One of the reasons why God gives us his word is because it is not possible for us to live by bread alone. Another reason is because God wants us to know and understand what he has spoken. The reason that we are to know and understand is so that we may be helped as we live our lives in the service of God. The next two questions of the Heidelberg Catechism are as follows, ‘What do we understand by the providence of God? and How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?’
How do things come to us?
Providence is the almighty and an ever present power of God by which He upholds and rules all of creation. As we think about where things come from, such as rain and drought, fruitful years and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, we will recognise because of the knowledge that God gives us that these things do not come to us by chance but from our heavenly Father’s hand.
If we trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding as we are taught to do (Proverbs 3:5), we will be helped by the knowledge that God gives us. What we are to recognise, which these questions above draw our attention to, is that fact that we are to understand the providence of God in order that we would be helped by that knowledge. All things come from the hand of God, God blesses his world and this is what many will not recognise. But to address the questions properly we must explain why having this knowledge and understanding is a benefit to us.
Why it’s important to understand
God’s unmerited favour is what we experience when we benefit from the many blessings of God. The Christian can be patient with greater confidence and commitment when things are not as we would like them. When life seems to go against us and when things go well we can remain confident in God. Because nothing can separate us from his love, we can be confident and assured in the present and about the future, and while our lives might change dramatically we can remain patient because all things come from the hand of God. All of life is in the hands of God, all those created as so completely in his hand that without his will we can neither move or be moved.
Opportunity and ability
In order to understand this further, let’s apply this knowledge to the opportunities and abilities that the Lord God has given us. John Calvin once said that no person should ‘set up a goal without regard to God as if they are not led by his hand’, we might think of those business men in the book of James who plan to do lots of business in the days ahead and the correction to this type of thinking is, if it is the will of God.
Imagine you have skills and the opportunity to apply those skills, are the results the work of your own hands or the blessing of God. If all things come from God then it follows that the ability to work and the opportunity to work and the results of that work are the result of God’s blessing, or to put it in the words of John Calvin ‘work by itself cannot produce anything’ (Ps 127:1 / Deut 8:3 / Matt 4:4).
Benefited by understanding
Given that all things come from God, we are able to deal with the temptations to boast or be jealous, and we can always be thankful to God for his love. The providence of God which we can understand by studying scripture causes us to see that every detail of life is taken care of and that all things come from the hand of God and nothing is by chance. As a person thinks about the future with a good understanding of providence they are able to commit their work to the Lord in the knowledge that their plans will be established (Prov 16:3). We are blessed by God and we are helped by understanding the providence of God, for no person will think more highly of himself than he ought and such a person will not come to ruin like those who lack understanding (Prov 18:2; 10:21).