This is an edited version of a devotional given at an ARPA Canada “God and Government Conference,” May 4, 2019, in Aldergrove, BC.
God is in control.
It’s a simple enough truth, but if we understood it, really understood it, I think it would change the way we approach politics. So I want to look now at government through the lens of God’s providence.
God’s providence means that He governs and upholds his creation, all of it, from little rocks to whole galaxies, and plants and animals too. His providence also encompasses the flow of history and the decisions of individual human hearts. In short, God’s providence means that God rules, and that because He rules nothing comes about by chance. Nothing happens apart from God’s will. Nothing surprises God or ever presents God with an unsolvable problem. Nothing is ever beyond his control. At some level, everything happens because God wants it to happen in fulfillment of his good and perfect plan.
That means when a nation is blessed with good government, we know this is by the will of God. Good governments don’t arise by chance. They don’t come from nowhere. Instead, they come to us a gift of God’s goodness and mercy. They are from the hand of the Lord.
At the same time, when a nation endures a period of poor government or when the Christian Church endures oppression at the hands of government, this, too, is from the hand of God. Also in such times, God is in charge. In all the adversity experienced by the Church, the Lord is still advancing his own good purpose to eventually unite all things under one Head, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).
So let’s consider now how working with the doctrine of God’s providence will have some blessed effects for those engaged as Christians in the work of politics.
1. Reflecting on God’s providence would lighten our mood!
When governments do foolish things or act in ways that diminish our freedom and make life more difficult for us, that can be very discouraging.
However, when we remember that God is sovereign over everything and that even Satan can do nothing apart from the will of Christ, we get a different feeling about difficult political realities. The world is not spiraling out of control; God is still in control! What’s happening is part of his plan and his plan involves working out everything for the glory of his Name and for the good of those who trust him.
2. God’s providence should increase our patience.
God’s providence is connected to God’s ultimate purpose and we know that this is a long-term project; our Father in heaven is playing the long-game. Knowing this enables us to continue in hope even as the going gets rough.
3. God’s providence should increase our hope for change.
We read in Proverbs 21 that the:
“king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wills.”
The imagery here probably comes from agricultural practices of the ancient world. In parts of the ancient world, there was the practice of digging canals and smaller waterways that could be controlled by a series of large valves. If a farmer wanted to channel water to a particular part of his land, he would simply close one valve and open another. It wasn’t difficult to do and the effects were quite dramatic.
Just as easily as a farmer redirects water in a channel, so easily God redirects the heart of a king; He turns it wherever He wills. Even when the king imagines that he is acting with complete autonomy and sovereign power, it’s actually God who is directing his decisions.
Notice that God’s sovereignty extends not just to the actions of the king but to his heart, that is, to his inner self, the place of his thoughts, desires and wishes. For God to influence a ruler in this deeply personal matter is not difficult.
For this reason, even in the most trying of times, we can expect positive change. Even when the trajectory doesn’t look good, God can make things happen. Walls can come down quickly. Closed doors can be opened when we no longer really expected it. Events can happen that totally change the political landscape – and we didn’t see them coming!
4. God’s providence should increase our courage
I would say that this is true because knowing God’s providence decreases the feelings of intimidation which we may experience. When government and the media seem large, overwhelming, and irresistible, we are not afraid. I’m reminded of what Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
The fear of the LORD who rules the world in his providence takes away the fear of people. Fear paralyzes us but living confidently in the light of God’s all-encompassing providence motivates us and encourages us to speak and act according to our convictions.
5. God’s providence encourages us to engage in politics
Saying this may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t the confession that God sovereignly turns the hearts of kings wherever He wills make Christians passive? Wouldn’t the doctrine of providence encourage us to simply wait for God’s next move?
I would say that the opposite is true. The more we reflect on God’s sovereignty, the more we think about his providential control over the world, the more we will be motivated toward political engagement. God’s work of providence encourages us to work in our sphere and responsibility. After all, in his providence, God uses the work of human beings. He uses our prayers, words and our political witness to accomplish his work of providence. Yes, of course, God can and frequently does act directly upon his world but in many cases, God works indirectly and through the actions of people.
Ephesians 1 says that God has a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. By God’s providence, this plan is coming to fulfillment. However, this fulfillment involves human prayer, human actions, words and witness. The fulfillment of God’s plan involves each one of us working with our own gifts and opportunities for the glory of God.
Imagine that you didn’t know there was a plan. Imagine that you didn’t believe God was firmly in control. Imagine that you didn’t know that in the end God wins and his Kingdom is established in righteousness forever. Imagine that life was a crapshoot so that you just didn’t know where it would end. Would that motivate you to action? I don’t think so.
But when you know that God wins and that everything is somehow part of the pathway to final victory, then you can feel a surge of energy. Something good is coming. God’s victory is coming and you can be part of the process.
Rev. Schouten is a pastor for the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church.