William Cowper 1731-1800
In conversation with a dear and well-meaning friend I had expressed my thanks to God for a particularly good providence. As soon as the words were out of my mouth my friend quickly informed me that we shouldn’t say something was a “good providence” because, God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. Now, that saying is also true, of course it is! God is good all the time, because that is His nature. But it was a horse of a different theological color and my friend clearly did not understand my words.
Now, allow me to explain, when a Christian remarks that a providence is either, “good” or “bad” they are not thereby passing judgment on God’s actions as if some of His providences were good or right, while others were, bad or wicked, heaven forbid!
If someone were to tell you they had suffered a “hard providence” it doesn’t mean that God had a hard time in bringing a particular providence to pass. The Bible asks, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) and the expected answer is, “No, of course not”! For us, on the other hand, some things we experience are exceedingly hard things, like illness and disease. They can be hard to grasp and harder to endure unless faith in Christ is our companion.
What do we mean in using words like good, bad, heavy, pleasant, etc., to qualify the word providence? In using a phrase like “hard providence” or “good providence” the Christian is expressing their own experience of God’s providences. They are not reflecting upon God’s moral character or ability. The phrases are intended to be reflective of our own struggle or joy, not God’s.
What my friend was commenting on is also true and is non-negotiable Christian truth, just misapplied. For believers no matter how we experience life, all events and circumstances are given to us from the hand of Divine love (Romans 8:28-39). However, the dispensation of God’s actions or His providences to us will be good or bad, hard or easy, kind or afflicting as we perceive and experience them in real time.
Thus, our Lord Jesus wept at the grave of a friend, and sweated as it were great drops of blood in the garden, and cried from the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?” All this to make Him a merciful and faithful High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus experienced good and bad providence for me and all those who trust in Him. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” Ps. 23:4
So, friends it is theologically and Biblically permissible to speak of God’s hard, difficult, heavy, kind, good, or loving providences as the need arises. Saints throughout the ages have used this kind of language to describe God’s providence towards them and we would be the poorer for not having read William Cowper’s verses,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning Providence He hides a smiling face.
I hope you see the connection with what is happening today. This article was not intended as a random recollection of a conversation from years ago, nor is it about semantics or striving for idiomatic accuracy in theological parlance.
Friends, we are experiencing a day of “hard providences.” That means you and I will see and perhaps experience hard things more than usual. But the honor of God requires me to tell you, this doesn’t mean that God has forgotten to be good, or that He can’t stop evil in its tracks. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26).
The fact that there is sunshine every morning is all the evidence that faith needs to recall that God is on His throne doing what is right and good to a world that has lost its way. Now that is a good providence!
Perhaps these few verses from the prophet Jeremiah will put all this in perspective best …
“He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. – Lamentations 3:15-26 ESV