Thoughts on Providence

[Please continue to take these ruminations as explorations of someone who doesn’t know much, however dogmatically I state my ignorance.]

There is that verse from Psalm 118 (119 in Hebrew) which is prayed in St. Basil’s Divine Liturgy:

. . . for all things serve thee.

As has been evident to my readers I have been much in thought regarding Providence. Not, mind you, in the sense of a theological concept, nor of a thorny philosophical problem to wrest from the hands of the likes of Sextus Empiricus, but, rather, in the sense of what it has to do with the Personhood of God and of my relationship to him.

In fact, it is not even so bland as that. Rather, it is this variegated kaleidoscope of synergy that marks every moment of salvation. For that is God’s very name: Savior. And Providence is but one more name for salvation.

I have been pondering, in these latter days, the following prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, d. 1867 (emphases added):

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. [from A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers (SVS Press, 1983), p. 20]

The mystery here is not that God acts, nor that his acts are essentially unknown and unseen to us save he reveal them. No what strikes me is the singular notion that this is a prayer asking to be interwoven into this Providential tapestry. Reveal thy will to me. Thy will governs all. Guide my thoughts and feelings. Pray thou thyself in me.

When moments of crisis come, especially those which press home the inescapable fact that one has contributed by one’s own choices and acts to those critical moments, it is often easy, and tempting, to attribute such things wholly to oneself, failing to recognize that nothing happens apart from God’s Providential will. It is also temptingly easy to attribute one’s deliverance to God as external to one’s situated trouble, failing to recognize that God is with us to deliver us in these things and by them. All things serve him, and thus all things work together for our good, for our salvation–even our own sins and failings. Not because such sins and failures have any essential pragmatic value per se, but because God is a savior. He redeems our times.

This is all so very humbling. It brings one to the realization that we truly do not know for what we ought to pray, except that his will be done in heaven and on earth. Pray thou thyself in me.

There is another prayer of Metropolitan Philaret, concerning reliance upon Providence, that is, if possible, even more difficult to pray:

O Lord, I know not what to ask of thee. Thou alone knowest what are my true needs. Thou lovest me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I dare not ask either a cross or consolation. I can only wait on thee. My heart is open to thee. Visit and help me, for thy great mercy’s sake. Strike me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence thy holy will and thine inscrutable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to thee. I put all my trust in thee. I have no other desire than to fulfill thy will. Teach me how to pray. Pray thou thyself in me. Amen. [from A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers (SVS Press, 1983), p. 24]

These are the sorts of prayers one prays knowing that one hasn’t yet reached the point at which such prayers are prayed with one’s full being. We pray them only proximately, praying also to be made able one day to truly pray them. We pray beyond our ability so as to become able, by God’s grace, to pray them.

This, too, is Providence. And our salvation.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Providence

  1. Excellent post. Indeed God’s providence is “merely” His will to save us, that is in Orthodox terms, the healing of the human person. Healing is not accomplished without exercise, surgery, rehab, medicines and disciplines that we would not ordinarily undertake except under duress and threat of death. God’s providence is simply His eternal hand moving in our history for the sake of our salvation.

  2. I, too, spend a great deal of time pondering providence, having previously endured the Calvinist/Arminian impasse as a protestant. Entering into Orthodoxy transforms these questions in so many ways. One of our three daughters is autistic, and ever since her diagnosis almost four years ago, the questions keep presenting themselves in many diverse forms…

    My Holy Week prayers keep gravitating to the twists and turns of the Joseph story in Genesis, which continues to shape my sense of God’s providence.

    Thanks so much for the post.

    With prayers,
    Mark

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