When you hear the word Providence what comes to mind? Is providence part of how you live your life? I ask these questions to get us thinking about God’s providence. Merriam Webster defines providence as “divine guidance or care. Also as God’s power sustaining and guiding human destiny.” Over tacos this week a friend mentioned how she still struggles trusting God to be in charge of life; having faith that God is working in the world and in her life. When she trusts that, she does not have to control everything. Providence is not an academic belief, but rather a vital act of faith in how you see God working in your life. Ultimately providence speaks to who is in charge, and how we interpret events.
The story is told of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.
We often interpret events through the lens of our immediate needs and cannot see the larger picture, or the interconnected nature of events. But God sees. The word Providence comes from the Latin providentia meaning “foresight.” It often implies a benevolent action on God’s part. Looking at the larger story of Joseph, we could once again see how events might be interpreted one way, only to have a greater purpose in God’s plan.
As you recall, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and thought of killing him- how awful!
But decided to sell him into slavery, also a bad thing.
He was put in prison, not so good and then interpreted dreams which turned things around and he found favor with the Pharaoh.
He was then able to store food for the famine that God had warned him about through a dream. A really good thing. What the brothers intended for harm, God then turned to good so that Joseph could be God’s agent during the famine.
Today we might be asking where is God in all of the flooding right now, how can so many people be struggling? Or the anniversary of 9/11 or when a loved one is hurting we wonder where is God in the midst of all of this? I wish I had a clean, neat answer for you. God works in ways that we will never understand, much like Paul said “we see through the mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). I am also convinced that humanity continues to act in hurtful ways like Joseph’s brothers which causes pain in the world. But through it all, it is a matter of trusting in God to work in and through all the devastation, bring us into God’s glory.
Providence is a function of faith, trusting that God is working in and through our struggles. Hope and forgiveness are woven through providence. The brothers knew they had wronged Joseph and sought his forgiveness. They humbled themselves before him as slaves. But he does something fascinating- he says, “Do not be afraid,” much like Jesus said to his disciples. Then he asks, “Am I in the place of God?” He is reminding them that it is God who forgives, that God worked through their actions, and so Joseph could feed the people, save the people, and his brothers from death.
Paul echoes this in Romans when he declares, “each of us in accountable to God” (12). Joseph’s brothers were accountable to God, the people Paul was writing to Rome were accountable to God and so are we. So then if we go around judging other people we have missed what God has called us to do. The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eyes and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (7:3) If we pass judgement, then we have forgotten who is in charge. Have forgotten that God is the one who offers providential care.
Have you ever had snarky thoughts? Unkind thoughts about another person? This has sometimes happened to me when I am in a group of unknown people, and I judge people on their appearance. Most of the time we keep these judgements, these snarky thoughts, to ourselves. But if we are honest we all have them. When we are snarky, unkind, even only in our mind, we are plagued by judgements. We have lost sight of the fact that each and every person is a child of God, that God sees them in all of their goodness, rather than how we see them in our limited minds. Our job is not to make everyone see the error of their ways, or to be the fashion police. Our job is to remember that everyone is a child of God with gifts beyond our knowing. So, let us forgive ourselves for our snarky thoughts and remember God sees everyone through the eyes of unconditional love.
Finally, let’s turn to the words I have said at many funerals and said last week at Bunny’s. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (7). When we live to the Lord we live in the care of God’s providence. We live in ways that do not judge, seeking forgiveness, and trusting that God is at work in our lives. Even when we can only see dimly, we live to the Lord. When we die to the Lord, we let go of our ego and our judgements and we seek to be in God’s will. We long for God’s plan for our life more than our own, especially when we are facing end of life matters. We rest in God’s eternal care in this life and in the next.
Ultimately, you are the Lord’s. You belong to God. In life and in death we all belong to God. Here in lies God’s providence. God cares for you in this moment, in this life, and ultimately in the life to come. We have God’s care because Christ died on the cross. His loving act is the bridge from this life and these struggles to the life that is waiting for us un Heaven.
Rest in God’s providence and care, you are loved through Jesus Christ. Amen.