remembering providence

This morning I remembered this journal entry from over five years ago. I might say it a little differently now, but basically I still believe this (maybe even more so).

God grants human beings freedom of will, but I’ve come to believe that everything besides the human heart is under God’s control. And that all things that happen are allowed and ordered by God for our good.

This is often denied because the things that happen often seem chaotic, without meaning or purpose. Or so painful and destructive that we cannot imagine that God could allow such a thing, or that it could be for the good of anyone. But our idea of “good” is usually defined primarily by physical pleasure. A long, secure, comfortable life is our goal. But if our true good is union with God, then pleasure, security, and long life are not always in our best interest. Often it is not in times of comfort or security that we turn our hearts towards God but in times of pain and confusion, when we feel vulnerable and threatened. Often we are not willing to seek or accept God’s will until our will has been completely frustrated. And it is often painful or “bad” experiences that bring us to this point. So both pleasurable and painful things can be for our good, serving God’s purpose, if they help us turn our free hearts and open ourselves to God.

I cannot know the hearts of others, or what experiences would be most helpful to them at any moment. Even if I could control the events of their lives, I don’t know how those events would impact them. But God knows our hearts. God knows what the experience will be like for us if certain things happen to us or to those we know and love. And God can control what does happen to us. Through the workings of nature and through preventing or allowing others to act out their intentions, God can offer to us the experiences that are most valuable to us at any moment in our lives. God doesn’t control our response to these experiences. I can reject the opportunity of the moment and turn my heart away from God in a painful experience, and I have often. But I have become convinced that there is meaning and purpose in the things that happen to me, and that even the most painful and confusing situations are allowed by God and meant for my good. Every experience is meant to draw me closer to God.

Perhaps the most striking example of this belief in Jesus’ life was at his arrest. This was a situation that horrified his disciples and threw them into a panic. Peter pulled a sword. But Jesus said to him, “Should I not drink the cup that my Father has given me?” (Jn 18.11) These words did not justify the arrest; it was still a horrible injustice. It is easy to see the evil at work in the hearts of those who brought violence against an innocent man. Yet Jesus sees God's hand controlling what was happening. People were acting with evil intentions, but God was allowing the things that would provide the opportunity for good.

Believing and experiencing this is crucial to understanding Jesus' response to the situations he found himself in and being able to respond in similar ways ourselves.