From the Rev: Divine Providence
As a chaplain and minister, much of how I see and understand the world relates to Divine Providence, sometimes known in theological circles as the sovereignty of God. It happens when someone loses their job, only to find a better one some time later. It happens when a player is out of contract, but ends up discovering an opportunity that otherwise would not have been open to them. It can occur when one substitution on the pitch provides the game-winning goal or assist. The sovereignty of God has long been the subject of debate (amongst Christians) – not so much whether God is sovereign, but to what extent does His sovereignty extend into the affairs of humankind?
Divine Providence or Human Choice?
A friend recently shared with me long-awaited news – a job in a chosen career field had finally come.
I knew that if I just kept knocking on doors it would come.
I don’t know that my friend believes in Divine Providence, but was it God that opened the door or the fact that my friend ‘kept knocking’? Of course, as humans we are tempted to think that it is the choices and decisions that we make which open doors of opportunity. We believe it to be within our power to control our own destiny. Sometimes the argument between Divine Providence and human choice gets oversimplified – if God is sovereign then that makes humans mere robots; or, the converse – if humans have free will than God’s power is limited. To say the least, there is a degree of mystery as to the relationship and extent of God’s sovereignty as it relates to human choice and responsibility. And, for some, the tension is irreconcilable (as Dan Clendenin relates in the accounting of John Rawls) Divine Providence wasn’t just something, though that Christian believers held – Paul speaks to the sages and poets of Greece (Acts 17:28) that wrote of Providence. In addition, it was a belief held by the early church (Colossians 1:17). But many modern-day Christians, especially in the West, don’t have room enough in their theology for Divine Providence unless it is a quick prayer said to find a parking space at a shopping mall during the Christmas season.
Divine Providence in the Christmas Story
Most gloss over the Divine Providence that colors that story of Jesus’ birth on earth (see Matthew 1, 2 and Luke 1, 2). The timing of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus that puts Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, instead of Nazareth. The arrival of the magi from the East and their gifts. How timely was the gold (yes, a gift for a king) that enables Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus to flee from Herod’s ensuing slaughter and survive as refugees in a foreign land (Egypt) until a return home years later. Or the frankincense, used by the Egyptians for certain religious ceremonies perhaps used to barter or trade until Joseph could establish himself within the Jewish communities gathered in refuge in Egypt. Or, the costly myrrh that was used in anointing the body for burial – used at Jesus’ death. This, of course, doesn’t even take into consideration the angelic appearances that occur throughout the story – Divine Providence is visible all throughout the narrative.
Divine Providence For a Chaplain in Sport
So what does Divine Providence look like for a chaplain in sport, or a pastor, for that matter? Divine Providence, honestly, allows me to breathe. Because of Divine Providence, I can relinquish that which, otherwise, I might hold too tightly to. Whether a relationship, a hope or dream, or some moment in time – in ministry, we can hold on to such things and struggle to let go. The impending result can be physically, spiritually, and emotionally damaging.
Divine Providence allows me as a chaplain (or pastor) the ability to let go of a person that I am counseling or helping and allow them to receive help elsewhere. Divine Providence helps direct my vision so that I don’t become consumed with the momentary, small details, but allows me to rest in seeing (or not seeing) whatever it is (that relationship, hope, moment) in a larger view.
Divine Providence also allows me permission to rest from certain labors – knowing that there are limits and points that I have reached where I cannot go on and only God can intervene. Chaplains can tend to have what we term “Messiah complexes” – here is where we must save everyone. We must fix everything that is broken and wrong. We must set people on the right path and make sure they stay there. Divine Providence (and my surrender to it) reminds me that I am only a vessel for working with; a creature in the hands of the Creator – not the Creator, himself; a spiritual physician, but not the Great Physician; a helper of healing but not the Ultimate Healer.
As you reflect on the story of Christmas this week – as you see the ways in which God moves in and out of the story with his Divine Providence, consider the ways that God has moved within your own life and story – to bring you to the place where you currently are. And may you be encouraged to know that God is involved in your life, and with great love.
Rev. Brad Kenney