The Squiggly Line of God’s Providence

Even in our sorest trials we have the highest confidence: all things work for good. Even in our darkest valleys we have the brightest light: all things work for good. Even in our lowest moments, our hardest days, our most difficult circumstances, this precious promise blesses us, sustains us, gives us hope: all things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

Become a Patron

As Christians we know that God’s sovereign hand draws a line that leads from suffering to meaning, from pain to purpose, from grief to good. There is no affliction that leads nowhere, no sorrow that is ultimately futile, senseless, or pointless. No, in some way they all work together for good, in some way they all bring blessing, in some way they all display the all-surpassing wisdom of a holy God.

But the line that leads from trials to goodness is not necessarily a straight line that extends unswervingly from one to the other. No, it may be jagged, crooked, squiggly, hard to trace—more like woven tapestry than pure geometry, more like spaghetti cooked and in the pot than spaghetti raw and in the box. Neither is it a single line that exists alone, as if one affliction leads to just one good. No, there may be a hundred lines leading from one sorrow and a thousand lines leading to one good. Our deepest grief may flow into a million goods and our greatest triumph may be downstream of a thousand sorrows.

For this reason we must guard ourselves against being too hasty in interpreting God’s providences. An impatient gardener may wish to see a flower bloom and in his haste pry open the bud. But this would serve only to harm the flower, for it must open in its own time, only when the seasons have changed, only when the spring rains have fallen, only when the sun has warmed the earth and sky.

And in much the same way, we must be careful not to mar God’s purposes through impatience. We must guard ourselves against being too quick to draw straight and easy lines from sorrows to goods and from goods back to sorrows. We must guard ourselves against too easily jumping from the “what” to the “why.” We must be careful not to tritely conflate why an event happened with how God may be using it, as if one great good is sufficient to explain one crushing sorrow. We must have confidence in God, for the same faith that saves us is the faith that is meant to sustain us even when we are afflicted, even when we are bewildered. As we trust God with our souls, we must trust him with our sorrows.

God’s mind is so much greater than ours, his hand so much stronger, his purposes so much vaster. In his grace he may allow us to see the beginnings of his purposes here and now, and in those we can truly rejoice. But all the while we know that we will see the full picture only in the day when his plan is complete and his purposes perfectly fulfilled. Until then we live by faith, not sight. Until then we long for the day that his divine hands will open the bud, the day when the flower will bloom, the day when we will be breathless with the beauty of it.