As I wrapped my fingers around the warm morning mug, the wind froze my face but I didn’t even care. It was the most breathtaking view I had ever seen.
Our balcony sported 180 degrees of majestic mountains and deeply trenched lochs. Dark indigos and violets cascaded across the sky, casting a display of shadows and lights on the little white village nearby. Wild and rugged, the Scottish Highlands literally took my breath away.
And we were never even supposed to have been there.
A few days prior, our entire trip had dissolved in an instant. Due to severe weather, we discovered the road to the Isles was closed which left us stranded for multiple days with no place to stay.
Right on cue, my PTSD anxiously whispered in my ear. The unknown is dangerous.
If I had learned anything in the last twenty years, it was that the unforeseen could be life-shattering. So, to protect myself from future misery, I always prepare for the worst. I overpack. I make lists. Every detail and contingency are accounted for to keep myself safe.
But I did not see this one coming.
As we scrambled to find new lodging, my fear kicked into high gear.
Yet what felt like danger and devastation turned out to be the best detour.
Our unexpected rerouting actually became the highlight of our entire trip. And I learned something about God’s providence - and myself - that day.
Divine providence is one of those theology terms that I never fully understood until I saw it in action. In essence, it is God’s active engagement, provision and ordering of our lives in order to bring His good plan to pass and help us reach our final destination.
The key word here is active.
God doesn’t just set the world in motion and then sit back to watch it unfold. He is not a passive observer or bystander. He doesn’t create us and then hopes everything goes according to plan.
God is actively engaged in your life from the very beginning to the very end.
He sees you, hears you and is attuned to you. “Wherever God is looking, God is acting…when God sees something, He sees to it” (John Piper). He does not stand idly by or remain apathetic. He acts.
This means that God sees what’s going on in the world (and my life), has already planned and accounted for it, while at the same time is governing, engaging and intervening on my behalf.
There are no contingency plans with God. He does not shoot from the hip nor scramble to pull together Plan B when things go awry. Everything is within His control and will work out according to Plan A in the end (Job 42:2).
This means God will accomplish His purpose for my life. No personal choice, mistake or experience can ruin the future God has for me. What God starts, He finishes (Phil 1:6). What He sees, He acts upon. When He plans, He guides and provides.
But what about when bad things happen?
If God has such a good plan, then why do bad things happen to me?
This is the part that can trip me up. And maybe you struggle with this too.
Life-shattering events can easily impact our view of God’s role in our lives and the world. Maybe you’ve been wounded by those who were supposed to care. Maybe you had an abusive or absent parent, an unfaithful or unavailable spouse, a friend who took advantage of you.
Maybe life has left you trusting people - and God - just a little bit less.
I don’t always understand why bad things happen. But when bad things happen in a believer’s life, it does not mean that God is punishing me, He isn’t in control, He’s absent, He has forgotten about me, He’s teaching me a lesson to make me stronger, He’s out to get me or that He simply doesn’t care (1 John 2:2; Jer 29:11; Phil 4:13; 1 Pet 5:7; Job 42:2; Ps 34:4, Zeph 3:17; Deut 31:6).
My heart longs for a utopia of sorts because deep down my soul knows this isn’t how life should be. God created us to live and rule over the earth in freedom, goodness and right relationships. But then sin entered the world and has waged death in us and our relationships ever since.
Despite it all, God has not abandoned us in this broken world. Part of God’s providence includes His will to save and rescue us. For believers, God either delivers us from our suffering or He delivers us through it. He constantly saves, intervenes, upholds, guards, redeems, heals and restores us.
God actively works in this world so that evil will not get the last word.
This isn’t to say that all bad things have a silver lining. Some things that happen to us are just plain evil.
Yet even the evil we experience as believers, God will use for our good. He will ensure that evil does not win and that we are delivered safely to our destination. This is what the Bible means when it says that God is for us, not against us, and that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called by His purpose (Rom 8:28, 31).
At the end of the day, even evil must bend the knee to God’s providence.
Though our situation in Scotland looked bad, God was protecting us and turned it around for our good.
Unknown to us, our original plans would have put us in danger. We would have driven hours on steep cliffside roads in high altitude winds. Two days was the difference between the best detour and being in danger.
But God stepped in before we even knew we needed Him to.
If you’re struggling with life’s detours today, trust that God has a plan. He will safely guide you to the best destination. He sees your life in its entirety and is actively engaged while He sustains and provides. Even when things look bad, God can heal and bring about something good.