The word providence refers to the care and benevolent guidance of God. It comes from the same root word as do “provide” and “provisions.”
Providence means that everything that happens, however bewildering, is ultimately subject to God’s purposes, but today, we are sometimes quicker to attribute the things that happen to fate, luck, our own hard work, or the intervention of other people.
The above text comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and one of the themes Jesus addresses in these verses is providence. He begins by referring to the worry many people feel about the future — about whether they will have enough of the essentials of life. Jesus confronts that worry with three examples.
First, he asks his audience to consider how God cares for the birds, which are individually creatures of lesser value than human beings. If God cares for them, will he not also care for humankind? Second, he challenges his listeners to think about how little worry can accomplish. It can’t add even one hour to the worrier’s lifespan. Third, Jesus points to the beauty with which God clothes the lilies of the field, which bloom only briefly. How much more will he clothe his people!
Some Bible readers have wondered if Jesus was saying, therefore, that those who trust him should not make arrangements for their future. In fact, there are Christians who have made that assumption. But what Jesus was talking about was being careful about what monopolizes our lives and energy, about having our priorities in the wrong order. He said that we should “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and all these necessities of life will come along as well. To say it differently, the more we recognize our dependence upon God as the giver and sustainer of life, the more we can be independent of anxiety about the future.
Unlike such notions as fate or luck, providence is understood as a positive and intentional working of goodness in life. We live our lives differently according to whether we see ourselves in the hands of God or the hands of fate. Christianity does not claim that God always manages the minutiae of our lives, but it does say that at root, our lives are in God’s hands. And the word for that is “providence.”
It means that in an ultimate sense, nothing happens that cannot be subject to God’s purposes. You will recognize that that is something quite different than saying that God plans everything that happens to you. Providence says that this is God’s world, and he, not luck, fate, superstition, astrology, or any other so-called force determines the meaning of this life of ours. It also means that no matter how terrible the things are that may happen to us, none of them can separate us from the love of God.
Providence means that there is a creating, saving possibility in every situation that cannot be destroyed by evil or by anything else. That is a Thanksgiving affirmation, and true thanksgiving is a recognition of God’s Providence.