PUNISHES THEIR ENEMIES: “The Lord tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps 11:5, 6)
GOD HAS CREATED THE UNIVERSE THRU AND FOR HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST, AND HE SUSTAINS ALL THINGS BY THE WORD OF HIS POWER
God, “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…” (Heb 1:2, 3)
God is the Creator. He has created the universe from nothing, by the Word of His mouth. God has created all things thru His Son and for His Son. The creation is separated from God but not independent from Him. God continues to be actively involved in His creation. God is absolutely sovereign and independent from His creation. The creation continues to exist dependent on God and His Word.
“You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You” (Neh 9:6)
“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17)
God the Son is King overall! He rules in the Kingdom of God. All things must be according to His will, purpose, and pleasure. God’s government is universal and is eternally increasing in its manifestations. “For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (Ps 47:7, 8). “Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Is 9:7). God, the Son, is King overall. Nothing and nobody can hide or withdraw from His government.
GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS MANIFESTED DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY
Most of the time, God works thru secondary means. God uses human decisions and the natural laws that He has created. Occasionally, God intervenes directly in the human affairs. When God does that, it is called a miracle. A miracle is the exercise of the sovereign power and will of God bypassing the laws of nature that God made at the beginning. Some do not believe in miracles. This is an error. The truth is that God has the absolute right to intervene directly or indirectly in the affairs of His creation.
God works thru men, not only when they do good, but even when they sin or do evil. God is not the author of sin or temptation (James 1:13). God does not condone sin. At the same time, God obviously allows a certain measure of sin. He must have a reason for allowing it, temporarily, even though He hates it. The doctrine of divine providence can be summarized this way: “God in eternity past, in the counsel of His own will, ordained everything that will happen; yet in no sense is God the author of sin; nor is human responsibility removed.” Man must take responsibility for his sins. But God works His purpose even thru men’s sins. God is God in all men’s actions. God initiate the action, accompanies man in every action, and makes that action effective for His purposes. Man does his work and God does His work. This cooperation is real, but it is never equal. God is always in charge!!!
We know that humans have a free will, but we also know that God is sovereign. How these two truths relate to each other is hard for us to understand, but we see examples in the Scripture. Study the way God dealt with Saul of Tarsus who became The Apostle Paul. Saul was willfully persecuting the church, but, all the while, he was “kicking against the goads” of God’s providence (Acts 26:14). God also sometimes works directly to accomplish His will. These works are what we call miracles. The blazing light that fell on Saul on the road to Damascus is an example of God’s direct intervention (Acts 9:3). The frustrating of Paul’s plans to go to Bythinia is an example of God’s indirect guiding (Acts 16:7).
DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS THE WORK OF THE TRINITY
God the Father designed and created the universe. He also invented and planed the salvation of sinners. God the Son volunteered to become a Man on earth, to live and die for the sins of men. The Son of God paid the price for salvation. By His Blood, Jesus ‘sponsored’ the Grace given to God’s children. God the Holy Spirit is the One who primarily works now on earth, even in manifesting the Divine Providence.
I am trying to explain these deep truths using a simpler example. In a big company, there is a CEO (Chief Executive Officer), there is the Owner and also the Managing Director. God the Father is the CEO, God the Son is the Owner and God the Holy Spirit is the Managing director. These are some of the qualities and functions of the CEO and the Managing Director as taken from the internet, relating to a big company on earth:
A CEO is at the highest level of hierarchy at any organization. He designs the overall strategy and vision of the company. His job includes making the most important decisions. He oversees all areas, whether operations or sales. He does not involve himself in the day-to-day workings of every department. He is more concerned with the overall running, strategies, and goals. He is also the face of the company in the public eye.
A Managing Director is, on the other hand, among the highest leaders at an organization and usually functions under the CEO. He might also be part of the board of directors. The Managing Director is responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the company. He oversees the daily implementation of the CEO’s strategy and works to align employees with the company’s long-term goals. A Managing Director reports to the CEO on updates. He is responsible for the smooth functioning of daily processes and manage the managers and other department heads.
Here are a few skills that both CEOs and managing directors share: Exceptional leadership and communication skills, Interpersonal skills, Organizational skills, Analytical skills, and Conflict resolution skills.
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS – DIVINE PROVIDENCE RECOGNIZED – GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Gen 45:3-8) …Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen 50:18-21)
The way Joseph understands his life, his trials and triumph, is a wonderful example of wisdom and comfort knowing that God’s providence is at work. In Genesis 45:4–8, Joseph twice says that his brothers sold him into Egypt and three times that God sent him to Egypt. Both statements are true. Joseph is saying that God’s plan is sovereign even over the sin and wickedness of his brothers. As you can see, the doctrine of providence has practical value. Joseph is telling his brothers not to be grieved, angry, or fearful. In other words, he is telling them that he forgave them for their sins. They too should forgive themselves. This is because God’s providence intervened and overruled their sins. This is the Power of King Grace in action. They must humble themselves before King Grace and thank Him for His overruling decision. God has a purpose for their action, even though it was sinful. They should recognize the authority of King Grace and thank Him for all He has done. God has used their wrong choices and sins to glorify Himself and to promote Joseph. Good came out of bad. Thru Joseph’s promotion, the whole family was saved. Their family will become a nation. Recognizing the providence of God, Joseph is able to ‘comfort and speak kindly to them’.
Joseph stands for Christ, the Savior, who died for His people’s sins and rose to a new life. Christ alone defeated death with His death. Christ alone can change sin into righteousness. This is the Gospel. This is the power and the glory of the Gospel. This is Divine Providence at work for the glory of God and for the good of His people. Joseph saw God’s hand of providence thru all his suffering. Remember that Joseph had no Bible. He lived before the Book of Genesis was written. We have no excuse to be blind to the greatness of God! For seeing and honoring God behind all circumstances, God promoted him! Glory!
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
Knowing that God works thru men and does miracles should encourage our faith in Him. In the History of the church, the people of God always trusted God to intervene in their circumstances. They regarded the doctrine of providence as a great blessing. “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it. “When we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation. The Christian heart, since it has been thoroughly persuaded that all things happen by God’s plan, and that nothing takes place by chance, will ever look to God as the principal cause of things, yet will give attention to the secondary causes in their proper place. In the same evil deed, a godly man will clearly contemplate God’s righteousness and man’s wickedness, as each clearly shows itself” (John Calvin).
Knowing the doctrine of the Divine Providence, will help us see how Great God is. This revelation will humble human pride, encourage the faint, and help us to worship God more! God reveals Himself as the God of all Grace and Goodness, thru the story of the Bible, a world of sin, of pain, tragedy, betrayal, and death. To find God and His Grace is a world of sin, reveals the power of the Word of God and of the Holy Spirit! This is God’s world. See it thru God’s eyes, and not thru men’s opinions. “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Cor 3:21-23). If you believe that in Christ, this world is yours, will not try to understand it better?
During painful trials, what should be our attitude? There is something negative and something positive. We should not grumble, we should not allow self-pity, and we should not doubt the love of God for us. Positively, we should actively seek to find what is God doing in the circumstances. Once you ‘find God’ with you, you will have peace. Finally, live a life of thanksgiving!
The providence of God shows God to be an artist painting beauty on a tattered scroll of sin. God does not want us to be passive lookers. He wants us to see His world with hope, gratitude, beauty, and amazement! The sun does not just rise in the East. God paints it on the sky, each morning with a different color! He never gets tired to paint it!
Knowing that God works to uphold His creation, thru men, circumstances or by miracles, should help us to pray with more confidence. Each morning pray like this: “Dear Heavenly Father, I worship You for You are God! You are my God! You care for me! I need You today! I need Your Grace and Help today. Please send helpers to me! Please help me to recognize and to accept them. Help me to remain humble and faithful! Help me to submit to Your loving Hand, in all things. Help me to see You in all things pertaining to me. I desire to cooperate with You as the God of Providence! I reject pride, fear, grumbling, ingratitude, doubt, and sinful anger. Help me to trust You for miracles, for nothing is impossible with You! Let my life be pleasing to You! I give You all the glory! I thank You Abba Father! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen!”. Worship the Lord!