The Providence of God
Seeing to the Universe
On Wednesday, September 13, at 6:45 P.M. we will begin to unfold the doctrine of God’s providence. The word “providence” is striking. It comes from the word “provide” which has two parts: “pro” (Latin: “forward,” “on behalf of”) and “vide” (Latin: “to see”). So you might think that “provide” would mean: “to see forward” or “to foresee.” But it doesn’t. It means “to supply what is needed; to give sustenance or support.” And so the noun “providence” has come to mean the act of “providing for or sustaining and governing the universe by God.”
Why is this? There is a linguistic reason and the theological reason. Linguistically “pro” means “on behalf of” as well as “forward.” So “pro-vide” can mean “to see on behalf of.” We say in English: “I’ll see to that.” “See to” means “take care of, provide for.” In other words “seeing something with a purpose” is to make provision for what you see. “Seeing to” something is acting on behalf of something. It is “providing.” Thus, providence is the act of God’s “seeing to” the universe. He’ll see to that.
Theologically, there is a reason why “seeing to” means “providing for.” Remember the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac his son. Before they went up the mountain, Isaac said to his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And when God had shown Abraham a ram caught in the thorns, Genesis 22:14 says, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide.”
Whenever it says “provide” in Genesis 22 the Hebrew word is, “see.” Very simply Abraham said to Isaac, “God will see for himself the lamb.” And in verse 14: “The Lord will see.” Why does God’s “seeing” in Hebrew mean that he will provide? I think the deepest answer is that God never simply sees without acting. He is God. He is not a passive participant in a world that exists without his sustaining it. Wherever God is looking, God is acting. If God perceives, he performs. If he inspects, he effects. In other words there is a profound theological reason why “providence” does not merely mean “foreknowledge,” but rather “the active sustenance and governance of the universe.” When God “sees,” he “sees to.” His seeing is always with a view to doing. Where he patrols, he controls.
What then, is the providence of God? Here is the answer of the Heildelberg Catechism (Question 27): It is:
The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
And why should we study this? What good will it do? Here is the answer from question 28.
That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they can not so much as move.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).
Eager to grow with you in faith in such a Father,
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org