None of us would have any doubt that providence works in the lives of believers today. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:6). How  it works and when it works is very difficult to know. Sometimes we may recognise the hand of providence many years after, sometimes we may not know until it is explained in the Kingdom.

Robert Roberts’ The Ways of Providence has, on page 5, six helpful key points obtained from considering Scriptural examples:

1 “confidence in the fact of Divine participation  in human affairs”

2 “all human affairs are not Divinely regulated”

3 “many things happen that are not of God”

4 “in only a certain narrow channel of things is  providence a fact”

5 “only certain classes are providentially guided  and controlled”

6 “Divine interposition as often takes the shape of  bringing about apparently evil circumstances as  those that are obviously good”.

Can we see the ways of providence in modern  life? Some examples may help.

I was running late for a very important appointment  the other day and anxiously searching for a car park.  There was nothing available at all for miles around.  Then, miraculously, right in front of the place where I  was going, there appeared an empty car park.

Well, a Pentecostal driver might well cry out,  “Hallelujah, praise the Lord”, at such a ‘miracle’. A  Christadelphian though would be unlikely to see the  hand of providence at work. If the appointment was  so important to us, we should have done something  ourselves to prevent being late. We cannot expect  God to intervene in the minutiae of life. “Time and  chance” happens in all our daily experiences. As  Robert Roberts so neatly expressed it: “God has  control of all chance; but all chance is not controlled”  (The Ways of Providence, p 5). Almost undoubtedly,  the empty car park just occurred by chance.

My wife and I were seriously interested in doing  mission work in an area where the Truth is hardly  found. We thought that Taiwan would be an excellent  place as there is only one sister there. The problem  though is to get work in Taiwan. To get work, you  need a work-permit and to get a work-permit you need  work. We prayed about this for some time and then,  almost miraculously, I was offered a job that brought  with it an automatic work-permit.

We can never be entirely sure, but most of us  would feel that providence has worked in the lives  of this brother and sister to make open the door of  Truth in a distant land. The angels were probably  behind the job offer. The couple followed the advice  of our Lord, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,  and his righteousness, and all these things shall be  added unto you”. However, to really know whether  providence was behind this example, we may want  to know the outcome of their work for the Truth. If  the work were successful, we would undoubtedly  conclude that providence was behind the project.  What if the project turns out to be a disaster?  What would we say then? Would we change our  initial assessment? These matters go beyond our  understanding.

In 1984, a fire almost destroyed the major  Anglican Church at York, England—the York Minster.  This church is almost as important to Anglicans as  Westminster in London. Interestingly, it was there  that Constantine was crowned emperor of the Roman  Empire. Lightning hit the church and it soon was  engulfed in flames. No one was injured. The fire took  place immediately after the controversial and much  disputed ordination of the Bishop of Durham, elevated  to number 4 in the Anglo-Catholic hierarchy despite  his views that undermined the very foundations of  Christianity.

Was this a case of Divine retribution for the  uttering of doctrine that completely undermined  Christianity, even in its apostate form? A number  of Christadelphians and others at the time felt  that providence had been at work. It felt good to  think this. Perhaps we will never know in this life.  When Elijah called down fire on the captains and  their fifties, it was designed to show that reverence needed to be shown to the God of Israel and to  his prophet, as a man of God. The third captain  certainly learned this lesson (2 Kings 1:13). Did  the congregation at York learn a lesson from the  fire and either oust their bishop or seek the Truth  of Christ? If either of these was not the outcome,  then can we be so sure that providence intervened to  cause the lightning strike on York Minster? We are  probably happier to conclude that, because of the  bishop’s words, God did not prevent an otherwise  chance happening.

More recently, a very severe hailstorm swept  through the eastern suburbs of Sydney, causing great  damage. It was Australia’s greatest natural disaster,  measured in dollar cost—it was far more costly than  Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin. The hailstorm came  unpredicted in from the sea to hit the eastern suburbs,  then crossed the harbour to the North Shore where it  turned back to the sea again. Interestingly, within the  eastern suburbs of Sydney is the home of homosexuality  in Australia. There the dreadful gay and lesbian Mardi  Gras is held each year.

Some have looked at this event and pondered  whether here was providence, a Divine expression  of wrath upon a wicked and perverse generation.  Paul’s words in Romans 1 on the Divine view  of such wickedness would certainly allow this  retribution. In retrospect, did it change anything in  Sydney? This type of immorality has only become  worse. Perhaps we can put the event in the same  class as the fall of the Tower in Siloam that Jesus  referred to in Luke 13: “Think ye that they were  sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I  tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all  likewise perish”. The havoc cause by such a simple  event as a hailstorm indicates the effect of the great  destruction that God will unleash against Gog and  all his bands (Ezek 38:22).

An older brother is diagnosed with a serious illness.  Many expressions of kindness are given. A younger  brother, no doubt trying to be helpful, tells him that  the angels are working, as his character must need  further refinement before he meets his Lord.

Despite the best intentions of the young brother,  this is no consolation to the older brother. Rather,  it is a discouragement, like the ‘miserable comfort’  given to Job by his three friends. It may be that  when the books are open, the period of suffering  will be seen to have helped the older brother, but  we would be unwise to suggest that the working  of providence caused the illness. When Jesus was  asked specifically about the cause of blindness in  the man born blind, he replied, “Neither has this  man sinned, nor his parents” (John 9:3).

A young brother, diligent in the Truth, keenly  working in the furtherance of the gospel, has before  him a lifetime of service to his Lord and happiness  in his ecclesial environment. He is driving carefully  along a country road when a semi-trailer swerves  and the young brother is killed instantly. The family  is devastated; the youth group shaken; relations not  in the Truth question whether there could be a God  who allows the death of those who try to serve Him.

Here is one of the most difficult tests of  faith where we wonder most about the hand of  providence. We may wonder where the angels were  that day. Could they have stopped the accident?  Certainly. Did the angels cause the accident to  happen? Almost certainly not. It seems much more  realistic to say that the accident was a chance event  and, while providence could have intervened to  prevent it, it was allowed to happen.

Nevertheless, why was it allowed? We may  never know this side of the Kingdom. Three points  though may be helpful:

  • As far as the younger brother is concerned, he may have been cut off from the potential happiness of mortal life in the Truth, but when  measured against the prospect of endless life,  this is of small moment. Mortal life for him may  have brought its sorrows, however unlikely that  may have seemed at the time of the accident.
  • The effect upon other young people may be to their eternal benefit. His friends may have been brought up with a jolt to see the seriousness  of life, to appreciate that life may soon be cut  off by death or the return of the Lord and that  something must be done now about our response  to the Father and His Son.
  • Without experiencing “the valley of the shadow of death”, we may not see the same need for the coming age of righteousness when “God shall  wipe away all tears”.

What, though, are we going to say to those  relations not in the Truth who have questioned  God’s very existence because of the death of one  of His followers? An argument along the following  lines may be helpful.

  • God has given man freedoms and abilities, which man has used to invent all kinds of things that bring both good and evil. We can  fly in aeroplanes, though a small fraction of  flights never make their destination. We have  the freedom to drive our fast and comfortable  cars, even though we know that there is a small  probability of death each time we drive. We  accept these risks for the convenience gained.  This is our choice, not God’s.
  • Would we really expect God to always protect from harm and danger those who have been baptised? There would be a queue for  baptism if we could obtain protection until a  certain age-limit. How would that affect the  subsequent behaviour of young people who  are now invincible? Moreover, what age-limit  would we set for invincibility to expire—age  55, age 65, age 75?
  • During his ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ did not question the ways in which death comes upon men, but he provided a way of escape  from death that makes present life bearable.  He offered eternal life and joy to those who  seek God through him.

We do not pretend that the issues concerning  the way God works are easy. Let us move on to a  happier example.

An earnest brother is moving into his later thirties.  He is slightly different, but very diligent in the Truth.  He is not married, though he would like to be. Earlier  on, he was hurt by the rejection of some single sisters.  Therefore, he devoted himself to his ecclesial work.  Then along ‘out of the blue’ comes an ideal partner  from another part of the ecclesial world, they fall in  love and are married and, we might add, ‘they lived  happily ever after’!

With such a happy story, we would probably all  say that providence has worked a great blessing.  The Apostle Peter was so right when he said,  “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for  you” (1 Pet 5:7). The Psalmist said, “Delight thyself  also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires  of thine heart” (Psa 37:4).  To give a real-life twist to this example, two  years ago when the first single sisters were baptised  in China, a matter of considerable concern to them  was whom could they possibly marry once baptised.  All that could be said to them at the time was that  God works in wondrous ways that we cannot  predict. A confident faith is required. Two years  later, two of those sisters are now married in the  Lord and a third one is engaged to a brother. The  ways of providence are alive and helpful.

The concept of Christadelphian schools was being  examined a few years ago in two Australian States,  to counter the exposure of our young ones to the  defiling influences of State schools. By a fortuitous  circumstance, the Australian Government changed  and the new Government introduced strong financial  encouragements for private schools. In one of the States,  the State Government was redeveloping a site and offered  remarkable concessions to a building and land purchase.  The building was refurbished sufficient for initial needs  in 52 days, the time Nehemiah took to repair the walls  of Jerusalem, and rain fell on the opening night held  outside, as it did in the days of Ezra.

Obviously providential we would all say.  Such providence works when we put our hearts  and shoulders to a good ecclesial work. We must,  though, make the effort. “The eyes of the Lord  run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew  himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is  perfect toward him” (2 Chron 16:9).

We need to be a little careful, of course. A  more recent attempt to build a Christadelphian  school in another State has stalled because of  State Government policy. Does this indicate that  providence is absent in this case? Not likely. Rather,  there are difficulties that we believe the angels will  work to overcome in God’s good time.  Our last example takes us back to the difficult  problem of suffering.

A middle-aged brother with a family unexpectedly  suffers a massive heart attack and dies. The shock of  this is felt across the ecclesial world, for his work in the  Truth had taken him on many ventures and to many  places. He was an inspiration to many and his work  is still remembered years later.

We may never understand the working of  providence in this case. We do know, however, that  “all things work together for good to them that love  God, to them who are the called according to his  purpose” (Rom 8:28). A number of points raised  above in relation to the example of the young  brother killed in the car accident will be relevant.  Some more may help.[1]

  • Misfortune must be balanced against the blessings that God gives. For every such brother cut off in the midst of his years, there are others of God’s servants who provide sound ecclesial  advice and service well past the “three-score  years and ten”.
  • Given that there is mortality in the world, would we prefer a system in which there are no premature deaths and no unexpected longevity?  Would we prefer a system under which were  given a “use by” date? Such a system would  make life intolerable as we neared that date. It  is uncertainty of death that gives optimism for  life, while allowing early tragedies.
  • We may think a certain brother is indispensable to the work of the Truth. We may even think that we are a little bit indispensable. God, though,  can lay one workman down and lift up another.  His work does not depend upon the survival of  any one of us.
  • In the example, it may be that his ecclesial work was even more appreciated through his early death, than if he had lived a normal life span.

In conclusion, the brothers and sisters in the  above examples are fictitious, but the examples  have been chosen to represent issues that may  arise in the lives of believers today.

There are times when we can see clearly the ways  of providence and times when it is very difficult to  know why events occur. We are reassured, though,  that the ways of providence are working. We live  a life of uncertainty; we hope for a life of certainty.  Meanwhile we have the strong assurance: “I will  never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5), or,  in the words of the Lord, “I am with you always,  even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20).

Reference

[1] There are further helpful comments on this subject in Chapter

15 of Bro Harry Tennant’s book on The Christadelphians, What

They Believe and Teach, recently republished under the title,

What the Bible Teaches, the Faith of the Christadelphians