The Invisible Hand of God’s Providence
Providence, Trials, Faith, Trust
There are times when life feels like it is out of control. A shooting is reported on the news. One more person has cancer. Someone we love is diagnosed with debilitating disease. A long term relationship crumbles. Someone we love dies suddenly. We lose a job. We face financial reversals. We are falsely accused. Or we have one of those periods where nothing seems to go as planned. At these times life seems unpredictable and arbitrary. And that’s why the concluding chapter of Genesis is so important. In the words of Joseph we gain insight to these difficult times of life. Joseph gives us insight into the Providence of God.
That term may be unfamiliar to you. The word providence means literally to “see beforehand.” It teachers that God sees the end or the purpose for what happens in life. He sees (and ordained) the final goal. . . . so God is actively involved moving creation toward that goal. R.C. Sproul states it succinctly,
The central point of the doctrine of providence is the stress on God’s government of the universe. He rules His creation with absolute sovereignty and authority. He governs everything that comes to pass, from the greatest to the least. Nothing ever happens beyond the scope of His sovereign providential government. He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine. He raises up kingdoms and brings them down. He numbers the hairs on our head and the days of our life. [Essential Truths p. 62]
Where do I find this doctrine in Genesis 50? Look at verses 15-21
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.n (Genesis 50:15-21)
The brothers of Joseph have been uncomfortable. Ever since they met up with Joseph after all the years of separation they have been concerned about retribution. Joseph has given no indication that he is vindictive but the brothers know human nature. They know that offenses are not forgotten. They have concluded that the only reason Joseph hasn’t done anything is out of love for his father. So, when Jacob dies, they are worried that the time of retribution is at hand.
They bring a real or a made up message (we don’t know which) from their father. The message is simple: “please forgive your brothers.” Joseph sees through the message. It breaks his heart that the brothers don’t take his love at face value. Joseph gathers his brothers together and says, “Am I in the place of God? You intended me to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Joseph contends God was guiding the circumstances of his life. He looks back at the events of his life and see that God was working in the details. He sees the fact that he was sent by his Father, that he was sold by his brothers, purchased by Potiphar, accused by Mrs. Potiphar, imprisoned with the Bake and Cupbearer, and elevated by Pharoah as all part of God’s perfect plan in his life. He believes in God’s providence.
The doctrine of providence is not very popular today. When difficult circumstances come our way many contemporary folks are quick to jump “to God’s defense.” They proclaim, “God had nothing to do with it!” or worse, they will say, “God couldn’t do anything about it.” But there are two problems with these statements. First, there is no comfort in them at all. What is comforting about knowing that God is powerless to control the things that happen in your life? And second,in this attempt to safeguard God’s reputation . . . they make God less than God. God’s promises, His plans, His purpose are now subject to the arbitrary whims of man. If He is God . . . .OF COURSE He could have done something about it. . . .God is never powerless! So the question becomes: what is God doing in bringing about or in “not stopping” certain events. Joseph contends that God’s actions or inaction (in some cases) is due to His providence.
When we talk about God’s providence it is important that we understand the issue clearly. There are some things we need to be clear about.
Some things are Evil. Please understand that we are not saying that what his brothers did was good. Joseph acknowledges that the brothers INTENDED evil. They wanted to hurt him. They sinned and are responsible to God for that sin. What Joseph acknowledges is that God took their evil intentions and used t for good.
When children commit terrorist acts, when one person abuses another, when drug dealers peddle death to others, when God’s standards are laughed at and ridiculed, these are evil acts. These people will stand before the judge of the world and have to give account for their wickedness. God has chosen (according to His wisdom) to allow us a measure of freedom. With freedom comes consequences. Some of those consequences are bad. But what the Bible teaches is that in God’s mercy He uses the free acts of men (albeit evil) to accomplish his purpose.
Some Things are Painful. Certainly during the difficult times of his life Joseph hurt. I suspect he may have been discouraged. Believing in God’s providence does not mean that things were easy for Joseph. They weren’t. We have reflected on what it might have been like to be sold by your own brothers. We break out into a cold sweat as we imagine being falsely charged with rape. We have all felt the pain of feeling forgotten.
Holding to the doctrine of God’s Providence does not mean that we won’t feel the pain of life. Some things even when they are necessary, are not pleasant. We may know that a certain surgical procedure is required for us to be well. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t feel pain.
God is Working But That Doesn’t Mean We Understand. I suspect that there were many nights when Joseph cried out “Why Lord?” Like Job I imagine that there were nights when Joseph asked, “God, what have I done to deserve this?” Even in hindsight Joseph may not have understood some of the “whys” of his circumstances. And the same may also be true of you.
- why did my spouse die?
- why do I have cancer?
- why did I have to bury my child?
- why is my relationship such a mess?
- why does everyone else seem to prosper while I struggle?
Believing in God’s providence doesn’t mean that you will understand what God is doing . . . it only means you will trust that God is doing something.
God’s Definition of Good is not the same as ours. We don’t define “good” the same way that God does. To us “good” is that which makes us happy, satisfied or brings us enjoyment. We see good as the absence of any pain. But God’s definition is different. God defines good as that which leads us to Christlikeness, or that which brings us to trust Him more or which advances His Kingdom.
Think about life as a baby in a mother’s womb. You are warm, comfortable, all your needs are provided and life is good. All of a sudden things become tumultuous. Things seem to be closing in around you, you are being forced against your will into a cramped space and it is uncomfortable. Suddenly, you are being poked, grabbed and handled. Your life support is cut and suddenly you have to fend for yourself. The brightness and noise is painful. This is a horrible tragedy! But we know otherwise. This baby has just been born.
The baby surely believed that they were better off if they had stayed where they were. However, they don’t realize how temporary a residence that was. They don’t know that if they had remained there they would have eventually died. They don’t realize what is before them. They don’t know about taste, sight, touch and smell. They don’t have any concept of locomotion or cognitive reasoning. They don’t know about faith, love, hope, joy. From their immediate perspective birth is not a good thing.
This is the way it often is for us. We don’t see where the pushing, squeezing, pain and discomfort are bringing us. Often in the midst of God’s Providence we feel something horrible is happening. But God sees what we don’t.
We don’t know how a death could be good
- but we don’t know what the person has been spared
- we don’t know what the person has been given in eternity
- we don’t know the changes that are taking place in the lives of those involved
Our perspective is faulty. We don’t see the whole picture. We must trust God’s wisdom.
THE TRUTH OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE
One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” This verse about God’s providence teaches us vital truths for our lives.
God is Not Indifferent. Sometimes it feels that God is far away. I know. I’ve felt that way. There are times when we feel that we pray but nothing happens. We believe but see nothing change. At times we cry out to God and seem to hear nothing.
We have studied the book of Genesis for 16 months. But in doing so our perspective is skewed. The events in these pages have not taken place over a 16 month period, they have taken place over several hundred years. Consequently we may miss the faith that was necessary to hang on.
- Think of the many months Noah was building the Ark with no evidence of a flood
- Think many years between God’s promise that Abraham would have a child and the birth of Isaac
- Think of the 14 years Jacob worked so he could be married to Rachel
- Think of the years of bareness Rachel endured before she had Joseph
- Think of the years of separation between when Joseph was sold into slavery and when he saw his family again.
In each of these cases I suspect there were questions. These people wondered if God has forgotten them. But He hadn’t. And He hasn’t forgotten you. God knows where you are and He knows where you are going. God is getting you into position so you can accomplish His good purpose for your life. What you are going through is no accident! In the life of a believer there are no accidents. There is no such thing as chance. God has allowed even the evil and the painful because He intends to use even these things for his glory.
God is working ALL things for Good in the life of the believer
Paul does not say that God uses pleasant things for good. He doesn’t say that God uses some things for good. God is at work in ALL things for the good of the one who is called by Him. I believe that means before conversion and after our conversion. EVERYTHING is filtered through the hands of our loving Father . . . everything!
The Wedgwood Baptist Church suffered the horror of a gunman by the name of Larry Ashbrook coming into their church on a Wednesday night in September of 1999 while a See You at the Pole rally was taking place. He began shooting . . . killing seven young people. It was a horrible situation. Months afterward the church looks back and sees a number of ways God has used this painful time.
- All the victims were believers.
- the memorial service at the football stadium of Texas Christian University was attended by 15,000 people and was broadcast on CNN and because Kim Jone’s parents live and work in Saudi Arabia, that country, which is close to the gospel, allowed portions of the service to be broadcast there.
- In response to a question by Al Gore, Pastor Mereditih was able to present the gospel clearly on “Larry King Live” and was in the days following able to pray with President Clinton and Texas Governor George W. Bush.
- A DJ at a local Christian radio station was able to lead a caller to Christ. He said he wanted what the church members had.the only people who were killed were believers who were ushered into the presence of the Almighty.
These are just a few of the evidences of God’s providence in this circumstance. There are certainly other things we will not learn about until we are in Heaven. God was at work even in the horror and madness of this situation.
Have you ever thought about what the disciples were thinking as Jesus was crucified? Certainly they thought God had forgotten them. What a travesty of justice. Where was God? But later they understood. Without the cross there could be no forgiveness. Without the cross their was no salvation. Without the cross there can be no resurrection. God was at work even in the cruelest event of history.
God is at work in your life too. He is involved in the big things . . . and the little things of your life. Stay open. Keep listening. Learn the lessons He is trying to teach you.
We Know This by Faith Paul says we KNOW that God is working all things for good. But how do we know that? We know it because this is God’s promise.
The one area that Satan attacks again and again is God’s Word. Satan wants us to turn away from the promises of God. In Genesis 3 we read about Adam and Eve. They were told they could eat from every tree except one. And they were warned that to eat from that tree would mean death. Things are going along fine until they encounter the serpent. And what are the first words the serpent says, “Did God really say . . . . “.
In the record of the temptation of Jesus we find that he is sent into the desert to be tempted following our baptism. At his baptism He heard God’s voice say, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” And do you remember the first words of Satan as he tempts Jesus? “If you are the son of God . . . . “.
Satan wants us to turn away from God’s promises. But God is trustworthy. His promises are sure. There is no weakness in God. There is no bravado in God. There is no sense in which God will promise what He doesn’t do. When God says He is weaving all things for good . . . we can go to the bank on it.
- even though we don’t understand
- even though we find the process painful
- even though it is not the course we desires
- even though we can’t imagine what good could come from these things.
CONCLUSIONS . . . LIVING IN LIGHT OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE
So what does it mean to live in light of God’s providence? First, it means we hang on tight to the Lord no matter what the circumstances. We must judge the circumstances by the Word and not the Word by our circumstances. There are many things that happen that will never make sense in this life. This is because some things are too complex to understand and some things will only make sense in light of Heaven.
Are you in one of those difficult times right now? Are you tempted to walk away and conclude that God doesn’t care? Do you want to throw up your hands and say, “What’s the use?” Friend, it may be that God has allowed these things to happen in your life simply to bring you to this point today. I don’t think it is an accident that you are here for this message.
Could it be that God is calling you to take a stand in faith. He is calling you to do more than repeat the truth, or testify to the truth. Today may be your moment of decision. He calls you today to trust Him. He invites you to trust Him for what you need in order to be made right with God. He calls you to trust Him to make you new. He calls you to trust Him for the strength to get you through your crisis. He calls you to trust Him to lead you home to life eternal. Will you take that step today? Will you stop running from God and instead confess your sin and receive His grace?
Does this seem like a little thing to you? Friend, if all the painful circumstances of your life have been for this one moment. . . .if it has all been to get you to see how much you need the Lord . . . it has been worth it. You may not see it now. You may feel that it is a bad trade. But someday you will see what God has done to bring you to Himself. And when you do, you will spend the rest of eternity giving Him thanks.
Second, living in light of God’s providence means we are always looking beyond the pain and seeking to be faithful in the painful times. Rather than assuming that God has deserted us (which is the most common response) we confess and stand on the truth that God is doing something we do not yet understand. We look at every circumstance as an opportunity for growth.
The one thing I have said that gets repeated back to me again and again by people who are going through tough times is this simple creed about God’s providence which I cling to with every ounce of strength I have.
God is in Control
God Loves Me
God Never, Ever, Makes a Mistake
This creed will not take away the pain. It will not make bad situations something we can understand. But it will help us hang on until we can see more clearly. Thanks be to God that life is not left to the mere whims of chance. Thank God that God does not leave us to simply work things out ourselves. He is there to help us. And even though we may not know HOW we will get through a difficult time . . . we know from these truths that we WILL get through it. And when we understand we will be grateful.
With eager heart and will on fire, I strove to win my great desire.
“Peace shall be mine”, I said; but life grew bitter in the barren strife.
My soul was weary, and my pride was wounded deep;
to Heaven I cried
“God grant me peace or I must die;” the silent stars gave no reply.
Broken at last I bowed my head, forgetting all myself, and said –
“Whatever comes, His will be done;’ and in that moment
peace was won
[Kenneth Osbeck, 101 MORE HYMN STORIES)