God can sometimes appear remote, indifferent to our concerns, uninvolved in our lives. Placing our needs before him in prayer we may wonder whether he hears us at all — or, if he hears us, whether he cares to answer. Of course we understand that “his ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8), and God may have an outcome in mind that differs from the one we envision in our pleading with him. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating to have to deal — day after day, month after month, or year after year — with issues in which we would like to see God acting on our behalf. Or acting at all, period.
Perhaps our problem can be traced to an incomplete idea of who God is. We may have been taught, over the years, that he’s like some gigantic angel hovering in the sky above us just waiting to respond to our plea. If that’s our understanding of God, we’re bound to be disappointed in our appeals to him. When we consider the vast extent of the universe God has created, that picture of God greatly reduces him in size and power. It’s hard to get that sort of mental picture out of our head, but understanding how God works in our lives might depend on replacing that image with a concept of God that’s more “true to life.”
If we came to a different understanding of who God is, how might we be able to perceive his workings in the world in which we live? Here are six possible ways.
1. Through Circumstance. If the Creator is in control of his universe, then we ought to see him at work in what happens in our world even when those events don’t seem good to us. If God has structured the universe, and human life, in such a way that actions lead to consequences, then even harmful events will ultimately have consequences that reveal his action. A culture, for example, that discards values such as responsibility, perseverance, industriousness, generosity, honesty, or respect for human life will eventually degenerate into chaos. This judgment is what the Bible knows as the wrath of God — the inevitable consequence of discounting his pattern for human conduct. Circumstance can be favorable, and in the good things that happen we can see God at work. But we also perceive his working in other types of circumstances, because “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
2. Through Providence. As Jesus pointed out, the nourishing rain and the warming sun fall upon everyone, whether a person seems to deserve them or not (Matthew 5:45). The seasons come and go, seeds spring to life and grow to fruition, birds sing. If the Creator had not tuned his creation to make these things happen, life wouldn’t be possible. The fact that we’ve been placed on this earth with the opportunity to make something of our lives is evidence that God is at work, continuing to sustain and undergird the support structure for human life. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
3.Through People. The idea that “God has no hands but ours” is superficial, but it represents a partial truth. When we look for the action of God in our lives, especially in response to prayer, more often than not the answer will come in the form of something another person does to benefit us. What people can do for each other is often God’s instrument for intervention in our lives. And he can work through us, as well, to benefit others. As Paul wrote, “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
4. Through Miracles. We sometimes pray for miracles, and then are disappointed when no miracle is forthcoming. But miracles do happen, sometimes when people least expect them. While healing in answer to prayer, for example, seems to happen more frequently in parts of the world without modern medical resources, sudden healing also sometimes occurs where physicians are available and have given the most discouraging prognosis. These events are unexplained except through the direct intervention of God, in ways no one understands. Miracles are no substitute for seeking medical care; for that matter, financial miracles are no substitute for wise management of our money. Divine intervention doesn’t come automatically in response to a particular prayer formula; it remains God’s sovereign initiative. Nevertheless miracles do happen, and they reveal God at work.
5. Through Matter. There are four universal interactions that apply to all matter: gravity, electromagnetism, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces. If these interactions, operative since the Creator made this universe, weren’t precisely balanced, nothing would work at all and you wouldn’t be here. In the fact that anything exists we see the operation of God, and his work undergirds all we can experience, even if we think we’re not seeing him at work in any other way. And no life could exist if God had not created the information, in the form of a sequential code, in the nuclei and other parts of living cells to govern an organism’s development and reproduction. Biological science has no reasonable explanation for the improbable existence of this information, which couldn’t have arisen by mere accident; the “probability resources” of the entire universe aren’t sufficient to explain even a fraction of it. This information hidden in the matter of all life is the evident work of a Mind, the mind of God.
6. Through Truth. We might think of truth as an intangible abstraction, something we can’t grab hold of or actually observe at work. But truth is the same as reality; falsehood and unreality are what don’t exist. Truth can be compared with light; light always dispels darkness, which has no defense against it because it isn’t really anything at all. As the Apostle John wrote, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In the operation of truth we see the working of God, establishing reality in the face of nonexistence. Whether people believe it or not, reality is what it is, and it will eventually prevail over what is not — whatever tries to come against it. Jesus prayed, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17), and by this Word he meant the voice of God through Holy Scripture, and through Himself as the Word made flesh. As the Apostle Peter wrote (1 Peter 1:25), “The word of the Lord abides for ever,” giving us the assurance that God is acting in our life and experience.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.
—James Russell Lowell, 1845