Pray for the disciples of the stilled waves
who can’t conceive of a mind formed from the firing synapses of suns, with a plan that’s existed since existence began.
Pray for the disciples who find it too strange
that such a mind might look down at the ocean with a scheme for each life, a schematic laid down, never to change.
Pray for the disciples who don’t believe, but can see
His feet skim across the waves, who believe in miracles when they occur, who prefer not God’s providence, but God’s fleeing order.
I’ve struggled with the idea of providence for a long time. Whenever someone says that a tragedy is God’s will, or claims that God never closes a door without opening a window, or says that something is part of God’s plan, I rebel. These sayings seem to make God into a puppet-master at best, a sociopath at worst. Why is it comforting to think that God is actively causing our hurt?
Such an idea isn’t supported by scripture. God is definitely involved with human life. But there’s nothing that points to God having a master plan. Abraham argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and although God ultimately does destroy those cities, Abraham’s argument holds sway for a little while. God formulates plans that don’t work out, and then seems open to shifting them. Noah’s rainbow points to this, as does the whole plan to make a chosen people who are going to be a light to the nations, and then God’s willingness to ditch that plan when it doesn’t work and send Jesus down to try out something new. In scripture, God doesn’t have a grand, sweeping plan that’s been around from the very beginning of creation. God does have a vision of what’s best for human life, and is always pointing us towards that vision. But usually this isn’t what people mean when they say that something is all part of God’s plan. They mean that God is in total control, and the bad thing that’s just happened to you happened according to the will of God.
I don’t think we need this idea. It’s often used, and maybe it came about, in order to explain the cross. Some atonement theories rely on the idea that God knew, from the beginning of time, that Christ would have to die on the cross. But there are other atonement theories that state that the cross was never part of any plan that God came up with, but was the result of human will and human evil. I agree.
If we shift our idea of providence, or get rid of the idea of providence altogether, something wonderful might happen. We might find that we’re more open to miracles as they appear in our lives. We can allow them to be mysterious without having to slot them into a pre-existing intellectual framework. We can accept that God is constantly trying to do new things in the world, and in our lives, because there’s no script. God sees what is necessary in the moment and responds. When we’re suffering, that might mean simply being present to us, or filling us with the strength to reach out to others who might help us, or reassuring us that we’re forgiven when, in our pain, we act in ways that surprise us and that let us down. When we’re not suffering, but full of joy, we might look for the miraculous in our daily lives, in flowers appearing on trees in the sunshine, in the heavy sunlight that falls on us in summer, in the rim of ice on a puddle in winter. We might allow ourselves to understand that each passing moment is precious, even if it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a pre-packaged divine plan. I’m advocating for us to stop looking for God’s cosmic plan, and start paying attention to God’s shifting order.