Today is April 15th, otherwise known as “tax day” here in America, but to me it is a day that has greater significance. Rather than remembering “Uncle Sam” I am filled with the memory of a man named William Harrell. It was on this day in 2003 that my best friend, William Harrell, went home to be with the Lord through an unexpected car accident. As I think about the tragedy each year on this day, I also have the privilege to see what God has done since that horrible day in the life of his widowed wife and daughter who was not yet born at the time of the accident. As I consider the bitter tragedy today, I am reminded of the last poem / song written by William Cowper in a famous hymn he penned in 1773:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
The words that he wrote, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face” provide a great summary of the tragedy that surrounds William Harrell’s widowed wife, Kerri, and her unborn daughter. It was a knock on the door that William’s wife never wanted to receive. The police officers informed her of William’s death. She was literally brought to her knees in the pain of the overwhelming tragedy. She was left with many questions of how she would face life as a widow. She was faced with the stark reality that her daughter would never meet her own father. It was a very dark and painful night!
While it was a horrible tragedy by any measure, as we understand the sovereignty of our God, we realize that it was likewise a frowning providence. In other words, we realize that God must have had some plan in William’s death. As we look at the life of Kerri and their daughter Libby, we see that behind the frowning providence on April 15th 2003, God hid a smiling face. Today in the life of Kerri and Libby, we see that smile shining bright. It is a testimony of God’s sovereign goodness.
A few years later, my wife would introduce Kerri to a man named Chip Thornton. Chip was a man we met after moving to Louisville, Kentucky for Seminary. It would not take long before God would bring them together as husband and wife. Today, they are married and have been blessed by God with two additional children in their family – Boaz and Titus Thornton. Chip has now finished his Ph.D. work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and they are serving the Lord faithfully through their local church. Chip is an unpaid elder who preaches and teaches in their local church, and Kerri serves in different ways through women’s ministries as well. God is using their family to reach people in the southern Louisville community as they await God’s direction as Chip pursues an opportunity to transition into full-time pastoral ministry.
Jonathan Edwards once said, “There has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this… God’s absolute sovereignty… is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of anything that I see with my eyes… The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God… God’s sovereignty has ever appeared to me, [a] great part of His glory. It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore him as a sovereign God.
“Why would God allow a young preacher to die? Why would God allow a young pregnant wife suffer so much under the pressure of losing her husband in a car accident? If God was not sovereign over death, it would be hard to walk through the valley times of life. God allows us to realize that even behind a frowning providence, somewhere and somehow, He has hidden a smiling face there.
May God bless the Thornton family – dear friends of the Buice family!
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Selections, p. 59, 67, Published by the Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA 17013.
Have you ever witnessed the mysterious providence of God? What exactly is providence? Providence is defined by the Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology as, “In sum, the doctrine of providence tells us that the world and our lives are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who lays bare his purposes of providence in the incarnation of his Son (426-427).”The Abstract of Principles, the first confessional document of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was penned in order to govern the mother Seminary of the Convention – The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – defines providence as follows:
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.
In Genesis 50:15-21, we see a wonderful picture of God’s providence. The passage of Scripture is at the end of the story where Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers who had sold him off into slavery for 20 pieces of silver (Gen. 37:28). Their intentions were fueled by sinful desires. They did not want him around since he was his father’s favorite and had received his father’s blessing (obvious by the coat he received). However, at the end of the story, Joseph had been placed in a high position (2nd highest position in the land) and his brothers are in need of food. As we see the brothers falling down at his feet and claiming to be his slaves, Joseph said something that reveals the mysterious providence of God. Joseph says, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (KJV).”What was intended for evil by the brothers was actually intended for good by God. Just when the brothers thought they were getting rid of their brother once and for all, God was preparing him for a high position where he would spare many people during a horrible famine. It is obvious that God is directly involved in the affairs of human beings rather than being a distant “clock maker” god who is not involved in his creation.The God of Holy Scripture not only spoke His creation into existence, but He also rules and reigns over it. While many evil things occur that we often cannot explain, we do trust in the God who reigns to accomplish His perfect will through His mysterious providence. How else could it be explained that livestock getting out of Saul’s father’s field would be the door where he (Saul) would be anointed as King of Israel? How do you explain a Jewish girl becoming queen in order to save the Jews from the wicked plan of Haman? How can you explain these things that are very mysterious to us? Should we base these events on luck? Should we view these events as merely coincidence? As we read the Old Testament and the New Testament, it is obvious that our God involves Himself in His creation and operates in a mysterious way to accomplish His will – for His glory – in what we know as divine providence.For the glory of God!Rev. Josh Buice
As we go through life, at times we face what is often called the “strange providence” of God. It isn’t really strange at all to God, but we title it as such because our limited minds often have trouble understanding the wide ranging plans of our God. As we look at Holy Scripture, it does not take long to see the providence of God playing out in life events and even salvation itself. In fact, it seems that nearly every event in our lives is within the realm of God’s mysterious providence.
The story of Esther is one that shines bright with the providence of God. Although the name of God is nowhere mentioned in the book itself, He is clearly seen through His providence. As God put a young girl into the highest position for women – the queen of the land – in order to stop the Jewish massacre, we see God’s providence being played out clearly in the life events of Esther and her people.
The story of Ruth is yet another wonderful example of God’s providence. Naomi and Elimelech took their family to Moab to escape a terrible famine. After the death of Elimelech and her two sons, Naomi was left a widow in a strange land with two widowed daughter-in-laws. Naomi instructed them to remain in their land in hopes of finding another husband, but she was going to go back to her land to live out the rest of her days. One of her daughter-in-laws refused to stay behind. Her name was Ruth. This young woman decided to go with Naomi and live with her the rest of her days. As Ruth entered Naomi’s land and worked in the fields to provide for her and Naomi, she met her Kinsman Redeemer – a man named Boaz. God brought two people together as husband and wife through horrible tragedies. It was providence clearly displayed and all for God’s glory.
I have been doing much thinking about the providence of God recently. It was approximately 12 or 13 weeks ago that two ladies were sitting in a beauty shop in a small town in Tennessee. One of the ladies named Michelle was serving on a pulpit committee for her church and was telling the other lady that they had been searching for a pastor for two years. The other lady was Mrs. Walker. She responded by telling Michelle to contact her son who works for the Seminary in Louisville and he would be able to provide references to her. It was the next week when Michelle called the Seminary to talk to Mrs. Walker’s son. Mrs. Walker’s son is Brad – a close friend – who works for the Seminary. He gave Michelle my name and the pulpit committee contacted me regarding their church.
At first, I must admit, I was not open to the idea of uprooting my family and moving to Tennessee. I had just submitted my application to the Seminary for the doctoral program, and I was also very happy at my church. Over the course of the past 12 weeks, after interviews, prayers, and personal discussions with the pulpit committee, God began changing my heart. On December 16th, I preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in McMinnville, TN, and God confirmed in my heart (along with my wife) that it was in fact God’s will for us to move to Tennessee. As we drove back up the highway, the chairman of the committee called with the vote which further confirmed in our hearts that God was moving us away from Van Buren Baptist and to a new ministry in Tennessee. Therefore, I preached at Van Buren on that evening and resigned from my position as pastor. It was truly a bitter-sweet day.
As I prayed about the situation along the 12 week process, I often found myself doubting whether or not I was called to leave Van Buren. I have a strong tendency to criticize pastors who go to churches for the purpose building a resume. I believe that a man who “uses” a church as a resume builder is a “hireling” rather than a pastor. However, through the cloud of confusion and doubts, God made His will clear in our hearts. In the end, we may claim that it was strange that two women (who are complete strangers) would have a conversation in a beauty shop which would lead our family to Tennessee, but it is clearly the providence of God.
God can use a famine, a queen’s position, or even “beauty shop gossip” to accomplish His perfect will. Providence may be strange to our limited human minds, but it isn’t strange to God at all. God is never confused nor does He doubt. God accomplishes His will for His glory – all of the time!
For His Glory!
Pastor Josh Buice