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In the Nick of Time

Most of the time I write these essays either in my study during working hours or else sitting upstairs at home in the evening. This one is different. I’m writing from home, but I’m writing after midnight. As I write, my wife and son are playing piano duets downstairs—not for artistic purposes, but mainly to make noise. We are trying to keep each other awake. Our goal is to stay up all night.

You may think that’s an odd goal for a couple of sixty-year-olds (more or less), and we’d have to agree with you. These late hours are certainly not our preference. We haven’t seen the New Year in for years. We don’t even stay up for fireworks on Independence Day. No, the late night has been forced upon us. One of us has to submit to a medical procedure tomorrow morning. Our physician has told us that sleep deprivation was essential for the success of the procedure.

This procedure results from an episode that occurred about two weeks ago. Our doctor connected this episode with a series of events that had previously been treated as isolated instances. The result is a diagnosis of a fairly serious medical condition. This condition is not life threatening, at least not if we are careful. But it is life changing. The procedure tomorrow is one in a series of tests that will almost certainly confirm the diagnosis. We hope that it will also provide some clues for treatment.

If I seem to be coy about the details, there are two reasons. One is that other people—many others—have endured far worse. The second is that the details of the affliction are really beside the point of this essay.

That point is underlined by the proximity of this episode to two other events. The first occurred just under four weeks ago. From the pulpit of Lake County Baptist Church in Waukegan, Illinois, I preached a sermon on meticulous Providence. During that sermon I assured God’s people that all events of every kind have a divine purpose behind them, and that God’s purpose for believers is always good.

The second event occurred just a day or two before the episode. During our evening prayers, my wife and I were reflecting that we were experiencing a time of ease. We marveled that God should permit us to experience such a period without trials. We expressed our gratitude for His mercies to us. Then we deliberately prayed that when affliction came—as we knew that it would—that He would teach us to respond to it by trusting Him.

As I say, we knew that affliction would come sooner or later. As the Creole proverb states, “Good don’t last.” Still, we did not anticipate the trouble quite as soon as it arrived, nor did we imagine the shape that it would take. And how much of life is just like that? We begin a day with anticipation, but what the day brings forth is far from what we planned. We lay our heads on the pillow at night, completely unaware of the calamity that will befall us before we rise in the morning.

Our personal catastrophe fell all unforeseen in the small hours of the morning. The events of two minutes changed the rest of our lives. And now it is time to discover whether I believe what I preach.

What I preach is Providence. The doctrine of Providence has two sides. One is that the normal events of our lives always have causal explanations that are grounded in the web of nature. If they did not, they would not be normal. They would be miraculous. Sometimes these causes include the decisions of other people—and sometimes those people really intend evil toward us. (We are grateful that our present affliction does not involve the evil intentions of other people—but the doctrine of Providence applies to events that are both naturally and humanly caused.)

The other side of Providence states that another source of causation is also at work. This other source does not abrogate natural causation and it does not stop people from doing things that they intend for evil. It does not erase calamity. But it does introduce a separate intention: God’s intention. Whatever God permits to befall His people, whether naturally or humanly caused, He always intends for their good. In any conflict of intentions, as when people intend to do us evil but God intends to do us good, God’s intentions ultimately prevail. This is the obvious message of Genesis 50:20. It is also the clear declaration of Romans 8:28-32.

That is what I have preached. Now I have to decide whether I believe it. Does God know what is best for us or does He not? Does God intend what is best for us or does He not? Is God able to do what is best for us or is He not? The biblical answer to these questions is that He knows what is best, He intends what is best, and He does what is best. That is the biblical answer, but is it my answer?

These truths do not remove evil from the world. They do not make calamity unreal. They do not erase the grief when things go wrong. But they do tell us that evil and calamity and pain never speak the final word. Instead, maladies become tools that God will use to bring about great good. God will use our pain, not only for His glory, but for our good. Furthermore, if Scripture gives any indication, the good that God accomplishes will be manifold. He is not only at work doing one good thing. He is at work doing a thousand.

What does trust look like when calamity comes knocking? It looks like quiet submission to the Providences of God. It looks like the rejection of bitterness and impatience. It looks like anticipation of the righteous fruit that God is growing within us through these circumstances. It looks like remembering the manifold mercies of God and continuing to thank Him for His many kindnesses.

These are not natural responses. Nor, it would seem, are they responses that can be programmed ahead of time. Evidently they must be learned in the event. We are learning some of them just now, my family and I. Because we are learning, boasting would be premature. But we can say this: never has the doctrine of Providence been more precious to us, and never has our God shown Himself to be more good.


This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.


Eternal God, We Look to Thee
James Merrick (1720–1769)

Eternal God, we look to Thee;
To Thee for help we fly;
Thine eye alone our wants can see,
Thy hand alone supply.

Lord, let Thy fear within us dwell,
Thy love our footsteps guide:
That love will all vain love expel;
That fear all fear beside.

Not what we wish, but what we want,
Oh, let thy grace supply!
The good unasked in mercy grant;
The ill, though asked, deny.

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.