“But I trust in You, O Lord; I say, "You are my God." My times are in Your hands.” So declared David in Psalm 31.
What does this mean? What doesn't it mean?
It means that Christians are not fatalists. At least we shouldn't be.
Fatalism has been defined as "the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable."
Christians do believe in providence. At least we should. And there is a big, big difference between fatalism and providence.
What is providence? Providence has been defined as "God's superintending activity over human actions and human history, bringing creation to its divinely determined goal."
At first, it can seem like fatalism and providence are two sides of the same coin, a distinction without a real difference. However, we are not robots programmed by God to do his bidding. We are also not puppets who jump and move as God pulls our invisible strings from above.
To be sure God is omniscient. He is all-knowing. Consider the following declaration, once again from the psalms: “Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
What David declared is key. God is in ultimate control of all things, and all events. As Jesus himself declared, not a sparrow falls to the ground "apart from the will of your Father." God allows some things to happen. He wills others to happen. Understanding this difference is too wonderful for us; it is too lofty for us to attain.
The providence of God is one of the trickiest areas of Biblical theology. If God is in ultimate control of all things and all events, what say do we really have in anything? Do our decisions and actions even matter?
The Lutheran answer is yes to both. The Lutheran answer is yes to both questions because this is the Biblical answer. God is in ultimate control over our lives and our destinies. And yet, our actions and decisions still matter. According to a Portuguese proverb, God writes straight with a crooked line. His ultimate plan for creation will be achieved. It will be achieved whether we want it to or not. God's ultimate plan takes into account human decisions and actions, even when they run contrary to his will. He takes our crooked lines and makes them work straight toward his ultimate goal of establishing a new heaven and a new earth, the home where righteousness dwells; the place where he will dwell with all of his people. This is why God sent his Son to Bethlehem's manger. This is why Jesus hung on Calvary's cross. It was, as we confess in the Nicene Creed, for our sakes and for our salvation.
As I think about the providence of God, there are two prime Biblical examples that come to mind. The first is the life of Joseph (Genesis 37 – 50). The second is that of Ruth. As matter of fact, the behind-the-scenes providence of God is at work from beginning to end in the book that bears Ruth’s name.
God's providence is for our good. As I think about this great, but mysterious, doctrine a beloved hymn comes to mind: Children of the Heavenly Father. For me, the final stanza wonderfully encapsulates the Biblical doctrine of providence:
Though He giveth or He taketh, God His children ne'er forsaketh; His the loving purpose solely To preserve them pure and holy.
Like David of old, we can trust that our times are indeed in God’s hand. Nothing can snatch us from his grasp. This is good news, come what may. We can trust the promises found in the Word of God: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give all things? (Romans 8:28-32).
Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.