I was talking with some friends on Facebook about spiritual gifts and the topic got to the miraculous. There was an interaction regarding providence and miracles, so I tossed in two cents worth. Seeing that I’m not really blogging right now (and I ended up spending way more time writing a response than I was planning to), I thought I would double-dip and toss my thoughts up on here as well.
Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts on providence, miracles and sustenance.
And if I might be so bold, I might be able to help with the talk about “miracles” and “providence”.
The natural order of things is not providence, but God’s sustaining activity of the world. Matt. 5:45 talks about how “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”.
Natural laws are manifestations of God’s faithfulness, not *really* his providence.
In other words, the rate of which an object accelerates when in free fall is 9.8 m/s2 (nine point eight meters per second squared). When you hold a ball over the edge of a 60 story building and let it go, God is faithful at 9.8 m/s2 with regards to that ball, gravity, mass, etc.
Providence is God’s orchestration of events and circumstances for the outworking of his desired goals. Miracles are a temporary suspension of God’s natural manifestations of faithfulness for the purpose of a special revelation of his character or presence (usually in an event).
Here’s a passage that lays both miracles and providence side by side:
“(22) Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— (23) this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” – Acts 2:22-23.
So in verse 22, we have Jesus being attested to the Jews by God, by means of the healing and casting out of demons, as well as his other demonstrations of power over nature, circumstances and death. There’s a reason the Bible uses the terms “signs” and “wonders” but not “miracles”. Supernatural occurrences are always meant to point to whatever God is doing in a circumstance; they’re never ends in themselves.
But, in verse 23, we have Jesus being delivered unto the cross by means of the plan and foreknowledge of God; God laid it out in advance and accomplished it by means of thousands of people with wicked intentions, all thinking that they were acting freely and pursuing their own autonomous ends. None of them were aware of God’s hand bending and leaning them and causing to do exactly what needed to be done at exactly the right time, but that doesn’t matter to God one iota. God lets it be known that everyone, from the crowds to the Sanhedrin to the entire Roman court, was doing what he had laid out, in advance, for them to do.
That is providence. That’s God doing what he wants done in a circumstance by orchestrating the desires of hearts, the political climates of times, the weather, etc. to bring his ends to pass exactly as he desires.
Just in case there’s confusion, God’s sustaining work is general; making things operate. God’s providential work is specific; making things operate unto a specific end. They’re very similar but not synonymous.
One lase note: God’s providence isn’t just something that occurs with special people or events; it involves every person and every event in history. God providentially orchestrates every life so that those lives are part of structures (i.e. churches, businesses, governments, etc.) and God orchestrates all those structures so that those structures are part of nations, and God orchestrates those nations to bring about his ultimate end for the universe, and the plan is everlasting…meaning that it began at creation and continues on infinitely.
Chew on that for a little.
And this is where I ask for comments, and fear that I’ve said something heretical or totally out to lunch that I haven’t yet noticed. If you’re going to straighten me out, please be gentle!
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger (haven’t used that name in a long time…)