Providence and the Blessings of Limits

Providence: Its Burden, Delay, Drudgery, and Reward

by Penrod

The linguistic root of provide and thus of providence is the Latin pro videre—to see ahead. Whatever the divine part of providence may be, basic human pro videre is part of its fabric. We humans know, experience, and contribute this part of providence.

Human beings can see ahead. The conscious power of humans to imagine and plan for the future is far greater than the capacity of other creatures in this regard.

Seeing ahead and imagining the future is integral to the mystery of human consciousness; one of its marvelous dimensions. The mystery of consciousness intrigues us and invites us to ponder it and consciousness provides the facility to think about itself. We seek to understand our origins and the beginnings of our part in providence. Because of consciousness we regularly exercise the power to choose. Throughout the last several centuries for example, many humans have pondered the story of Adam and Eve and the choice they made. Their choice is usually described as a pretty bad one; many theological and some biblical descriptions conclude that it was totally bad—worst thing that ever happened, a blight that humans must live with and in forever—except as God saves us.

Suppose, though, we think of their choice less drastically—as the birth or flowering of consciousness, for example. Following their choice, Adam and Eve had to take care of themselves. To do so they were forced to rely upon their pro videre—their ability to see ahead and to provide. They quickly made clothing out of leaves. Had they had much greater, though not to be expected, power to see ahead, they could have foreseen the garment and fashion industry. Though humans have the ability to think ahead, there is no assurance that we will do so wisely or that our acting based upon seeing ahead will always be to our benefit.

So there they were and here we are, stuck with the burden of providence. To state this burden in a striking manner, there are chores to be done before I can play. In addition, there are arrangements people (one’s parents, government, community, schools, neighborhood, ad infinitum) must make to create conditions such that one can play at all. It is good to be taught to be grateful for all that’s been done on our behalf and good to teach to our children to appreciate these fruits of seeing ahead. The blessing of grateful hearts notwithstanding, we are stuck with the reality that provision must be made before we can play; that’s the burden of providence.

Fortunately there are people who delight in the acts of providing that precede play. A sincere tip of the hat to those who create, do good labor, and take responsibility for personal, family, and community good, myself included. There are other values besides fun, but fun is a great value that often seems to need defending. This little essay is a look at the mystery of providence through the eyes of a person whose pearl of great price is the joy of play.

The delay of providence is obvious. Chores first. In my case, I had to finish my Young Ambassador lessons from “Back to the Bible Broadcast” before I could play on Saturdays. I’d hear my friends through open windows already playing.

The drudgery. The drudgery is easily made clear as well. I’m in the garden pulling weeds under the hot sun and can’t go swimming until I’m done. I think of this drudgery, doing same-after-same, whatever the necessary (or so-called necessary) provision (pro videre) as the dark, shadow side of kairos (the word the Greeks used to distinguish the time of fullness, moments of eternal quality, from chronos, chronological time). I call the time of drudgery anti-kairos because it is hard to believe the weeding will ever be done. Only dogged faith and a firm vision of City Beach can serve as antidote to providential drudgery.

So, it’s a curse, this need to see ahead, to provide for ourselves. People who know the Genesis story should not be surprised. This curse is with us right up to our deaths. Does any other creature know of its death, see that it is providence, see ahead to it? Even provide for it?

When the time for swimming finally comes or we hear the crack of the bat and the smack of the ball in the pud (catcher’s mitt) or cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians race around the neighborhood or wooden swords strike garbage can cover shields or kids make forays into the woods or play hopscotch or adults enjoy coffee and stories with friends, we experience the reward of providence. When these times come, no matter one’s age, we find ourselves immensely blessed. When these times come, our spirits leap for joy and with grateful hearts we relish the rewards of providence in deeply satisfying kairotic moments.

Our cups may run over.

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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