by R. C. Sproul, “Everyone’s a Theologian”

Providence = Foreknowledge + Provision

The word providence is made up of a prefix and a root. The root comes from the Latin videre, from which we get the English word video. Julius Caesar famously said, “Veni, vidi, vici” — “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The vidi in that statement, “I saw,” comes from videre, which means “to see.” That is why we call television “video.”

The Latin word provideo, from which we get our word providence, means “to see beforehand, a prior seeing, a foresight.” However, theologians make a distinction between the foreknowledge of God and the providence of God. Even though the word providence means the same thing etymologically as the word foreknowledge, the concept covers significantly more ground than the idea of foreknowledge. In fact, the closest thing to this Latin word in our language is the word provision.

Illustration 1

Consider what the Bible says about the responsibility of the head of a family: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). The responsibility is given to the head of the household to be the one who provides and makes provision; that is, that person has to know in advance what the family is going to need in terms of the essentials of life, then meet those needs.

Illustration 2

When Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25), He was not advocating a careless approach to life. He was talking about anxiety. We are not to be frightened; we are to put our trust in the God who will meet our needs. At the same time, God entrusts a responsibility to heads of households to be provident, that is, to consider tomorrow and to make sure there is food and clothing for the family.

Illustration 3

The first time we find the word providence in the Old Testament is in the narrative of Abraham’s offering of Isaac upon the altar.

God called Abraham to take his son Isaac, whom he loved, to a mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. Quite naturally, Abraham anguished under a great internal struggle with God’s command, and as Abraham prepared to obey, Isaac asked him, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8).

Abraham spoke here of Jehovah jireh, “God will provide.” That is the first time the Bible speaks of God’s providence, which has to do with God’s making a provision for our needs. And of course, this passage looks forward to the ultimate provision He has made by virtue of His divine sovereignty, the supreme Lamb who was sacrificed on our behalf.