One of the problems an ordinary human person faces while trying to accept God’s providence is the way God gives; God gives us what we need rather than what we want. Every time I hear someone trying to explain Divine Providence this way, I also see lots of hands going up in the air. Those are people struggling to place their trust in God’s plan because they just can’t figure out why their wants are not perceived as needs. These are well qualified individuals who are unable to find work, children who are ill and suffering from mind numbing pain, parents who lost their children to tragic circumstances, people who are involved in abusive relationships, and the list goes on.
Many of these people have made a decision to turn away from their sinful ways. Most of them have never committed any extraordinary sinful acts. And they have trouble understanding why God isn’t listening to them. I myself am a recipient of several physical and many spiritual healings upon returning to God, but I can also recall many instances when my prayers went unanswered, occasions where things didn’t turn out the way I anticipated, to be exact. On several occasions in the past, I have tried to explain away the way God’s providence works. Then I get to meet a mother who lost her only child or a kid abused and abandoned by both parents, and my theory falls apart. What I have learned from failures is that there is no universal way to explain why God acts the way He does. However, we can catch glimpses of His majestic plan in little things of our everyday life. If we are patient enough to comb through these not so significant everyday events — pick one of them apart to fill in the holes in another one — then we will begin to see how all those little things come together for the good of a person who has put their trust in God.
When I met Joe a year ago, he was working as a respiratory therapist. He worked at the same hospital for over ten years and things were going well for him and his family. We both were attending a three day fasting retreat; he showed up to show his gratitude to God who has provided him with a good life, and I was there to figure out why I was there. He called me a few months ago to share some of his experiences after that retreat. He told me that upon returning home from the retreat, one of the first things he found out was that he no longer had a job. He was unexpectedly let go from his job of ten plus years. Strange, I thought, here is a man who went to great lengths to worship God by attending a three day fasting retreat only to find out that his ability to earn bread for his family has taken away from him. Joe knew what I was thinking and immediately told me to listen to the whole thing before I reach any conclusions.
Since Joe worked in the medical profession, he was forced to work almost every weekend. He was on call all the time and even on those days when he was scheduled off, he ended up working. During the retreat, he was deeply touched by one of the speakers talking about keeping the Lord’s day Holy. He knew it would be impossible for him to get every Sunday off to spend it with God and his family, but he asked God anyway to help him to find a way to get at least a few Sundays off. So when he returned home and found out that he had lost the job, he immediately sensed the irony. He asked for a few Sundays off and God gave him off all seven days of the week.
One of the things Joe came to find out soon was that none of the nearby hospitals were looking to hire in his area of expertise. With house payment, car payment and the older kid ready to hit the college, his wife’s job wasn’t enough. Though worried, his faith came in handy as he believed that God has a plan for him and his family. So he made good use of his time off and spent a lot of time in an Adoration chapel with the Lord. About two months went by and the financial reserves were depleting faster than he anticipated. Then one day, he got the inspiration to walk into a hospital near to his house. Though he had no appointment, his request to meet with the human resources director was immediately granted. He explained his credentials to the HR director and to his surprise, he got hired on the spot. The hospital didn’t have a need for another respiratory therapist at the time, but for some reason the HR director felt that he would be a good hire. So they created a position just to hire him. Not only that, his starting salary and other benefits were much better than his previous job. Just when he thought the surprises were over, they gave him one more – they didn’t need him to work on Sundays, ever!
Joe concluded by saying that God did indeed fire him from his previous job because God knew he was so accustomed to the place that he would never resign or look for another job. Then God gave him few months to rest and get things in order — God first, then everything else. In closing, Joe reached his destination, but the road that took him there was the one he never envisioned.
And I believe that the answer for much of our grief over God’s plan and providence also lies there. Our plans often collide with God’s plan and when it does our hearts break. Look at the Israelites for example. After more than 400 years of captivity, God answered the prayers of His people and they started a journey toward a land where milk and honey was flowing. Then they saw the Red Sea parting and as they walked across it they began praising God in celebration of His saving power. “Then Moses led Israel forward from the Red Sea, and they marched out to the wilderness of Shur. After traveling for three days through the wilderness without finding water, they arrived at Marrah, where they could not drink its water , because it was too bitter” (Exodus 15:22,23). The Israelites stepped off the Red Sea anticipating the promised land, but was greeted with the harshness of a desert. Instead of milk and honey, they found bitter water! Little did they know that the promised land was forty years away. That’s how God worked yesterday, how He works today, and how He will work forever.
Our God is the God of all things, not just some things. We can’t expect Him to do just a few things for us, or we can’t expect Him to finish only what we have started. He starts and He finishes according to His plan. We might plan for our immediate welfare, but God always plans for our ultimate good and that might involve not granting something we feel important at the moment. For a few lucky ones, like Joe, the revelation about God’s plan will come in a few months; for some, like the Israelites, it will be a few years; and for many, it will not come in this lifetime. But there will be a time when everything is made clear to each one of us. At that time, depending on how we reacted to the collapse of our plans, we will either praise Him for His brilliance or disparage ourselves for our lack of faith.
“…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrew 11:6).