Religion and Theology essay.
Theologically evaluate John Calvin�s account of divine providence.
To be written at 2nd year university undergraduate student level.
A Theological Evaluation of John Calvin’s account of Divine Providence
The term providence or divine providence is a theological term that is used to refer to God’s
intervention in the world and the resultant care and foresight with which his influence is
manifested. Given the complex nature of the universe and human existence, this term has
different closely related applications which are distinguished through the way the word is
written. If the entire word is capitalized and written as ‘PROVIDENCE,’ it is used in reference to
God’s ability to direct and govern the universe as well as mankind through his immense wisdom.
When only the first letter is capitalized making the word appear as ‘Providence,’ what is being
referred to is God’s ability to see the future and the application of this in his care for all creatures
in the world (VanderMolen, 1978). One of the most important contributors to the discourse of
providence is John Calvin. His contribution to the then debate on providence was mainly focused
on the manner in which this theological concept is manifested in people’s day to day lives.
Calvin’s understanding of divine providence contains three major themes. The first of these is
the fact that divine providence is based on a mysterious and secret plan known to God alone.
This secret plan that is intertwined with divine providence is designed in such a manner that
necessitates faith on the part of believers. This is because Biblical scriptures acknowledge divine
providence but not in a specific way. Much of it is covered up or too complex for humans to
fathom yet they are still expected to believe in it. The second theme that comes out through his
account is the unique and specific nature of divine providence. This is to say that God’s will is
often manifested through specific events in a person or a group of people’s life experience.
While God has control over virtually everything, he still pays attention to individual occurrences.
The third theme arises from Calvin’s account of divine providence is that divine providence
seeks to elicit the proper human response to God’s fatherly favor. According to Calvin (2001),
the concept of providence goes well beyond theory and theoretic discussions. It is in fact a very
practical thing give that God continues to care for people’s needs to this day. Because of this
consistent care being given by God, it is in order for believers to exhibit their acknowledgement.
According to Calvin and Calvin (2008), Divine providence first saw the light of day at creation
as recorded in the book of Genesis. According to him however, God’s role as the creator is not
confined to the first six days of creation. God continues in his creative role on a daily basis and
this is what is manifested as divine providence. Given that God possesses immense wisdom; he
saw it wise to continue with his providence as this is the only way that the world would maintain
order. If the world were to be left to its own devices, chaos would ultimately be reigning
supreme, a situation that would reflect negatively on the creator.
From the scriptures, Calvin highlights the fact that Divine providence is something very different
from luck whether good or bad. This is because good luck or fortune as well as bad luck or fate
are random in nature and their occurrence is something that is more of superstitious than faith-
based. Divine providence is in fact a very deliberate phenomenon. The reason why many people
are led to believe in the existence of fate or fortune is the nature of many things that God created
and the manner in which God’s secret plans are manifested through them. The apparent
randomness of these events will often baffle humanity into thinking that these are isolated
events, while in reality, they are all instruments that the creator uses so as to bring to fulfillment
all the plans he has for humanity. The fact that humans experience acts of divine providence is
not at all meant to baffle them. While he dismissed the idea of fate and fortune as being rooted in
Pagan practices, he concedes to the fact that the mystery that surrounds them as an element of
divine providence. This therefore leads to the conclusion that a person will experience Divine
Providence whether he believes in its existence or not. The perspective one takes with regard to
such issues therefore has a direct bearing on the spiritual experience he or she will have. They
are designed in such a manner that will lead us to recognizing the creator for who he really is.
This way, people will learn to put their trust in God since he is the one ultimately in charge of
While God has the power to design laws that are to be obeyed by the tangible and intangible
aspects of human life, Calvin highlights that God’s providence does much more than that. This is
to say that Divine providence is active rather than passive and this means that its manifestation is
highly subjective to the different scenarios that humanity experiences on a daily basis. This is
because Divine Providence is a clear reflection of God’s nature of being omnipresent,
omnipotent and omniscient. The very definition of Divine providence is made possible because
of a God who is ever-present, ever-powerful and also all-knowing.
Calvin’s account of Divine providence also discusses the purpose of God’s influence in today’s
world. The main purpose of divine providence according to Calvin is for the purpose of
redirecting human attention towards God and not on the things of this world as is the case. This
is in light of the potential argument that will state that divine providence as defined here makes
human responsibility obsolete. Humans should therefore bow in adoration of God’s plans which
are unfathomable to them.
Another counter-argument that Calvin raises in his account is with regard to the problem of evil
which is part and parcel of the human experience (Stump, 2011). From the perspective of
theology, God is seen as the very manifestation of perfection. However in light of the concept of
Divine Providence, it appears that God is also responsible for the Evil that exists. Calvin is quick
to point out that even the Devil’s actions fall within the limits of Divine Providence. As humans
we can neither condemn nor exonerate the creator since it effectively amount to us putting
ourselves at a position higher than the Lord. Everything whether good or unpleasant is
configured in such a manner that facilitates the fruition of the will of God.
Calvin, J. (2001). Calvin’s Institutes. Westminster John Knox Press.
Calvin, J., & Calvin, J. (2008). Institutes of the Christian religion. Hendrickson Publishers.
Stump, E. (2011). Providence and the problem of evil.
VanderMolen, R. J. (1978). Providence as Mystery, Providence as Revelation: Puritan and
Anglican Modifications of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Providence.Church History, 47(1), 27-47.