This is a follow-up to my post yesterday, which was not only about providence but also, it would seem, providential itself.
I posted an extended quote from Herman Bavinck on the doctrine of providence around the same time that the first national reports were coming in about the school shooting in Newtown, CT.
Here’s the interesting part: I wrote that entire post, as is, on Wednesday, two days before the shooting.
Because I had just posted something else that day, and because I didn’t think I’d have time to write a new post on Friday, I saved it as a draft and scheduled to post it Friday morning, which I did before hearing the news from Connecticut. So it would seem that the quote about providence was, itself, providential. As circular as that sounds, it really shouldn’t be surprising.
Now, as solid and biblical as Bavinck’s theology may be, was it the best thing to be said in response to that tragedy? Of that I’m not so sure. The quote is a bit sterile and abstract. It has some great things to say about God’s hand being involved in everything, everywhere, and at all times. But that may not be the best thing to offer to a grieving parent, a bewildered bystander, or someone who is already convinced that God is arbitrary or ambivalent or capricious.
So how does a severe tragedy like this affect our understanding of the doctrine of providence?
Well, it doesn’t make untrue those things that were true in non-tragic times. It doesn’t make God less approachable or more impersonal. Statements like that on providence can’t be thrown around callously or insensitively. But they can be augmented.
We must affirm that God walks with us through the waters and fires of life, refusing to let us ago because we are dearly loved (Isaiah 43:1-7).
We must know that “the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
We must remember that the Father knows what is is like to have an innocent Son senselessly murdered.
We must rest in the assurance that there is nothing that “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
We must look with expectation and hope to that day when every wrong is set to right, every injustice atoned for, every hurt healed, when “God himself…will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Until that time, we are not called to throw around answers, but to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) while simultaneously pointing them to the God who has suffered with us and for us, and who has overcome all suffering and pain and death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The portrait of providence doesn’t change in the face of tragedy, but we may use different brushes with which to paint it. God is still sovereign, even and especially in the midst of our suffering.