God created the world, but his involvement didn’t end there. The Old and New Testaments teach that God is still closely involved in even the smallest aspects of life for his creatures. We use the word providence to describe God’s ongoing care for the created world.
Today, we mostly think naturalistically about the cycles of nature. Rain and sunshine, planting in the spring, and harvesting in autumn—these things happen so regularly and predictably that it is easy to take them for granted. But the Bible clearly states that God regulates these cycles for the good of his creatures.
The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:13–16 ESV)
God’s providence in Scripture takes unlikely forms at times. For instance, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and later was unjustly imprisoned. But because Joseph was in prison in Egypt, he was in the right place to interpret Pharaoh’s dream regarding the seven years of plenty preceding seven years of famine. This led to Egypt storing vast quantities of grain during the years of plenty, which led to the survival of Israel.
God’s role in providing is seen most clearly when God removes these blessings from Israel in the Old Testament in response to their disobedience and idolatry. In Deuteronomy, God promised ancient Israel that their faithfulness to their covenant with him would result in material blessings on the land they would come to inhabit:
You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. (Deuteronomy 11:8–9, 13–15)
However, unfaithfulness would result in these blessings being removed:
Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16–17)
While there are differences between common grace (how God gives good things to all of creation) and how God acts with his covenant people, we cannot disregard God and expect to continue to receive his blessings.
The first responsibility we have in response to this truth is gratitude. We owe our life and everything we need to sustain us to God. God is the one who allows our food to grow, who gives us the ability to work to earn money, and who ultimately gives us every good thing we have.
The first responsibility we have in response to this truth is gratitude.
Our second response should be to trust God. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25–26).
Paul echoed this teaching, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7, 19).
A perhaps less intuitive response should be contentment with what God has provided, even if it isn’t what we see others getting. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
And, of course, trusting in God for continual provision means we should be generous if we find ourselves with extra while someone else, especially a brother or sister in Christ, needs assistance. What a privilege to be used by God to provide for another person’s needs! And if we can help an unbeliever, it can be an excellent opportunity to share the gospel.
Our reliance on God for physical sustenance should also point us to reflect on our spiritual dependence on God. When Adam fell, he gained a sinful disposition, which we inherit from him as his descendants. This means we are at enmity with God, incapable of the type of righteousness God requires for anyone who wants a relationship with him. Just as we depend entirely on God for our physical sustenance, we are also entirely dependent on God for salvation.
We need a sacrifice to cancel out our sin and a positive righteousness that can put us in a right relationship with God. Jesus provides both elements because he lived the righteous life that no other person could and then died to take the penalty for the sins of everyone who would trust in him. His triumphant resurrection both assures us that God has accepted that sacrifice and models for us the type of resurrection we can expect to have in the future when he returns.
Paul describes spiritual providence in Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:32–34).
Sometimes people die of illnesses, even starvation, and diseases of poverty that would be utterly preventable with the right resources. Someone first encountering the doctrine of providence might ask what is going on in instances when even believers don’t seem to be provided for.
First, creation is fallen. If Adam had never sinned, no person would ever experience a shortage of anything they needed. Sin is the ultimate cause of all suffering in the world. Sometimes, one’s own sinful actions deprive one of the sustenance they would have otherwise had—in that case, it is the fault of the sinful person.
Second, God often provides through means, especially believers. If you see someone suffering and have the means to help, it would be hypocritical to accuse God of doing nothing while you sit by and watch (James 2:15–16; 1 John 3:17). And if you do intervene, it is God who gives you enough resources to help another person.
Third, everyone suffers in various ways, and everyone eventually dies. This should not make us doubt God’s goodness; rather, it should make us reflect on our dependence on God. As David said, “O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:3–4).
In this fallen world, all providence is in the context of a fallen world where we will all grow sick and die and where sin taints God’s good gifts.
When believers die, we go directly into the presence of Christ to await the resurrection at the time of his future return (1 Corinthians 15:23). At that time, the earth will be recreated to be a suitable home for resurrected people (with imperishable glorified bodies, per 1 Corinthians 15:42–44) to live with Christ forever. Scripture assures us that “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4).
For now, all providence is in the context of a fallen world where we will all grow sick and die and where sin taints God’s good gifts. But the presence of sin, death, and physical need should make us aware of our dependence on God and cause us to look forward to the resurrection and eternal life in the new heavens and earth.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.