Baby Jack, our 3-month-old grandson, was rocking away peacefully when terror struck. Our daughter-in-law thought a tornado was hitting them. What she really heard was a multi-ton, mighty tall oak tree cracking and crashing onto their old, wooden house, directly and immediately above baby Jack. What she saw, when she got outside, brought convulsive waves of shock and awe. After I, too, calmed down, I was left with an insatiable desire to ask just what do we mean by “providence”?
Providence, of course, always has a natural explanation. For many, “it just so happened” is sufficient by itself. In the case of the tree, it just so happened that the tree struck first with a glancing blow, on the single strongest point of the house, the chimney. Absorbing the blunt force of tons of weight, bricks crashed down and rolled into the Ensor living room. Next, the tree hit the roof at precisely the angle where the roofline splits in two and the tree could hit evenly and at the same time the upper and lower roofline, further displacing the weight. Third, it appears that the limbs and branches of greater and less flexible strength further absorbed the blow, like a hundred shock absorbers at work. The roof held. Baby Jack merrily click-clacked away in his swing. His mommy cried like a baby. Lucky? Yes, you might say so. Providential is more to my liking.
But what if it had been a tragic outcome—if the tree had fallen a mere two or three inches to the right of that wonderful old brick chimney? Oh, how we would be weeping this week. The question “Why?” would stick like a shiv in our gut. But the question works both ways. Why was Jack spared? At least part of the answer to either question is found in Psalm 57:2: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Jack was saved because the Lord has not yet fulfilled his purpose for him. If he had been crushed, though our hearts would be crushed as well, we would take a measure of comfort in knowing that evidently all God’s purposes for Jack’s life here on earth were fulfilled in three months.
There are complexities, bi-directional, even multi-textured joys and sorrows set within God’s providences. But they all together trend in one direction: the goodness of God in the face of Jesus Christ glowing in the hearts of His people. Today I rejoice that God is a God of inches and angles as much as eons and consummating events. That makes me want to get up in the morning and see what the day will bring.
We are all at the brink of eternity. Like John Ensor, I am often left feeling shock and awe when seeing God’s hand in my life or life around me. It doesn’t always go “my way,” but I know that there is nothing that is insignificant to God.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? — Matthew 6:26-27
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28