Just for Catholics

THE PLAN AND PROVIDENCE OF GOD

History is not a haphazard and meaningless series of events. God, not blind chance, has authored the course and destiny of the universe. Indeed, he is active in his creation to ensure that his eternal plan will be accomplished to the letter. God ‘works all things according to the purpose of his own will’ (Eph 1:11).

God’s Plan

God’s plan, sometimes referred to as the Decrees of God, is eternally fixed; it does not depend on the choices we make. Scripture calls it ‘the eternal plan’ (Eph 3:11) – therefore it cannot change; otherwise it would not be eternal. Scripture insists that God’s purpose does not fluctuate: ‘The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations’ (Ps 33:11) ‘But He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does’ (Job 23:13).

Human history is the story God wrote from eternity past. ‘He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings’ (Acts 17:26). David acknowledged: ‘in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Ps 139:16). Even man’s rebellion, including the worst sin, does not surprise God: ‘what has been determined shall be done’ (Dan 11:36).

Christ’s death took place according to ‘the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God’ and even the actions of those who condemned and crucified him were ‘to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done’ (Acts 2:23; 4:28).

The redeemed freely confess that God ‘chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.’ Even our good works ‘God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Eph 1:4; 2:10). People who remain obstinate in unbelief, ‘they stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.’ Lost people are ‘the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction’ because ‘the LORD has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.’ On the other hand, the redeemed ‘He had prepared beforehand for glory’ (1 Pet 2:8; Rom 9:22; Prov 16:4; Rom 9:23).

Providence

God begun to fulfill his eternal plan by creating the universe. Further than that, he has been and is still bringing his plan to fruition by his work called ‘providence’. The work of creating the universe has long been finished; in providence, God continues to work in his creation. ‘Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done’ This same God, as the Lord Jesus informs us, ‘has been working until now’ (Gen 2:1, 2; John 5:6, 17).

Providence is God’s work by which he preserves all creation; he is active in all that happens in the universe, and directs all things to their predetermined end. Though his hands are not seen, God exercises absolute control over all. ‘For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen’ (Rom 11:36).

God preserves his creation. The universe, while having a real and distinct existence from God, does not exist by its own power. The universe depends completely and continually on God. He upholds and maintains all things by his omnipotence. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘In Him all things consist.’ The Lord ‘upholds all things by the word of His power’ (Acts 17:28; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3.

God is operative in all things that take place in the universe; nothing is excluded from his rule and government. He controls the physical world (Job 37:6-13), the animals (Ps 104:21-27), human events (Isa 10:12-15), and the individual’s circumstances (Prov 16:9; 1 Sam 2:6-8). He even controls what to us seem to be accidental happenings. ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD’ (Prov 16:33). God also controls the free actions of men (Ex 12:36; Ps 33:14, 15; Prov 21:1; 19:21), whether they be morally good (Phil 2:13; 4:13; 2 Cor 12:9, 10; Eph 2:10; Ps 119:36; Gal 5:22-25), or sinful actions (Ps 76:10; Acts 4:27, 28; 2 Sam 16:10; Amos 3:6).

A tough question immediately arises in our minds. What does God, righteous and holy as he is, have to do with wickedness? What is the exact relationship between providence and sin?

Man is a created moral being; he makes decisions and choices according to his will. Man’s actions are really his actions and therefore he is also responsible before God for his good and evil. Man is always and in every case held accountable. Nevertheless God is in a certain sense involved in the same human decisions and actions.

An illustration is in order. Joseph’s jealous brothers were guilty for selling him to the Ishmaelites; no wonder they were terrified when then met him many years later in Egypt. But Joseph reassured them: ‘But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive’ (Gen 50:20). Joseph recognized the hidden hand of providence. ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt’ he accused them, but he continued, ‘But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life’ (Gen 45:4, 5; Ps 105:17). God sent him! The brothers were definitely guilty; God overruled their wickedness and through it wrought a great deliverance.

Similarly, the Jews were not compelled against their will to crucify the Messiah; no, rather, they wanted to kill Jesus. Their 'lawless hands' were guilty of that heinous crime. However the crucifixion of our Lord had been determined by God. 'Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief’ (Isa 53:10). It could not have happened any other way. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans and the people of Israel gathered together against Jesus to do whatever God's hand and his purpose determined before to be done (see Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28).

God, the ‘first cause’ of all things, has ordained whatever comes to pass, including sin, and governs his creation to fulfill his eternal plan. Yet God is not the blameworthy cause of evil because his plan and providence do not violate the will of his creatures. God is never guilty of any evil; on the contrary, he always condemns sin. Man sins voluntarily, not by compulsion; therefore man, not God, is the culpable cause of sin.

In God’s Hands

God plans and directs all things towards their determined end. This sublime truth brings great solace to his children because it assures us that our life, with all its uncertainties, is safe in the hands of our heavenly Father, the all-powerful and sovereign God. We are painfully aware of our own weaknesses and failures, the opposition from the outside, and the guile of Satan and his demons. Yet nothing and nobody can annul God’s good purpose towards us. ‘We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son ... If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom 8:28-39).

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.