Thinking Anew: Trusting in God’s providence

The faith that Jesus preached encouraged us to take risks that relied on our belief that good would come in the end. Photograph: iStock

The faith that Jesus preached encouraged us to take risks that relied on our belief that good would come in the end. Photograph: iStock

 

Providence is not a word you hear too often these days. In the Christian tradition we have always taught that you can rely on God’s providence. Famine, disease, war and persecution have taught us otherwise yet we persist with the teaching. If you wish to discuss providence you risk persuasive arguments against. Maybe that is why the word is rare.

Strangely enough a Biblical example of providence, “Manna from Heaven”, is not rare and can be heard quite a lot. Usually the speaker is referring to an expected outcome. Some describe it as luck but it is more correctly good fortune. Good luck and good fortune overlap but are not the same thing. Good fortune can come from a stroke of good luck but it can also come from hard work. Securing a contract that saves the jobs of your workers derives from good fortune that derives from hard slog, worry and perseverance.

Hard slog, worry and perseverance require resilient optimism. Christians traditionally described this optimism as trusting in God’s providence. For all the things that go wrong in the world there are many things that go well. For all the things that are wrong there are more things that are right. For all the things that were wrong in the past there are more and better things ahead. When you consider the amount of people about you repeating the same old tales over and over again, you quickly realise that misery multiplies by repeating itself and goodness whispers once. Try repeating a good story and you’ll quickly be told that we have heard it already. Optimism is our most censored blessing.

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus we have an exasperated Jesus being sought by his followers. They want him back among them healing their wounds and sorting out their problems.

Confusing the messenger with the message was every prophet’s nightmare – it was not Moses who gave Manna in the desert. The message of the prophets, encouraging people to have the trust to engage fully with life, was never an easy task. Our cynicism and need for quick solutions prevent many of us from becoming fully human. Without a decision to trust that good will come in the end, we will never take risks. Life is easier when moaning into the bottom of a glass and wishing for an instant cure for the ills of life.

Fostering optimism is a mammoth task. Trusting in God’s providence; having a resilient optimism; believing that everything will work out in the end – these are good starting points. The trust we build is vulnerable and easily knocked. It takes a lot of strength to persevere. The support of others in a communion centred on Christ is there to support us, to sustain us in the struggle to live positively – the Bread of Life.

Jesus was one of the earliest motivational speakers. The faith he preached encouraged us to take risks that relied on our belief that good would come in the end. He is our bread, our inspiration, our strength to persevere. Resilient optimism is prone to easy ridicule. Remaining positive requires great effort. Trusting in providence is usually described in kind cliché and proverb: good things come to those who wait; God loves a trier, and, most important of all, the road to heaven (not hell) is paved with good intentions. “All will be well,” said Julian of Norwich because she was one of very few people who was brave enough to preach it.

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