Christians are people who “serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:10) and compose the “temple” (2 Cor. 6:16) and “household” (1 Tim. 3:15) of the “living God.” We are people who know that God is not dead or remote or inactive in this world.
Even though there were limited times when the activity of God superseded (“miracles”) the functions and bounds of this world established by God, we affirm that the action of God operates typically in harmony with the way God made things. This affirmation that God is working out His purpose within the created order is what is meant by “the providence of God.”
The concept of “the providence of God” is evident in the Scriptures, even though the phrase does not occur in our Bibles. One example from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament should suffice. Mordecai alludes to the idea of God’s providence when he tells Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). The apostle Paul has the idea of God’s providence in mind when he writes to Philemon concerning Onesimus, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 15-16).
It not always easy to specify that an activity or event is the providential activity of God. Since the apostle Paul wrote “perhaps,” we ought to be hesitant in naming and claiming some things as an activity of God.
I am wondering if the providence of God was at work this past Sunday at Columbine. The very morning that I am preaching on the value of every person in the sight of God, the congregation has a visitor that provides us with a flesh and blood illustration of needing to see everyone as valuable. Is that just a coincidence? Is this the activity of God? Do we really believe that people with hygiene problems, manner problems, seemingly no interest in hearing God’s words, and disrupts things being done “decently and in order” is valuable? “Perhaps” this was the providence of God.
I am wondering if the providence of God is at work on the border of this country. Is it possible that God is sending the mission field to us? It is not as messy to send money to the mission field or go on short term missions as it is to have the mission field come to us. Is it more effective to spread to the gospel to people in their own countries or to plant the gospel among exiles? “Perhaps” this is the providence of God.