Failure Is Impossible
Video presentation of this lesson
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q11: God’s Providence
by Bob Burridge ©2011
When we make plans, we try to plan for the unexpected.
If you go on an camping trip, you take along a first aid kit. You pack tools to repair things. As Boy Scouts we were expected to live up to our motto, “Be Prepared.” That’s why we have spare tires in our cars, back-up files for things stored on our computers, and fire-extinguishers in our kitchens.
None of us can be sure about what might happen, so we prepare for the unknown. Those of us who live in Florida try to be prepared during the warmer months for the threatened approach of a hurricane. A few years ago Tropical Storm Fay appeared to be aiming directly at us here in Pinellas County. Stores sold out of propane tanks, bottles of water, duct tape and batteries. As it turned out, Fay didn’t become a Hurricane, and our county never felt it’s power. However, we wisely prepared, even though we knew the predictions were very uncertain.
Several years ago Hurricane Charlie also seemed to target Tampa Bay. Just hours away, it suddenly turned sharply and hit communities way south of us. Many were unprepared there because it was suppose to visit us. The result was devastating to a community caught by surprise. It is always best to take precautions in spite of our best guesses to err on the side of safety.
We often have to deal with things we don’t count on. We hear people talk about back-up plans, fall-back positions, alternate routes, and things like that.
When our astronauts first landed on the moon, one of the first things they did was to scoop up what they called a “contingency sample” of moon soil. It was gathered in case they had to leave quickly before more careful samples could be collected.
Our plans are good if they do what we design them to do, but they are seldom, if ever, perfect. That is why we plan for the unexpected and make room for the uncertain. This is why it is hard to really comprehend the fact that God’s plan never changes or fails to accomplish exactly what God eternally intended.
It is hard for us to imagine a perfect plan.
God’s eternal plan for his creation includes everything that ever happens, and all that makes it happen. What God intends always takes place just as he meant it to.
Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”
There’s a prejudice in the fallen mind. Unless you are redeemed by grace, you will always modify what God says about himself in the Bible.
One of the hardest concepts to understand, much less accept, is the absolute sovereignty of God. He is not only King of all kings. He is Ruler over every molecule, every quantum of energy, every event, and every outcome.
Bible scholars spent over five years putting together the Westminster Standards. They summarized the decrees of God in Shorter Catechism questions 7 through 12. The answer to question 7 tells what the Bible says about God’s decrees. It says, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
God put his decrees into action with the works of creation and providence. He Created everything in the physical universe, and all the living things he put in it. His work of providence is his direction of all creation toward it’s intended goal.
Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism asks, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer derived from Scripture alone is, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
God is much more than what most people understand.
Even God’s own spiritual children can get confused by popular opinions about their Creator’s nature. Our imperfect human minds try to imagine him being like us. In our imperfect state we tend to read our own limitations into the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable nature of God.
Some believers still imagine God to be limited by what he created as if he needs our permission to save us. The problem is that the Bible says very clearly that you trusted in him only because he already redeemed you. Otherwise we would never have learned to love him.
Some imagine that our prayers actually inform God and convince him to change his eternal plan. That’s not the power promised in prayer. We aren’t smarter than God to advise him. However, God uses the power of our prayers to carry out his perfect plan. When you pray, and God does what you ask him, you discover that all along he made you part of that wonderful work. When you fail to pray, you show that you have not honored God’s call to come to him about the needs he brings to your attention. It shows a lack of care to be part of his works on earth. That is a frightening thing to discover about yourself.
Generally, fallen man accepts his corrupted idea of God. For the most part, he loves believing in a super being who helps him, but he refuses to admit that he answer to him as a fallen sinner. He does not give him all the glory for his faith, for his good choices, for his charity, and successes. He wants some of the glory for himself.
When God’s love transforms your heart through Christ, you set aside your human pride and prejudices. You see a more marvelous God than you otherwise could have imagined.
We already read in Psalm 135:6 that God does all he pleases at all times. Psalm 115:3 says almost the same thing. … our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
That was one of the lessons Job had to learn. In Job 42:2 he humbly learned to say to God, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.”
In Colossians 1:16 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”
That is the purpose of Creation. He made all things “for him”. Creation built the platform on which all God planned is carried out. Everything, without exception, declares the Creator’s glory and power.
The Westminster Confession, chapter five, begins this way, “God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
This is the work of providence, one of the great truths about your God. It is amazing and comforting to remember that God directs everything in the world in which we live.
God’s providence directs the events of nature.
The word providence comes from a Latin word providere, which means “to see before.” The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament is pronoia (πρόνοια). It means “forethought.” (ISBE)
It’s far more than just looking ahead to see what is going to happen. God knows it, because he decreed it, and because he has the infinite power to control it all. God provides for all that is needed for his plan to work out. He sees it all as a whole thing, not as individual disconnected events. This provision for the whole course of history is what we call his “providence”.
Throughout the Bible, we see God’s absolute control over his creation. In Job 12:15 it says about God, “If He withholds the waters, they dry up; If He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth.”
Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “… He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
In Acts 17 Paul described God as the Creator and Preserver of everything. He not only made it all, he also directs everything to serve his purposes. In verse 26 he said about all the nations, that he, “… has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.”
One of the problems we struggle with is understanding evil. People wonder how God can be in control when there is wickedness in his universe.
But by God’s providence he even governs the boundaries of evil.
If God made all things to declare his glory as the Bible tells us, then there needs to be a way to display his Justice, his Mercy, and his Amazing Grace. So he made his world susceptible to sin so he could rescue his people from it. Obviously, the best universe is one where sin is beaten, not one where sin never existed.
It is not for us to be able to see how it all fits together just yet, but we are assured that it does. Job never knew why God put him through those hard times and deep sorrows, but he did learn that God had reasons he did not need to know.
While Joseph suffered in prison after his brothers sold him into slavery, while he wondered why he was put in a dungeon for a crime he never committed, he could not yet see how God was setting the stage for great blessings through him. He was put in place to save God’s people from a famine. He was there to lead them to Egypt which became the background for the great Exodus.
When he was very old Joseph lived to see some of the reasons for his suffering. He said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
The greatest act of evil in all of history was the brutal killing of Jesus Christ. Evil men were clearly responsible for what they did, yet God had planned it from all eternity as the greatest display of his love and grace. Peter explained it exactly that way to the crowds in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”
There was no excuse in saying that God determined it. Those who crucified him were personally guilty. They sinned willingly. Yet it was all part of a greater plan. Probably as they laid our Lord’s body in the tomb and accepted the fact of his death, the disciples could not see how any good could come from that Roman injustice. However, on the third day the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and they could see there was a wonderful purpose in what seemed a senseless violence.
Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.”
As God’s child, your calling is to live honorably,
responsibly, through the unfolding of these decrees.
We who live in Florida know how hard it is to predict path of hurricanes. They are driven by the heat of the sun. It makes the air above the waters in one place hotter than the air around it. The rising hot air draws in the cooler air which gets heated up and rises into the atmosphere. The wind rushing in starts to spin because of the rotation of the earth. Other air masses around the storms feed it, and push at it, and sometimes become barriers to its movement. The storm follows the path through the boundaries of the surrounding systems. Though it is complicated, and we have a hard time predicting exactly where a storm will go, it moves as part of a greater complexity.
The path of history seems to move through the boundaries of circumstances, ambition, opportunity, greed and patriotism. Severe storms in the North Atlantic, navigational mistakes, and a new set of British naval tactics ended the powerful military threat of the Spanish Armada. The great Empire of Rome faded away under incompetent Emperors, self-centered citizens, a weakened military unable to protect from invaders, and as the historian Gibbon calls it “immoderate greatness.”
The brave patriotism of oppressed colonies stood with unexpected resolve against England. The many loyalties and events of the Revolutionary War gave us our own nation.
All the turns in the path of time were long before laid out in the plan of God. He sent the winds against mighty warships, and stirred bravery in the hearts of patriots. He trained and gave brilliance to leaders, inventors, pastors, explorers and writers. He raised up nations and brought down empires.
In your own life He caused you to be conceived just as you are in the womb of your mother. He gave you the lessons, joys, tragedies, and opportunities that shaped your choices. He alone opened your eyes to see your need for forgiveness for offenses against God, and stirred faith in your heart to trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope and Savior.
He brought you here at this very page, at this very moment, with all that is now on your mind, with all you remember of your life before this lesson started, and with all your concerns about what you face when this lesson ends. He has used all that has touched your life and all the lives you’ve touched to create the opportunities that shape the rest of today, tomorrow, and the remainder of your life.
Though it is valuable and important to know the history of what God has done, and to understand the principles that he lovingly tells you about in his word, the moral question is not how or why things are as they are right now. It is to know how you will live in these conditions to be a good child of your Father in Heaven.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Your responsibility is not to try to figure out what is coming next, or why God decrees each thing. It is to do what he tells you to do with the attitude he says is right.
Give thanks to God alone for every good thing in your life. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
Rest in the power of the Risen Christ alone for whatever strength you will ever need. His word gives you lessons that make you wiser than anyone will ever become in universities, through years of experience, research, and practice. Nothing, no enemy, no rude or ambitions rival, no turn of circumstances, can even slightly frustrate the plan of the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, the one who is your loving and faithful Redeemer, Enabler, and Father.
Confidently press on in service of the King of kings. Remember that the little things you do, your choices, your hardships and sufferings, the words you speak, the thoughts you think, even your humbling failures are part of something far bigger than any of us can imagine.
God’s providence isn’t an intellectual exercise in theology. It is the promise and hope of every believer in Christ. It is the assurance that you have nothing to fear.
As the Apostle Paul was moved to write for God in Romans 8:28, it is the certainty that, “all things work together for good, to those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.”
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)