Trusting God’s messy providence

Into the tangle
Into the tangle (photo by Xelcise, Flickr).
If your week hasn’t gone according to plan, this post is for you. Come to think of it, if your life hasn’t gone according to plan, this post is for you.

St. Paul offers the Romans (and us) an extremely comforting thought when he tells them that God works all things for our good. Probably most of us believe that, cling to it in fact. We’re just mystified about how he goes about doing it.

Look at Joseph’s story. God used him to save Egypt from famine and, by extension, the fledging nation of Israel. But first Joseph had to be envied and hated by his brothers, thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, thought dead by his father, placed as the steward of Potiphar’s house, tempted by Potiphar’s wife, falsely accused by the same, and thrown into jail, whereupon he earned the jailer’s favor, interpreted some dreams, was promptly abandoned and forgotten for two years, only to be remembered when Pharaoh also needed some dreams interpreted, leading to Joseph’s eventual release from prison, elevation to steward over all of Egypt, and showdown with the same hateful siblings who sold him into slavery in the first place and with whom he was able to reconcile because, as he said, “[Y]ou meant evil against me, but God meant it for good….” Whew!

The story of Joseph shows us that there is a synergy at play here, and this is why Providence is so messy. God works through people, and people (including ourselves) are pretty lousy most of the time. They bring evil or failure or frustration into our lives (and we into the lives of others at times), but God is right there in the middle of the tangle, working it all to our ultimate salvation.

The most extreme picture of this in Scripture is found in the relationship of Judas and Jesus. Judas delivered up Jesus, but as Paul told the Romans, God did too. So, as St. Augustine asked of the situation, “what is it that distinguishes the Father delivering up the Son … and Judas the disciple delivering up his Master?” Love, answered Augustine. While “Judas did this in treacherous betrayal,” he said, “the Father … did it in love.”

As a result of this one action and the radical departure of intent in the actors (God for good, man for evil), Christ and all who are in him are (or will be) raised in glory, while Judas, as the iconography of the Church shows in vivid and frightening detail, is clutched by the devil in hell. “Such is the force of charity,” said Augustine.

The power of God’s love and his bountiful, beneficent intent toward us transforms evil to good. The way it happens doesn’t always make sense to us in the moment; in fact it usually doesn’t. But God is working all things for salvation. Sometimes that looks like personal disappointment. Sometimes that looks like professional failure. Sometimes that looks like the death of a loved one. Sometimes that looks like a broken relationship. Sometimes that looks like anything but God’s love and provision. But it is.

When we face the messiness of our days and the tangles of our lives, we lean into God and pray in the words of Philaret of Moscow, “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all.” Sometimes, as Philaret said, we face crosses and sometimes consolations, but God uses them both for our salvation.

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  • Thanks for sharing. I needed this reminder. It’s been one of those weeks. One minute things are going great. The next minute things are turned upset down. Ok, now I’m back on track. I hang on to Romans 8:28 when life starts going in this direction. Bless you, Joel!

    • Great, Benita. I find keeping this truth in mind redeems the very worst experiences.