The Study of History is the Study of God’s Providence
The Westminster Confession of Faith defines the providence of God as follows:
God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, Justice, goodness and mercy.
The word “providence” comes from the combining of two Latin words, “pro” meaning before and the word “videre” which means to see. Providence means therefore, “to see before.” It refers to foreknowledge, or more specifically, God’s foreknowledge. Theologically, this word means more than the mere fact that God “sees into the future.” It is a multifaceted term; in fact in the 1800’s it was used to refer to God Himself. It was the deeply rooted conviction of Christians at that time (as it should be for our time), that all that comes to pass is under the sovereign plan and rule of God Almighty.
Consider the following Biblical examples of God’s control over all of creation, and its effect upon history:
1) God does what He wants with the people of the earth. (Dan. 4:35)
2) God establishes all government and all authority. (Rom. 13:1)
3) God directs what kings and rulers do. (Prov. 21:1)
4) God puts rulers in place and He disposes of them when He wants to. (Dan. 2:21)
5) God determines where men live and the borders of nations. (Acts. 17:26)
6) God determines the times set for men. (Acts 17:26)
7) God controls the weather. (Ps. 147:8, 15-18, 148:8)
8) God controls the times and the seasons. (Dan. 2:21)
9) God controls the animals. (Ps. 8:6-8)
10) God creates disaster and prosperity. (Isa. 45:7)
11) God determines the outcomes of wars. (Prov. 21:31)
The Bible presents us with story after story, of the invisible hand of God “turning the pages of history.” History is more than “the study of dates and dead people.” History is in reality “His-story,” as God reveals Himself and His purposes, through the events of history. We also see “His-story” revealed in our individual lives as we recognize God’s Sovereign Hand. Nothing touches our life unless it passes through the hand of God. This does not by any means eliminate the place of human responsibility. But it does recognize that that the free will of man and the sovereign will of God converge. This is called in theological terms “concurrence.” We see this truth played out over in the stories of the Bible (the story of Joseph being of course, an obvious example), but we also see it revealed everyday in our own lives. When we pick up the newspaper, or tune in CNN, we are witnessing “His-story” unfolding.
To illustrate my point, let me use an example from World War II. Why in May of 1940 did Adolf Hitler suddenly stop his advance on the retreating British Expeditionary Forces in Belgium, allowing them to escape on the beaches of Dunkirk? This is called “one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Second World War.” It was a “fatal decision” that ultimately was a factor bringing about Germany’s defeat. The answer to this “unsolved mystery” is found in the providence of God. Yes, Hitler made the decision, his free will was not violated, but God’s providential power stood over and above his actions. Hitler’s “fatal decision” can be explained by the Biblical truth that “the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water, and He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).
In the pages of our history books we see the transcendent plan of God unfolding on the earth. We rarely understand fully what God is up to on this side of eternity; nevertheless, we walk by faith not by sight (II Cor.5:7). This is the truth we must hold on to in this hour of global crisis. God’s providence is our fortress, our shield, and our eternal reward. In our Heavenly Father we can confidently put our trust, knowing that history is moving forth toward the ultimate fulfillment of His purposes.