Five years ago my dad lost his battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Recently I’ve had the great joy of sharing his and our story (which I plan to blog at a later date). I’ve also had the chance to reflect on this event specifically in light of providence and other aspects of the doctrine of creation. Simply put, this is a personal reflection on how who God is has comforted me over the last five years.
Reflections on personal history in light of providence and other aspects of the doctrine of creation
In the early hours of the morning of the 19th November 2009 my dad let out his final breath. His breathing had been laboured and pain-filled for almost a day by this point, his body groaning as a result of the final blow of its enemy, Multiple Sclerosis. I leaned over and kissed his forehead one last time, drawing his eye-lids shut as I stepped back. He lay in the arms of his beloved and now heart-broken wife. I moved to comfort my mother before going to make the necessary phone calls. Five years on and it seems like just last night.
Reflection on worldly doctrines of creation
I wonder what I might have felt that night, and many nights afterwards, if the sovereign God had not claimed my affections. What would that night have looked like if my God was not the Uncreated, Creator and Sustainer of all things?
I might have interpreted the event through a fatalistic ideology that would limit God’s power to intervene. Mankind has rebelled against its Creator and now we live in a broken world, riddled by disease and illness. God was powerless to prevent my dad from getting Multiple Sclerosis. He was powerless to prevent him deteriorating at the pace in which he did and so it was merely inevitability that his body would eventually fail him – the simple cause-and-effect of broken human biology, operating outside the control of God.
Or perhaps without a God of providence I might have put it down to chance. It just so happened that my dad was my dad; it just so happened that he suffered this illness; it just so happened that he died on this particular day at this particular time; it just so happened that I found myself in this family at this moment.
The thing is, throughout this period of my life, I just could not believe in either fatalism or fluke. My dad’s passing and all of the emotions and thoughts that came with it just could not be explained by fatalism or fluke. I wanted to thank God for providing me with my father; for providing my mum with her husband; for providing my sisters with their dad. But why thank a god who is powerless to intervene? Is he even the one to thank, if everything is just one big fluke? Indeed if everything is one big fluke then why do I feel the need to thank anyone or offer any praise for my dad’s life – it’s all meaningless anyway, isn’t it?
Fatalism nor fluke could explain it. But rather, as I observe the secondary causes that placed me in that particular situation at that particular time, things point towards purpose rather than accident; to intent rather than fluke; to intervention after intervention rather than mere cause-and-effect.
Reflection on providence
Not long before that night, perhaps just months before, a transformation had taken place in my life. I had gone from seeking pleasure and popularity (indeed from finding pleasure in popularity) to no longer caring about people’s perceptions and opinions. I had become a Christian. God had revealed to me the dazzling wonder of his grace in the person of Jesus Christ against the jet-black backdrop of my now mournful past. I was no longer seeking the empty pleasures characteristic of twenty-first century adolescence but was now in hot pursuit of knowing more and more of my Saviour.
In quite possibly the most painful time of my mum’s life, she didn’t need a self-indulgent adolescent around the house. She needed someone who could point her to her God. She needed someone who could care for her and who could serve her. God had saved me so as to provide for her in this way.
In a dark and confusing time for two young teenage girls, the last thing they needed was an older brother who was leading the way in empty living. They needed someone who could lead the way in how to grieve with hope. God saved me so as to provide them in this way.
The secondary causes that had placed me in that particular situation at that particular time pointed overwhelmingly to a purposeful and powerful God.
This God of purpose and power revealed himself also to be a God of great care. I saw him caring for my mum and my sisters. I saw him care for us as a family in intimately kind ways. One family friend thought that we wouldn’t like to drive around in a wheelchair-accessible car any longer and so gave us her car. Many people gave us money to see us through what were financially difficult days. Church members brought round meals for us well into the following month. All of these acts of kindness pointed towards a God of tremendous care.
Not only did these things point to his care for us as a family but also to the fact that he knew and understood our situation. As our Creator, ‘the LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth – he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.’ (Ps. 33:13-15). I knew his providence then to be not a detached providence, but an intimately involved care and governing. This brought comfort in knowing that I and my family are worth ‘more than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10:31) to God.
Reflections on God’s sovereignty as Creator
What gave God the right to rule over this situation – to move people to generosity and to manoeuvre circumstances – is the fact that, as Creator of everything, he owns everything and everyone. Through seeing that my dad’s life was not his own (‘the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away’ – Job 1:21); through seeing that my mum’s life was not her own (she would not have chosen this course of events), it came home to me that I did not only belong to God because he had ransomed me in the Lord Jesus, but that even if I did not bow the knee to him, he is still my rightful Owner.
This had a significant impact on how I responded to that situation. As the rightful Owner of all things – including me – I had no right to shake my fist at God and complain of his dealings. I remembered something that my uncle and aunty had written on the order of service for the funeral of their 10 year old daughter and it struck a chord – “We thank God for loaning Megan to us for 10 great years.” They understood how the reality that God, as Creator, having an implied ownership of all things impacted on their response to him. I was beginning to learn a similar lesson.
In the midst of the difficulty, the truth that God is a wise and good ruler brought much comfort. Because God is wise, I could trust him to deal wisely with me. I could trust him that even though at the time things were unclear and painful, he was working out his wise purposes. He understands his creation better than anyone else does. Who better to have ordain my steps and circumstances? Many a nights were spent during this period of time sitting and resting in the knowledge that God is a wise Sovereign.
Many a nights were spent marvelling at the fact that God is not only a wise Sovereign, but a benevolent Sovereign also. His creation is good (Genesis 1) because it comes from Him, and so I could trust him to be able to work all things together for my good, and for my family’s good (Romans 8:28). This brings a new dimension to reflecting on the past as God, in manoeuvring circumstances and ruling over his creation, is not just showing off his power or his wisdom, but is working for the good of his creation. There is a great deal of comfort to be found in reflecting on this truth.
At the heart of God’s benevolent care for his creation is his care for his people. Not only is he able to work all things together for his peoples’ good, but he does work all things together for his peoples’ good. During this time upon which I am reflecting, it brought great hope to rest in the knowledge of God’s good intentions.
Reflections on God’s will in creating
Having a biblical doctrine of creation means believing nothing happens by chance. Believing that the opposite is true only brings a sense of hopelessness. My dad’s death would have been pointless. The grief that I was experiencing would have been merely an inconvenience. But knowing that God creates and sustains by his will (Revelation 4:11), meant that I could have a very real hope that my dad had not died in vain; that the grief I was experiencing had purpose. Looking back, much character shaping was done through that event. God willed that my dad would die, and that is a hope-inspiring truth.
The fact that God sustains his creation by his will also gave me strength to carry on. If God did not sustain by his will, then by implication I am self-existent. That’s not good news when you feel incredibly frail and life seems so obviously fragile. But the truth is that since God is the purposeful Sustainer, then I am invincible until God says otherwise. Grief would not overwhelm me. The seemingly immense responsibility ahead of looking after my younger sisters and mum would not crush me. God would sustain; God did sustain.
Therefore, all the glory belongs to God. The world might look at this situation and think that it speaks of my strength or resolve. The fact of the matter is that it speaks of God’s strength and resolve. To him belongs all the praise as it is due to him that we, his creatures, are sustained.
Providence and the biblical doctrine of creation is good news. It inspires hope, brings comfort, gives meaning, and allows us to interpret history in light of these things. As Creator, Owner and Sustainer he is due all the glory for everything that is praiseworthy.
Personally, it means that I can look back on an emotional event and not hate God. It means that there is nothing in God to hate, and indeed I have no right to do anything but praise him. It means that even though I don’t understand everything that has happened, I can trust that his purposes and intentions are good and wise, and so rest in the fact that I don’t need to understand everything.
It is then a great joy to finish with the words of Revelation 4:11,
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”