In a list of favorite Bible passages of all time, near the top of the list would be Romans 8:28. ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.’
Notice Paul’s confidence here? He doesn’t say, ‘And I hope’ or ‘And I think’ that God works all things together for good. No, Paul knows this to be true and it encourages his heart throughout all kinds of suffering listed in the remaining verses of Romans 8.
Contrast Paul’s bold confidence here in Romans 8:28 with the modern Church. Do we have the same confidence in God to work all things for our good? Do we trust that God so governs the affairs of men so as to bring about our best possible good in the best possible manner? No, most Christians today view God as ‘the man upstairs’ or a ‘divine butler’ who aids us when we call on Him rather than seeing Him as He is, the Sovereign One who governs all things through His providence. Think back to the founding of our nation. Think of the small city within the small state of Rhode Island, named Providence. Apparently the early citizens of our nation knew what Paul knew and named a city after it. If our nation was founded today and we had to choose names for cities, you can be sure that Providence wouldn’t be on the list. Maybe instead of Providence Rhode Island we’d have Tolerance, Rhode Island.
How ironic is it that though the doctrine of God’s providence has largely disappeared our nation and within many of our churches too, within the Bible you can’t escape it. It’s everywhere. The popular notion today is that natural causes bring all things to pass in our world, but in the Bible, there is one source for all events, whether good or bad – God.
Let’s look into this neglected doctrine and see what God has for us.
Like the word ‘Trinity’ the word ‘providence’ is not in the Bible, but the idea of providence is all over it. The Greek word ‘pronoia’ and the Latin word ‘providentia’ form our English word ‘providence.’ Early on the Church Fathers rejected the Epicurean notion that the world was governed by chance and rejected the Stoic notion that the world was governed by fate. In place of chance and fate they held that it was God who preserves and governs the world.
This is good, but we don’t see the full picture of the doctrine of providence coming into view until St. Augustine carefully defined it in the 4th century. He saw in Scripture that God does indeed preserve and govern all things, but that God does so through His sovereign, wise, and benevolent will. The Church adopted Augustine’s view and despite a few heretics (Pelagius being the worst) there wasn’t much debate on this issue throughout the centuries. 600 years later around the 11th-12th century Thomas Aquinas agreed with Augustine’s view and promoted it also. This led on to the time of the Reformation where Luther and even more so Calvin defined and defended the historic view (Augustine’s view) of divine providence. After this came the Puritans who also held the biblical and historic view that Augustine, Aquinas, and the Reformers taught.
After this came much opposition to this doctrine with the teachings of the Deists and the Liberals. Because these two groups had such a low view of sin and thus such a high view of man, man (rather than God) slowly became to be seen the cause of all things.
So here we are today – in the modern Church where the doctrine of the providence of God is largely ignored.
(Image courtesy of Ruth Seefeldt)