Under the influence of paganism earlier, and since the time of Hegel at least, because of the dogma of evolution, many people see the universe as a cold, mechanical, and empty force. Vitalism has seen a tendency and a moving force in the universe, but it is non-personal and essentially mindless. It manifests direction and purpose in retrospect, as a result of chance and blind urges, not as a self-conscious and decreed will.
In such a world-view, the universe has produced man, together with a billion and one other things, but is unconscious of man and indifferent to him. Tomorrow, a wandering star, asteroid, comet, or some other cosmic body may mindlessly destroy the earth and man. Those who would hold that such an accident is unlikely or impossible ground tehir opinion, not in some absolute purpose and plan, but in a theory of electro-magnetics and other impersonal and mindless forces.
Humanistic man thus faces a blind and cold universe which is not truly "alive" and is most certainly destined for cosmic death and collapse. In such a cosmos, man is clearly alone. A universal conflict of interests prevails, and, because no absolute and universal mind and purpose binds all things together, all things are in tension, if not in struggle or at war. William Butler Yeats, in his poem, "The Second Coming," summarized the modern mood tellingly:
In a world in which "things fall apart" by nature, man too falls apart.Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
In the empty and meaningless world of modern thought, the doctrine of providence has become remote and has receded even from the mind of ostensible believers. To be "scientific" means to view reality as a cold business of weights and measures which is best known by scientific instruments rather than Scripture. Science is contrasted to religion, as though science represents an intelligent and realistic view of things, whereas religion offers merely the blindness of faith. Of course, all thinking rests on pre-theoretical presuppositions, so that faith is the foundation of science as much as of "religion." Modern scientific theory is the outworking of a humanistic religion, not of observation or testing. It is a manifestation of faith, not reason, so that the conflict between "science" and Christianity is a religious war, not a battle between science and superstition.
Churchmen, however, as well as men generally, have been heavily influenced by the Hegelian-Darwinian perspective. As a result, churchmen may profess to believe the Bible from cover to cover, but in practice they move as though the world belonged to Darwin rather than to the triune God. Even where men are deep in religious experiences, they are commonly remote to the providence of God and to His government and law. Not surprisingly, in import many theologies see the government of God as withdrawn from the world, as though creation could exist or continue for a second apart from God's sovereign decree and government.
Because God and His providence are remote to modern churchmen, they see immediacy and relevancy in preaching experimentalism, not theology. This means more emphasis on being born again, a product, rather than on the objective fact and cause, God's work of atonement and justification, on His sovereign act of electing grace. Too doctrinal a sermon is held to be remote because God is seen as remote. If a doctrinal sermon is preached, it is abstract, because God is seen as abstracted from this world.
The Reformation saw a very strong and heavy emphasis on objective doctrine. At the same time, the Reformers were strongly and intensely involved in the social and political scene, and in the cure of souls. All this was seen as intimately and radically related. In the 17th century, we can see the rise of introspection, the emphasis on the psychology of conversion as against the theology thereof, and the emphasis on the subjective as against the objective, infiltrate the church. The older objective approach came to be regarded in time as dead orthodoxy and "Scholasticism." While some elements of Scholasticism are here and there discernible, usually this accusation means that the objective facts of God's nature and revelation are given priority over subjective perspectives and experiences. Certainly the common charge that the Westminster Standards are "Scholastic" is evidence not of any truth with regard to those documents but to the strident subjectivism and/or existentialism of the critics.
The doctrine of creation requires us logically to have a God-centered and objective world-view. In a lonely universe, with man as the sole thinker, man can become subjective, because he is the only intelligent point of reference. All else is at best a blind order, or perhaps a blind accidental order, and he alone can tell that tale, understand the universal meaninglessness and the cosmic surd. Meaning then is obviously subjective. In such a world-view, meaning requires subjectivity, because meaning cannot exist elsewhere by definition. Relevance in every area of life means subjectivity. If as modern philosophy holds, the world is man's will and idea, then to abandon subjectivity is to abandon relevance, meaning, and truth.
If, however, the doctrine of creation is exactly what Genesis 1 declares it to be, then subjectivism is a delusion. Any primary emphasis on my thinking, my logic or my experience is then an emphasis on a delusion. But the reality of things is God's absolute and objective creation. Not only then is a subjective emphasis a delusion but it is the delusion of sin.
If an evolutionary and subjective world-view prevails i.e., if the subjectivism of modern philosophy and modern life and religion prevails, then it logically follows that the government of all things is not upon God's shoulders but man's. We then have humanism and the belief in the sovereignty and ultimacy of man. In religion, this means that man can say no to God and can reject God's efforts to redeem man. Man in his sovereign free will can bar the door to God's plans and purposes. In such a perspective, no consistent doctrine of providence is possible. For the non-Church humanists, some vague "purpose" or direction in evolution can be assumed by faith, i.e., that it is upwards, evolution and not devolution. That future course, however, is at best problematic, and it may mean the elimination of man as another kind of dinosaur.
A strictly Biblical doctrine of creation not only logically requires an objective rather than subjective world-view, a theology rather than an anthropology, but is also requires a high doctrine of providence. Isaiah tells us of the Messiah, "The government shall be upon his shoulder...Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end" (Isa. 0:6,7). The God who is totally the Creator of all things is also totally the determiner and the governor thereof.
Providence, the Greek word pronoia (Acts 14:2), sums up in a word God's government, guidance, care and purposive direction of all His creation. Pronoia means literally "perceiving beforehand" and is thus closely related to foreknowledge and predestination. However, foreknowledge and predestination stress God's direction in history of the acts of all men and of all natural phenomena. The purpose of providence is to effect God's eternal purpose in creation, and it does so infallibly, so that all things move to their determined end, to set forth God's purpose, justice, and holiness. This means, as Grintz has pointed out, "hence there is a connection between providence and the principle of reward and punishment."1
As Grintz points out, paganism held to a fixed order in the universe which was above the gods. The gods were themselves products of the universe, not its governors. Providence means rather God's unlimited and total control over all creation and also His personal relation with all men, and with all things, without exception. It means, moreover, that "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).
God's providence is cosmic: it embraces the whole of creation. It is national, in that it controls the destinies of all nations, peoples, tribes and tongues. It is personal, extending to every man in every age of history. It is natural, in that it includes the flowers and grass of the field, and the sparrow. It is total, because He is the sovereign Lord and Creator.
As Grintz notes, "It can be said that the entire Bible is a record of divine providence, whether general or individual."2
In Psalms and in Proverbs, the doctrine of providence is set forth with respect to the details of our lives and actions. Proverbs 16:33 declares: "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD." Nothing is outside God's government and providence. "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD as the rivers of water: he turneth it withersoever he will" (Prov. 21:1). All things are governed by God's providence in terms of God's objective and holy purpose, not in terms of man's subjective judgments and pleasure. Man's pleasure comes, in any true sense, in enjoying and glorifying God, Who is ever mindful of His own, and Who is the eternal Judge of all things. Thus, Solomon counsels,
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let the heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. (Eccles. 11:9)This means that, because God is the Lord, there is no inconsequential act in all of creation. Romans 8:28 makes clear that God uses every event to His own good purpose, so that even man's wrath and evil shall praise Him, i.e., work to God's purpose and glory (Ps. 76:10). As a result, God's purpose can never be frustrated, and all things work together for evil to them who deny the Lord:
Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou has done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint. (Lam. 1:22)
For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heather: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head. (Obadiah 15)
Call together the archers against Babylon: all ye that bend the bow, camp against it round about; let none thereof escape: recompense here according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the LORD, against the Holy One of Israel. (Jer. 50:29)Because the universe is a universe of total meaning, and that total meaning is entirely the ordained purpose an decree of the absolute and sovereign God, the covenant people of the Lord have a glorious assurance in the face of all struggles, adversities, and attacks:
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness if of me saith the LORD. (Isa. 54:17)Clearly, only where the doctrine of God's providence is an essential aspect of a man's life is a true sabbath possible. A man may cease from his labors, but he cannot rest in the Lord until or unless he relies firmly on God's providence.
- Yehoshua M. Grintz, "Providence," in Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 13, 1279