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Strange Providence

Strange Providence

This past Sunday our pastor made a reference to the fact that God raises up and throws down both kings and nations and that it is foolish to put one’s trust in such things. He was referencing Psalm 33:10-17:

    [10] The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
        he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
    [11] The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
        the plans of his heart to all generations.
    [12] Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
        the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
    [13] The LORD looks down from heaven;
        he sees all the children of man;
    [14] from where he sits enthroned he looks out
        on all the inhabitants of the earth,
    [15] he who fashions the hearts of them all
        and observes all their deeds.
    [16] The king is not saved by his great army;
        a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
    [17] The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
        and by its great might it cannot rescue.

(Psalm 33:10-17 ESV)

I personally don’t see how anyone can read a passage like this and NOT see how the Bible speaks into political/historical matters. But that’s another discussion for another time.

What I want to talk about today is how God works in seemingly strange ways. That’s why I’ve title this post “Strange Providence.” All too often we talk in terms of God’s providence in overly simplistic ways. We talk as if we can connect all the dots to what is happening in our lives and in the world around us. Much of this has to do with the fact that we tend to view God’s providence through our very individualistic worldview.

We must always remember that God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). This means that we should be very weary of trying to determine the meaning of God's providence in our lives. I’d like to begin with an example, explain a little more of what I’m talking about, and then give another example.

For my opening example I want to talk about the Civil War. Or if you are from some of the parts of the country I dwell in, “The War of Northern Aggression.”

While I’m not here to talk about the merits of the war or who was write or who was wrong. I do want to talk about a dialogue that took place after the war; the dialogue about who had “won” and what God’s providence had to do about it.

After the war, those who supported the Union claimed that because they had won the war that God was on their side and had judged the Confederacy. Conversely, those who supported the Confederate cause claimed that the acts of the North would ultimately merit God’s judgement upon them.

Both sides where trying to angle their human causes in such a way that it was in line with God’s decrees. In other words, both sides where clearly not in line with Isaiah 55:8. They assumed that God’s ways were their ways and that God’s thoughts were their thoughts. They conceive the world in a certain way (the Union vs the Confederacy) and assumed that God must also restrict his actions and workings to fit this truncated view of reality.

We all too often approach God’s providential workings in this sort of simplistic & truncated way. But this is not how God’s strange providence works. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the exact meaning of the Civil War from a providential perspective (i.e. which side God supported etc.) but what I do want to do is give another example at how God’s providence works that (usually) slips under the radar of our simplistic cause and effect view of God’s decrees.

Have you ever seen a movie or read a novel where there is a mastermind character who is pulling all the strings behind the scenes? One that briefly comes to mind is the book The Count of Monte Cristo (not the movie!).

Throughout the book there are so many different things happening that, from the perspective of the reader, tend to draw out a simplistic observation. As one follows the story they are offered a perspective or a grid from which they are to judge the actions. However, what the reader begins to find out is that the Count of Monte Cristo is behind the scenes working things for his own ends the entire time; the Count is working outside the grid. Moreover, the simplistic options that the reader thought he was limited to initially fade away into the complexity of the Count’s plan. When the point of revelation comes to the reader they realize that the Count was actually doing much more than they ever thought possible.

As I stated earlier, we need to be very weary of attempting to read into God's providential workings. We ultimately learn this apprehension from the way God works in the story of the scriptures, particularly in the crucifixion of Jesus.

We are told in Acts 4 that the crucifixion of the Son of God at the hands of evil men was something that God had planned and predestined to take place (v. 28). We know that the Passion of Jesus is ultimately the life of the world. But, in that day, no one expected that such a result would come from such an event. Moreover, the thought that God was orchestrating things in such a way was never considered. Just look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:8:

    [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

(1 Corinthians 2:8 ESV)

Ultimately, we come to learn the ways that God works like we have just been doing here, searching the scriptures. Too often we assume that our current categories of evaluation are the ones that God is using. God has revealed to us in His word the ways that he deals with His creation. We should look to saturate our minds with God's word in such a way that we can view the world through Biblical eyes and evaluate the world in wisdom.

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