Blog 36: 1.17.3 - 1.17.7

In this section, Calvin mentions individuals who draw unwarranted inferences from the providence of God. One false inference is that means do not matter. One might say, "if God has unchangeably set the time of my death, then what does it matter if I eat well, exercise, and see the doctor?" Calvin replies that the decree of God does not lay a hindrance before our decision making. On the contrary, "God's providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed" (1.17.4).

Another false inference that some draw from the doctrine of providence is that there is no difference between virtue and vice. Again, one might say, "if all things happen because of God's will, then how can one blame an adulterer for his adultery or a murderer for her murder? Aren't they just doing God's will?" Calvin answers, "I deny that they are serving God's will ... [rather] we must in our deeds search out God's will which he declares through his Word" (1.17.5). Doesn't, then, the existence of moral evil implicate the character of God in wrongdoing? No, says Calvin borrowing an analogy from Augustine: a corpse decays under the heat of the sun, but no one says that "the rays stink."

Properly understood, providence is the stay and support of the believer (1.17.6). God takes particular and "special care" not only of all humanity but also of the church. For Christians, God's "singular providence" means that God "will not suffer anything to happen but what may turn out to [our] good and salvation." How comforting it is to know that even the malice of our enemies and of the devil himself are under God's power (1.17.7)!

How should we respond to the Bible's teaching about providence? Calvin points to three lines of response that are worth committing to memory: "gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future" (ibid.).