Last night during family devotions, we studied Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4). As we were reading and discussing this passage, I saw that the NLT Study Bible contains the following note regarding Jesus’ first temptation, “Israel complained constantly about hunger in the wilderness, but Jesus depended on God’s strength to sustain him.” While I agree with what the writer says in contrasting Israel and Jesus, if not careful, one could take this notion of God’s providence to the extreme and arrive at a completely unbiblical passivity. Such thinking goes well beyond any scriptural description of providence and preservation into the realm of a radically unscriptural fatalism and determinism.
Our faith in God and his providential care for us should give us great comfort in the face of any and all situations. We mustn’t let our ‘faith’ paralyze us or lead us to inaction where God has provided a clear avenue to accomplish his ends. In other words, we must realize that God is a god who uses means, both in the ‘big things’ and in the ‘little.’ As Luther writes:
Those who assume God will take care of everything and don’t think it’s important to make use of what’s available should carefully note this example [of Rebekah and Jacob in Gen 27]. These kinds of people sometimes don’t take any action, because they believe that if something is meant to happen, then it will happen with or without their help. They even put themselves in unnecessary danger, expecting God to protect them because of his promises.
But these kinds of thoughts are sinful, because God wants you to use what you have available and make the best of your opportunities. He wants to accomplish his will through you. For example, he gave you a father and mother, even though he could have created you and fed you without them. This means that in your everyday life, you have the responsibility to work. You plow, plant, and harvest, but God is the one who provides the outcome.
If you stopped giving a baby milk, reasoning that the baby could live without food if the baby were meant to live, then you would be fooling yourself and sinning. God has given mothers breasts to nurse their babies. He could easily feed children without milk if he chose to. But God wants you to use the resources he has provided.
So we plan diligently and labor vigorously, all the while knowing that our Heavenly Father is working his will in and through our efforts. “So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens” (Jas 1.16-17, NLT)