“I have come to do the
will of him who sent me”
O sacred Providence, who from end to end
strongly and sweetly movest! shall I write,
And not of thee, through whom my fingers bend
To hold my quill? shall they not do thee right?
Of all the creatures both in sea and land
Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes,
And put the penne alone into his hand,
And made him Secretarie of thy praise.
George Herbert’s poem “Providence”. It is not my custom to
begin with a poem, but, perhaps, on occasion, to end with one as an
illustration or a persuasive to some scriptural teaching. But here
Herbert’s poem begins with a scriptural text upon which the whole poem
hangs, a text from the Wisdom of Solomon: “Wisdom reacheth from one end
to another mightily and sweetly doth she order all things”, “fortiter et
suaviter”, strongly and sweetly. It is, incidentally, the most
explicit scriptural reference in Boethius’ great classic The
Consolation of Philosophy, written in 529 AD while in prison,
falsely accused and awaiting his death; the work itself is a treatise on
of providence, but he does so with the awareness that this is itself a
providence, that providence bids him write and that this bidding is
something which is extended to all humanity. It belongs to us, that is
to say, it is proper to us, to write of providence. We are all in this
view made “secretaries of thy praise”, made by God’s providence the
secretaries of the praises of God’s providence.
question for us in our day, perhaps, is not at first how well do we write
but what and how do we read. After all, Solomon, Boethius and Herbert
have all read and learned something of God’s providence in Scripture, in
history, in philosophy and in people’s lives. Only so can they then
write of it as what moves so strongly and sweetly, fortiter et suaviter,
in human lives. And only then can we read so that we, too, might be
in our lives what, in Herbert’s view, we are called to be, actually made to
be, namely the “secretaries of thy praise”. But what and how do
the providence of God is to discover the will that wields the world and
beyond. It is what we acknowledge in the Collect: “O God, whose
never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth”.
But what does it mean to contemplate the providence of God?
In our own
lives and in the lives of others, we may see (read?) but a tattered quilt of
circumstances and a tangled net of accidents. There is just such a
jumble of things which might well have been otherwise. There is so
much that is inexplicably arbitrary. And yet patterns weave and dance
out of the seemingly arbitrary decisions and actions made by others so long
ago and no doubt, too, by ourselves. They tell a story.
Just think, if
Ruth the Moabitess hadn’t decided to go all the way to Bethlehem with her
widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, then Boaz wouldn’t have had a wife and King
David would have been without a great-grandmother. Now that’s a
serious matter. Why there would have been no “root of Jesse”.
For that matter there would have been no David! He wouldn’t have been
born. Why it simply boggles the imagination, doesn’t it? Jesus
wouldn’t have been born of the house and lineage of David! Why, no
Christmas, no Messiah, no Saviour; in short, no story. Why, but for
your great-grandmother walking up the aisle to the altar you yourself might
never have been born at all. No story of you!
The sense of a
story, however, marks the beginning of an awareness of providence.
What does it mean? It means that our stories take their place in God’s
story. We take our part in the weave and dance of God’s story. T here
is no story apart from him, the great poet/maker of all stories and things.
We don’t know
the inner workings of the mind of Ruth or, for that matter, of your
great-grandmother’s mind, to discern what moved them to do what they did.
We only know the unfolding of the consequences which, shall we say? so
providentially followed. How God overrules or better, rules in and
through the seemingly chance events of our world and day is equally
inexplicable. Sometimes we only see one thing by itself and don’t see
it as part of the whole story. Sometimes we are so much a part of the
story that we fail to know it as such. The fact of God’s will ruling
in and through all things both in heaven and earth only becomes clearer
afterwards, even if only much later afterwards.
We begin to
learn the providence of God through story, especially the stories of the
Bible, stories that unveil the greater story of God’s providence within
which we, too, take our part. Jesus Christ is the visible mind of
providence himself, the will that wields the world.
What would seem less
providential than Judas’ betrayal, or Peter’s denial? Yet the first was the
occasion of Christ’s passion by which we are all redeemed; and the second
brought it about that the Church, founded on Peter, was founded on
penitence, not heroism; and so, though we are not heroes, there is hope for
us all, for we can all repent. (Austin Farrer)
In all of this,
there is no manipulation of events, no outward form of coercion, but rather
the simple working of God’s Word and Will in and through all things.
What we are shown is how we are saved. The mind of Christ, unveiling
the story of endless and eternal love, is extended to us. Our story is
drawn into his story. He is the one who tells us God’s story by
writing it in our lives, even as he has lived it in our flesh. He has
come to do the will of him who sent him. The mind of providence is
made visible to us in the Son of God.
To read the
mind of providence is also to begin to write, to be in our lives texts which
tell of God’s providence, stories which celebrate the providence of God,
songs which sing the praises of providence. It is to know who we are:
that, as today’s epistle puts it, “you have received a spirit of sonship,
in which we cry aloud Abba, Father, the Spirit himself bearing witness with
our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs, heirs
of God, and fellow-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that
we may also be glorified with him”. What we shall read, that shall
we write, only then we shall be that good and glorious fruit of which
today’s gospel speaks. “Not every one that saith unto me Lord,
Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of
my Father which is in heaven”. We shall write in our own lives
what we have read of the mind of providence made visible to us in the Son of
God. That is itself a providence.
“I have come
to do the will of him who sent me”