23 December 2015

Providence Is the Hidden Hand of God


"Wonderful providence indeed which is so silent, yet so efficacious, so constant, so unerring. This is what baffles the power of Satan. He cannot discern the Hand of God in what goes on; and though he would fain meet it and encounter it, in his mad and blasphemous rebellion against heaven, he cannot find it.

Crafty and penetrating as he is, yet his thousand eyes and his many instruments avail him nothing against the majestic serene silence, the holy imperturbable calm which reigns through the providences of God. Crafty and experienced as he is, he appears like a child or a fool, like one made sport of, whose daily bread is but failure and mockery, before the deep and secret wisdom of the Divine Counsels.

He makes a guess here, or does a bold act there, but all in the dark. He knew not of Gabriel's coming, and the miraculous conception of the Virgin, or what was meant by that Holy Thing which was to be born, being called the Son of God. He tried to kill him, and he made martyrs of the innocent children; he tempted the Lord of all with hunger and with ambitious prospects; he sifted the Apostles, and got none but one who already bore his own name, and had been already given over as a devil.

He brought into the world the very salvation which he feared and hated. He accomplished the Atonement of that world, whose misery he was plotting. Wonderfully silent, yet resistless course of God's providence! 'Verily, Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour;' and if even devils, sagacious as they are, spirits by nature and experienced in evil, cannot detect His hand, while He works, how can we hope to see it except by that way which the devils cannot take, by loving faith?"

John Henry Newman, PS 17


"Some may then ask, why did He not manifest Himself by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some grander instrument, such as the sun or moon or stars or fire or air, instead of appearing as a mere man?

The answer is this. The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering humanity. For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been to appear and dazzle the beholders.

But for Him Who came to heal and to teach, the way was not merely to appear here, but to place Himself in the service of those who needed Him, and to be made known to them as they could bear to accept it, not misappropriating the value of the Divine appearance by exceeding their capacity to receive it, to make use of it.

Moreover, nothing else in creation had erred from the path of God's purpose for it, save only man. Sun, moon, heaven, stars, water, and air, none of these had swerved from their place in His order, but knowing the Word as their Maker and their King, remained as they had been made.

Men alone rejected what is good, having cherished nothings, demons and men, instead of the truth."

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

What could be less intimidating to the dark powers of this world than a baby?  And one born to poor people answering the command of an earthly power to travel to a place where they had no home and no welcome?

Do not be afraid, do not despair in not understanding all things and fully, for this is both our nature and our necessity. Be serene and happy in the grace to know the next step, but none further. For this is a part of our protection against the forces of darkness of this world.

We know what to do next, having been told plainly and many times by His messengers and the promptings of our conscience. We are to love the Lord our God, with our whole hearts, our whole minds, our whole soul, and our whole strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

This is both the heart of the law, and the rule of our warfare.

The mystery of Providence is a grace that gives those who accept it a power that is incomprehensible to the calculating mind of this world, that knows only what it can see and measure according to its own pride and willfulness.

And it confounds the ever-fading powers of the restless servants of wickedness in high places. This is the love of God, which is inexplicable and cannot be seen, except in cherished glimpses and with a limited understanding, by those who are already His through their continuing faithfulness.

He speaks to us in our hearts, if we will but listen.  And those who do not hear Him, cannot even begin understand what appears to them to be mere foolishness.

This is no complacency, no retreat from the world, no quiet acceptance of evil, but rather a call to action. We are directed not to linger, to watch and wait for ever more signs and wonders, gifts and consolations, not an endless menu of comforts so that we may be carried effortlessly to heaven, but to bear up with what we have been given, and to do His work, with love.

We are called to a love which is transformative when it is living for others, but a vain preoccupation and a kind of twilight of lingering misery and despair when it is not.

His call occurs, but we must rise and follow. His yoke, though gentle, both constrains our natures and leads us through inevitable periods of dryness and confusion, which are often put most heavily on those He calls out ahead to be His lights.

And as we may need them, unexpectedly, there are the consolations, His gentle and tender mercies.

We will contemplate the face of God in the next world, but in this, we are called to action and His work in His creation and among His creatures.  This is the implication of the Incarnation.

Nothing is wasted in God's economy. He knows us, and He knows what He is about.