Posts Tagged ‘providence’

2 SAMUEL 1:1, 17-27

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.

17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:

19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
    How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
    proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
    the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.

21 You mountains of Gilboa,
    let there be no dew or rain upon you,
    nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
    the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.

22 From the blood of the slain,
    from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    nor the sword of Saul return empty.

23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
    they were stronger than lions.

24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
    who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
    who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

25 How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26     I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
    your love to me was wonderful,
    passing the love of women.

27 How the mighty have fallen,
    and the weapons of war perished!

We might well wonder what David is up to here, mourning with such deep anguish the death of Saul and his son, Jonathan. Jonathan we can understand, for his friendship with David had been strong and bound with a vow of everlasting trust and honor. But Saul? Hadn’t this king been on David’s heels for months, seeking his life out of jealousy for David’s popularity and obvious talents?

A number of psalms were very possibly composed during the period that David was fleeing Saul’s wrath, and the desperate cry for shelter and salvation we hear in them leaves us somewhat dumbfounded that David could have had any affection left for Saul at all.

In the story of David’s call and rise to power, we encounter a constant refrain when it comes to his appraisal of Saul – still king but wholly obsessed with destroying this Chosen One who had been anointed by the judge and prophet Samuel to be his successor.

David has nothing but respect for the mad king, not for his personality and demeanor but for the fact that he was also God’s anointed. His belief in the sovereign will and providential plan of God was so deep as to inspire his loyalty to Saul, even though Saul was his greatest enemy. David knew that Saul had a place in God’s plan for Israel, and he treated him with the highest respect because he trusted so fully in God.

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It is clear from these two juxtaposed questions that fear and faith are opposites. Fear comes when the control of our self-definition – how we presently define ourselves – is threatened or to some degree lost. Whether it be our social position, respectable reputation, personal power, or existential security, we have defined ourselves by such things and are anxious about losing them.

We work hard to earn a living, and then fear that we might lose our job and be out on the streets. We work hard to find love, and then fear that it won’t work out. We work hard to manage the many details of our lives, and then fear that we will go off the deep end. All the while, there is likely some voice in the back our our minds accusing us of not trying heard enough, or of not being deserving enough.

Faith should not be construed as confidence in our self-definition, but rather as the belief and assurance that there is something within us that transcends definition altogether, but which is a grace amazing and immeasurable. In other words, faith is not some cheery doctrine that “God will give me a job so I won’t end up homeless,” but is instead the deepest confidence that whatever happens God will provide the grace you need to release your fear and rest in Him.

Tragically, so many of us live in the fear that something or other may be lost or forever taken away, that we fulfill our own prophecy. These things are not who and what you are deepest down. Knowing that can make all the difference between a happy or anxious life.

1 JOHN 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The revolutionary discovery at the heart of the Christian experience is that the ultimate reality underlying and energizing all things is Love. Not a frigid emptiness or a sterile abyss, but a gracious presence sustains and affirms existence itself. Why was that such a significant discovery?

It was significant because, as psychology has confirmed, there is in the formation of our human self-consciousness (ego) an accumulation of unavoidable anxiety. Coming into our own separate sense of self involves a whole series of concurrent losses, very often symbolized as variations on our original “fall” from the prenatal womb. We take with us, as it were, a growing sense of exile – coming into our own, yes, but often feeling alienated or estranged from the source and ground of our being.

Out of this condition arises the great question of religion: Am I all alone, or is there something more beyond me, something more to me, than I presently know? Faith is the risk – and then the assurance – in believing that there is a providential intention behind the universe itself, and that it has you in mind.

PSALM 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Religion is often criticized as so much whistling in the dark. Under the harsh and unforgiving conditions of mortality, human beings have a desperate need to believe they are supported by providence and that their existence doesn’t just end in oblivion. The plain fact of the matter is that we’re thrown into existence and fall out of it without so much as a sigh of indifference from the universe.

Now it may be true that religion frequently ascribes to its god more supremacy and control over what’s going on than he or she genuinely deserves. To an outsider it can sometimes sound as if God is nothing more than a personification of what the ancient Greeks named Fate – the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed: a.k.a. “God’s sovereign plan.” Such belief in an absolute necessity behind everything is at least more comforting than the idea of it all as random and utterly pointless.

But maybe it’s not human insecurity that best explains the phenomenon of religion. Could it be that a mystical insight rather than neurotic anxiety underlies our many concepts of God? Perhaps it’s not primarily our fear of death that compelled the first thought and stories of God. More likely it was the intuition that our existence is grounded in a present mystery we cannot explain, but which supports us, inhabits us, confronts us, and transcends us in the marvelous adventure of being alive.

What’s more, this present mystery is provident – for here you are! The breath in your lungs, the beat of your heart, your living body and the countless life-lines connecting you to the earth and its moon, to our Sun and the spinning planets, into the galaxy and out to that One Song (uni-verse) that’s been topping the charts now for the past 15 billion years – all of it is conspiring to open a window of awareness on this very moment.

You blink, and it opens again.

Matthew 6:24-34

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

We have all come across people who are intent on singing nothing but affirmations, insisting that every problem has a solution – or even that there really aren’t any problems in reality, only in our minds. Cheer up and look on the bright side! It’s all going to be all right; even better than you can imagine.

Then there are the opposite types, who see the cloud under every silver lining. Life is hard and the payoff is meager – usually less than you need or expect. It’s best not to get your hopes up because tomorrow everything could come crashing down. What’s the point in wishing for something better, if day after day it’s just more of the same?

Optimists and pessimists disagree as to whose view on reality is more realistic. Either everything is the sweet fragrance of roses or the sharp stab of thorns, but it can’t be both. Enter Jesus.

Truth is, life can be turned either way depending on the story you want to tell. In the end, however, neither optimists nor pessimists get out alive. This fact can pull your nose down into the muck or inspire you to pin your dreams on pie in the sky. For his part, Jesus counseled his followers to relax into life and have faith in the providence of God, as they also meet the troubles of each day with wisdom and responsibility.

His metaphor of the “kingdom of God” carried the priorities of mindfulness, compassion, outreach, and forgiveness – practical commitments that help to keep the most important things in perspective. When you are fully engaged in this way, there is no time for regret or worry; yesterday is gone and tomorrow is still to come – or it may not come at all. Now is where you find your invitation to life in its fullness.

PSALM 131

Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.

It is easy in life to let your focus slip from the moment at hand and drift away like a loosed balloon into abstractions, reveries, and daydreams. This ability, in fact, is one of the distinguishing talents of the human mind, making possible the countless achievements of culture. If we were not able to detach our focus from the urgencies of animal survival, our species would never have advanced to the point we are today.

Along with this wonderful talent of ours comes a terrible liability, of removing our conscious engagement from where we are and ending up lost and disoriented. We get so caught up in our high hopes and big ideas that our tether to the present moment is forgotten.

For example, the idea of God in religion is a very “high” thought – so high, in fact, that our minds put God up in heaven and far above where we are in this moment. Once we get lost in this idea of God “up there” we proceed to invent ways (prayers, rituals, sacrificial offerings) of getting him to pay attention to us and condescend to our need. Religion thus becomes a complex (and many would be quick to add complicated) system of utilities for keeping God interested and favorably disposed toward us.

But take another look. Who put God up and away in heaven? Who kept qualifying the divine nature in theological terms and supernatural categories that he ended up so far away? We did. The truth is, God is just a name for the present mystery of life, grace, and provident support that is always right here – within us, alongside us, and all around us.

The psalmist knows how his heart (the Hebrew word for our deep center of longing) can quickly look to heaven or over the horizon for the assurance it seeks. Like a nursing lamb that anxiously scurries after its mother and is always vigilant to her whereabouts, we can busy ourselves looking for God – and in the process overlook his presence! A weaned lamb is by contrast calm and quiet, set free from urgency and able to fully rest in God’s care.

PSALM 130

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2     Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

There are times in life when the solution or answer we seek cannot be found inside our present circumstances. No matter how much we rearrange the furniture or change out the pictures on our walls, the “box” we’re in remains a box.

Let’s be careful to understand that by “circumstances” we are not simply referring to the external conditions around us. Even more important are the mental categories in our minds that assume, explain, classify and predict reality into a corner known as “certainty.” When we are certain about something, curiosity, imagination, as well as critical thinking fall into disuse – and may even go extinct.

The common state of psychological depression typically occurs when our world is shaken by chronic pain, abrupt change, or permanent loss – experiences that force us into serious disillusionment concerning the security and meaning of life. Down inside that emotional pit, our view of reality is drastically reduced in scope – even more so as we start to turn inward on ourselves and ruminate on our misery.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” We do have a choice, even down there in the deep emptiness of loss. We can persist in turning the pain over and over in our hearts until we are exhausted and ready to give up, or we can give it over – breathe through it, then take it gently in both hands and surrender it entirely to the provident mystery of grace in this moment.

Once we can let go of our categories, reality has a chance to surprise us. And it’s always more than we could have imagined. Instead of more illusions to replace the ones that were taken with our disillusionment, we are finally open and ready for insight.

PSALM 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.

This psalm, if written by David, may express the early flush of enthusiasm and idealism that often accompany the individual’s spiritual rebirth. The idea, or even stronger, the expectation that God will protect the believer from every danger and disappointment in life is itself hopelessly naive.

Truth is, hardship comes upon believers as much as on unbelievers, on saints as on sinners. So then what’s the difference? Where’s  the real advantage (if we may put it thus) in the spiritual life for those who make the decision to live for Something More? If it’s not protection and guarantees, what then?

The short answer is that faith in God provides to the one willing to bet life and all its chips on a supreme grace underlying existence itself a deep peace and inner strength that can endure the troubles that come our way.

Sometimes individuals can feel guilty, or that their faith is inferior or insufficient, if they have a hard time believing in the god that swoops in and intervenes for the protection and happiness of his elect. Over time and with maturity, we gradually (or suddenly) learn that God doesn’t drive away the night, so much as offer assurance that “even though I walk through the valley of shadows, Thou art with me.”