The Heidelberg Catechism and the Providence of God


Q.27 What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Q.28 How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

I love catechisms. I especially love the great old reformed catechisms. Their king no doubt is the Heidelberg, one of the most beautiful and profoundly simple pieces of pedagogical literature I’ve ever read. What the Heidelberg excels at is providing pastoral language to those difficult and enigmatic theological questions whose answers so often evade us.

The sovereignty of God is not a battlefield. It is a refuge. God’s providence is the disclosure of his tender beauty, opened to us daily through innumerable acts of painstaking, paternal care. It is his action to sustain and uphold, govern, and ultimately eliminate, all that would dare obstruct the invincibility of his sovereign love for us. Without a fresh appraisal of our poverty as creatures of radical contingency, we can neither receive nor dynamically participate in the gift of life as the fact of wonder that it truly is. God means with every appointed confrontation between ambition and frailty to transfigure us in union with the impervious depths of divine delight prepared for us in him who is impenetrable and unassailable—an apocalyptic denouement of undeterred love and beauty and joy and justice. It is only with quiet trust that the cruciform panorama of trial and tribulation, pleasure and power, comfort and consolation can truly appear to us as gifts of grace from his ‘fatherly hand’.

The God who governs all is the good God whose good pleasure was to become king in the bloodletting of Jesus Christ, the central event of his divine power through which we became his children, the chosen beneficiaries of his triune life. If you would like to see a picture of the sovereignty of God, look to the crucified Jesus bearing the awful weight of the world’s misery. Sovereign grace wielded by a suffering shepherd of supreme worth is one of the sweetest and most comforting truths I know.

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