This past Sunday, our text of Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 had us consider the topic of God’s providence. Verse 11 states, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The word translated “beautiful” means “appropriate, fitting, lovely.” And in context, it refers back to the list of pairs in verses 2-8: being born/dying, mourning/dancing, weeping/laughing, love/hate, war/peace.
All of these things which are ultimately outside of our control, are not only within God’s control, but are being “made…beautiful” or fitting by God.
This is getting at the same truth expressed in places like Ephesians 1:11, where God is said to be one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” Scripture will not let us say that God merely responds to “all things” in order to turn them into something beautiful or fitting.
No, just as a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father (Mt. 10:29), just as Jesus did not die but for the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and just as Joseph’s brothers meant evil against him in selling him to slave traders but “God meant it for good” (and not just was able to turn it around for good, Gen. 50:20), so God is providentially working, ordaining, bringing about “all things according to the counsel of his will.”
This is a massive topic in many respects: the Bible has much to say about it, we have lots of questions about it, and it has great implications for how we live our lives. We were only able to scratch the surface of all this in the sermon, so I wanted to write a few blog posts this week to dive in a bit deeper on this issue.
Today, I want to press home the claim that the all-encompassing providence of God is a source of great comfort, peace, strength, endurance and hope. Yes, it is one we probably have lots of questions about and may find difficult to accept, and we will consider some of these difficulties in the following posts. But when the biblical authors consider the all-encompassing providence of God, they consistently present it as a source of comfort and hope, as well as a reason to bow in worship before God.
Consider the Matthew 10 passage mentioned above, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (10:29). The point is that in the seemingly insignificant matter of a bird dying (of which there are over 50 billion in the world!), the ultimate reason is not chance or a hungry hawk or a broken wing, but God’s will.
But the larger point Jesus is making is that if this is the case with birds, how much more is this the case with humanity, especially those who belong to God! He goes on: “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (10:30-31).
The command to “fear not” is based on two truths about God: 1) He is providentially ordaining all things (vs. 29), and 2) He is good and compassionate towards his people (vs. 30-31).
And in context (vs. 26-29), these truths are meant to give us comfort and strength especially in the face of hatred and death! Even when we are hated, even when people are attempting to kill us—and, by extension, in every difficulty, trouble, pain and chaos we face—God is still providentially bringing about his will, and he is still good and compassionate towards his people.
Which means that we are never ultimately at the will of fate or chance, or the sins of others against us or our own sins and their effects. Human decisions are real and matter, and we are responsible for what we do (as we’ll consider in another post). However, in the hardest of times and in the best of times, we are ultimately in the hands of the compassionate, “gentle and lowly,” “rich in mercy,” for-us-and-not -against-us God.
There is no better place to be. And this knowledge is given to us not primarily for us to figure out exactly how and why things are the way they are, but for us to unceasingly rest and rejoice in our loving God.