Anyone who is even slightly observant about the happenings in our world must draw the conclusion that there is indeed great suffering across God’s creation.
From the abject poverty millions face each day, to the wars that continue to rage, to the depletion of the environment, we witness many problems in our world that call us to question God’s providence. Indeed, I have written in the past that the suffering we witness each day, whether locally in the lives of people we know, or globally to the strangers we never meet, should cause us to question God about God’s providence.
But such questioning does not necessarily prevent us from trusting in God’s good providence. Yes, many who have suffered or who have witnessed great suffering have abandoned a belief in God, arguing that if God exists, then why is there suffering? But the suffering of our world, no matter how devastating, does not automatically negate the existence of God, or the belief in God’s good providence.
But how shall we understand the idea of God’s providence? If we are to hold on to our faith in God’s goodness while we witness evil and suffering, how are we to comprehend God’s good providence?
First, God’s providence should not be confused with some sort of arbitrary manipulation of things that happen in this world. God is not a puppeteer and we are not God’s puppets. Nor should we see God’s providence as a fixed fate in which the world runs like a machine. Indeed, we are wrong to assume that God has predetermined all that happens. No, God’s providence is God’s will and work in this world to achieve God’s purposes for all of creation and particularly humanity.
The Psalms are a treasure chest of poems from the life of ancient Israel that express real human existence, good and bad, in relation to God. While the psalmists often cry out to God because of the evil and suffering they see and experience, they also offer praise to God, declaring the goodness of God’s providence over creation. These psalmists affirm God as the almighty God, who is both the Creator and Sustainer of all. And they avow God’s divine intervention over all of creation.
The biblical story informs us that God’s good providence flows from God’s sovereignty over creation. The psalmists proclaim God’s wonderful and unreachable being as that which is great and wondrous, expressing a faith and understanding of a God who is sovereign over creation.
To say that God is sovereign is to say God exists apart from anything else; God has no beginning and no ending. If this is true, then we must also affirm that God has created in freedom. God was not forced to create. No outside being or source was present to prompt God to create, and nothing forces God to act in creation. God creates and acts in freedom.
But if we believe that God is free to act, and that God acts with goodness, then we must also affirm that God’s sovereign providence over creation flows from God’s heart of goodness. God is the source of all that is good and from the very heart of God’s goodness, creation was crafted from nothing and finds its source of life and goodness, not in itself, but in what God created it to be.
God’s sovereignty over creation means that creation, and particularly humanity, finds its existence, its being, its meaning and purpose, and its life and end in the eternal and good will and work of God. That very purpose leads us to understand that to assert that God is sovereign is to say that all of creation is dependent on God and that God is moving and shaping creation toward God’s divine and righteous will.
Jesus reminds us about God’s sovereign providence in his teaching in Matthew 6 concerning anxiety. “Do not be anxious about your life,” Jesus says. God provides food for the birds, beauty for the flowers of the field, and life for humanity. The birds do not sow and reap. The flowers do not toil and spin. And no one can add to his or her life.
The existence, being, purpose, and life of all of creation are found in the good and sovereign providence of God. Despite the evil and suffering we experience and witness in our world, we can affirm the biblical perspective of God’s love and goodness by trusting in the goodness of God’s providence.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher.
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.