When does life make sense? During the moments of heartache, despair, or joy? The days following those moments after some time has passed and the initial shock has worn off? Is it after you’ve gained some perspective and thoughtful introspection? We tend to remember the best and worst moments of our lives with (sometimes) vivid detail, but do we understand (at the moment) what those moments are providing? Do we see the lasting value in a relationship lost, an opportunity squandered, or a moment remembered as they are happening? Usually no, we don’t.
What about the great characters we find in Scripture?
Were they truly any different than we are today? Did they understand all the steps God would take to put them in place for His will to be accomplished (i.e. Joseph as he was sold into slavery, wronged by Potiphar’s wife, or forgotten by his fellow prisoner)? Did David understand the day he was anointed to be the king that it would result in Jonathan’s death? Did Abraham know when he sent Ishmael away that this action would result in a thorn in the side of his children for generations? Did Paul know when he sent John Mark away that this young man would be useful to him one day?
It’s safe to assume that they are just like you and me and did not always realize the lasting repercussions of their actions and choices. Even when God commanded them to act, did they always understand why? No. Did they question God’s commands? Yes (i.e. Moses at the burning bush and Abraham offering Isaac without so much as a complaint or clarification). Where they aware their choices would bring about consequences both good and bad that would affect them for years? Sometimes, no (i.e. David’s relationship with Bathsheba) and sometimes, yes (i.e. Samuel anointing the kings).
The answer is simple and poignant . . . we don’t always see God acting, even though we know He is.
Consider Mordecai’s statement in Esther 4:14. He tells his niece (who also happens to be the queen of Persia) that this opportunity awaiting her to influence the king and correct a false judgment against the Hebrews could perhaps be the reason she is now queen. He doesn’t know with certainty if she will fix their problem or make it worse. He doesn’t know if God is behind her placement in the king’s house or if this is merely a random occurrence. He is unwilling to say he knows God is behind it, but he suggests that it may be the case. In that moment, he undergoes what we must endure every day – he must make an educated assumption about the involvement of God in his life and the life of those he loves dearly.
Do I believe God was working in the lives of Esther and Mordecai to bring about the salvation of their people? Absolutely, but I have the advantage of looking at the sum of their trials and see how it all worked together. I can see the end of the story, not just the individual moments as they pass by. It is easy for me to see the hand of God was with them (albeit behind the scenes) and see that His will unfolded exactly as He wanted because of my perspective. The stories of Esther, Ruth, Joseph, Moses, and Abraham prove to us that God is present even when we don’t see His presence. He guided those great heroes of faith through events that sometimes defied logic. He watched over them and assured their path would fulfill His will. He was there, even when they didn’t know it.
We can see God was with them, guiding their steps, opening new doors, and providentially taking care of them and many others from the very beginning of time. May we find hope that their lives are emblematic of ours. God is always there and always good, even if we don’t understand His ways.
With all that being said, let’s also make this very clear. Providence is not found in something we know will happen . . . it is present in something we know could happen. Consider the following OT account of three young men who believed in God’s ability to intervene. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were young Hebrew men taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon probably alongside King Jehoiakin (see 2 King 24:14) and ten thousand other captives. They rose in prominence and importance serving both the king of Babylon and their heavenly Father. In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar built a giant statue that he expected his subjects to bow down to and worship. He didn’t expect the reaction those commands would bring about from the three young Hebrew servants. Verses 16-20 say:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king and said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, o king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
These three young men were entirely unaware of the outcome awaiting them. They weren’t sure that God would save them, but they were sure God could save them. Their faith was not in what was expected, but what was possible. They didn’t know what would happen but they knew God was in control and His will would be accomplished.
Providence is God working in our lives. Many times (in fact almost every occurrence) it happens when we don’t see God or feel God or even know God was there (at least not at the moment). The best way to describe providence may be “God working behind the scenes.” Consider another OT story about a young man who was faithful to God and the irony of the events that unfolded in his life. They are listed below in chronological order:
(1) Joseph was his father’s favorite son because he was the son of a woman Jacob loved.
(2) His father doted on him and that attention brought about spite and jealousy from his brothers.
(3) His brothers sell him into slavery and he is brought to Egypt.
(4) Potiphar buys him and sets him in charge of his house. Potiphar’s house blossoms because of Joseph.
(5) Joseph is betrayed by Potiphar’s wife but his life is spared and he is merely sent to prison.
(6) In prison, Joseph is entrusted with the welfare of his residence. The prison and its population are blessed by Joseph.
(7) In prison, Joseph meets two accused servants of Pharaoh.
(8) Joseph is forgotten following his fellow prisoner’s acquittal.
(9) Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret across his kingdom except Joseph.
(10) Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and then entrusted (once again) with the welfare of those around him.
(11) Jacob’s family is in need and travels to Egypt to acquire food from the brother they sold into slavery.
(12) Joseph is able to once again able to reconnect with his family and see his father who loves him.
Is there any way to believe this series of events was coincidental or unplanned? God was working in the life of Joseph through providential care, concern, and input. Joseph was able to constantly remain faithful to God and see (in the end) God’s plan for him. In Genesis 50:20 he says (after the events have unfolded):
‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’
In the moment of his betrayal, arrest, and all the ups and downs in life he couldn’t say that, but in the end, with perspective, Joseph’s journey made sense.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.