A Gathering Voices Post by Don McKim
The end of an old year and the beginning of a new year leads us to reflection. We reflect on the world, the church, and ourselves. And we reflect on God. Where is God in it all? What is God doing in these places? What is God doing and calling us toward in the days that lie ahead? Reformed Christians consider this as reflection on God’s providence. This is our trust that God leads us and guides us through life, as God sustains, works with, and governs the world. The Reformed have had a comprehensive view of providence, seeing God at work in all things. This is captured in question 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism which asks: “What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?” Answer: “We learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move” (Book of Confessions 4.028).
Theological controversies have raged over the nature and extent of God’s providence. But the main emphasis for us as believers is that we can trust God’s providence in and through all life, being “patient,” “grateful,” and “assured” of God’s loving guidance and help. This is an attitude for the new year; and beyond…
Psalm 31 is a psalm of thanksgiving and trust. The Psalmist seeks refuge in God and prays in the words echoed by Jesus on the cross: “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:6). But another verse also stands out here as an expression of providential trust—the trust that God’s providence surrounds us and guides us. The psalmist says: “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).
On December 31, 1960, prisoners in the city jail in Basel, Switzerland were given the opportunity to attend worship. The preacher was the famous theologian who lived in Basel, Karl Barth (1886-1968). Barth did not do a lot of preaching but confined most of his engagements to preaching to the prisoners in the local jail. On the last day of 1960, Barth preached on this text with the sermon being eventually titled: “My Time is Secure in Your Hands” [Karl Barth, Call for God: New Sermons from Basel Prison, trans. A.T. Mackay (London: SCM Press, 1967), 39-47].
While Barth said that “my time” means the span of our lives, he said it also means, “my destiny.” “My time,” he said is “my whole life story, with all that I have endured or accomplished and perhaps shall still endure or accomplish—my life story with each and everything that I was and am and shall be. This life story of mine, this is secure in your hands!” (42).
Our times/life is secure in God’s hands. “Not in the hands of a dark, unfeeling fate, at which one could not help shuddering and feeling afraid,” said Barth (43). And our lives are not secure in our own hands. “It is good,” he said, “that I am not my own master” (44). But our times and lives are secure in God’s hands; and that makes all the difference.
God’s “hands,” said Barth, are God’s deeds, God’s works, God’s words, which “whether we know it and want it or not, surround and embrace, bear and sustain us all on all sides” (44). But even more, said Karl Barth, “‘Your hands’—these are the hands of our Saviour Jesus Christ. They are the hands which he held outstretched when he called: ‘Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ They are the hands with which he blessed the children. They are the hands with which he touched the sick and healed them. They are the hands with which he broke the bread and shared it out to the five thousand in the desert place and then again to his disciples before his death. Finally and above all, they are his hands nailed to the cross, so that we might be reconciled to God” (44). “In these divine hands of yours,” said Barth, “I am kept, I am preserved, I am saved” (45).
"Providential trust,” trust in God’s providence, is the way to view our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows. We are not exempt from the sufferings and difficulties of life. But as we face them, we do so secure in the “hands” which hold us, the hands of the God who loves us and guides us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.