The Goal of God's Providence
It is far too easy to confuse providence with a pagan vision of “fate” or “chance,” as though God were an impersonal force driving history along. Our confessional statement rightly though sums up the Christian consensus by noting that God rules “as Father.” God’s purposes in history have a goal, and that goal is not a “what” but a “Who.” The goal of history has a name, a face, and a blood type: Jesus.
Paul tells the church at Ephesus that God “works out everything in agreement with the decision of his will” (Eph 1:11). He also tells them though what that decision is about–”to bring everything together in the messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him” (Eph 1:10).
This is why the history of Israel is so significant. It’s not just about an ancient people. It’s about all of us. The Apostle John sees in his vision on the island of Patmos the whole sweep of cosmic history as a woman giving birth, with a dragon seeking to devour her baby (Rev 12). Satan wars against Israel–through temptation to evil, through enslavement, through bloodthirsty enemies–but why? God protects Israel–sometimes through miraculous intervention (the parting of the seas) and sometimes through seemingly less extraordinary means (the storing of food in Joseph’s Egypt)–but why? Satan rages, and God oversees because from Israel, in the fullness of time, “came the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5).
The same is true in our individual lives. Paul tells the church at Rome, “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). This isn’t a cheery “What don’t kill you makes you stronger.” The Bible doesn’t identify everything as good. It says that every aspect of our lives is part of a goal to move us toward glory. That glory is itself part of a larger goal, that we’d be “conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).
Every believer’s story includes circumstances designed by God for our sanctification, to strip away from us everything that isn’t modeled on the image of Christ. That’s why, if we’re children of God, he disciplines us through the events of our lives for the purpose of “our benefit, so that we can share His holiness” (Heb 12:10).
That’s why God doesn’t deliver Israel immediately from Egyptian bondage into the Promised Land–perhaps by some teleportation portal. They would have trusted their own power, have forgotten their dependence upon their God (Deut 8:17). They would have then turned to other gods, and lost their inheritance (Deut 8:19-20). The suffering they endure isn’t God’s indifference to them. In fact, all these circumstances are instead God purposing “so that in the end He might cause you to prosper” (Deut 8:16). This is exactly what Jesus understands, when he waits for his Father’s provision rather than forcing it from Satan’s hand.
All of human history is staging ground for the revealing of Christ–whether it’s the caravan of travelers that stumble across Joseph in a pit or the rise of the Roman Empire. In the same way, all the events of your life are pulling you toward conformity with Christ, for life in his Kingdom.