The more that I grow in faith the less I believe in coincidence. Providence is the opposite of coincidence.
Providence is God’s plan for achieving the final purpose he has in mind for creation. This purpose is for all of God’s creation – the physical and the spiritual realities.
From our perspective providence can be seen as the unfolding of God’s plan over the course of time. God has set a goal to which all of creation is moving, God is active in attaining the goal and God is the goal itself. Through the revelation of the Son we have come to realize that God’s purpose for creating all that exists is that God wants to share the eternal glory and joy of the Trinitarian communion (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) with his creatures. God is fully aware of the plan, we catch glimpses of it.
There are implications to a belief in divine providence and I want to look at some of these because I believe that they can provide a needed corrective to the tenor of our times (a time more awash, it seems, in a vague notion of coincidence and fatalism than anything else).
Here are some implications as I see them:
Providence implication #1 – God is bigger than evil. A belief in divine providence is not naive to the reality of evil in the world and in the life of each individual. In fact, a belief in providence demands that one truly confront and wrestle with the dynamic of evil but to do so in the recognition of the larger scope of God’s plan. This recognition of a larger scope and plan is key both to a correct understanding of evil and also to the avoidance of despair. (Our Catholic thought has much wisdom and insight to offer on the problem of evil, frankly too much to share here … maybe in a later post. Suffice to say; God is not the author of evil, evil is freely chosen on the part of creatures and because God’s providence is bigger and precedes evil then what goes wrong through evil can always be ultimately embraced and transformed through divine providence.) Even though it can hurt, harm and kill, evil is fighting a losing battle.
Providence implication #2 – We are part of something much bigger than ourselves and we only have to worry about our particular moment. A belief in divine providence allows for an honest assessment of life and our place in the great procession of creation. It is said that when Pope John XXIIIrd would turn in at night he would often say (here I paraphrase), “God, it is your church, it is in your hands, I am going to bed.” We are not very good at seeing the big picture anymore and because of this we easily fall into the false assumption that “everything depends on me”. Well, it doesn’t. We need the humble wisdom of John XXIIIrd, a wisdom founded in a belief in God’s plan. God is in charge, we are just asked to do our part – now to do it well – but only to do our part.
Providence implication #3 – God is active in our lives and has a purpose for each of us. It is my humble estimation (now as a priest of fifteen years and disciple for longer) that despite our often loud proclamations of our relationship with Jesus Christ we are not really all that comfortable with God truly being that intimately involved in our daily lives and at work in the stuff of creation. We do like God nearby in moments of struggle and upheaval to give us comfort and assurance but other than this we generally like God up on his throne … far, far away, either benignly smiling upon us or shaking his finger at us. Whenever God shows up he tends to upset the apple cart and make a mess of things. The fact is that God stomps his feet, makes us uncomfortable, and demands that we examine ourselves, our lives and our actions and this is not always agreeable to our refined sensibilities. God is not always the polite visitor. A belief in providence is a belief that God is around and that God is intimately involved, both in the “stuff” of the world and also the “stuff” of our lives and we better get comfortable with it because, like it or not, God is here.
Also, because God is around and God is involved then God does have a plan for each of us and it is only when we wake up and start listening to what God has to say – whether it agrees with our plan or not – that we will come to know the joy and fulfillment that only God can give.
There is a lot to be said for providence.