Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Infinity and Providence

In preparation for this week's message on "Why Can't I See God's Will?" I was reflecting on what it means for an infinite God to interact in a finite world.  If we assume that God is at work in the present world, it means that one whose time is different than ours is at work in our time. 

It is likely that you can see the implications of this by your own experience.  Perhaps you share with me the experience that each year seems shorter than the previous.  Here we are in mid-December already, and I feel like I just got used to 2012.  You might wonder why every year seems shorter than the previous... I suggest it is because each year is relatively shorter from the perspective if finite beings.  We only have a certain number of years.  so each year is in relation to our beginning.  A five year old experiences a year to be a long time because it is 1/5 of their life.  A 50 year old experiences the year to be a much shorter period of time because the year is only 1/50 of their life.  this means that a year in the eyes of a five year old is like 10 years in the eyes of a 50 year old.  It takes 10 years for the same change in lifespan that a five year old experiences in just one year.  This continues.  For the 100 year old, it would take another 20 years to experience the same change in lifespan as the five year old in a single year.  So, it doesn't just seem that a year gets shorter and shorter as we get older--it really does (relatively speaking).

So then consider our finite experience of time from the eyes of our finite God.  The psalmist writes, "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God... for a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past or like a watch in the night." (Psalm 90:4).

If this is true, then God--who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow... and God who is without time... when that God interacts in our world time is no factor - so it would see if God can continue to interact in our present, God can also continue to interact in our future--right now... and God can interact in our past--right now.

What does that have to do with Providence and God's Will?  Sometimes people wonder whether they missed God's path.  If at some point they strayed from God's plan for them.  Made the wrong decision, married the wrong person, attended the wrong party, took the wrong job, said the wrong thing at the wrong time...  Despair can set in.  How can we be sure we are on God's path?  Surely God has a path for us as we believe he intended it from before the foundations of the earth--so the scriptures say.  And yet how does that work when people have the ability to make up  their own minds--to choose the good or the bad--to follow or not follow God's desire for them.  Perhaps it was God's will that you get a particular job, but the employer does not listen to God's voice and finds a reason to go with someone else--is God thwarted?  Is all lost?  Can we even claim that God has a will and a plan in light of the ease with which you, I, or anyone else can ruin the plan?

But if the infinite God is at work in the past, present, and future of our finite world, then perhaps God's perfect plan is more of a perfecting plan.  In other words, when we step off the path God has laid for us, it isn't so much that God puts us back on the right path as it is that God adjusts the path to include the place to which we have strayed.  In this way our God is not just perfect, but is perfecting.  What was not perfect is made perfect by the God who is continuously seeking us out -- not hiding from us and hoping we can navigate the complicated map that is God's will.  Rather God's will is to redeem lost sheep - not by laying a trail of bread crumbs and hoping the sheep make it home to the other 99, but leaving the 99 to go and search.  So it becomes God's plan that the sheep was lost in the first place that God's diligent, loving, searching nature might be revealed.

Paul told the Romans not that bad and evil would never happen, only that whatever happened God was working it together for good for those who love God and are called for God's purposes.  That is a picture not of a perfect God that us imperfect humans must figure out--it is rather the picture of a perfecting God who realizes that we and others will get off the path, but that God will make our paths - whatever we've done to them--that God will make our paths straight--raising the valleys, lowering the mountains; and making us holy.