Printer-friendly Version E-mail Story
Moore to the Point: Musings on a practical theology of God's providence
December 1, 2008
By Russell D. Moore
Russell D. Moore, Senior V.P. for Acad. Admin.; Dean, School of Theology, Southern Seminary
Russell Moore recently offered several posts on a practical theology of providence on the Henry Institute website. This site, www.henryinstitute.org, unveiled changes Dec. 1 in anticipation of a full face-lift coming Feb. 1, 2009. Here are some snippets of Moore's musings.
The goal of God's providence
It is far too easy to confuse providence with a pagan vision of "fate" or "chance," as though God were an impersonal force driving history along. Our confessional statement rightly though sums up the Christian consensus by noting that God rules "as Father." God's purposes in history have a goal, and that goal is not a "what" but a "Who." The goal of history has a name, a face and a blood type: Jesus.
Paul tells the church at Ephesus that God "works out everything in agreement with the decision of his will" (Eph 1:11). He also tells them though what that decision is about — "to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him" (Eph 1:10).
This is why the history of Israel is so significant. It's not just about an ancient people. It's about all of us. Satan wars against Israel — through temptation to evil, through enslavement, through bloodthirsty enemies — but why? God protects Israel — sometimes through miraculous intervention (the parting of the seas) and sometimes through seemingly less extraordinary means (the storing of food in Joseph's Egypt) — but why? Satan rages, and God oversees because from Israel, in the fullness of time, "came the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever" (Rom 9:5).
The same is true in our individual lives. Paul tells the church at Rome, "All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). This isn't a cheery "What don't kill you makes you stronger." The Bible doesn't identify everything as good. It says that every aspect of our lives is part of a goal to move us toward glory. That glory is itself part of a larger goal, that we'd be "conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29).
That's why, if we're children of God, he disciplines us through the events of our lives for the purpose of "our benefit, so that we can share His holiness" (Heb 12:10).
That is why God doesn't deliver Israel immediately from Egyptian bondage into the promised land — perhaps by some teleportation portal. They would have trusted their own power, have forgotten their dependence upon their God (Deut 8:17). They would have then turned to other gods, and lost their inheritance (Deut 8:19-20). The suffering they en-dure isn't God's indifference to them. In fact, all these circumstances are instead God purposing "so that in the end He might cause you to prosper" (Deut 8:16). This is exactly what Jesus understands, when he waits for his Father's provision rather than forcing it from Satan's hand.
All of human history is staging ground for the revealing of Christ — whether it is the caravan of travelers that stumble across Joseph in a pit or the rise of the Roman Empire. In the same way, all the events of your life are pulling you toward conformity with Christ, for life in his Kingdom.
The extent of God's providence
Some of us think God rules providentially over the broad parameters, the "big things," but not over the incidental details of history or of our lives. But, as I've noted before, so much of history — and our lives — is itself detail-driven. The Bible tells us God raises up and tears down nations and rulers — the kinds of spectacular things we read about in our history books and hear about it in real time on CNN. But Jesus also tells us that a bird doesn't hit a window and break its neck apart from the Father's care.
It turns out God saves the world through very minute and (it seems) random details. Apologist Peter Kreeft puts it this way: "If one Egyptian tailor hadn't cheated on the threads of Joseph's mantle, Potiphar's wife would never had been able to tear it, present it as evidence to Potiphar that Joseph attacked her, gotten him thrown in prison, and let him be in a position to interpret Pharaoh's dream, win his confidence, advise him to store seven years of grain, and save his family, the seventy original Jews from whom Jesus came. We owe our salvation to a cheap Egyptian tailor."
Think of all the biblical prophecies that are dependent on the tiniest of details. What if Pilate had decided to whisk Jesus off to Alexandria, to protect him from the crowds? What if Judas had been murdered on his way to betray Jesus? What if the guards at Golgotha had decided to break Jesus' bones to make it easier to pull him down from the cross? What if Paul had drowned in his first shipwreck because he wasn't paying attention to a tidal surge, preventing him from taking the Gospel to the Gentiles? We'd all be in hell right now. But God's purposes aren't dependent on chance or luck. He works all things out according to the counsel of His will.