Yesterday in our church our preacher tried to explain the word ‘providence’, an old-fashioned word that, like the groat or the florin, has or had considerable value, but has passed out of common currency.
And it still has value, perhaps especially when we look at the yoke that Christ has laid upon our lives and ask, is this yoke, as promised by Jesus, truly light, truly easy? (See Matthew 11:30.)
She—our preacher—explained that ‘providence’ referred first to God sustaining the Universe, upholding its natural laws; and then secondly, to God arranging things in life so that they turned out well and for our good. Exactly how the second meaning of providence squares with the first is a paradox, I think, but just because I can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Just suppose providence is a thing. It leads to several thoughts.
- I’ve seen blogs recently about people writing letters to their ten-year-old selves. Mine would be very simple: life so far has turned out better than ten-year-old me was capable of imagining. Half-formed ten-year-old dreams and desires turned into milestones upon which I can look now back on, half a century later. There was pain along the way, but it was not to be compared with the flowering or fruiting of those desires that accompanied them. Either I got lucky, or there was the hand of providence somewhere.
- That which starts by tasting bitter often ends up being sweet. It’s possible that an eye for providence may help us with that thought.
- We keep walking into drippings of God-soakedness, like colliding with spiders’ webs, which in the season I’m writing this, early autumn, are everywhere. I know that coincidences are mathematically inevitable, but that does not stop them also being the hand of providence. Several years ago I quoted the theologian Frederich Buechner, and it’s worth unearthing again:
“I think of a person I haven’t seen or thought of for years, and ten minutes later I see her crossing the street. I turn on the radio to hear a voice reading the biblical story of Jael, which is the story that I have spent the morning writing about. A car passes me on the road, and its license plate consists of my wife’s and my initials side by side. When you tell people stories like that, their usual reaction is to laugh. One wonders why.
I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and of therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that’s going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: “You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.” ― Frederick Buechner