Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not By Chance, Chapter 2: What is Providence?

Last Sunday I was privileged to teach a Sunday School lesson about Chapter 2 of the book Not By Chance, a book on the providence of God, by Layton Talbert.

Chapter 2 of the book is entitled, "What is Providence?" Much of the discussion centers on definitions and descriptions of providence, unearthing layers of meaning that deepen our understanding of this important biblical doctrine. Here were some of the key points:

The etymology of the word providence is "to see before," which implies God's ability to see beforehand and to plan accordingly. The Greek word pronoia has meanings along the lines of provision, foresight, care, attention; to understand beforehand, to perceive before.

Talbert divides the concept of providence into two parts:

1. Preserving providence: God continuously preserves and maintains the existence of every part of His creation, from the smallest to the greatest, according to His sovereign pleasure. (Chapters 3-4)

2. Governing providence: God graciously guides and governs all events, including the free acts of men and their external circumstances, and directs all things to their appointed ends for His glory. (Chapter 5)

In the KJV Bible, the word "providence" is used only once, in Acts 24:2—a reference that was essentially flattery addressed to an ungodly ruler. But the Greek word is used one other time, in Romans 13:14:

"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
There's good teaching there about sin, if you're paying attention to it. The verb form of this noun, pronoeĊ, is used three times in the New Testament: Romans 12:17, 2 Corinthians 8:21, and 1 Timothy 5:8. These include both positive and negative illustrations of the concept.

An excellent Old Testament illustration of providence is found in Genesis 22, where Abraham is commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Isaac, unaware until the last minutes of the plan, is observant enough to notice that his father has not brought an animal to sacrifice upon the altar they will build. Abraham reminds him, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (vs. 8). And so God did. Abraham names the place Jehovah-jireh, which can be interpreted as "the Lord will provide" or "the Lord will see to it." There are many other biblical illustrations of God's providence/provision, ranging from the mundane to the very public, from the normal to the miraculous.

Miracles are discussed as being a special means of providence which God often used in the Scriptures. Coincidence is discussed as totally incompatible with providence; if God is in control of everything (see Chapter 1), then nothing cannot happen apart from His plans. Providence contradicts a number of other philosophical concepts, as well.

As with each chapter, there are some practical questions offered. Here are five:

1. Do we refer to luck and chance in casual conversation? Why?

2. Are such references, as well as others (“good luck,” Murphy’s Law, etc.), consistent with the Bible’s teaching on God’s providence over all people and circumstances?

3. Do such references condition the way you and those around you view and interpret life experiences?

4. If the Bible really teaches God’s providence over every aspect of our lives, what effect should that have on our attitude toward whatever we may experience?

5. What assessments of and responses to past events, present circumstances, or even potential future events are biblically appropriate and consistent with the Bible’s teaching on providence?

For Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1

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