Wednesday, March 31, 2010


What is the theological difference between these two words? Sometimes people interchange them and use them synonymously. But from a practical standpoint they are somewhat different. Sovereignty is saying that God is absolutely in charge of His universe. Providence is similar but this word is implying that He is in control of everything that takes place. The two words seem to work together.

   Sovereignty is a divine prerogative because of who He is. It is His very nature to be "sovereign." God is not passive; He has decreed all things! 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 seems to describe His sovereignty:

    Thine, O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O Lord, and Thou does exalt Thyself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from Thee, and Thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand is power and might; and it lies in Thy hand to make great, and to strengthen everyone.

   Providence seems to be focusing on God's work in creation. He did not simply wind up the clock and then allow His creation to run automatically. Does He providentially rule His creation by laws He has set in motion, or is He directly involved in the sustaining of His world, but specifically with laws He uses? Paul says the Lord has placed the nations where He wishes, "having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation" (Acts 17:26), and further "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (v. 25). And finally, "in Him we live and move and exist" (v. 28).

   God is providentially involved in nature. "He imparted weight to the wind, and meted out the waters by measure, when He set a limit for the rain, and a course for the thunderbolt" (Job 28:25-26). He "commands the lightning to strike its mark" (36:32).

   God is providentially involved in the animal world. "Who prepares for the raven its nourishment, when its young cry to God, and wander about without food" (38:41). "[The animals] wait for You, to give them their food in due season. ... You do hide Your face, they are dismayed, You do take away their spirit, they expire, and return to the dust" (Psa. 104:27, 29). Christ said, "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matt. 6:26).

   God is providentially involved in the lives of people. God "kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up" (1 Sam. 2:6). Man's "days are determined, the number of his months is with You, and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5), "For now You do number my steps" (v. 16). And, "the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Psa. 139:16).

   Strong defines God's Providence this way:

    Providence is that continuous agency of God by which He makes all the events of the physical and moral universe fulfill the original design with which He created it. ... Since the original plan of God is all-comprehending, the providence which executes the plan is all-comprehending also, embracing within its scope things small and great, and exercising care over individuals as well as over classes. ... Providence is God's attention concentrated everywhere. His care is microscopic as well as telescopic.

--Dr. Mal Couch
(Mar., 10)