How and Why We Reject God’s Providence

Nov 30, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

In last week’s reflection, Thanksgiving: Skin-Deep vs. Profound, we explored why so many of us Catholics have such difficulty with a deep, wholehearted thanksgiving to God, living in a complete gratitude, in all circumstances, with all our being. In that reflection, I focused on how our internal fragmentation contributes to a lack of thanksgiving.

This week, we are focusing on another critical cause of a lack of thanksgiving: failing to recognize God’s Providence in all things. Romans 8:28 [my favorite verse in all of Scripture, as many of you know] reads as follows: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

In everything. God is working good for those who love Him in everything, in all things. No exceptions. All things. As I wrote last week,

Everything that God actively wills or passively permits is perfectly tailored to draw us toward our highest good, if we love Him. But most of us don’t realize that. We don’t think that way. We see with very limited vision, and we judge circumstances according to how much they appeal to us in the moment, not seeing the good God intends in them for us, even when they cause us pain or discomfort.

Today, I want to expand the theme of our failure to see God’s Providence in all things. Why? Because if throughout your being, you sense God’s Providence in all things, that deep knowing will evoke a positive response in you. Naturally. Spontaneously. Without so much effort of will. A deep sense of God’s Providence is essential to holiness. It is essential to fostering the desire to be with God in contemplative union. It is essential to abandoning yourself to His will completely, without reservations.

Without a deep sense of God’s Providence in all things, parts of you will inevitably struggle with negative God images, and particularly with hesitations and doubts about whether He really loves you. Remember that one of the five conditions that promote secure attachment from secular theorists Brown and Elliott in their book is a felt support for the best self / unconditional support and encouragement – in other words, does the attachment figure will the highest good for the child and is he attuned enough to support and encourage that highest good for the child?

In my experience, the primary difference between Catholics who live lives of profound peace, joy, security, a deep spiritual childhood, with a sense of awe and wonder from those who do not boils down to one primary factor and that one factor is this:

The degree to which you sense God’s Providence in everything that happens in your life throughout your whole being, in all your parts.

This is the determining factor for a deep sense of both spiritual and emotional well-being. This is the most obvious determinant that shakes out Catholics along the spectrum of wellness: How integrated is Romans 8:28 into all your experience and being?

Two ways to sense God’s Providence in all things

The way I see it, there are two ways to sense God’s Providence in a particular circumstance: 1) by experiencing it; and 2) by faith.

Let’s explore these in more depth.

Experience. Psalm 34, attributed to King David, exhorts us in verse 8 to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Not just to think about God’s goodness, not to just meditate on it, not to appreciate God’s goodness from afar, but to taste and see. That is a very visceral, sensory, embodied, intimate, and immediate way of knowing God’s Providence. Robert Alter, in his commentary, The Hebrew Bible, writes, “The sensory concreteness of the verb [taste and see] is somewhat startling, perhaps intended to suggest the powerful immediacy of experiencing God’s beneficence.”

So we need to be open to the immediate experience of God’s goodness in all things, tasting it, seeing it. But that usually starts with faith.

Faith. We will not always be able to just “taste and see” God’s goodness in our immediate experience. We will go through desolations, times of spiritual darkness. And some of us may never have had a deep, immediate experience of God’s goodness. What do we do then?

We live by faith and not by sight. Our Lord said to Thomas when appearing to him after His Resurrection: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29). The lack of immediate experience of consolations, not immediately experiencing the fullness of God’s Providence allows us the freedom to choose whether to believe in God’s goodness or not. There is always enough light to see God’s Providence by faith if we choose, if we ask.

Let’s take a look at that example of Job in chapter 1. Verses 20-21 describe Job’s reaction after learning that his oxen, asses, and camels were stolen by raiding parties, his servants murdered, his sheep and shepherds consumed by fire, and all his sons and daughters killed in a house collapse:

Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job still worshiped the Lord, saying “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” That takes faith, especially when so much of what Job loved had been stripped away.

In Genesis, Chapters 37-45, Joseph, the son of Jacob, at age 17 shares with his brothers and parents his two dreams. In his naïveté and enthusiasm, Joseph fails to appreciate the murderous jealousy and hate rising within his brothers. His brothers cast him into a pit, seriously consider killing him, and then choose to sell him to into slavery to Midian traders, concocting a cover story of his death to their father, complete with a bloody robe as fabricated evidence.

Joseph endures real hardships – the travel to Egypt, being sold to Potiphar, and the dangerous intrigues of Potiphar’s wife’s attempts to seduce him, leading him to be accused and arrested.

Joseph falls to the lowest status imaginable on the face of the earth at the time – a Hebrew slave, languishing in an Egyptian prison, under the penalty of death, a stranger held captive in a strange land. To many of us, such a situation would look hopeless.

Yet Joseph, without understanding what was happening or why, had great confidence in God’s Providence. And from his abject conditions, he rose to become the second most powerful man in the world, second only to Pharaoh, effectively governing the greatest empire of the time. And now, in a completely unexpected turn of events, Joseph was able to save his family and his people, all of Israel, from famine.

In revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph said: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” [Genesis 45:4-5]

In retrospect, Joseph could see the Providential hand of God in all his trials. He had lived by faith. Now he could taste and see by his experience.

Our skepticism of God and “localized omnipotence”

In contrast, so many of us Catholics adopt a Missourian attitude with regard to suffering. We reach for a kind of localized omniscience, insisting on understanding why. We demand to know God’s mind first. We do not live by faith. We insist: “Show me – now.”

At the end of time, we will see, when every knee shall bend – but then it’s too late for faith.

God tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. We do not understand God’s love very well. We cannot see it clearly with a natural eye, unaided by faith. That is why we need divine revelation, coupled with the virtue of faith.

Most of us have a “private reserve” where we do not believe God’s Providence is active – a health condition, finances, the waywardness of a loved one, something in our lives that we do not believe His Providence touches. We build a narrative around this private reserve which may be conscious or unconscious that casts God in a negative role – disconnected, uncaring, cold, distant, punishing – so different than the loving Father that He is.

In our culture, it is becoming more and more common for people to reach for a localized omnipotence. “I determine my own gender” is an example. People believe that they can define marriage to suit their own desires and opinions. Author Louise L. Hay wrote “I change my life when I change my thinking. I am Light. I am Spirit. I am a wonderful, capable being. And it is time for me to acknowledge that I create my own reality with my thoughts.”

There is a kernel of truth in that – we can change our subjective experience of reality by changing our thinking. But your thoughts will not change the biological reality of your sex. Or your height, weight, or eye color.

I really believe that if we were able to choose our own way, it would be devastating for us. Because of concupiscence, we are so prone to choose easier ways, ways which would lead to us being deconditioned morally and spiritually. We would get comfortable, overly comfortable. We would reduce the demands on ourselves. And as a result, we would wind up gravely injured.

The image I have for this is how living in low- or no-gravity conditions in space (an easier life, physically) rendered astronauts unable to walk upon their return to earth. You can check out this account of space station deconditioning in the article Three Reasons Why Astronauts Can’t Walk after Landing on Earth.

God knows better than us what we need and he chooses for us what will orient us toward our highest good, if we love Him. We need to be humble enough to accept that.

So many natural things can get in the way…

In episode 96 of my podcast Interior Integration for Catholics, titled I Am a Rock: How Trauma Hardens us Against Being Loved, I review how unresolved trauma hinders our openness to being loved, and can pull us to refuse to accept love both actively and passively. Unresolved trauma can pull us toward closing ourselves off in a protective way against love, to keep ourselves from experiencing feared abandonment, rejection, betrayal and mistreatment again – with the resulting pain, emotional distress and shame.

Parts within us generalize to God how others have let us down, disappointed us, failed us, lacked attunement, even abused and neglected us. Parts of us attribute to God the negative qualities of those who did not love us as they should. We assume that He is like those who failed us.

One critical response to trauma from among the factors that result from unresolved trauma that I discuss in episode 96, stands out: Avoidance. Avoidance and disconnection from God.

My friend and the co-founder of Souls and Hearts, Gerry Crete, referred to the Fall in the Garden of Eden as “The Original Trauma.” Not only was Adam and Eve’s disobedience the first human sin, but it also was the first trauma – and as a result, they hid in the bushes, avoiding God.

We need to resist the impulse that so many parts of us have to avoid God – we need to work with our parts to introduce them to God as He actually is, not as they imagine Him to be in their distorted God images. If God actually was like these parts’ negative God images, it would make sense to put as much distance as possible between us and Him. But He is not like that. In the weekly reflection from September 21, 2022, The Deepest Human Formation Work a Catholic Can Do, I discuss how to recognize and work through these negative God images.

The PIECES of your life…

Do you know that God loves you in all the PIECES of your life, as they are? In last week’s reflection, I introduced the PIECES of your life as an acronym that stands for:

Persons – Your family members, neighbors, coworkers, friends, all the people you are in contact with. Persons also includes saints, and spiritual beings such as your guardian angel as well as the three Persons of the Trinity. It includes all of you as well — body, soul, spirit, heart, mind.

Institutions – Your school, the company you work for, the Church, your parish, professional, social and fraternal organizations, etc.

Events – The things that happen in your life, and in the lives of those near to you.

Circumstances – Your current conditions, states of affairs and factors in your environment that impact your life and welfare, and the lives and welfare of those around you.

Experiences – what you perceive with your senses, and your internal reactions. These include your emotions, thoughts, impulses, desires, attitudes, perceptions, memories, temptations, pain, body sensations, distress, psychological symptoms and any other subjective happenings within your psyche, soul, or body.

Systems – integrated networks of interrelated members who interact in a larger whole, such as your family, your friend groups, social clubs, many of which may not be formal institutions.

Each of the PIECES of your life — even the ones you most resent or even hate — God either actively wills or passively permits to draw you into a deeper love. Most Catholics do not understand this. Most Catholics do not really believe this at anything like a deep level. Divine Providence is not integrated very well within them; it doesn’t hold across their various parts of modes of operating.

Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint Jure and St. Claude de la Colombiere in their excellent book Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence recount how this is so across so many domains in our lives including:

  1. In the natural incidents of our daily lives
  2. In public calamities
  3. In the cares and difficulties of family life
  4. In reverses a fortune
  5. In poverty and its hardships
  6. In adversity and disgrace
  7. In the effects of nature
  8. In sickness and infirmity
  9. In death and the manner of it
  10. In the loss of spiritual consolation
  11. In the consequences of our sins
  12. In interior trials
  13. In spiritual favors

These authors recount how “There is a story in the lives of the Desert Fathers of the laborer whose fields always gave better crops than those of his neighbors. When asked the reason, he replied that he always had whatever kind of season or weather he chose. “I never wish for any other kind of weather but what God wishes,” he explained, “and as I wish for everything that pleases God, He too gives me the sort of crop that pleases me.” [p. 42].

If you need a spiritual rational for God’s providence in adversity, buy that book. It’s short, simple and well-written. Two other books I recommend are Why Does God Permit Evil? by Dom Bruno Webb, which goes more deeply into the topic, and then also Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering by Eleonore Stump, which is a very deep dive into St. Thomas Aquinas’s views on theodicy, the field that explores the vindication of God’s goodness and His Providence in the face of evil and suffering in the world.

Thought experiment:

Imagine that you did have a deep sense of God’s Providence across all your parts – you understood with all your being, consistently, that everything that happens, everything that God wills actively or that He permits passively is specially tailored for you, personally, to bring you to your highest good.

What if you knew by faith and experience — beyond a doubt — that no matter what happens, no better thing could possibly happen to foster your contemplative union with God (if you love the Lord).

  • What would your reaction be to the PIECES in your life, knowing God’s Providence so deeply?
  • How would your reactions be different than your current reactions to the PIECES of your life?

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Discalced Carmelite Abbott Marc Foley in his excellent book The Context of Holiness: Psychological and Spiritual Reflections on the Life of St. Therese of Lisieux, “One…misconception is that the spiritual life is an encapsulated sphere, cloistered from the realities of daily living….we have only one life composed of various dimensions. Our emotional life, intellectual life, social life, work life, sex life, spiritual life are simple ways of speaking of the different facets of our one life.” (p. 1).

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A look ahead…

In the next weekly reflection, I will introduce a description of steps to work with the PIECES of your life, in another acronym: ROTATE. ROTATE describes the process of connecting with God’s Providence through the PIECES of your life. Most people start with Rejecting God’s Providence. Some move on to some Openness and then to Tolerating the PIECES in their lives. A few get to Acceptance, which spans from grudging to willing. Fewer still get to Thanksgiving and the holy get to Embracing all the PIECES. So stay tuned for that!

Second Sunday of Advent

Check out Dr Gerry and me bringing in psychology and human formation in our discussion of the Mass reading for the Second Sunday of Advent in our Be With the Word episode titled Empathy, Sin, and Relationships.

In Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Please forward this weekly reflection to those who you think might benefit from it – sharing buttons are below. Use this reflection to start a conversation with your friends and family about God’s Providence and your understanding of and reaction to His Providence in the PIECES of your life.

P.P.S. Praying the Litanies of the Heart can open our hearts to God’s love and care for us. Check out these powerful prayers from the heart at our Litanies of the Heart page here.

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