God’s providence is an obnoxious idea to those who don’t want a King, and to those who don’t want a Father. All sorts of anti-Christian and sub-Christian ideas move into the vacuum to replace it. Islam wants a King but not a Father–so the religion speaks of providence in capricious, arbitrary, and impersonal ways. Revisionist Christian theologies want a Father and not a King, so they often speak of a God who loves you, but who can’t intervene in the details of your life. Some, such as Darwinists or Marxists or hyper-capitalists, want neither a King nor a Father so they replace providence with the determinism of genetic material or economic forces or human greed.
The major challenge to the Christian notion of providence though doesn’t come from a pipe-smoking heretic in a faculty lounge somewhere. The most dangerous sub-Christian theology of providence I can find is my own. It doesn’t show up in typed out discourses like this one. It shows up when I worry about the future–as though God does not have my future planned for me. It shows up when I’m anxious about how to pay for college educations or how to avoid my family’s genetic predisposition to heart disease or whether my church is going to do well next year. My fretfulness or my mistrust or my manipulation reveals a heart that doesn’t truly believe that God knows–or can do–what is best for me. These also reveal a heart that doesn’t yet fully get the goal of divine providence–conformity to Christ Jesus.
A Christian vision of providence ought to bring about a kind of enraged tranquility. Because we know the goal to which God is moving history–and us–we ought to cry out in anguish when we see what doesn’t please him–especially in our own hearts. At the same time, though, we’re not fearful. We know that no one or nothing can harm us apart from the Father’s permission (John 19:11), and God’s silence in the face of our suffering doesn’t mean God has forgotten us.
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About Russell Moore
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
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