What do we believe about how God acts in the world?
It's a deep question, that calls into question what we believe about who God is, and his work in us, and around us.
The world we live in right now seems complicated. We have probably wondered what God could possibly be doing in all the chaos that we feel and that we see. When everything seems like it's out of control, our thoughts race and our minds run in circles. Do we pause and wonder who it is we know God to be?
In our responses to the pandemic we've had to wrestle with this. The global impact is vast, on our health, our finances, and our relationships. Is it so vast that it has been out of God's sovereign hand?
"For by him all things we created, in heaven nd on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).
The upcoming release by John Piper, entitled “Providence” is a study through scripture, revealing evidence of God’s purposeful acts over creation and through history, helping us to understand how he has acted in the past, and how he continues to act in our present.
This volume is 750 pages, divided in 3 parts: to define providence, to reveal the goal of providence, and to describe the nature and extent of providence. It provides a biblical support and explanation and application and celebration for this concept of providence. He writes, “the focus of this book is on God’s sovereignty considered not simply as powerful but as purposeful.”
He writes that, “providence has come to mean ‘the act of purposefully providing for, or sustaining and governing the world.” We learn that God acts intentionally. He “does not simply see as a passive bystander. As God, he is never merely an observer. He is not a passive observer of the world – and not a passive predictor of the future. Wherever God is looking, God is acting.”
Revealing the Goal of Providence
He then takes us on a journey through scripture, to examine the biblical witness about how God has already acted for his purposes in providence.
We see that, “the ultimate goal of God in initiating the entire plan of salvation before creation was that he would be praised for the glory of his grace.” Through creation, the exodus, the law, the conquest of Canaan, the monarchy, the exile and finally the new covenant, how God’s purposes have been revealed, for him to be seen and worshiped as glorious, and that he would become the greatest treasure of his people, who would be supremely satisfied in him.
“Therefore the ultimate goal of God’s providence is to glorify his grace in beautifying, by the blood of his Son, and undeserving bride, who enjoys and reflects his beauty above everything.”
Describing the Nature & Extent of Providence
After we’ve understood the definition of providence, and seen God’s acts of providence through scripture, he then moves to describe how God continues to act in the world, over nature, Satan, the nations, life and death, sin, coming to Christ, and our Christian living. God’s purposes for the world are not seen as limited, but all-encompassing and extravagant.
This section discusses a lot of hard topics, like suffering, sin, and predestination. There may be areas that you disagree with, or that are challenging to understand. We can know and believe that God is continuing to act in our lives, transforming us more into the likeness of Jesus, to make our “faith visible as the public display of the beauty and worth of Christ.”
As we see and understand the extent of God’s purposes in the world and in us, we respond with trust, hope and celebration. For he is acting for his glory and for our good.
The providence of God, how he moves and acts in the world today, is a mystery at times. In our specific circumstances, we can’t know exactly what he is doing, but we can know that he has taken into account all the million ways that a situation is affecting everything around us, and that he’s got us.
The providence of God bids us to hold tightly to the truth about who he is; that we believe he is the God of the universe, that he is sovereign over all things and is acting in all things. As we love and follow Jesus, we learn to trust in a God who sustains and governs the world, and come to him with child-like faith, surrendering our own will to his.
In the circumstances of the world around us, when we feel like things are out of control, the doctrine of God’s providence is helpful for us to think on. So, if you are interested in seeing and savoring God's purposes, in a thorough volume, this is it. It’s one I will come back to and reflect on.
*I received a copy of this book as part of the Crossway Blog Review program, in exchange for an honest review.