Providence is a large word to describe an important part of how God deals with us. It is related to a few words which are much more familiar. The first of these is the basic root “provide.” God in His Providence provides us with the things which we need. Both of these words were originally Latin, and they both come from providere. “Pro” in this case means “before” and “videre” means “to see,” so pro-videre means “to see before, foresee.” Because of the way Latin works, this can also give us the word “provision,” which can either mean making preparations or the thing provided.
But setting Latin aside, how does this help us understand providence? Providence is God’s providing for us. He gives us what we need. Providence is God’s foresight, seeing long beforehand what would happen to us. Providence is God’s provision, because He not only makes “preparations,” but also gives us the things which He made ready for us.
Providence is a word which really only belongs to God as well. Sure, we can make provisions for ourselves and provide others with what they need. Our foresight is limited, but we can make reasonable guesses and assumptions about what will happen in the future. We should certainly plan ahead, because it would be foolish to imagine that we would never have needs to fulfill, even dire needs. But Providence is God’s business. We can only guess about what will happen. We might be pretty good at it, but there is always uncertainty. God does not guess. God knows exactly what will happen. When God in His Providence provides us with what we need, He knows exactly why and when we need it without any uncertainty.
The Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Providence applies to all people, not just believers. If anyone receives anything to their benefit, it has come from God, whether they know it or not. As God says in Hosea 2:8: “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Even though people misuse the gifts of God, even for really wicked purposes like idolatry, it is still God who gave them.
Most of the time, it is fairly easy to understand God’s Providence. David says in Psalm 65: “You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.” The seasons and the harvest, the rain and the growth, abundance and all good things, all of these come from the hand of God. I think that this is probably what we think of the most when we say that God will provide.
But there is a side of Providence that is not so easy to understand. The Lord said to Moses: “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11). And also to Isaiah: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). And also to Amos: “‘I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord” (Amos 4:9). The Lord does not provide only the good things, so to speak. This does not mean that God chooses to do evil, as if God were evil. That is simply not true. But Amos shows that God always has our welfare in mind.
We will not always understand why God does what He does. God is not a spectator, looking in our troubles and yet largely unable to help. No, God is the LORD, the sovereign and all-powerful Master of creation. When He speaks, heaven and earth must obey His command. God will do exactly what He chooses to do and there is nothing in all creation that can hinder His almighty will. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20).
But God’s Providence should not scare us. God is in perfect control of all things. We are not dangling helplessly in the hands of an unloving being who seeks our destruction. We are in the hands of the living God who gave Himself for us to forgive us our sins. The Lord may indeed send us difficult things, but “it is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7, 11). God’s Providence is always for our good, even if we must go through discipline for the moment. God sends gladness and God sends sadness, but above all God draws us to Himself. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).