27 Q. What do you understand
by the providence of God?
A. The almighty and ever present power of God^1
by which God upholds, as with his hand,
and all creatures,
and so rules them^2 that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,^3
health and sickness,^4
prosperity and poverty—^5
all things, in fact,
come to us
not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.
^1 Acts 17:25[-28]
^2 Heb. 1:3
^3 Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:17
^4 John 9:3
^5 Prov. 22:2
28 Q. How does the knowledge
of God’s creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us,^1
thankful when things go well,^2
and for the future we can have
good confidence in our faithful God and Father^3
that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.^4
For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand
that without his will
they can neither move nor be moved.^5
^1 Rom. 5:3; James 1:3;Job 1:21
^2 Deut. 8:10; 1 Thess. 5:18
^3 Rom. 5:5-6
^4 Rom. 8:38-39
^5 Job 1:12; 2:6; Acts 17:28;Prov. 21:1
Lord’s Day 10 (Q/A 27-28)
“God at the Altar, Altering Us”
As I write this reflection, I am preparing to officiate my eighth wedding since being ordained as a pastor. From the premarital counseling to the actual wedding day, each wedding recalls for me the glorious day that Grace and I came to the wedding altar 11 years ago, before 150 of our family and friends, and exchanged our vows. Each day since then is about becoming married, living out our promises in the daily joys and grind of working, parenting, traveling, making doctor’s appointments. Our wedding ceremony included a celebration of the Eucharist and a call to the baptized community to remember their belongingness to the family of God, and the God who gave His Son Jesus Christ for us, whose active decision to be for us is embodied at the bread and the cup, as is with the Scriptural image of the wedding feast and Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride. In each and every ritual act that we observed, we wanted to share with the gathered assembly at our wedding and to anchor our married life to the triune God whose very presence and power at the wedding altar is what made the wedding a wedding, and whose very presence and power makes our marriage a marriage.
Q/A 27-28 describes God’s providence, which Eberhard Busch links to God’s predestination. Recall that there is an important difference between predestination and predeterminism. Reformed Christians believe in predestination, not predeterminism. Predestination means that God knows the end, our destiny; the triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit—is our beginning and our end – the Alpha and the Omega. The triune God is the source of our life – in Him we live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and our fate rests in Him, as is our life when our physical life here is finished. That’s predestination. Predeterminism says that God determines every detail and minutiae, from the breakfast you will eat to the vacation you will take next year. Predeterminism negates the freedom given to human beings, rendering us as enfleshed robots whose actions and words are controlled.
Q/A 27-28 reminds me of language similar to altar language – at weddings, at baptisms, at the Lord’s Table; whether in “leaf and blade, rain and drought. . .health and sickness” God upholds and sustains. Whatever condition or circumstance we may encounter or experience, God’s “fatherly hand” abides and abounds. This is a daily, moment-by-moment, promise of God, whereby our lives, the world, is an altar – spaces and places where each and all are offered to God and where God encounters us.
Liturgical and homiletical scholar Heather Murray Elkins speaks about “altaring” (note the “a”) in order to “alter” (note the “e”). God altars our minds, hearts, and souls in order to alter it. God altars the world in order to alter it. In other words, the power, presence, and promise of the triune God abides and abounds a broken and hurting world, in order to transform it. That’s what Q/A 28 goes at length to describe. God’s providence (Latin “providential” meaning “care”) – God’s persevering intentionality to see us all the way through—altars us so that our view of all circumstances and conditions are altered; our approach, our regard to those things are altered. The alteration expresses itself in patience, thankfulness, confidence.
That’s difficult, especially when we are confronted with the harshness and gravity of our human condition, the plight of illness, the stubbornness of irreconcilable differences, terminal illness.
That is precisely why we need to lean on the providential care of our loving heavenly Father. Because patience, thankfulness, confidence are not habits of the heart that we can muster up, create on our own, or take some pill to develop that disposition. Matters of the heart are entirely from God. Thankfully, that comes from the God who is providential, through and through, whose vows to us altars us to alter us.