In times of calamities, social upheavals, accidents, sickness, war, and other disruptions to our lives, we find great comfort in what we confess about the providential care of our Father in heaven. We turn then to the words of Lord’s Day 10 wherein we confess that God governs and sustains all things. And that’s not something abstract because we confess that He does all this “by his fatherly hand”. He governs everything as my Father. There’s not a thing that can happen, not an event that can occur by chance, but every small and great thing comes to me “by his fatherly hand”. How encouraging and assuring is that! How comforting to know that all situations, all events, all relationships come to me because Father’s warm, strong, compassionate heart beats for me.
Providence is therefore not merely God maintaining and governing everything, but doing this as my Father. Although He rules over the world and all things, His providence is a gift of grace that God unlocks in the covenant relationship He has with His people, His church; and then in such a way that it is completely personal. If he intervenes in economic life and brings hardships, if He throws the nations into turmoil because of a pandemic, if He isolates us through ‘social distancing’, He doesn’t lose sight of me for a moment.
Holwerda, in a sermon[i] about Lord’s Day 10 during the terrifying and tense years of World War 2, said that our Father in heaven is not a bit like the world leaders who with their strategies and policies ignore the interests of the individual in order to meet the needs of the majority. No, providence is this: God always has me, His child, in mind. If He causes a heatwave, He does that for me. If He makes it harder to make ends meet, He continues to think of me. If He strikes the earth with calamities, He has thought of me. Then He opens His Father hand, for He unlocks His Father heart.
Therefore, nothing whatsoever happens—a star does not fall, the wind does not blow, no hour passes by, no infection occurs—without Him saying to me: see, here am I, your Father; my hand and heart are open to you. The sun shines, the earth turns, the planets follow their set courses, dangerous diseases spread, the economy struggles, church services are curtailed, people become isolated, morgues are filled, hospitals struggle to keep up—it’s all part of His providential direction. Have you seen your Father therein? In every new joy, every new concern, every new sorrow, His hand is open for me; He never lets me go; He holds on to me; His goodness never deserts me.
Holwerda says that goodness, in the Bible, is not that God gives us everything we desire, but it is this: that He maintains covenant fellowship with us, that He never lets us down, that in everything He holds onto us. Goodness is precisely what Lord’s Day 10 of the catechism says about providence: that God upholds and governs everything and that all things come to us by His fatherly hand. Not just the desirable things such as leaf and blade, food and drink, health and fruitful years, but also oppressive things such as sickness and poverty, hunger and cold, danger and adversity. Also in the things that cast a shadow over our lives, God is the Father for us. Therein, too, He opens for us His fatherly hand. Also in all adversity He indicates that He, as our Father, holds onto us. He intervenes in the lives of us all. Sometimes He intervenes in an oppressive way; yet He does it only so as to make us thankful and patient, faithful and trusting, to make us see his goodness in everything.
If God brings about a pandemic and some of us become sick, or there’s a war with death and destruction all around, He never for a moment loses sight of where the disease strikes or where the bombs fall. He sees each of His children and directs things as the Father of each individual child of His.
When God unleashes calamity on the world, there is no-one who can oversee it all, except God. If He brings tragedy in your life, it’s for a purpose. He notices every individual: He is concerned about someone in jail, and about another who has no bread, and about a third whose nerves are on edge. He lets suffering by-pass my house or He brings suffering to it, He hastens toward the end of a pandemic, or He prolongs it, all because He involves Himself in mercy with each of His children.
He reaches into everyone’s life; in the whole world there is not one who is hidden from His eyes. And He brings upon everyone precisely what, and precisely for how long, and precisely how heavily is necessary for His child. He is involved in everything that happens and oversees the maelstrom which we can’t oversee. Yet through it all Father is busy with each of His children; no-one is lost in the masses; no-one isolated somewhere in a room is unseen by Him. It is always and for all His children a matter of Father reaching into their lives.
No-one, says Holwerda, can establish for another why God reaches into one’s life. No-one can say that what happens to his brother has been done by God for such and such a reason. But each knows his own life with God, his own sins, his own passions, his own particular temptations and weaknesses. And God is busy with each one individually as Father.
To be sure, He sometimes makes us experience such helplessness that we lose perspective in life, and yet it is nevertheless He who reaches into our lives as our Father. If we stray from Him, He does not leave us in peace but holds onto us. God takes away the things or people in whom we place our trust. And what shall we then say? That God does not take notice of us? But He does indeed concern Himself with us very much. He does not want us to be lost.
We have had years during which we multiplied and our riches increased; but a sudden economic depression, or serious illness, or a war, and it all flies away and we suffer oppression, pain, hardships and sorrow.
I get food not because the stores suddenly make it available, says Holwerda, but through the Almighty’s power that comes from His fatherly hand. And when, in my distress, I cry out to Him then there is nothing—no opponent, no harm, no prison, no barrier—that can stop Him and stand in the way. He will hear me because I am His child and He does not let go of me. He rescues the oppressed from oppression and reunites families that have been dispersed. It is not a matter of luck and good fortune; it is all a matter of His faithfulness whereby He holds fast to His children who call out to Him.
And therefore we, children of the Father, are not stuck fast by our present circumstances. In times of great anxiety, we don’t lose heart. We can call on Him who is above all our anxieties and He hears—He, the only one who governs bread and freedom, health and life. We don’t get stuck in a rut, for His goodness will not depart from us.
And thus, redeemed from our troubles, He brings us by His almighty power to express thankfulness. He teaches us to count our blessings. In the past there were so many blessings that we couldn’t get around to counting them and we tended to take them for granted. But when a pandemic or war or some other calamity suddenly affects us with its economic downturn, possible unemployment, loss of financial security, threats to our health and that of our dear ones, He teaches us to count and to see His faithfulness in the simple necessities of the moment.
Then we again see our daily bread as a wonder of His faithfulness. Then we again begin to treasure our health and freedom and justice and a peaceful family and plenty to eat and fuel for the fire and electricity and a roof over our head. Then we are brought to see it as His faithfulness that He preserves us in times of danger and that He cares for us when things become difficult. The little surprises are now evidence of His goodness, which He maintains by His almighty and ever-present power. And I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know one thing: His power is great, His faithfulness will never disappear; all that He has every promised will be established. He will hold me fast. Therefore, let us place our complete trust in Him, our almighty Father, and submit to Him and praise Him, for His goodness and mercy endure forever.
[i] Rev. Benne Holwerda, De dingen die ons van God geschonken zijn, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1953. For the sake of brevity, I’ve deleted the sermon’s frequent references to Psalm 107 in which people in difficulties call out to the Lord. Holwerda shows how each time again He hears their cry and saves them so that He would be praised for His goodness.