Matching Our Perspective With God’s Providence
- Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Individuality can be a good thing. And being American individuals, we put a premium on being equal. For those of us who claim Christ’s promises for every area of life, we’re taught that God does not discriminate between cultures or income levels. In His sovereignty and providence, God bestows His mercy and grace to each of us regardless of our marital status, occupation, or nationality.
Living in a capitalist economy, competition is part of our cultural DNA, just as equality is part of our patriotic DNA. This means, ironically, that equity and rivalry coexist in a curious balance. With capitalism, after all, everybody can’t be financial equals. If we were, we’d have socialism instead.
As believers in Christ, we’re taught that, just as our human bodies are comprised of many parts, God blesses each of us with different skill sets and opportunities to serve and honor Him. This means that, contrary to how we work and produce income as Americans, no brother or sister in Christ is a rival of anyone else in His body.
Easy to forget, isn’t it?
When we do, we tend to develop the mindset that, for example, married people have received a greater degree of blessing, or that God has answered their prayers more generously than He’s answered ours. We inadvertently impose a false characteristic on both God and ourselves, whether we’re married or single.
Obviously, marriage is good, and symbolizes the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Aspiring to marriage is a normal part of life, and more people get married than remain single their entire lives. Yet, as we traverse the paths along which God leads each of us in our individual faith walks, we’re tempted to compete for God’s blessings. Even when none of God’s good gifts are awarded to us based on whether we win, place, or show!
How can we compete against each other, when everything God bestows upon us is the result of His perfect mercy and grace, not our own efforts? Competition in commerce can benefit a society, but competition among people who are supposed to all be on the same side can backfire.
Might your view of how God has provided a spouse to other people – but not you – be backfiring?
Sure, theoretically, we know believers who are married aren’t any more Godly – or even less holy – than believers who aren’t. In fact, the only time God bestowed holy favor on a mortal was when He selected the virgin Mary to bear His Son – and you know what? Mary was unmarried at the time!
Nevertheless, how often do we single believers find ourselves competing, both against other singles, and our saved married friends, pegging contentment and perceived progress in our lives against how we see God providing for others? We feel sorry for ourselves, and even develop negative attitudes towards others. Have you ever heard of “schadenfreude?” It’s the practice of finding satisfaction in somebody else’s failure. Sometimes, don’t we allow schadenfreude to color our view of marriages that end, or of other peoples’ dates that end badly? Do we tend to assume bad events always represent some form of punishment?
What might such perspectives say about our understanding of God's perfect providence? After all, plenty of unsaved people enjoy rewarding marriage relationships, and we’re going to figure that God must love them more than He loves us?
This isn’t just about marriage, is it? It’s about how we see anything around us that we’d like to have, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t. Marriage simply embodies one of our more logical desires that we assume God should fulfill since it’s so much more worthy, good, and beneficial than a lot of other more superficial and materialistic things.
Except - everything that happens to us is providence, right? Everything! In our Christian parlance, however, we sometimes like to reserve those things we think are extra-special as "providential," as if they wouldn't have happened to us any other way than an extraordinary working of God for our benefit.
For example, somebody gets a better job in a more exciting city, and they talk about it as though they wouldn't have gotten that job or the opportunity to move to the more desirable city without God's explicit intervention on their behalf. Hey - at least they're giving God the credit! We often forget to even do that.
Still, people get jobs and lose them all the time. Promotions can be awarded whether the employee really deserves it or not. God allows plenty of things to happen – things that we may see as good or bad – without giving us the immediate ability to see their merit. That’s part of His sovereignty. And that’s the reason we need to trust Him for His provision in His time.
Sometimes, God's people don't get chosen for promotions, but He's still sovereign, right? According to Psalm 145:9, God is "good to all," and "has compassion on all He has made." That's the essence of what we call His “common grace.” The sun shines and the rain falls on both the just and the unjust, according to Matthew 5:45. Not that it's wrong for us believers in Christ to credit Him when good things happen to us. But how often, when good things happen to us, do we credit our own specialness or worthiness as the reason? Or when we think we're missing out on something good, do we assume it's due to some fault of ours? Or God’s?
Look at it this way: How often do we credit God with the loss of a job, or our singlehood? How much less providential are these things? Not everything "bad" that happens to us is our fault, is it? Inequity, remember, is part of life, even as Americans! Yet God can use what we think is negative for His glory, and His glory is the reason for our very existence, right? Scripture doesn't tell us that we should be happy when "bad" things happen to us, unless we're suffering something directly because of our faith in Christ. But evaluating God's goodness to us based on the desirable qualities of those things He allows us to steward and enjoy is only half the story, isn't it?
In some mysterious way, only in God's perfect Kingdom is there true equality, even though we may be responsible for different facets of His assets. There's the parable of the talents, remember, and also the metaphor of the parts of the body. Cool, huh?
So, if something isn't granted to us, couldn't that withholding be a form of goodness from God, too? Maybe not an enjoyable goodness, but something holding a lesson for us to learn more about God's providence? Whether God gives us something or doesn't, is it necessarily based on whether or not we've earned it, or deserved it?
Sometimes, it doesn't seem that God "gives," as much as He "allows." What He allows us to experience is going to vary, and He’s given all of His children His promise to be with us and guide us through whatever He allows.
Is God allowing you to be single?
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
Publication date: September 10, 2013
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