Years ago the comedy team of Rowen and Martin hosted a comedy show called “Laugh In.” One of the regular features of the show was to highlight the unlikely and untimely turn of events in some poor, hapless soul’s life. You know the type of thing I’m talking about. The guy who’s been struck by lightning six times would be a likely candidate for this segment. Well, they referred to these types of incidents as the outworkings of the “fickled finger of fate” (hereafter, the FFoF). How else could you explain the crazy things that happen to people in the course of their lives?
Well, you can blame the FFoF for your lot in life. Plenty of folks do that. Some reason that things happen by dumb luck. Others see things as a result of dharma (one’s duty) and the resulting karma for those who fail to do their duty. Some just chalk the unexplainable up to coincidence. It just happened.
I don’t buy it. The fickled finger of fate (FFoF) is too fatalistic. I find no comfort there (and very little humor, Misters Rowen and Martin). Dumb luck isn’t real encouraging. Dharma was the name of a bad television show and karma was the name of a Beetles’ song but they’re just as fatalistic as the FFofF. Coincidence doesn’t offer any hope either. On the other hand, the doctrine of providence makes all the difference.
The doctrine of providence posits that God controls and ordains (by decree or permission) all that happens. In so doing, God provides the necessities of our lives and he guides through circumstance and occasionally divine intervention the path of our lives.
Some would argue that providence is little more than a sanctified FFoF. In providence, they would say, we just have a name for the individual to whom the finger belongs. That’s the point! It is a personal, loving God who sends rain on the just and the unjust. It is a merciful Creator who orders our steps. It is a holy and wholly good God who is at work in our lives and through our lives. If God is doing it, it can’t be wrong.
The doctrine of providence ought to give us hope rather than a sense of hopelessness. Things aren’t just happening. They’re happening for a purpose. And, because it’s God’s purpose, whether we understand it or like it, it is a good purpose.The next time you’re trying to figure out why something happened, ask yourself another question: what is God trying to accomplish through this? You might not be able to find all the answers to the questions in life, but at least you’ll be searching in the right place.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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