A Christmas Thought on Providence
Not long ago my middle child stuck his tongue to a metal post. It was cold. I mean really cold. As you can imagine, his tongue hurt afterwards. A little blood and some oral bruising were obvious. But there is a redemptive thing about it. You see, when he was born he was tongue tied. That means his lingual frenulum was too long. That little flap of skin that keeps your tongue attached to the bottom of your mouth was attached almost at the very tip of his tongue. He was born with the inability to “stick his tongue out.” Now some of you parents may be thinking that is a gift of God! A child’s inability to poke his tongue out at others may be a natural way to avoid at least one normal lesson we have to teach our kids.
Sometimes in these cases doctors advise clipping this piece of skin soon after birth. In our case the doctors recommended that we leave it alone and that it would probably naturally correct itself. So in the last week, this problem seems to have corrected itself. Make no mistake, it hurt and he is still beginning to feel better, but he can stick his tongue out further than he ever could before.
As soon as we realized this I had a discussion with him about “providence.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks an important question about providence, that might be helpful here. It asks, “What are the works of God’s Providence?” The answer given is, “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
When I consider this thought, there are really only three responses. We can get mad and rebel against it and try to argue that we are really the one’s in control of our lives. This response reminds me of the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henly. He ends with the line, “I am the captain of my soul, I am the master of my fate.” Personally I don’t like this response, because it seems false.
I was driving Sunday night with my boys in the car. I did the very best I could, but the roads were icy and I knew that all the skill in the world would not help me when the roads were that slippery. Not one of us, short of suicide can choose the moment of our deaths. We can try as hard as we want, but for some of us child bearing may never happen. Certainly we can and should do all we can to make wise choices and pursue our dreams, but in the average lifespan only about 15 people can possibly serve as President (and that’s being generous). No, I think some things really are outside of our control. So I refuse to believe that I am fully and completely in control of every aspect of my life.
Second, a person could throw up their hands and say, “well if God is control of all things, then what is the point of even trying?” Some people do respond that way. To be honest I think that is a sad perspective on life. While God is ultimately in control of our lives, we can either join him or we can live without any purpose at all until we die. This is a fatalistic response that we take when we actually want to control our lives but realize we can’t. I want my life to matter. I want to mean something, and so I don’t accept the idea that the right response is just to give up all hope.
The third response to this is to gain a proper perspective of where we actually are in the cosmic “food chain” and then live accordingly. God is in control and we are not. He calls us to work within his kingdom. In his kingdom there is an active rebellion against him. This comes in the form of human beings like you and me who try every day to usurp his authority. It comes in the form of interpersonal conflict and starvation and pain and war and hopelessness and idolatry and death. Every one of these things is being corrected by the invasion of our King. It is important that we understand that all these tragic things are results of rebellion and not a result of his good reign. He invaded our world by becoming one of us. A baby, the one called Emmanuel – God with us – would be the only invasion force necessary to upend the rebellion in all of our hearts and correct the dying world we find around us.
When we have this perspective we can joyfully continue to follow him obediently and with great hope. The one we follow is the one who rules the world. This is especially important in the face of tragedy. For my son this meant that while his tongue hurt for a short time, great gain was coming from it. It is important though that we see that it is also helpful in the day to day grind. We are not people who work aimlessly. We are not people who work selfishly. We are people who give up all that we have in the mission of the King who is clearly the Sovereign Lord of all.