The word comes from Latin providentia "foresight, prudence", from pro- "ahead" + videre "to see". The current meaning of the word (Divine Providence) derives from the sense "knowledge of the future" or omniscience, which is the privilege of God. The initial meaning of providere remains in 'to provide' = "to take precautionary measures".
Providence does not mean that God has decided all things for us and in advance. God loves us too much to do that, for that would be nothing short of cosmic tyranny. Man does have relative powers of choice. Neither is the divine love that shortsighted affection which would pamper and spoil the children of men.
God loves each creature as a child, and that love overshadows each creature throughout all time and eternity. Providence functions with regard to the total and deals with the function of any creature as such function is related to the total. Providential intervention with regard to any being is indicative of the importance of the function of that being as concerns the evolutionary growth of some total; such total may be the total race, the total nation, the total planet, or even a higher total. It is the importance of the function of the creature that occasions providential intervention, not the importance of the creature as a person.
Providence is not whimsical, neither is it fantastic nor magical. It is the slow and sure emergence of the mighty sovereign of the finite universes, whose majestic presence the evolving creatures occasionally detect in their universe progressions. Providence is the sure and certain march of the galaxies of space and the personalities of time toward the goals of eternity.
- Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology chapter on Providence at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- Summa Theologica: The Providence of God by Thomas Aquinas. Traditional teaching of the Catholic Church
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- Divine Providence, Emanuel Swedenborg
- Jewish Encyclopedia entry
- Articles on Divine Providence (chabad.org)
- The Baal Shem Tov's conception of Divine Providence
- Maharal on Nature and Miracles