For the Want of a Nail (Finding Comfort in Providence, Part 1)3
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
So goes the ancient proverb, expressing an idea that is repeated throughout the centuries and across cultures. Today it even shows up in the Chaos Theory of mathematics - the study of how initial conditions can drastically alter systems in unpredictable ways. As Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park said, “A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”
And it all supports the biblical view of God's providence.
Our catechism (The Westminster Shorter Catechism) defines God's providence as "his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions." In other words, he "upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least" (WCF, Ch 5) Every single thing that happens in the universe, from the birth of each galaxy to the vibration of each subatomic particle, happens at God's command.
If God is to have true and trustworthy control over any events - such as our salvation - he must have control over all events. It's probably easier for us to accept that God wills and ordains and controls the big things - the life of Jesus, the Reformation, the fall of the Roman Empire, the founding of the United States, etc. But in order to believe that God controls the big things, we have to accept his control over all of the small things. Think back to the proverb above. If God had willed for a kingdom to exist, he must ensure the outcome of the battle that threatens the kingdom. If the battle depends on a timely message, and the message depends on the arrival of a rider, and the rider needs his horse, then in order for God to guarantee the continuing of that kingdom, he must also ensure that the horse in question does not lose a shoe and throw its rider simply because of the lack of a nail.
Or think of yourself. As a Christian, scripture tells you that you were chosen before the creation of the world. That means you must come into existence. That means your parents had to meet. That means that centuries ago your great great great great great great grandmother didn't catch that nasty flu that wiped out half her town. It means every minor detail, like the nail from the proverbial horseshoe, had to happen in a specific way for you to even exist. As the late R.C. Sproul wrote, "If there is one maverick molecule it would mean that God is not sovereign." Because God controls the nail, the kingdom is not lost.
But there is more, there needs to be more. How can the assurance of God's total control (his sovereignty) help us deal with the difficult times in life? How does God's control relate to pain, suffering, and sin? It is not enough to know that God controls all things. He must also be wise (controlling them well) and loving (controlling them towards a good end). In future posts, we will continue this thought and seek the comfort that can only come from faith in a sovereign God.