Comfort in Sovereignty: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10

27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God,1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures,2 and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,3 health and sickness,4 riches and poverty,5 indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
[1] Acts 17:25–26. [2] Heb. 1:3. [3] Jer. 5:24; *Acts 14:17. [4] Jn. 9:3. [5] Prov. 22:2; *Ps. 103:19; Rom. 5:3–5a.

28. What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?
That we may be patient in adversity,1 thankful in prosperity,2 and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love,3 since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.4
[1] Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:3; Job 1:21. [2] Deut. 8:10; 1 Thess. 5:18. [3] Rom. 8:35, 38–39. [4] Job 1:12; Acts 17:25–28; Prov. 21:1; *Ps. 71:7; *2 Cor. 1:10.

Comfort in Sovereignty
To the degree that we affirm God’s absolute and minute control of every single thing that happens, to that same degree we can be confident, courageous and hopeful in the future, and patient in the midst of suffering.

To the degree that we limit, place conditions on or deny God’s absolute control over all the events of history and of our lives, to that same degree we should be anxious and fearful about the future, and resentful and depressed about the past.

The Bible teaches that all of God’s children, all those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, can have absolute confidence that every single event in their lives is moving toward a predetermined end. The future determines the past and present for God’s elect, and the future is set in stone, and we know what that future is. We can therefore know that all of the things that happen in this life are moving us toward that goal, even if we don’t know exactly how any given event contributes. We are told by God that this is the case, perhaps most famously in Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” That passage tells us that God is using every event that occurs to accomplish this goal, of making His people like Jesus Christ. We know that once that goal is accomplished (in the world to come), every good blessing imaginable will flow from that.

Therefore we can be patient and hopeful no matter what comes. We can know that any event that happens, no matter how painful or inexplicable, comes to us from the hand of our loving heavenly Father. That completely changes the way we look at everything. If, for example, you are woken up at 2 AM to run around in circles until you drop from exhaustion, the way you will feel about that event will change completely if it’s being done by a prison system punishing you for holding illegal political views, or a boot camp drill instructor preparing you for war. The first is vindictive and hateful, and will probably be viewed with bitterness and resentment. The second has a purpose, and a good one—to keep you alive in battle. So even if something is very painful and unpleasant, if you can have confidence that there is a good motive behind it, even if you don’t understand it, you can be patient.

Love for our fellow man is enabled by that confidence and hope. Love happens when we can have the courage to make ourselves vulnerable, to stop worrying about our own welfare and start thinking about what we can do for other people. Living in fear of the future or bitterness about the past makes love impossible. But thankfulness for all the good things I have received, and confident trust in what is coming, gives me the resources to share that thankfulness and joy with those around me. If I could reduce the question simply to money, for purposes of illustration, if I am worried about being able to pay my own rent, I’m not too likely to help someone else in need. But if I believe I have a great abundance of material things, then I will give freely. Extend that thinking to all my resources—time, emotions, intellect, circumstance—if I recognize that God has showered good things on me and will continue to do so, then that sense of gratitude and confidence will enable me to do good to those around me. “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

But what about the evil in the world? Is God in control of that too? And if so, does that make God evil? The short answer to this question is that God is indeed in control of everything that happens, even those things that from our perspective are evil. And while a particular person’s actions may be taken by that person for evil purposes, thus incurring the wrath of God, at the very same time in a way that is mysterious to us, God also ordained the same events, but not for evil purposes. He does everything He does for good purposes- for the revelation of His own glory and the fulfillment of His good plan for His people. Thus, Joseph can say in Genesis 50 that his brothers acted very wrongly in selling him into slavery, but God ordained the very same act for good. “You meant evil unto me, but God meant it for good.” Or as Peter can say in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” The crucifixion of Jesus was a wicked act from the moral perspective of those that committed the act, and thus they are guilty of sin. But God also ordained it, and did so for very good and loving reasons. So God is in control, but not guilty of sin. God’s sovereign ordination overarches all our choices, and all God’s actions are good. Thus the responsibility of people for their own actions is maintained, and yet God’s total sovereignty over everything in the world is also maintained.

With this truth firmly in mind at all times, God’s people are equipped to be patient, to be thankful, to be obedient, and to trust God’s Word and God’s goodness regardless of circumstance. If those circumstances are not all under God’s control, then we might have cause to say that His Word did not anticipate the situation we find ourselves in. But the circumstances of our lives are all under His control, and thus we never have any reason to think that His Word does not apply to our lives. We can put away all worry and fear, knowing that everything that comes our way in life comes ultimately not from chance or from the will of evil men or the malice of the devil, but from the loving hand of our perfectly good and kind Father, who loves us as His own children.