Trusting the (Usually) Unseen Hand of God

Uncategorized Aug 19, 2021

There is much to cause worry in the news these days.  This is nothing new, of course, yet that feeling of foreboding, like something is irreversibly wrong, permeates popular consciousness.  Many people, including some expert interpreters of current events, believe that things are spinning closer and closer to out-of-control.  Consider:

  • The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
  • The earthquake in Haiti.  That poor, broken island.
  • Wildfires in California.
  • Critical water shortages on the Colorado River
  • The Delta variant of COVID-19, with all the worrisome implications back in our minds.
  • The continuing political polarization and hostility between "red" and "blue."  

These tragedies are heart-wrenching.  It is a time to reflect on how we, as followers of the Risen King, respond to all the bad news.  

The scriptures show repeatedly that discipleship involves an attitude of relinquishing.  As our technology has gotten more powerful, the feeling of control - and the assumption that we ought to be able to control - has grown.  The modern belief is that humans are (potentially) able to manage all the troubles that occur in our experience. In the modern, secular West, we have built up this belief over several centuries of creating increasingly sophisticated technology that gives us the feeling that we should be able to handle things, mainly with better and better technology.  The technology is not the main problem.  The main problem is the presumption of human power.

You may have seen the documentary, "The Social Dilemma."  It reveals how social media like Facebook are designed to manipulate our feelings for the sake of profit. Some of those who helped to create these systems now talk openly about their regrets.  (See here, for example: https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/).  If you watch the documentary, though, by the end of it, the "solutions" seems to be "better" technology.  We humans, especially in the secular West, think we can fix everything. 

We cannot.  Which brings us back to the disposition of relinquishment.  It is not the same as resignation, which appears either as a kind of fatalistic "giving up" or as a psychological means of self-control.  The ancient Stoics practiced resignation, seeking a kind of peaceful and serene equilibrium in the midst of life's vicissitudes.  Modern, secular westerners engaging in various forms of meditation are going for the same outcome.  Meditation does help.  But this is not what I mean by relinquishing.

For Christian disciples, relinquishing is firmly rooted in God's good and gracious providence.  The Apostle Paul said to the Philippians that he had learned to be content in all circumstances, whether in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:10-20), and Paul knew real hardship.  He knew beatings and imprisonment and the threat of death.

God is not a lever puller and we are not robots.  God is, likewise, not a fixer.  But God is good and actively working in the world, and we can trust him completely while we make the effort daily to live faithfully.  This is what relinquishing means.  It's a form of faithful surrender to Christ, who is Lord.  Learning to trust a good God fully does bring peace of mind.  It can look very much like the peace of mind that secular westerners are going for through meditation and other practices.  It is based on an entirely different foundation.

This is the point I most urgently want to get across.  We can trust God.  The world, as bad as things are, is not spinning out of control.  It remains under the providential care of the One who made it, who made us, and who will make all things new.  It's challenging to live in this hope, because we get fed an incessant and ever-more-sensationalized diet of bad news, but it is true.  

Let me give you just one example.  I have been paying attention to the accounts and analyses of the swift takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.  It brings out all kinds of feelings and virtually all of them are strongly negative.  It is very easy to feel a combination of shame (remember Saigon, 1975?) and despair.  

Consider, however, this fact: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) calculates that there are approximately 140 nongovernment charity organizations working in Afghanistan.  Many of those groups are Christian ministries who report some really wonderful things are happening.  These ministries have been in the country since before the war started.  They tell of many good efforts that are bearing real fruit.  More importantly, they bear witness to the power of transformative relationships.  Imagine a network of such relationships - built up over time - throughout the country.  Imagine the healing, the learning, and the bonds of love forming on the ground among peoples.    

Christian aid workers in Afghanistan live with the threat of violence.  They know that they could be imprisoned and even killed.  But they also know the power of God visibly at work through the love of Christ.  

Once we start to look around for evidence of God's providential hand, we can see it everywhere.  Yes, the bad news remains, but it is not the whole story and, ultimately, it won't be the end of the story.  Although we should face honestly all the worries and fears pervading our world, we don't give in to the despair or hopelessness.  God has not abandoned his world.  We need eyes to see and ears to hear.  We can trust.  We can relinquish our need to manage and control and trust in the God who is love.  

(The source for my example of Afghanistan is this fresh article from Christianity Today, "What Christian Aid Workers Want You to Know about Afghanistan."  Here is the link: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/september/afghanistan-aid-humanitarian-civil-society-hospitality.html)

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