We often wonder about God’s plans, though He doesn’t hide his intentions from us. Only our lack of vision veils them. Yet He tries to help us see and He knows how best to do it.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan river and out of Pharaoh’s clutches, God told them to take twelve stones from the river to carry with them on their journey. These stones were visual cues for the Israelites to remember God’s miraculous salvation and to share this story with their children. Then, every generation would know God.
God knows man, not simply because He created him, but because He took on human flesh. And He knows we are forgetful and waver as our attention moves, just as St. Peter faltered in faith at the sight of the waves. That’s why He has provided promises in Scripture, which are like memory stones that turn the eyes of our hearts back to reality. When we read bad news, for example, we can remember that God has delivered his people over and over again, and has promised He will one day wipe away every tear for good. Every day, Christians are challenged to turn toward God’s promises in the face of apparent obstacles.
In “The Glory of the Christian Church,” Blessed John Henry Newman explains how God’s work in the world is as fitting for us as it is bewildering to us. Blessed Newman has no intention of explaining the complex relationship between God’s providence and man’s free will, but he does acknowledge that the fate of the world depends “both on God’s Providence and on human agency.” Furthermore, he says Scripture tends to emphasize Divine Providence, and while God is One, and He is united in his purpose and the means to accomplish it, His process looks far from linear to us.
Consider the cross, the ultimate sign of our faith and center of history, that confounds us all. No one saw it coming – certainly not Jesus’s disciples, who were ready to form a political kingdom. But how fitting, how perfect a plan! But it wasn’t a surprise. God had been telling us since Genesis, when He said that one day Adam’s Seed shall bruise the serpent’s head.
The shape of God’s work, Newman says, may confuse us and leave room for us to doubt His Providence, but there is nothing incomplete about it. In fact, there is no difference between God’s words to us and their fulfillment in reality. Newman comments: “We call these notices prophecy, popularly speaking, and doubtless such they are to us, and to be received and used thankfully; but more properly, perhaps, they are merely instances of the harmonious movement of God’s word and deed, His sealing up events from the first, His introducing them once and for all, though they are but gradually unfolded to our limited faculties, and in this transitory scene.”
Because God’s promises to us already have fulfillment in a sense, our acts of faith and trust in God’s Providence have nothing to do with wishing, but with seeing. God wants us to see with the eyes of faith, and He wants us to use every human means to help us, from the memory stones of the Israelites to the crucifixes at the bedsides of Catholics. Scripture enjoins us to take His words and “Bind them upon your heart always; tie them about your neck.” More importantly, we need to take them into our hearts, so out of our very lives the living water of faith will flow.
Let Blessed Newman’s words lead us on: “Nothing is more counter to the spirit of the Gospel than to hunger after signs and wonders; and the rule of Scripture interpretation now given, is especially adapted to wean us from such wanderings of heart. It is our duty, rather it is our blessedness, to walk by faith; therefore we will take the promises (with God’s help) in faith; we will believe they are fulfilled, and enjoy the fruit of them before we see it. We will fully acknowledge, as being firmly persuaded, that His word cannot return unto Him void; that it has its mission, and must prosper so far as substantially to accomplish it.”