As we return to the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 10 we are taking up the the meaning of the Apostles Creed when it says, “I believe in the God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” In systematic theology when God the Father’s work as Creator is examined what is included also is God’s work as Sustainer (Preserver) and Governor. God as Father is Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of all things. When we consider God as Sustainer and Governor we often speak of God’s Providence. The Heidelberg takes question and answer 27 to explain simply the meaning of God’s Providence.
Before getting into the question itself we should notice that the HC’s bold affirmation of God’s Providence removes all Deistic conceptions of the God of the Bible where God creates the world but then wanders off uninvolved with His world allowing it to run on its own mechanism and power. The character of God that the HC teaches is one where God, the Father continues to be intimately involved in His creation. In the words of Francis Schaeffer, “God is there and He is not silent.”
We see this in Lord’s Day 10 as it discusses the meaning of the Apostle Creed’s phrase, “I believe in God the Father, Creator of Heaven & Earth.”
Question 27 picks up the them begun in the previous Question & Answer.
Question 27: What dost thou mean by the providence of God?
With this question we learn, as mentioned earlier, that underneath the category of God as Creator, is the sub-category of God’s Providential control of all reality, from the blowing of a gentle breeze across a picturesque meadow, to the movement of great armies across vast plains. The totality of that control is seen in the answer provided by the Catechizers;
Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God;1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures;2 so that herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.7
Note here, following Scripture, that the Reformed faith embraces the nearness of God
23 “Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord,
“And not a God afar off?
24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the Lord;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord. — Jeremiah 23
Following Scripture, the HC affirms both the transcendence of God as well as the immanence of God. Because of God’s providence there is no where that we can escape the almighty and everywhere present power of God. God is closer to us than our next breath.
St. Paul likewise affirms this every present power of God;
Acts 17:25–28, Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.
The totality of God’s providence is exhaustive. This confidence in God’s providence goes a long way toward explaining the absolute fearlessness in the Reformed throughout the centuries. People who believe that God controls all are a people who have no fear and so are a people who will wage all on doing the right thing before God’s eyes. People who believe in God’s exhaustive providence don’t consider what other people might be able to do to them. Those who believe in God’s providence are a dangerous people.
Note, the phrase in the answer to question 27, “He upholds and governs.” Therein is contained the idea of God as sustainer of all and God as governor of all. Not only did God create all, but He is the one who sustains (preserves/upholds) all so that all continues. God is the reason why life continues. It may be that some might account that there is a self-subsisting power in our life and being, yet life is of such a nature to make it clear that any putative self-subsisting power is contingent upon many factors. Clearly, were we not upheld and nursed by the power of God’s providence any self-subsisting power would be extinguished immediately and to dust we would soon return. Surely, it is in Him we live and move and have our being.
And that upholding and governing of God that is the Creator God’s providence is applicable to “heaven, earth, and all creatures.”
Heb. 1:3, Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Nothing is outside the providence of God. Indeed, outside the providence of God — outside the sustaining and governing power of the God of the Bible — man would slip into nothingness.
Men who do not acknowledge this exhaustive providence of God are blasphemers. They are, in their existence, being kept by God all the while denying the reality of the God who keeps them. Anyone who denies this lofty and Biblical notion of God’s providence, at best, are Christians not yet matured. Such people certainly should not be allowed anywhere near a pulpit, nor should any esteem be given them.
This must be said because many “Christians” do deny this HC answer and do deny this Reformed doctrine of God’s exhaustive providence. How many Christians are ready to affirm that;
that herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.7
This doctrine of God’s providence teaches that all things come into our lives by the hand of a Sovereign God who loves us for the sake of the finished work of Jesus Christ. What a source of comfort this is to the Christian who is conversant troubles, and yet how difficult to bury this truth in the marrow of our beings. This doctrine of God’s providence is easily forgotten when God’s people are going through the fire of trials, persecutions, or sorrows.
The whole book of Job teaches the providence of God. Job never gets an answer to his why questions in the book of Job. What Job does eventually get at the end of Job is a series of questions put to him by God that bespeak God’s providence and that God being God is in control of all.
The Scriptures teach and the HC follows by teaching God’s people to trust God at every turn, including the turns that include adversity. This entrusting ourselves to God does not mean that we do not flee adversity if possible, nor that we should not resist wickedness if possible. It merely means that what men intend for evil, God intends for God. It may be that God providentially orders hardships in order to providentially order our response that will seek to escape or put down the mediate cause of that hardship when possible.
So, this doctrine of God’s providence does not teach a kind of pagan fatalism. We do not know that all God might be doing in His providential arrangement. We do know that when adversity comes to us in God’s providence we should repair to the Scripture to see what our response might be for any given ordained providential circumstance.
Note, how the HC goes out of its way to teach that things do not come to us “by chance.” Chance has no reality. It is a word that we use in order to explain something that otherwise cannot be explained. Even when we talk about the chances of a coin flipped coming up heads or tails, it is not chance that is making the coin come up one way or the other. Chance may be predictive but it is never causative. (But even in being predictive chance has to presuppose the God who alone provides the order wherein chance as predictive can exist.) Chance causes nothing. Neither does “luck,” — another word that is mistakenly used by people to explain causation.
No, for the Calvinist/Reformed, following his HC catechism, all things come to us by God’s Fatherly hand.
Christians use to affirm this every time they attended a funeral — often the most difficult of all of God’s hard providences — when they would hear the minister say, “The Lord Giveth, the Lord Taketh, Blessed Be the Name of the Lord (Job 1:21).” The Lord gives herbs, grass, rain and drought and He takes it away;
Jer. 5:24, Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in His season: He reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.
The Lord gives fruitful and barren years, meat and drink and the Lord takes them away;
Acts 14:17, Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
The Lord gives health and sickness, and He takes them away;
John 9:3, Jesus answered, Neither hath this (blind) man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
The gives riches and poverty, and He takes them away;
Prov. 22:2, The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.
Job 1:21, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
When that scripture is heard as echoed by the HC and believed it is a affirmation of the HC’s teaching on God’s providence. In all things the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord who, in His providence worketh all things after the counsel of His will,
Eph. 1:11, In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
God’s providence is so exhaustive that even the falling of birds from the sky are ordered by the God of all providence who upholds and sustains all things according to His glorious will;
Matt. 10:29–30, Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
It is only because of God’s providence we can humbly nod and silently say “Amen” at the funeral committal service when we hear;
“The Lord Giveth And the Lord Taketh. Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord.”