If life all of sudden became like Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film The Birds, then maybe the thought of a dead bird would provide some comfort. But in real life seeing a beautiful little dead bird along the path is slightly sad. It reminds us of death. But, according to Jesus, it should remind us of something else, something comforting: God’s providence.
In Matthew 10, Jesus instructs his disciples and readies them for a difficult and painful future of gospel ministry. His words are sobering, but also filled with reassurance. In Matthew 10:29, Jesus teaches them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” That one verse is worthy of deep thought.
Sparrows were insignificant. Poor people would buy sparrows to have a little meat to eat, and here, two sparrows are sold for a penny, or better for an assarion, a Roman coin worth about 1/16th of a day’s wage. Jesus’ point was that none of these little birds fall to the ground apart from God the Father’s purpose and will. The death of little, insignificant birds is planned and purposed by God the Father who watches over them. So, the argument is this: If God is sovereign over and in control of a sparrow’s life and death, how much more is He sovereign over and in control of his apostles’ lives and deaths. None of the apostles would die apart from their good Father’s timing and will. His sovereignty was their safety.
But let’s define God’s providence. What is God’s providence exactly? Here, the Belgic Confession helps us out immensely. It pulls together much Biblical truth and summarizes providence for our greater comfort. Listen carefully to Article 13 from the Belgic Confession:
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.
Notice several things from that first part: God is good; God created all things; God does not leave His creation to chance or fortune, but actually governs it all according to His sovereign will; nothing happens apart from Him; God is not the author or doer of evil, but does arrange even evil to His just and good ends; and God hasn’t revealed everything to us. But how does providence comfort us? The Belgic Confession continues:
This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.
In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.
For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.
I’ve heard professing Christians say that God is sovereign, but not in control. That dismisses God’s providence and is a horrible and unsettling thought. As Jesus taught in Matthew 10, God’s providence is a comforting doctrine that promises us safety and security inside God’s sovereign purpose, plan, and will. We are not victims of chance or random acts of evil, but rather children under the wonderful watch, powerful protection, and good guidance of our Father. All creatures, sparrows and us, are under His sovereign control. If no sparrow hits the ground dead apart from our Father, then neither can anything hurt us without the good intention of our Father. Therefore, our loving Father is working for our good even in our suffering. We rest in this thought of God’s providence.