So Much More, p. 23-32 – Part 3: The Providence Game

A&E take stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD) dead seriously. See, look, I’ll prove it to you (emphasis A&E’s).

After years of studying the decline of our world, God’s requirements for righteous conduct, and how He is pressing His lawsuit against our disobedient nation, we believe that the way daughters are treating their fathers is one of today’s biggest issues. One of the reasons our society is in moral shambles is because dishonoring sons and daughters are invoking God’s curses on the land. They’re not only bringing destruction and misery upon themselves…but also upon their nations, as God warned in Malachi 4:6: “…[turn] the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

Hear that, girls? If you don’t practice SAHD like we say God says, you are literally calling down curses on America. This may seem like an overreaction, but I’d like to draw your attention to that little phrase earlier in the paragraph, in which God is described as “pressing His lawsuit” against America. A&E explain this idea a few pages beforehand, and from their standpoint, non-SAHDers being cursed by God probably seems like a pretty reasonable conclusion (emphasis A&E’s).

When we were young our father taught us to study the Bible, then interpret the depressing signs of the times that we see around us in terms of God’s covenant with man. If we obey Him, He blesses us. If we disobey Him, we subject ourselves to His judgment and loving chastisement. Because of international departure from God’s law, every Western nation is under God’s promised judgment. For some nations, the chastisement is more severe than for others.

A&E’s logic here is simple. Essentially, it goes like this. If something bad is happening to your country and/or people, then your country and/or people sinned and are thus under God’s judgment. See the problem yet? I see several. First, Jesus encountered a similar idea in the Gospels, and did not react positively.

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

In this scene, Jesus is faced with an audience who thinks that victims of murder and random accident somehow earned these things because of their sin. Jesus responds by turning this around on his audience, saying that these people were no better or worse than anyone else, and that judgment eventually comes to everyone equally. In other words, it is not automatic that bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people. This is a recurring theme in the Bible; Psalms especially has numerous passages in which the writer laments that the wicked are seemingly allowed to go unchecked and unpunished:

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?
Why do You hide in times of trouble?
The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. (Psalm 10:1-2)

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and hear me;
I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily,
Because of the voice of the enemy,
Because of the oppression of the wicked;
For they bring down trouble upon me,
And in wrath they hate me. (Psalm 55:1-3)

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Defend me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,
And save me from bloodthirsty men.
For look, they lie in wait for my life;
The mighty gather against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.
They run and prepare themselves through no fault of mine.
Awake to help me, and behold! (Psalm 59:1-4)

In other words, A&E’s view of life is far too neat, orderly and simple, and doesn’t even take into account the full testimony of the Bible. In the real world, murderers go free and innocent people are kept on death row for decades. Both these people will eventually face judgment, and justice will be done. But we may not see it this side of heaven. Thus a quest by us non-omniscient humans to ferret out which specific sins caused which specific real-time misfortunes, is extremely difficult even on a personal level, and on the scale of nations and people groups it becomes basically impossible.

Another way to see A&E’s mistakes is to spell out the unstated logical corollaries of their ideas. Corollary #1 is that, if there is currently peace in your country, then your country has not sinned (at least not egregiously enough to warrant a national judgment). Corollary #2 is that the bad things happening to your country will automatically stop if the populace collectively stops committing a particular sin.

Since I don’t think corollary #2 has ever been tested in real life (at least not on a large scale), let’s focus on corollary #1. First, there are Biblical counterexamples here also; most notably, “the days of Noah.” Here is Jesus again, this time speaking of the Second Coming:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:26-29)

Whether you believe the flood was global or local, the point here is that in the society being judged, life was proceeding as normal right up until the time of the disaster. There are no indications that they were being struck with plagues, visited with war, or having some kind of financial meltdown. So peace and/or a general lack of suffering, cannot be a failsife indicator that the society in question is not engaging in widespread and entrenched sin.

Now for an example from much more recent history. Ancient Greece was a pagan society, which condoned all sorts of behavior that A&E would find repulsive and immoral. And yet, God allowed ancient Greece to have an enormous impact on Western civilization, an impact we’re still feeling today. How do A&E explain this? Why did God allow such a profoundly immoral society to spread its influence over nearly half the world, if all bad societies are judged and all good ones are blessed? Or is a lasting philosophical and artistic legacy spanning over two millennia not really a blessing? (A strange assertion for the crowd that preaches about multigenerational faithfulness and a family legacy.)

17649_PHIL_WHO_on_site_Ebola_outbreak_2014The long and the short of it is, we cannot track national sin in real time, simply by watching the news and figuring out which countries or people groups are currently suffering. Do we really believe that the ebola epidemic in Liberia was caused by some kind of national sin on the Liberians’ part, and that it will end if the Liberians repent of whatever they’ve supposedly done? If broken families can be a national judgment on the United States for embracing feminism, then ebola can certainly be a national judgment on Liberia for…something.

In the end, though, I doubt A&E and their fellow patriocentrists really want to apply this thinking consistently. If they did, they might have to rethink their fascination with a certain key period of American history. It’s well known that many patriocentrists adore the antebellum South (see here at Diary of an Autodidact for extensive discussion and lots of quotes). But didn’t the South suffer some pretty extreme misfortune in the Civil War? According to their own logic, then, the South must have been disobeying God, right? After all, bad things were happening to them. Thus, God must have been punishing them for kidnapping Africans and abusing black slaves. Right?

Oh wait. Patriocentrists adore the South and think it was “the last nation of the first Christendom”[1]? Oops. I guess…God screwed up?

And speaking of the antebellum South, A&E are really only the latest in a long line of Christians who thought they could infallibly read the tea leaves of God’s providence. Mark Noll, in his book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (which you should read, like, now) explores the discourse about providence surrounding the Civil War:

Belief that God controlled events had always been foundational wherever biblical religion prevailed. Yet in nineteenth-century America confidence in the human ability to fathom God’s providential actions rose to new heights. When the prevalence of religious conviction was added to widespread self-confidence in the powers of human perception, assessment, and interpretation, the result was a flourishing of providential reasoning. Americans thought they could see clearly what the world was like, what God was like, what factors drove the world, who was responsible for events, and how the moral balance sheet should be read. They were children of the Enlightenment as well as children of God.[2]

Both North and South, much like A&E, were completely convinced that God was on their side, and that he would bless them and ordain their victory. Unfortunately, somebody had to be wrong. When the chips fell, Northerners predictably asserted that they had been right all along. Southerners insisted that their loss was a disciplinary act of God, and did not change the fact that they had been the ones fighting for the moral high ground.

The lesson of all this? We can play the providence game all we want, but most of time – and especially when politics are involved! – it has very little to do with God, and a lot more to do with our own opinions and preconceptions and how we project them onto a situation. Unless we are omniscient (and I assume A&E aren’t), we can never know for certain how God is working through a particular situation; and if we do feel we can hazard a guess, we should do it humbly, since most of us have not been given special insight into God’s plans. And this is why I don’t play the providence game – I’m too small and imperfect, and God is too big.

[2]Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, p. 75.

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9 comments on “So Much More, p. 23-32 – Part 3: The Providence Game

  1. Great post.

    Also, thanks for the link. I recently bought The Civil War As Theological Crisis, and intend to read it soon. There seem to be so many reverberations in our own times from these past ideas.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Hester, every time you write “A&E”, I first think of the cable channel.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In this scene, Jesus is faced with an audience who thinks that victims of murder and random accident somehow earned these things because of their sin. Jesus responds by turning this around on his audience, saying that these people were no better or worse than anyone else, and that judgment eventually comes to everyone equally. In other words, it is not automatic that bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people.

    I always think of this as even Jesus says “sometimes, shit happens.”

    Which is funny; I’m back to what I originally thought about the passage, before I was told what It Really Meant.

  4. Kathy H says:

    i’m new to this blog; can you tell me what A & E stands for? I tried it in your ‘search’ box but couldn’t find anything. Thanks

    • Hester says:

      A&E stands for Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin (Anna = A, Elizabeth = E). I didn’t want to type out “Anna Sofia and Elizabeth” or “the Botkins” or “the Botkins sisters” every time I referenced them so I shortened it to A&E. I should probably put something at the top of each post explaining that.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Yeah.. When I hear “A&E”, I first think of the cable channel.

        What you could do is use their full names the first time “A&E” is mentioned in a posting such as “Anna Sofia & Elizabeth Botkin (A&E)” and use “A&E” from then on. This is similar to the way it’s done in legal documents; the first time something long and involved is mentioned it’s spelled out in detail, then given an alias that’s referred to in subsequent mentions.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    If broken families can be a national judgment on the United States for embracing feminism, then ebola can certainly be a national judgment on Liberia for…something.

    Being black and running away from a certain Peculiar Institution re Animate Property?

    Add your next paragraph — “… If they did, they might have to rethink their fascination with a certain key period of American history. It’s well known that many patriocentrists adore the antebellum South (see here at Diary of an Autodidact for extensive discussion and lots of quotes)…” — and my brain makes a connection. (If any crazy patrio preacher starts running his pie hole regarding that connection, I expect royalties.)

  6. Hester says:

    Comment from a previously banned commenter not approved. Please do not interact with me further, including replying to this comment or otherwise commenting again on this post. You are banned unless and until I say otherwise.

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