Definitions are difficult. Have you ever had a child ask you to tell them what a word means, and after giving them a definition they respond by asking what the definition means? Whenever that happens we either continue to fumble around doing poor verbal gymnastics to help them understand or we think of an example or little story. So often, when we can think of a story or example, we discover that’s when understanding begins.
The same can be true in theology. There are words we use in church or read in the Bible that we may not think twice about because we’ve heard them for years, but if asked to define them we begin to fumble around. In my experience, providence is one of those words. If you were to ask me to define divine providence, I might start with some examples like these…
Providence is going on a mission trip, getting stranded in a country you’ve never been in and can’t speak the language and discovering that the brother of a friend of a friend just happens to be driving a bus through that city and is willing to make a detour to pick you up and take you to the next country.
Providence is waking up after you’ve lost a family member, not sure how to face the day, and hearing the door bell ring and opening the door to friends who’ve taken the day off to do nothing more than love you.
Providence is moving into the dorm room at college, excited about the future but nervous about who your roommate will be and then discovering they’re a Christian and you become life long friends.
Providence is standing alone in an ICU watching your son struggling for life surrounded by a small army of medical professionals and having a doctor walk up beside you and explain in a gentle and level way what everyone is doing and, after he’s been stabilized, giving you a big hug.
You see, while divine providence is a theological concept that can be investigated in great depth and detail, we must remember that its meaning is rooted in our lives. More than that, when we describe God’s providence – his care for us – it is always wed to grace. God’s loving oversight of our lives is not mechanical, but personal. We may not always understand why we were allowed to be stranded in a foreign country in the first place, or why our loved one had to die, or why we couldn’t get just a bit of a preview of the coming week so we could be better prepared, but in every situation, whether we can explain it or not, we see God’s providential hand moving to guide us, care for us and provide for us. And as he does so, we are reminded that his power extends over all creation as he orchestrates people and events everywhere to accomplish his purposes in his people.