10 January 2014

"Reading" providence? That's a fool's game...

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in January 2007. Dan pointed out the folly of trying to "read providence" apart from Scripture.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Reading providence is a fool's game, yet it never lacks players.

Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God's personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.

One particular point of conventional diviner's wisdom is the idea that God's hand can be discerned by the feelings a situation creates. A girl I knew decades ago decided against something important because thinking about it made her feel confused, and "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33, kidnapped at gunpoint from its context), so it could not be of God. QED.

God's hand, His presence in an event, is discerned (we're told) by the feelings of serene peace, joy, love, and/or closeness to God that we experience. If it makes us happy, if it makes us feel close to God, then it is of God. If it's frightening and repellent, God cannot be in it.

When you state it in broad sunlight, it's fairly silly on the face of it, and advocates must hastily trot out the "but-but-but"'s. But one passage in particular, from Mark 6, strikes me as fairly fatal to the view.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. ...47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Note again verse 49—"they all saw him and were terrified."

What was it they saw? It was in fact Jesus. They actually were looking right at Him, they saw Him on the water. And He was there to do them good, with nothing but love in His heart for them.

But they misperceived Him, they did not see Jesus as Jesus, and they mispercieved the significance of what they did see. Instead, they saw Him as a ghost, a being that struck horror in their hearts. The emotions that seeing Jesus stirred in them were not peace, joy, love, and closeness to God. They were terrified, they were filled with alarm and fear at the sight of Jesus.

It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant.

Read God's stance towards you, and discern God's will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.

Is the Lord "in the storm"? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39  ["Hush! Be still!"]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God's love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life's storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).

Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the "afterwards," the "later" -- as in "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).