I had a great group of friends in middle school. Does that give me warrant to say God directed us into friendship?
I was a shy nerd entering sixth grade, but I somehow stumbled on a group of boys that were smart, happy, and ready to play any sport involving burgeoning testosterone. I was socially inept enough to be unable to look for friends, but I was somehow swept into a defined group, most of whom came from different elementary schools. At once, we drew together in instinctive games of soccer, basketball, hockey, and football. About six of us suddenly broke out of our respective molds as “the smart kid,” or “the nice kid,” and into a feverish camaraderie where awkwardness dissolved into a sudden friendship culture. It seemed to come out of nowhere.
Or directly from God. My life has been punctuated remarkable, life-saving friendships – is an invocation of Providence would an interpretive sleight of hand? To be sure, I met thousands of people through the course of public schooling. Growing up in the same suburb, too, you’d have to figure the chances are pretty high that I would meet similar children. Or even if it weren’t so likely, you can’t call the result of some small probability “providence,” can you? There are thousands of small probabilities that I never experience. I’ve never been hit by lightning. I’ve never won 2 tickets to the Super Bowl, or even to a preseason game for that matter. I’ve never been suddenly elevated to king of a foreign land. And on and on. All these small probabilities add up, and I am bound, at some point, to come face to face with a life-changing, improbable situation.
Could I really say that God directed me to this group of friends? Did he save me from social oblivion and reading too many science fiction books?
The question of providence is typically woven into the language of “possible worlds.” Theoretically, what alternative could have happened? Modern logic uses “possible worlds” to describe probability, and medieval logic used similar concepts to talk about the differences between what God could do and what he actually does. This gap – what could have been, and what is – is the pretext for some mental curiosity, but I think it is not the real question.
I don’t ask about providence in the ordering of my school-friends to see if God could be the author of all things. No, I ask whether I can see God’s authorship. Are the things that I am seeing, with my own set of eyes, the things that God is doing? Am I interacting with God’s work?
The grandiosity of the Grand Canyon, or the passion of the Pacific Ocean, may cause thoughts to wander into God’s great work. But day to day, the more overawing suggestion is that Yahweh has ordered the actual things I relate to, and that I use the things made from heaven. That I interact with the heavens!
And yet, this same profundity is also mundane. Divinity is compartmentalized by associating it with gaze, looking over the vast Creation. But when the divine might be part of my interactions in the world (in my little world!), I have to wonder what my experiences really are. Are they the field of God’s labor, or is the mundane filled only with myself?
Let the question go a little deeper: Can my world be re-enchanted? Can my mind be re-enchanted, by a God who is near? Does Jehovah-Jireh provide for me? Jehovah-Shammah is the Lord is there – but is he here?
Only once these questions find their solution can we work our way back up to the top, and see childhood playmates as the gift of a giving God.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.