Is God like a cosmic cheerleader who is rooting for us on the sidelines but cannot get involved in the game? Today, Barry Cooper explores how the Lord is actively unfolding His good plan for His people, a plan that was set irrevocably before time began.
How intimately is God involved in our lives? Is He a loving presence who wants the best for us, a kind of cosmic cheerleader who’s definitely rooting for us on the sidelines, but who can’t really get involved in the game?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence like this:
“God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.”
This encompasses the idea that God wisely and lovingly provides for His children. He provides for everyone in one sense—life, breath, and every good thing we enjoy. But there’s a particularly profound way in which He provides for His own family—which is you, if you’re in Christ.
This is the providence that Paul speaks of in Romans chapter 8 verse 28 when he says, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” “All things work together” for the good of those who love God. That verse means that all the things God brings into our lives—however difficult they may be—are actually working together for our good. It also means, of course, that all the things we may deeply desire but have not yet received, and may never receive, have been withheld from us for our good.
One of my favorite books is John Newton’s letters. He puts it like this: “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.” What a sense of calm and joy we’d experience if we believed that truth.
It’s important to see that this “providence,” this “providing for,” isn’t merely God’s reaction to our ever-changing needs. It’s more than that. Our word providence comes from the Greek pronoia, which means “forethought,” and also the Latin providentia, which means “to provide beforehand.” The word providence, then, conveys the idea that when God provides for us, it’s because He already knows what we need—far, far in advance of it happening in time. He has already ordered things accordingly. When Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” He doesn’t mean, “Your Father reads your mind as soon as you think it.” No, the Father’s knowledge of you—the entire span of your life, all that will happen within it, and all that you will need—is something He has always known.
In Isaiah 46:10, God says, “[I declare] the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
So His good providence for you is something that was set, irrevocably, before time began. So it’s not subject to human interference or rebellion. “Rolling with the punches” isn’t something God needs to do, because nothing we do—nothing anyone does—comes as a surprise to Him, because everything that happens is because of His wise providence.
But what about when people do evil things? Surely we can’t say that evil is a part of God’s good and wise plan.
But listen to what the disciples pray in Acts chapter 4 verses 27–28. They’re talking here about the greatest of all evil acts, the murder of Jesus:
“In this city [they say] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
So God the Father predestined the crucifixion of God the Son. It had always been a part of His good and wise providence. This doesn’t mean that God is the author of evil or that He endorses evil or that He somehow compelled people to murder Jesus against their will, but it does mean that what they did, they did because it was God’s providential plan that they do so.
Nothing falls outside the realm of God’s providence. All shall work together for good, even the death of God’s Son. And for those of us who are the eternal beneficiaries of that death, we of all people should be in no doubt that all things—even the bad things—work together for our good.