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God's Power with Clothes On

When you think of God’s power, what first comes to mind? Creation, parting the Red Sea, destroying Jericho? Jesus calming the storm, casting out demons, raising Lazarus from the dead? The Holy Spirit coming on the apostles at Pentecost? These mighty works of God are told and retold on the pages of Scripture. When God chooses to supernaturally intervene in the course of history, we should all take notice. It would be hard not to!

But more often than not, God doesn’t choose to do this. Most of history plods along without seas parting, cities collapsing, and dead people coming back to life. Sometimes we are tempted to think that God’s power is taking a vacation, but this is not the case! As the Westminster Confession states, “God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence” (emphasis mine)1. Just because we don’t see miraculous wonders doesn’t mean that we are not witnesses to God’s great and awesome power every single day.

Providence, while not a term used in Scripture, is commonly used by theologians to refer to God’s ongoing relationship to everything He has made. According to Scripture, God is not only intimately aware of everything going on in His creation (Ps. 139), but He is actively ruling over every molecule, from great nations and kings (Dan. 4:34-35) to sparrows and the hairs on your head (Mat. 10:29-31). God’s providential rule is not confined to the moments when He breaks the laws of nature to accomplish His purpose like He did when He rescued His people from Egypt. He is exercising the exact same power when a low-pressure cell causes a Texas thunderstorm and each time your heart beats. In every “normal” or “natural” event, God is showing His power. He is constantly upholding, directing, disposing, and governing all of creation using not just supernatural power but also natural phenomenon and even human beings and the real choices they make!

This is what makes the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to those who love God, so sweet: only a God in charge of all things, who works in and through all things, from the greatest to the least, can make such a promise! If low pressure cells and heartbeats were somehow in a different category than parting the Red Sea, we might have cause to worry or to doubt. But they are not. Yet how often do we forget this? We look at the thunderstorm or the health condition as if it were more outside of God’s control, since we know a little bit about the natural process that He has put in place to govern it.

If you stop to think about it, the providence of God working through the constraints of the natural world is equally impressive as the awesome supernatural acts recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. Constraints typically make it harder to complete a task. For example, think about preparing a meal for someone who likes to eat everything and has no dietary restrictions. Now think about preparing a meal for someone whose taste or health puts limits on what they are able to eat. It’s a little harder, it takes a little more creativity and forethought than when there are no limits. When God displays His unbounded power, we stand back in awe. But we should be just as amazed when He uses His power within the bounds of “normal”.

I remember coming to grips with this one day when I was driving back to college with my roommates after a Labor Day weekend. We stopped for ice cream, and when we got back on the road, there was a really bad accident just up ahead of us…where we would have been if we hadn’t stopped for ice cream. That didn’t “just happen”. God, in His providence, allowed us to decide to get off the highway and get ice cream, and used our love for ice cream to preserve our lives. He could have made the ground open up in front of us. He could have sent a lightning bolt…He had everything at His disposal! But He chose to use ice cream. I’m sure you have similar stories in your life!

John Calvin said “God’s providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed.”2 When God’s power has clothes on, sometimes we can forget to look for it. Or we are so caught up looking at the means, the clothes, that we forget God! When your boss makes a foolish choice or when you get a promotion, when your toddler gets sick or your high schooler gets into the college of their choice, the boss, the germs, the admissions officers, are (in a sense), clothes on God’s power.3 When God’s power looks big and “naked”, it’s easier to bow to it. But when it comes to us clothed, we get lost fretting about the clothing rather than trusting and worshiping the mighty hand underneath. Alternately, we can sit around waiting for God to act, forgetting that He has given us means to be used wisely and commanded us to use them (See, for example, II Thess 3:6-15). He chooses to have His power clothed in means and asks us to wield those means!

Our Titus 2 Bible Study in the book of Ruth this year centers on a sweet demonstration of God’s providence in the lives of His people. As we will see, Ruth “just happened” (ha!) to glean in Boaz’s field and catch his eye. Boaz “just happened” (ha!) to be the kinsman-redeemer. God didn’t miraculously throw Ruth and Boaz together – He used the normal means of harvest and gleaning, of Ruth and Boaz’s faithful character and choices, to bring together His Son’s great-great-great-great grandparents. That He chose these means doesn’t make Him any less involved! In day-to-day life, we are often tempted to think that something “just happened”, to see only the clothes on God’s power, or to think that the clothes make God’s power somehow less. Remember that God typically uses natural, normal means to govern all created things and learn to worship, praise, and trust the power and love behind the clothes.

References:

1: Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), Chapter V “On Providence”

2: Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, 1.17.4

3. At the same time, they (well, not the virus…) are fully responsible agents making real decisions (see Genesis 50:20 and Acts 2:23)