Question 28: What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?
The Heidelberg Catechism, being closer to the Medieval Church than it is to the modern Church that came in with the Enlightenment breathes with a devotional air. Throughout the HC the Catechizer will provide this kind of question and answer in order to make sure that student comprehends what we might call the cash value of the doctrine. The HC is not interested in an abstracted theology that doesn’t have traction in every day life. As such we get these kind of questions. Here we find a rich and still practical theology.
Here, the interest is making sure that the student understands the impact of the truth of God’s providence as in the life of the believer. Urisinus and Olevianus as the Catechizers desires their students to take the truth of God’s providence and find daily comfort in their lives from the belief of this Doctrine.
The question once again pushes the student in the direction that all of their living is conditioned by the Creator, Sustainers, and Governor of all things. There is no living absent of God’s providence and control. Indeed, it is the case that in God we live, and move, and have our being. All of our lives are lived out before the face of God to whom we must give an account. For the Catechizer’s the God of the Bible is not remote but closer to us than our next breath.
It is good to return to these realities if only because modern man lives as if the sky above him is bronze with no notion of the reality of God. The Christian is a different kind of man. He knows that all of life is life as dictated and directed by the kind and merciful providence of God. All of life is riven with the testimony of the God’s divine control and we as God’s people should find the benefit/advantage of that truth.
Answer: That we may be patient in adversity;8 thankful in prosperity;9 and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father,10 that nothing shall separate us from His love;11 since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.12
The Catechizers are brutally honest. God’s providence does not erase the reality of adversity that we face in our lives.
Ps. 39:10, Remove Thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand.
However, with their confession of God’s providence the sting is taken out of the adversity the Christian faces because the Christian knows that any and all adversity is adversity that is under the direction and control of God the Father Almighty. We do not live in a world that is dictated by chance, fate, or bad luck. All that comes into our lives, including our adversity, comes into our lives as fashioned by God’s providence.
8Rom. 5:3, And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience hope.
Even in our adversity the Christian can glory because we know that as God’s providence is directing all things the final outcome of that adversity will work in us godly character, and one of the things that the Christian desires above all else is godly character.
God’s providence is also intended to cause us to lift our eyes in gratitude when God determines to bless us with prosperity. The tears of heaven sent adversity may last through the night but the joy of heaven sent prosperity cometh in the morning.
What a glory that we should be given the instinct to be thankful to our benevolent God when He heaps prosperity upon us.
9Deut. 8:10, When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He hath given thee.
Thankless Christians when soaked with prosperity is a terrible oxymoron.
This truth of God’s providence of course makes a completely dependent people shut up to God’s wisdom as to what is best for us. This embrace of the doctrine of God’s providence has the ultimate purpose, in terms of the advantage it is to be to God’s people, to work in us a placing of our firm trust in our faithful God and Father. God the Father Almighty knows what is best for us — both in terms of adversity and prosperity — and this providence of God is intended that we invest our reliance upon Him who has shown His faithfulness to Himself and us in providing His Son as a surety that we did not deserve. If our lives were only characterized by daily adversity (God forbid) the reality that God the Father Almighty has provided the prosperity found in providing Jesus Christ as our deliverance announces that God has shown Himself faithful in His providence.
1 Thes. 5:18, In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
This firm trust in God driven by confidence in His exhaustive providence is to fill us with the confidence that nothing shall separate us from His love.
Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This reality that we, as the people of God the Father Almighty, can be separated from the love of God for His people reminds us that it is God’s love for His people as conditioned by love for Himself, that everything that comes into our lives by way of God’s providence is from the hand of God who is expressing His love to us in His providence as it unfolds in our lives.
The hard thing in all this is the ability to continue to believe in God’s goodness and love for us when providence brings adversity. It is at those times when we will be tempted to question a providence of God that is anchored in His love for us as conditioned by His love for Himself.
This is why it is good to learn our catechism and the truths therein before being visited by a hard providence because when we are in the hot box of a hard providence it is even more difficult to learn the truth being taught here. When parents are holding a child born crippled at birth it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already learned it. When persecution comes knocking it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already owned it. When wasting disease visits us it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already learned it. Let us pray earnestly that we might get this doctrine in the very marrow of our bones.
The catechism ends here reminding us again that “all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.12″
Every event that happens in creation serves God’s purposes because every event that happens in creation has no reality apart from the reality that God gives it in His providence. Whether we consider the malevolence of our arch-enemy;
12Job 1:12, And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
Job 2:6, And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
Or rather we consider the movement of Satan’s armies;
Matt. 8:31, So the devils besought Him, saying, If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
Or rather we consider the operation of any secondary cause;
Isa. 10:15, Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood
Nothing happens in all creation apart from our Father’s leave. Nothing can come into our life apart from our Father’s leave.
Let us briefly ask what we would have to say if all this were not true. We would have to say that
1.) God is not God since God by definition is one who has totalistic and exhaustive sovereignty. If God’s providence is not true than God would not be worth worshiping since he would be just some kind of celestial bystander who would be as taken by surprise at the events that enter into our lives as we are. Take pity on those who worship a God who does not have the kind of providence that we learn in our Heidelberg Catechism.
2.) We would have to cower in fear of man. If God’s providence is not true than we are fools to cross tyrants or the wicked in our lives. It is God’s providence that gives us the courage to have no fear of man. It is God’s providence that causes us to realize that man can do nothing to us apart from God’s leave. A lack of confidence in God’s providence would make cowards of all of us.
3.) We would go mad with the grief that enters into our lives. It is only confidence in God’s goodness and providence that steadies us when hardships and persecutions come into our lives. If we really lived in a time plus chance plus circumstance world we would not be able bear up under the burdens of this life. Only the reality of God’s providence provides a backdrop wherein we can press on when life presses us down.
4.) We would not continue to contend for the crown rights of Jesus Christ in every area of life. Were we not confident of God’s providence we would not strive to bring every area of life under His authority. Apart from God’s providence we would hunker down and not risk great things for the glory of God, being fearful of what might come into our lives absent a God who controls all things.
God’s providence works in us both to accept hardship as from the hand of God while at the same time energizing us to contend, compete, and contest for the glory of our great God.
O Sovereign God,
We thank thee with all our being for your providence. We thank you that it is true that all our life is conditioned by you and dependent upon you. We pray that we might grow to adore you more and more because of your providence in our lives. We pray that you might keep us from being like Job’s wife who assigned wickedness to you because of what you ordained for Job and His family. Grant us thy favor to be confident in your goodness no matter come what may. Help us to be like our Father Job, who, despite the hard providence in his life refused to curse God. Help us to be like our Father St. Paul who was driven on by the confidence in your providence to never cease in opposing your enemies at every turn.
Grant us your grace, in light of your providence, to never surrender.
In Christ’s name we pray