I’ve been thinking a lot about the providence of God lately. When I say, ‘the providence of God’, I mean the doctrine of God ordaining all things such that the apostle Paul could write “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). That means everything that happens – things we see as good and bad – work for the good of those who love God. That’s an amazing thought, but at the same time a difficult one – especially when, as in my Mum’s case, people get ill.
Jim Packer’s “Knowing God” does talk about God’s sovereignty – and I did, of course, blog through that before Easter – but it doesn’t go into very much detail. So, I was pleased to discover that Melvin Tinker had written a new book called “Intended for Good“, which I picked up recently and have just finished reading.
I think God’s providence is a topic which I’d previously found somewhat difficult, particularly when it comes to the issue of human freedom. I mean, what does it really mean for God to be sovereign with respect to human responsibility? How on earth can we possibly claim to be free if God just ordains everything anyway? I found the chapter in Intended for Good on this subject very helpful: Melvin quotes from a number of theologians and actually really helped me to make sense of a difficult issue.
But where this book really shone for me – particularly, as I said, given the situation with my Mum at the moment – is how the doctrine of God’s providence can really help us when the chips are down, how God’s providence should actually be a source of great comfort. In particular, one of the last chapters – reflecting on the story of Job – helped me a great deal. To know that nothing is outside of God’s hands can give us confidence that God is working and bringing about his purposes to make us and shape us to be more like Christ.
The last few chapters of Job especially spoke to me, from 38 onwards, where God responds to Job and his friends. Job had been accusing God of being unjust, because he felt that he was being punished for no reason. Job was putting God in the dock, asking God to justify himself. But God says to Job:
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone –
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:3-7)
‘I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?”
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:2-3)
Those are amazing words. Job realises that God’s purposes are beyond our human understanding, are beyond what we can know. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one! I’ve found these to be good words to reflect on in times of trouble.
So, as for Intended for Good, I’d highly recommend it to anyone – whether you’re going through a difficult time or not. (If you’re not, it’s good to be prepared!) In particular, I would say read it if you don’t think the idea of God’s providence has any real value in day-to-day life. It might just make it that bit easier to trust God in the hard times.
Also Recommended: “Behold our Sovereign God” by Mitchell Chase. This book was more of an overview of the Biblical case for God’s sovereignty; if you’re unsure of whether the Bible teaches that God is sovereign I would recommend reading this book as well! Melvin Tinker’s book is more about the pastoral side of God’s providence.