Providence of God (in the Bible)

views updated


In the Bible God's providence, that is, his loving care of men, is a well-known theme. Although Hebrew has no technical term to express it, p equddâ, meaning care or charge, is used in Jb 10.12 of God's providence. The Greek word πρόνοια, literally "forethought," often expresses the idea of divine providence (Wis 14.3; 17.2).

In the Old Testament. For the inspired authors the concept of God's providence embraces the creation, government, and care of all things in the created order and their subjection to His will [Gn 8.2122; Jer 5.2224; Psalm 103 (104); 148.6]. Perhaps its most beautiful expression is in Job ch. 38 to 43 and Psalm 138 (139). The idea is closely related to that of God's activity in the world expressed by the Hebrew word bārā' (to create: Ex 34.10; Nm 16.30; Is 43.1, 15; 45.7; 48.7), considered as continuous creation through preservation and governance of all that is created. Not only does God's providence embrace all things in the lower orders of nature, but with special significance does it encompass man [Ps 103 (104).2930; Is 42.5; Jb 10.811]. Closely related is God's election of certain men for special roles and functions (Gn 12.13; 18.19; Ex 3.14; Nm 17.20; Am 7.15; Is 6.8; Jer 1.510; Ex 2.28).

God's providence especially is evident in the election of Israel, chosen by Him from all the peoples of the world for unique relationship in the covenant of Sinai [Ex 19.46; Psalm 89 (90); 94 (95).6; Is 43.1, 15], delivered by Him from servitude (Ex 12.3136), guided by divinely selected leaders in the desert of Sinai (Ex 14.1031), nourished by Him there (Ex 16.135), and brought at last into the land promised to its fathers (Jos 3.10). Israel is eminently the beneficiary of divine solicitude, witnessing in its own history God's providential care. Throughout the OT, God's acts on behalf of His people are constantly extolled as proofs of His providence [Ps 77 (78); 104 (105); 105 (106); Jos ch. 24; Jgs ch. 5]. It is evident in the elevation of the Prophets to speak His word. God's care of Israel is the great argument pointing to the unique malice of its infidelity to His will [Ps 105 (106); Dt 7.69; Ez 16.5963].

Gradually there emerges, especially in the writings of Amos, the idea that God's providence embraces not only Israel, but all the nations of the world directed by Him to carry out His plans even against their will (Am ch. 12; Is 7.1719; 10.514; Jer 25.914). All is ordered to the establishment of the kingdom of Yahweh (Is 2.25;10.12; 18.7). The whole tradition of the deuteronomists sets the history of Israel in the light of divine providence. Historical events are God's acts in reward or punishment of Israel in accordance with its observance or violation of the conditions of the covenant (Jgs2.1122; 3.712; 4.14; 10.69).

The problem of evil in relation to divine providence is treated in several ways in the OT. To the Semitic mind, God is the cause of all things; there is no direct recognition of the interplay of secondary causes (Gn 16.2; Is 45.7; Am 3.6). The physical evil of suffering and misfortune is seen as a means of discipline, conversion, and purification (Jb 33.1530; Wis 3.5; 11.911; 12.1327; 2 Mc 6.16; 7.18, 3236). The Israelites await a future solution of physical evil in the Day of the Lord when the Messianic restoration will bring an end to Israel's trials (Jl ch. 34). The inspired writers of the later books of the OT see retribution for suffering in the resurrection from the dead in the messianic kingdom (Dn 12.23) and the reward in the hereafter as recompense for suffering on earth (2 Mc 7.9, 13, 23, 26; Wis 3.19; 5.1516).

Moral evil, always regarded as incompatible with God's holiness, has its cause in the free will of man, which is emphatically affirmed and always presupposed in the OT (Dt 11.2628; 30.1520; Jer 31.8; Sir 15.1120). God's dominion over man's will is equally affirmed and always presupposed [Jer 18.6; Prv 21.1; Ps 32 (33).15; Zec 12.1]. True to Semitic mentality, no effort is made to reconcile these seemingly variant truths. God's activity is the cause of all, and yet that activity is not seen as taking away man's freedom and responsibility for his own acts. There is complete omission of reference to any secondary cause; God is said even "to harden men's heart" in punishment for sin (Ex 4.21; 7.3; 10.1; Dt 2.30; Jos 11.20; Jgs 9.23; 2 Sm 17.14; Is 29.10; 63.17). Even of actions in which the human will cooperates, the Semitic mind attributes the whole effect to God and makes no distinction between what He directly causes and what He merely permits or occasions (2 Sm 24.1). But where evil is encountered, it is always presented as serving the order of God's providence. Even in the seeming irrationality of the prosperity of the evil-doers and of the suffering of the righteous, God's providence is effective.

In the New Testament. The same perspective and thought categories as those of the OT are retained in the NT. However, God's providence in the NT is more strongly emphasized, especially in its universal and infallible aspect (Mt 5.45; Lk 6.35; Mt 6.25; 10.28; Acts 14.1517; 17.2628; Rom 1.1920; 11.1416). There is a clearer delineation of the concept in relation to the total eternal salvific plan (Rom 10.9; 1 Cor 1.21; 1 Pt 3.21). God's providence is seen as the constant manifestation and realization of His love for His creatures and His will to save them; it is stressed as the motive for complete and absolute confidence in Him (Rom 8.24; Gal 4.7). The meaning of suffering is set in clearer focus (Mt 10.24, 3839; 16.2426; Rom 5.3; 8.28; 1 Cor 1.27). All is ordered to bring man to divine adoption and ultimate glorification in Christ (Rom 8.922; Eph 1.314).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 195154. p. van imschoot, "Le Gouvernement du monde: La Providence divine," Théologie de l'Ancient Testament, 2 v. (Tournai 195456) 1:107113. a. m. dubarle, "Le Gouvernement divine et l'homme," Les Sages d'Israël (Paris 1946) 177186.

[m. r. e. masterman]

About this article

Providence of God (in the Bible)

Updated About content Print Article