Does Providence exist?

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Quite a large number of people assume that they can rely on Providence. But what is it actually? Does it come from God? Providence is seen as something good. It is that which makes things turns out beneficial in life. But how does it relate to evil that always seems to pop-up around the corner? Does good always have the upper hand over evil? What is written about it in the Bible?

People often assume that all will turn out well in the end. Some think that this is ‘guided’. That a mechanism guarantees it. This is called Providence.

Providence however seems an ‘extraordinary’ phenomenon. It is right to relate it to wonders and/or ‘superhuman’ occurrences. Some see it in light of the spiritual world. That supernatural forces and powers are behind what we call Providence.

Bible believers however almost always relate it to God. They image Him to be almighty and in control of creation. But is that a realistic assumption?

Word study
The word Providence is based on the idea of ‘provision’ or ‘to foresee’, which is all about arranging, anticipating and preparing for good. This assumes pre-knowledge.

But Providence is actually understood as that what happens in beneficial sense (during the course of events), of which then afterwards it seemed that this was premeditated or prearranged.

Order of the creation
It’s a fact that there exist laws in creation that confirm the existence of an order in creation. Water, for example, will flow to the lowest point, and vaporizes (becomes part of air) when the temperature rises and condenses (turns liquid again) when the temperature drops.

Creation has to a certain extent a self recovering and self-regulating capacity. But the assumption that the order of the creation is able to sustain itself[1], which some see as divine itself[2], is however not what Providence is about. Since Providence is the sporadic ‘guidance’ of how things play out which go beyond the order of creation[3] and which is dependent on the circumstances.

Lack of overview
What many forget is that much in creation in aimed at self-sustenance. Plants, animals and people commonly try to avoid problems. So, they have a ‘built-in’ cautiousness. That this avoids and keeps at bay quite some problems is sometimes seen as Providence.

The people confuse this is due to the fact that they lack overview on the whole of things existing and happening in creation[4]. They often think that what goes well must have been due to Providence. But this was actually thanks to the general principal of avoiding problems. So, this however is also not Providence.

Self-created luck
In life things can sometimes go remarkable well. That the whole of circumstances seemingly work together in a surprising smooth course. This is what is closest to what is seen as Providence.

Other people however view that as (dumb) luck. The accidental coming together of all kinds of things so that the beneficial outcome seems to be strengthened. But superstitious people think however also that this can only happen seldom and will always lead to bad luck. They reason that people only will receive a certain measure of luck, which then has to be balanced out by a measure of bad luck.

There exists, of course, a thing as calculated or anticipated luck. For example, through good preparation or by reckoning with data from the past in which things went wrong (life’s experience). But also, in the process of using smartness and having means at hand can increase a beneficial outcome of things in life. ‘Luck’, to a certain level, can be created. But this has nothing to do with Providence, since that is mainly about ‘superhuman influence’ which made a beneficial outcome happen.

Destiny or Providence?
Some people believe in the destiny of things. That everything in life is fixed in advance and dependent on how something is predetermined.

This ‘fate’, which originates from drawing lots in a game of chance, means that someone is born with a certain fate. According to that fate life will take its course. Nothing could change anything about it. It is supposed that what will happen to someone is fixed. Especially for the important things in life.

Some Bible believers even connect such ideas with Biblical religion. God would determine someone’s fate. So-called predetermination by God or predestination. Being chosen for something. It is remarkable that even Bible believers can have a very deterministic[5] view on life.

But such assumption of a fixed course of things also has nothing to do with Providence, since the latter is understood as being sporadic and not retraceable.

Biblical Providence?
It is assumed that God will always guide things to a good outcome[6], since He supposedly is Love or because it would be His Character to do so[7]. But making Providence, if it exists, always an activity of God, something all religious traditions do[8], is without question always wrong.

The same is true for all other things happening in life. Since people are themselves responsible for life and creatures will in principle not do what God wants[9].

The question is whether there is ‘proof’ of Providence of God in the Bible. Probable the most often used ‘proof’ for it is extracted from the story of the patriarch Abraham.

When God commanded him to sacrifice his son Izak He intervened on the last moment, so that he wasn’t killed. Then He supplied another sacrifice. A clean animal that happened to be entangled with its horns in the bushes near the place where Abraham was. In Genesis 22:8 is written that God provided an animal for offering. Therefore, Abraham called God ‘The One Who provided’ (verse 14). The Hebrew word jir‘éh comes from the root ra‘ah – seeing upon/think in advance. Still, this can hardly be called Providence[10].

Another way to ascribe Providence to God is the assumption that He would have the future firmly in His Hands. This logically has an effect on today’s situation. An example is that king David states that God will give him offspring which will sit upon the throne of Israel (1 Chr 17:17). This is connected with the supposed election by God to grant kingship to the house of David. However, this election proved not to be unending. Through their own failures the kingship of David doesn’t exist anymore for almost three millennia. Providence is also supposed to happen only in the moment. For the future it is uncertain.

Supposed characteristics of Providence
The following general characteristics seem to be related to Providence:

• It would go ‘beyond’ creatures (and thus also humans)
This explains why people who believe in Providence relate it to spiritual powers and forces, astrology or a godhead. The workings of all things superhuman are however incomprehensible for humans and not sharply defined.

• It would simply always be present
Providence is seen as a given in life. Still, some think that there are people who are more involved with it then others. So, that suggests they think a Providence economy[11] exists. But that would lessen the general benefit of Providence.

• It would always be beneficial
The concept of Providence is based on an optimistic view on life. It would mean that evil always submits to what is good or even that evil is fundamentally subservient to it. Ultimately Providence would ensure that the wellbeing of man is sustained. History however shows that this is not so.

• It would follow a plan
Providence would not just exist but would also have a plan. This would confirm the existence of a Providence economy. That it is aimed towards particular people for a specific purpose. But what this plan (fate) is cannot be determined for Providence.

• It is supposed to be incomprehensible
Providence would be incomprehensible for humans. It comes and goes without becoming clear why.

• It would be distinguishable in general and extraordinary Providence
General Providence would concern the whole world and connected to the order of creation or also God’s governance over creation. Extraordinary Providence would only concern a specific situation or a certain creature.

• It would be subjective
Providence is a personal experience/interpretation; a strong feeling of a special favor. Therefore, it would only be verifiable in part or not at all. It is suggested that Providence cannot be determined objectively, since then it would no longer be seen as ‘superhuman’.

• Coincidental?
Providence would confirm the existence of coincidence[12], but that is in conflict with the idea that Providence is connected to fate, that it follows a plan and that it has an economy. In principle Providence excludes the existence of coincidence. Providence is supposedly immanent.

• It would always happen in the current moment
People experience Providence always in a certain moment or with hindsight of a certain moment. They have no assurance that it will happen to them again in the future but do think it can reoccur due to the fact that it exists.

These characteristics cause some believers to see this ‘faith’ in Providence is actually idolatry. This is not far from the truth.

Providence or God’s guidance
Although in the Bible no proof can be found for the existence of Providence, as described above, it still could be so that God does provide. As an intervention in the order of creation. But that however is not Providence but God’s guidance. The way He acts on earth, His influence in the course of things and Him changing human life.

But the guidance of God is per definition not always beneficial. Also, His guidance is directly related with the situation and can be influenced[13]. The guidance of God explicitly bears His signature, His mark and His Name. It is meant to glorify Him. By it He proclaims to be the Owner of creation. His guidance is recognizable and knowable. So, His guidance hardly matches the above mentioned characteristics of Providence and is also in conflict with them.

When Providence doesn’t exist
The more it becomes clear what Providence is, as detailed in this article, it also becomes clear how blurry it is applied and understood. What people see as Providence often is something different. If all is sifted out what is left that still seems Providence? Even that what remains, is that really Providence or simply human imagination?

Could it be that the fact that people are surprised about the existence of a beneficial outcome of things in life this shows that they actually are ignorant? But that would confirm the rule that luck or Providence is with the dumb. Or also, that knowledge and/or insight is relative, since Providence would always ‘repair’ or prevent that events have an unbeneficial outcome. That is, of course, all nonsense.

The assumption of the existence of Providence belongs to a positive view of life. But if Providence simply doesn’t exist, that would make a deep bump in that view. It would put life in a much gloomier light and would bring the struggle of life far more closely. Do misfortune, corruption and the inevitable decay of everything really rule after all? Despite everything humans undertake? That is again the other extreme[14].

Spiritual reality
This article was meant to show that no basis for the suggested Providence (of God) exists. Especially since it in fact turned out to be too anthropocentric[15]. It is however obviously logical to connect Providence with the spiritual reality which is written about in the Bible. It is rather naïve and un-Biblical to view that reality only being positive and predetermined.

That also religious people believe in something like Providence shows that they are unfamiliar with God (and His guidance) and/or are not bent on determining His acts. They have an immature understanding of God and uncertainty about His guidance. This is explainable from the (unconscious) realization that God can never be fully comprehended. The fact that the bulk of what He thinks and does isn’t comprehended by people (also believers), since He is not human but is completely beyond them.

So, there is all the more reason to take spiritual powers and forces quite seriously and to be focused on seeking God in order to get to know Him and to fulfill His will. This is the way to get a full picture of these powers and forces instead of a too blurry, positive and limited view of that on what Providence is about and on what it is based.

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[1] Its questionable to suggest whether creation can function and sustain itself without the daily guidance of God over it.
[2] This is called Pantheism. This suggests that there is an immediate connection between God and His creation as a unity. God Himself is supposedly present in all parts of creation. However, this is a rather irrational and illogical view on things since creation is clearly experiencing ongoing corruption. This is caused by consequences of the falling away from faith in God (insubordination) which originated by the first humans.
[3] That is, for as far as the order of the creation is known to man. In quantum mechanics, for example, totally different laws determine what happens, some of which are in complete conflict with the known order of creation.
[4] What remains almost completely unseen by humans is the activity of angels turning things in the right way.
[5] Determinism is the conviction that things are very rigidly determined (fixed) and that there would not exist any or hardly any leverage. This way of thinking can give a certain amount of peace, but it gives a view on life which is rather confined, based on fear and is hard to enjoy.
[6] This mindset will end up struggling severely with the fact that most people will be lost for the world to come (and the existence of evil creatures) versus the assumed almighty love of God. The latter is obviously very damaging for a proper view on God. Since it seems, for example, that He allows all the hardship to exist.
[7] To limit God in such a way is in fact mocking Him and also shows a rather naive and simplified view on Him. Providence is then imagined as a sort of ‘obligation for care’ which God would have for people or the believers.
[8] This above all is a consequence of the assumption of the lack of ‘free choice’ of creatures (including satan and his demons) to confirm the absolute almight of God. Despite the fact that in the Bible most if not all accounts show how God has to constantly deal with this ‘freedom of choice’ since it is a source of problems.
[9] It is not with cause to assume that this has been the case from the beginning. That is, this is what believers tend to imagine. In the Bible there can however be found explicit clues that in creation the original rule was that creatures had ‘freedom of choice’ in managing their responsibilities. That would also explain why Adam and Eve were able to trespass the prohibition to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.
[10] The key thing in this story is that an offering was made. It is clear from the Biblical record that whatever God wants always happens (Theocentric). Providence however is only about things having a beneficial course for creatures in creation (anthropocentric). The events in the story of Abraham run their right course for the benefit of God Who exists outside creation.
[11] A coordinated distribution of Providence, because it is assumed to be scarce. But the question remains why it happens to some and not to others.
[12] This is connected to the assumption of the existence of free will and/or a complete freedom of things.
[13] For example is a consequence of doing the will of God.
[14] It remarkable that most manifestations of paganism do reckon next to Providence also with the existence of bad luck or evil. That explains why paganism almost completely is occupied with religious rituals and customs that try to manipulate back luck and evil. Providence that ignores bad luck and evil stems from the Enlightenment (a modern western concept).
[15] Since Providence is understood in subjective terms of that which is beneficial for humans. The thinking behind it is that people who experience Providence receive a special favour (from God). Some even deduct from Providence that they have a special calling or received an assignment (from God) and that this is the reason why they experience Providence.