God’s Providence: He Cares for You. By Mark J. Lenz. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2000. 146 pp. Paper, $14.50.
In God’s Providence: He Cares for You, Mark J. Lenz explains the doctrine of providence in a way suitable for an Adult Bible Study class.
The book is written in a personal style, with direct addresses to the reader. It seems to have grown out of a pastoral need to help Christians understand and trust in God’s provision during times of trouble. “God doesn’t promise you a trouble-free life,” Lenz explains in the introduction, “but he does promise that when troubles come, he will care for you” (p. 11).
Lenz’s presentation of God’s providence can be summarized under three headings: secondary causes, concurrence, and contingency.
First, God works through secondary causes. God exercises His care of the world using things and agents in the world. For example, God provides a roof over your head, but not by dropping a pre-fab home from the sky. Instead, He uses secondary means such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and heating specialists. Likewise, God protects our neighborhoods through police officers (pp. 51-52). He also feeds us through farmers, millers, bakers, delivery men, and grocers. Lenz challenges us to look at the network of provision in our lives in light of God’s providential care, so that we recognize that He is ultimately behind it all, working through the people and things around us as secondary causes: “We are the ones who move, who place one foot in front of the other. We are the people who exist. But unless God were the primary cause, we could not live or move or exist for a moment” (p. 53).
Second, Lenz says that, as part of His providence, God concurs with creation. “God is completely separate from everything he has made. Yet nothing can happen without his concurrence” (p. 34). Lenz says that everything happens because God allows it to happen. This is even true of evil. That does not mean God is the author of evil. On the contrary, Lenz points out that God forbids evil (the Ten Commandments), prevents evil (Gen 20:6), uses evil for good (Gen 50:20), and permits it (Prov 1:31). But God concurs with evil in the sense that He makes the actions possible, without agreeing with the evil itself. He puts it this way: “we must conclude that God went along with those actions only to the extent that they were actions, not that they were evil” (p. 71).
Third, Lenz says that God uses contingency to care for creation. This means that God rarely intervenes in a direct and miraculous way. The classic case would be an illness. If we get ill, it would be wrong to expect to be instantly healed by God without availing ourselves of physicians and medicines, because our healing is contingent on using the means that God provides, and He has provided us with doctors and medicines: “When we are seriously ill, we need to go to a doctor. We need to take seriously the remedies our doctor suggests” (p. 84). Also, Lenz counsels us to take advantage of the other means God provides to prolong our life, such as eating well, exercising, being obedient, and avoiding danger. Doing these things can lead to God prolonging our life (e.g., Exod 20:12), while disobeying God can lead to a shortened life (e.g., Gen 38:7). Likewise, what holds true for physical healing also holds true for spiritual healing. It too is contingent on using the means God uses to feed our souls, which for Lenz, include baptism, communion, and the Word (pp. 86-89). If we don’t avail ourselves of those means God has provided, we will be spiritually sick.
Lenz concludes the book by saying that “the doctrine of providence is a very comforting doctrine” not least because it directs our attentions away from our real problems, “to God and his concern for me” (p. 133). I was comforted by this book. Lenz does a good job of warning against the kind of “rollercoaster” spirituality that always to always to God to provide through extraordinary miracles, experiences, and signs (that never seem to come). Instead, he challenges us to see the true comfort of recognizing God’s provision through very ordinary means. I recommend this book.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society