This week I found myself with first-world problems: a Monday evening flight was cancelled on account of snow. All the Tuesday flights were cancelled as well.
The mercy of a gate agent led to a discount voucher for two nights at a hotel. Two nights and one full day cooped up in a hotel.
Did I mention that we were traveling with a two year old and a four year old? Remarkably fine kids but still, no snow pants, no boots, and an environment designed for the business traveler.
And when the cancelled flight would have been landing the snow had not even started.
Small stuff in the grand scheme of things. Snow didn’t count as a natural disaster. There was no war anywhere near us. Nobody was starving — though we would have gone hungry if we had insisted on meals within our budget. Clearly a couple billion people have more to complain about. Inconveniences really. But even if these were little trials, they were my very own trials for a couple of days.
And then a recent tweet from @Dawn_Morris1 came to mind. She asked about “God’s sovereignty.” Specifically she was asking how sovereignty seems to be in tension with human accountability. I’m pondering the issue in conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism, which is much on my mind for several reasons: 2013 is the 450th anniversary of the much-loved Catechism, my denomination is considering adopting a new translation, and I wrote a little book on it recently.
Heidelberg does not address Dawn’s question directly, but it has a lot to say about some of the relevant issues.
Question 26 is the start of a short section on “providence”, which often comes under the category of God’s sovereignty: God, the ruler of all, does not stand back from the affairs of the world or our lives, but plays an active role governing and guiding. This is the doctrine that, in its stronger forms, seems to conflict with any human responsibility: if God is calling all the shots, why am I to blame for my bad choices?
Heidelberg’s take on providence, like on most things, is very personal. It focuses not on philosophical puzzles but on how Christians find help and hope in biblical teachings. Just after it first mentions providence, Q26 says
“I trust God so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need,
for body and soul,
and will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends upon me
in this sad world.”
- Today we hear “providence” and we jump to the problems: “Does that mean God is responsible for atrocities and natural disasters?”
- Heidelberg hears “providence” and turns instead to comfort: assurance that God cares for my well-being and will bring good even from problems.
Atrocities and natural disasters aside (and setting the entire question aside if you are in the midst of grief or loss) Heidelberg rings true for a lot of Christians in this. Many people who look hard at their lives will say that from the very worst they faced God brought good.
I’m thinking of members of 12 step groups I’ve known, people whose addictions led to destruction of relationships, careers and health; to long seasons of poverty and homelessness. I’ve heard them thank God for their addictions — because only through addiction did they find God and the process of God’s healing.
My situation was mild stuff by comparison, but Heidelberg’s treatment of providence pretty much sums it up. God provided for me and my family in surprising ways. We kept warm and were fed all through the storm. People showed us kindness. And I learned some valuable lessons about how kids can have a great time and get a lot of exercise doing scavenger hunts in a hotel with no pool. We didn’t even turn on the T.V.
I pray all who read these words find the same thing to be true. God works behind the scenes and under the circumstances to lovingly, generously provide. That’s the providence of the sovereign God. As Heidelberg puts it
“God is able to do this because he is almighty God
and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”
- When have you seen God at work providing for you in a challenging time?
- Where does this idea of providence bring you more problems than help?