Providence

I said in yesterday’s blog that we are starting what I hope will be an annual series called “Christ and Culture” this Sunday. We are going to take four weeks to look at what culture says about God and compare it to Scripture. Each year, my hope is to tackle a different subject and compare the two worldviews. This year, we are going to look specifically at what culture is saying about the subject of providence and compare it to Scripture.

Providence is a word that people rarely use in everyday language, but it is something everyone has an opinion on in our culture today. The reason why so few people know what the word providence means is because culture has a lot of different words for it. It can be called fate, luck, destiny, fortune, chance, coincidence, or even divine intervention. Providence is the belief (or lack of belief) that something or someone is guiding our lives. Some believe “the universe,” or even “the force,”[1] is the powerful energy guiding the fate of humanity. Others believe life is simply random and nature, or Mother Earth, is the only force at work in the world. Christians have always believed that God is at work in the world and is powerfully guiding history and nature towards His desired conclusion; this is what we call providence.

It needs to be said that Christians have disagreed from almost the beginning about how God actually works in the world around us.[2] But there are three major affirmations that Christians have made throughout history on the subject of providence. One of my former professors at Truett Seminary, Dr. Roger Olson, outlines these three affirmations in his book called The Mosaic of Christian Belief. Olson says these affirmations are:

(1) God is the good and just governor of nature and history in that he not only created but also sustains, guides, provides for and judges everything; (2) Nothing at all can happen in either nature or history that God does not at least allow; (3) God’s sovereign governance of nature and history is both “general” (i.e., through natural laws built into the processes) and “special” (i.e., extending to details of people’s lives).[3]

Outside of these three affirmations, there is room for Christians to discuss, debate, and even disagree. Yet, for this series, we will focus more on what we can agree upon as believers and compare it to what culture is currently saying about the subject. This means this series will not turn into a platform for you to try to convert everyone to Calvinism or Arminianism.

The way we will go about studying what culture is saying is by discussing a movie, a book, a TV show, and a song from the last year (or so). The movie we will discuss in the first week is a recent film starring Liam Neeson called The Grey.[4] The book we will look at in the second week is a fascinating book called The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. In the third week, we will discuss two episodes from a popular TV show called How I Met Your Mother. Finally, we will look at a song from John Mayer’s new album Born and Raised called “The Age of Worry.”

Each piece of culture in this series is saying something about the subject of providence and the nature of life. Some of what is said will point us to Christ. Other parts will, obviously, differ from the biblical view, which will hopefully lead us to a place of deeper reflection and conviction. As we head into this series, it is worth spending some time thinking about what you believe about the subject of providence. Does Scripture guide your thoughts on this subject, or are your thoughts more heavily swayed by other influences (including other Christians giving their personal opinion on this subject)? When do you find it easy to trust that God is “the good and just governor of nature and history?” When do you tend to chalk things up to “luck” or “good/bad fortune?”


[1] I will never understand some people’s obsession with Star Wars
[2] Calvinism and Arminianism are the two most widely accepted positions within the orthodox Christian world
[3] Roger Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, Pg. 185-186
[4] I’m no Puritan, but I can’t in good conscience recommend you watch this movie in advance because the language is so foul. It is a movie about “roughneck” oil workers, and the language is probably accurate in that sense. However, it is used so often that it is not a movie I can recommend in good faith.

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