How Divine Providence Works

St. John Damascene (ca. 645-749) in Book II of his De fide orthodoxa (On the Orthodox Faith) explains how Divine Providence works:

First, he defines Divine Providence as “the care that God takes over existing things.” He adds: “God therefore is both Creator and Provider, and His creative and preserving and providing power is simply His good-will. . . . The works of Providence are partly according to the good-will (of God) and partly according to permission.”

Concerning works of God’s good-will, he says: “Works of good-will include all those that are undeniably good.”

Concerning works that take place with God’s permission, he gives seven examples:

1. Job: “Providence often permits the just man to encounter misfortune in order that he may reveal to others the virtue that lies concealed within him, as was the case with Job.”

2. The Cross: “At other times it allows something strange to be done in order that something great and marvellous might be accomplished through the seemingly strange act, as when the salvation of men was brought about through the Cross.”

3. St. Paul: “In another way it allows the pious man to suffer sore trials in order that he may not depart from a right conscience nor lapse into pride on account of the power and grace granted to him, as was the case with Paul.”

4. Dives and Lazarus: “One man is forsaken for a season with a view to another’s restoration, in order that others when they see his state may be taught a lesson, as in the case of Lazarus and the rich man.”

5. The man born blind: “Another is deserted by Providence in order that another may be glorified, . . . just as the man who was blind from his birth ministered to the glory of the Son of Man.”

6. The martyrs: “Another is permitted to suffer in order to stir up emulation in the breasts of others, so that others by magnifying the glory of the sufferer may resolutely welcome suffering in the hope of future glory and the desire for future blessings, as in the case of the martyrs.”

7. The sinner: “Another is allowed to fall at times into some act of baseness in order that another worse fault may be thus corrected, as for instance when God allows a man who takes pride in his virtue and righteousness to fall away into fornication in order that he may be brought through this fall into the perception of his own weakness and be humbled and approach and make confession to the Lord.” (29)

Quotations from A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1886).

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