Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

The doctrine of God’s providence is the theme of Pastor John’s new book by that title, Providence (you can now preorder the title from our friends at Westminster Books for just $19.99). The truth that God governs over all things has always been true. But for us to see and savor this reality, we must learn it first so that we can treasure it for ourselves. And when we do, it will make a very definite impact in our lives. It has to. Understanding God’s all-wise design for our lives will change us in very tangible ways. And that is why we have set aside Wednesdays on the podcast. On Wednesdays, Pastor John is celebrating the real-life impact of providence on us. There are a total of ten implications. Last time, in episode 1577, we looked at how providence makes us tremble over our sin and marvel over the grace of the gospel. That was implication number two. Here now with implication number three is Pastor John.

Tony, it seems to me that over the years, many of the folks that have written to us have wrestled with the basic meaningfulness or significance of life and of reality, sometimes because of the suffering that they walk through, sometimes because of the simple, banal, repetitive, seemingly meaningless, mundane routines of life. And so this particular effect, which I’m going to talk about now, of understanding and cherishing the all-embracing, all-pervading providence of God, might land on those people, as it does on me, with great preciousness and great significance.

Grand Tapestry

And the third effect of seeing and savoring the providence of God is this: it establishes a framework of reality in our mind by which we see absolutely everything in the universe, from the smallest to the greatest, as a part of God’s meaningful design. In other words, when we look at everything through the lens of God’s providence, everything is significant. Everything is meaningful. Nothing is random, nothing is pointless, nothing is meaningless. Everything — absolutely everything — is from God and through God and to God. Therefore, the Bible says, “To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36).

In other words, everything has its origin in the absolute existence and wisdom and goodness of God. And everything is guided through the infinite wisdom of God. And everything is moving toward the greatest possible goal imaginable — namely, the fullest display of the panorama of God’s perfections, which we call the glory of God.

Everything, in some way, fits into this infinitely wise plan. Nothing is meaningless. Every thread in the tapestry of reality is being woven by God into a depiction of the glory of God. Some threads in this tapestry are radiant, in and of themselves, with bright significance. Other threads, in themselves, are dark with mysterious twists and textures and shades of bloody crimson. Sometimes God gives us glimpses of the final depiction of his beauty in all things, and it just takes our breath away. But other times, our vision is limited to the underside of the tapestry, with its inexplicable tangles and textures and colors.

“Every thread in the tapestry of reality is being woven by God into a depiction of the glory of God.”

At those times, when providence seems most confusing, we must open our Bibles, listen to the interpretations of God, and direct our hearts to the strong affirmations that God has given us with Christ at the center: that he’s wise, he’s good, he’s just, and he is at work in and through all things. Nothing is meaningless. Nothing is random, nothing — not the greatest evils, not the greatest cruelties. None of them is owing, ultimately, to God’s supposed weakness or wickedness or ignorance or demonic competition.

Enchanted with Meaning

The dice are rolled in a thousand casinos, and “every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). As R.C. Sproul used to say, “There are no maverick molecules.” Indeed, there are no maverick athletes, or actors, or singers, or presidents, or scholars, or street people. I look at the leaves waving on the tree outside my study, and I believe that every motion of every leaf of every tree in the world is waving in accord with God’s guidance and plan. I look at the ten thousand tiny bubbles popping at the top of the foam of my Diet Dr. Pepper, as the foam goes away after being poured, and I believe that every one of those bubbles is popping in accord perfectly with God’s bubble-popping plan. And that does not tax the divine mind at all.

I look at history, the history of nations, through the lens of the prophet Daniel. I see Assyria has passed away, Babylon has passed away, Persia has passed away, Greece has passed away, the Roman empire has passed away. China will pass away, America will pass away, all the Western nations will pass away, because it is God who “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). He “brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness” (Isaiah 40:23).

So, from the smallest reality — a leaf waving, a bubble popping — to the greatest realities of nations and galaxies, everything is shot through with God-designed meaning. Where this is denied, and God is eliminated from that process, all knowledge is enveloped in a cloud of folly and meaninglessness. Where it is affirmed, the possibilities of profound, amazing, beautiful, and helpful insights and enjoyments abound. This is a precious, soul-strengthening, faith-sustaining, life-steadying, joy-deepening vision of reality. It is precious beyond measure to see the world under God this way.

Cosmic Canvas

Perhaps I could just close by letting my old literature professor from my Wheaton College days, fifty years ago, bear witness to the mental health that such a vision brings into human experience. In 1976, Clyde Kilby, the great lover and scholar and advocate for the writings of C.S. Lewis, back when hardly anybody was talking about C.S. Lewis, came to Minneapolis and gave a talk about his experience with literature in life. He closed that talk with what he called “means to mental health.” There were ten of them. I’m going to close with two of them. Here’s number two:

Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said, “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere — only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

And resolution number ten:

Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

Dear Dr. Kilby, you are in heaven now, and I still love you. What you showed me is immeasurably valuable. You did not turn out to be wrong. This great vision of God’s providence, God’s purposeful sovereignty in all things, kept you healthy and happy, and brought you home. And so it will do for all of us who see and savor God’s all-embracing providence, with Jesus Christ at the center.