Friday, May 2, 2008

A Special Providence--Article

A Special Providence

Talking with a friend the other day, I happened to ask
him how he dealt with worry. His answer was
interesting. He said, "I know that if things don't
work out in my life, God has something better in mind
for me.” A noble thought, but is there something
lacking in it? God does have something better in mind
for us always, but that “better” must include “the
fall of a sparrow.”

Think of Hamlet. What is it he says in the last act
of the play? He says, “there is a special providence
in the fall of a sparrow.” In the final scene he
goes to the fencing match with Laertes, not knowing
that the king, his uncle, has contrived with Laertes
to poison the tip of the foil. Somehow Hamlet half
senses the evil that the king means for him. But what
Hamlet has learned in the course of the play is that
in “the fall of the sparrow” too, there is the grace
of God. It is around this understanding of suffering
that the play revolves. Should Hamlet immediately
revenge the murder of his father or not? Christianity
wars with the old pagan ways. Educated by the church,
Hamlet knows not which way to turn, to the old pagan
ways of vengeance, the old way of “fairies and
witches” or to the new way begun by “our Saviour’s
birth.” (Act I, Scene I) He does not know whether to
“suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,”
or to revenge himself, or in despair to commit suicide
over his inability to do either. But I think it is
Jesus and the Biblical understanding of suffering that
is victorious in Hamlet’s heart and mind. Yes, in
open combat he does slay his murdering uncle before
dying under the poison foil; there is a time for war,
as the Bible says, but Hamlet has also seen that
sometimes the suffering and the oppression of the
enemy is the loving will of God for us, a “special
providence.” In suffering his uncle to live, in
suffering under oppression, Hamlet has played the part
of Jesus on the cross. Moreover in these sorrows he
is loved, not hated by God. God does not mean
Hamlet’s sufferings as a curse but as a blessing upon
him and his kingdom. “There is a special providence
in the fall of a sparrow;” this is a truth that comes
only in Jesus.

Let’s remember again what my friend said, “if things
don't work out in my life, God has something better
for me.” Yes, but only if part of that “better”
includes a cross. As I understand the cross in light
of Isaiah 53, the suffering and death of the man of
sorrows is not reflective of the anger and displeasure
of God, but rather his “good pleasure.” In other
words, God is not angry with the man of sorrows but
loves him deeply. God loved Joseph but sent him into
slavery and jail, that through his sufferings all
Israel might be saved. Yes, Joseph’s brothers
“meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
God meant Joseph to be in that prison cell, where he
would have his dreams, where he predict the future.
His prison cell was a necessary part of the salvation
of Israel and even the world. It is the same with
Jesus. It is the same with Hamlet and with us.
Without Jesus, we could well imagine our sufferings
are a curse, the displeasure of fate or the gods, or
of God himself. But with Jesus opening scripture to
us, then can we understand and even rejoice in our
sorrows. We do not suffer “the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune” but rather we are Joseph in his
prison cell in Egypt, we are Abraham and Sarah in
their long wait for a son, Samson in his death, Moses
in his suffering in the wilderness, Jeremiah in his
cry of grief, Jesus on his cross; all these, these
who were at every moment delighted in, truly loved by
God. They were put into the shadow of death on
purpose and for a purpose, a beautiful purpose by the
God who so loves the world. "What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has in store for those who wait on him."