In Matthew 10 as Jesus warns his disciples of coming persecutions he promises them that God is watching out for them, that God considers them of great worth.
He tells them that little birds which are bought for a penny are noteworthy to God and that not one of them will fall to the earth outside of the realm of God’s will. And if that is the case then how much more attentive will God be to his own children. So attentive is God that Jesus tells his listeners that God numbers the very hairs on their heads. (Matthew 10:28-31 paraphrase)
This brings up an important subject; the grace of God’s providence. Words sometimes associated with it are ‘sovereignty’ ‘governing’, ‘control’, and even ‘predestination’.
I have been having a friendly debate with a Christian friend who believes that every power and authority on earth has been place there by God’s will since nothing happens outside God’s will. Our conversation provides and interesting dialectic concerning the will of God and the will of humanity.
We could first go back to the illustration of the sparrow and ask, ‘Did God send it spiraling to earth? Or within God’s providence does the free will of creation and creatures find the care and concern of a loving heavenly Father?’
When Joseph confronted his brothers in Genesis 50:20 he explains to them, ‘You did everything for evil but God intended it for good.’ (paraphrase)
I like the idea of ‘orchestration’ for the providence of God. God brings God’s creation and creatures together as an orchestra, with each having its own part to play. The players are quite novice and some are quite bad and the music is horrible but God is the great Maestro. God is bringing it all together, each note, each melody and harmony and will one day present it to God’s self in glory and the whole creation gets to be a part.
So with the evil hearted brothers of Joseph who meant to inflict harm but God took those awful notes and turned them into a piece of music that would please God and God’s people. God, though allowing the freedom of his creatures was directing an ultimate purpose, a good purpose.
Some folks see the providence of God as too controlling or deterministic. And some, when tragedy occurs question why a ‘good’ God didn’t intervene in that particular situation to prevent ‘evil’ from happening.
Here’s how the early church defined ‘providence’. It is the expression of the divine will power and goodness through which the Creator preserves creatures, cooperates with what is coming to pass through their actions and guides creatures in their long-range purposes. (Thomas Oden, ‘Classic Christianity’ p. 143)
In some sense the word ‘providence’, which literally means to ‘see ahead’, is the all wise -knowing and providing of God for his creation in order for everything to work towards a good final ending to prepare for the new heaven and earth to the glory of God. And whatever works for God’s glory is good for all of us.
Let’s look at a classic example of the dialectic between a free willed humanity and the direction and sovereignty of God. Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. According to Romans 13 some people understand that ‘all authorities are placed by God.’ (Romans 13:1) But if you read a bit further you discover that ‘the authority or ruler’ is God’s servant to do you good (13:4) So, my first objection to any Biblical authority for Hitler’s Reich is that he did ‘evil’ and not ‘good’.
Providence tells me that not one Jew killed, tortured, or persecuted by Hitler was outside the value, the worth that God has placed on each life. And grace tells me that in God’s providence each victim’s life is to be restored in the new earth.
My second objection to Romans 13:1 is that God in God’s wisdom allows the free will of humanity by which Hitler rose to power after WWI when the allies acted to impoverish and weaken the German nation. The people were then susceptible to the evil around them and made bad choices and decision in the name of security for Germany.
And let’s look at Hosea 8:4 for a moment. ‘They set up kings without my consent, the chose princes without my approval.’ God told the people at one time that he never wanted them to have any kings but the people rebelled. (See 1Samuel 8) and God allowed them their kings many of whom were evil. Yet God in God’s providence saw to it that from the lives of those kings and through all the persecution and suffering and even punishment, a new King would one day arise who would rescue the whole world from evil. That’s God’s grace hidden and again revealed even 700 years before Christ, to the prophet Isaiah.
So I believe that not all authorities are placed to rule by God’s direct will. And I do believe it is within the peoples’ power to disobey (like Daniel) or even overthrow bad rulers by the disobedience of the people. It may well be how the Berlin Wall came down and the German people were freed. And the same may be said for the end of the Soviet Union.
Back to providence. As Thomas Oden writes, ‘What God creates, God preserves, permits and guides. (‘Classic Christianity’ p. 149)
When we read in Scriptures particularly I the Old Testament that God seemingly causes everything to happen, (Isaiah 45:7, I form light and created darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the Lord to all these things.) It is within the context of God’s instructions to Cyrus the King of Persia) whom God will use for God’s own purposes. The writers understand that nothing can happen outside God’s will. And this particular verse concerns the wicked people who strive against God’s people. This is a warning to those who would think otherwise that there is only one God and God is not to be trifled with.
There are other scriptures that tell us that ‘the Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all He has made.’ (Psalm 145:17) And when Jesus heals the blind man (John 9) and is asked whose sin caused the man’s blindness, Jesus responded it wasn’t due to sin but that the glory of God might be seen through this man’s life at this time.
Let us remember that the ultimate character of God is love and love always wants the best for the other. God wants the best for his creation. The providence of God of God’s loving kindness toward all his creation and his kindness prevails even when evil raises its ugly head to destroy that, which is good. God will ultimately prevail, as we will see.
See, humanity has a responsibility to act in concert and in accordance with God’s will, which is always against sin, idolatry and evil and always for the reconciliation and restoration of God’s creation.
When you read scripture it is necessary to take the whole of God’s word in context and the wider context for everything is Jesus Christ through whom God is reconciling all things.
In God’s providence God is working all things to the best for all things, not just for a few but also for all. (Colossians 1:20).
When life goes or seems to go terribly wrong, it is not that God has forgotten us. Rather God’s grace is simply less perceived in the darkness of our minds. Christ is the reminder that God’s loving-kindness will never end.
One of my favorite scriptures is from Habakkuk 3:17 -18 which was written in the time of the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the threat to Judah was immanent.
Though the fig tree does not bud
And there are no grapes on the vine,
Though the olive crop fails
And the fields produce no food
Though there are no sheep in the pen
And no cattle in the stalls
I will rejoice in the Lord
I will be joyful in God my savior.
It is by faith, confidence in Christ that we behold the providence of God, yes, the love of god from which we can never be separated. Jesus in word and deed told us as much in his bid for us to be less anxious. (See Matthew 6:25-31)
Paul confirms time and time again God’s plan of redemption through God’s grace in Romans 8:32, “God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not also along with Christ graciously give us all things?”
And amidst all our uncertainties about this life that famous verse John 3:16 gives us comfort and encouragement concerning God’s providence,
For God so loved this world that he gave us his only son that whoever believes shall not perish but have life everlasting. (This is not biological life but spiritual life.)
And so in the meantime we are given the opportunity to cooperate with God in God’s providential care and working through of all things to good.
12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. (Philippians 2- The Message)
God has engaged in a venture giving humanity the free will to cooperate with God. But God believes in that collaboration which involves love because that is God’s nature. It is the nature of the Trinity to cooperate in love.
God’s charge to humanity is to do the same, to love one another, to care for each other. And because God knows the end from the beginning of all things God has decided in infinite time to reconcile the world to himself and to each other through his Son.
I do not believe that the earthquake in Haiti or 9-11 is the intentional or direct will of our Father in heaven who desires good for his creation. And while we may probe for answers, for reasons, I believe the only answer lies deep within the heart of God where wisdom, tears and providence lie.
It is only in the darkness of abiding in God that we will discover God’s answers. And they won’t be surface or pragmatic answers. They will be a communion with the God of providence and love. As was the case with Job so it is with us. God will hear every cry of anguish. He will, as the scriptures tells us collect our tears as in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8)
And God will speak. It may be as a whisper but his voice will be distinct even as it was with Job and Elijah. And in the final act of peace we will pray as Jesus did, “Father into your hands I yield up my spirit.”