How does God work in our lives? Does he work in our lives, is he in control of everything? If we can thank him for the good things in our lives then can’t we also blame him for the bad things? Why do bad things happen to good people, especially those good people who believe and trust in him? Is there any sense to our prayers or are they only just so much babble?
Phillip Yancey, in his book”Reaching for the Invisible God”, attempts to find meaningful answers to these questions – answers that are more than just the Christian religio-speak that peppers the vocabulary of the Church. I found the following passage to be pretty insightful:
CHRISTIANS OFTEN READ THE Bible in such a way that exaggerates God’s promises, setting themselves up for later disillusionment. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus once said; “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…. See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” From such verses, readers infer that God will always provide, which then brings about a major crisis of faith when drought and famine arrive.
But how does the heavenly Father feed the birds and make the lilies grow? He does not cause black-oiled sunflower seeds to appear magically on the ground like manna in the wilderness. He feeds the birds by furnishing the planet with forests, wildflowers, and worms— and we humans know well that our subdivisions and strip malls can have a disastrous impact on the bird population. The lilies of the field may grow without labor, but their growth also depends on the regular systems that produce weather. In years of severe drought, they neither labor nor spin nor survive.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus also said. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Some take that passage as a comfort: “His eye is on the sparrow,” goes the song, “And I know he watches me.” Ironically, Jesus said it in the midst of dire warnings to his followers that they would face floggings, arrest, and even execution— hardly much comfort. Jacques Ellul points out a common mistranslation: the Greek text simply has, “apart from your Father,” and says nothing about God’s will:
It is to make things plain that “will” has been added. But the addition changes the meaning completely. In the one case, God wills the death of the sparrow, in the other death does not take place without God being present. In other words, death comes according to natural laws, but God lets nothing in his creation die without being there, without being the comfort and “strength and hope and support of that which dies. At issue is the presence of God, not his will.
We tend to view God’s interactions with events on earth as coming “from above,” like light rays or hailstones or Zeus’s lightning bolts falling to the ground from the heavens. Thus God in heaven reaches down to intervene on earth through events like the ten plagues. Perhaps we would do better to picture God’s interaction as an underground aquifer or river that rises to the surface in springs and fountainheads. Father Robert Farrar Capon, in The Parables of Judgment, makes this shift in perspective from above to below, presenting God’s acts as “outcroppings, as emergences into plain sight of the tips of the one, continuous iceberg under all of history. Thus, when we draw in our same previous series of mighty acts, they become not forays into history of an alien presence from above but outcroppings within history of an abiding presence from below.”
In other words, God does not so much overrule as underrule. His presence sustains all creation at every moment: “in him [Christ] all things hold together,” said Paul. His presence also flows into individuals who align themselves with him; God’s Spirit, an invisible companion, works from within to wrest good from bad.
[Philip Yancey, Reaching for Invisible God]
Yancey also shares a historical quotation, one of my favorites, from the Civil War era. When George Pickett, who led the infamous and disastrous charge at Gettysburg, was later asked why the South lost the war he replied: “Well, I kinda think the Yankees had a little somethin’ to do with it.”