My last post took a quick look at God’s providential use of means in the life of Israel during the wilderness wandering and in our lives each day over against idleness in the name of ‘faith.’ My point there was that we mustn’t use faith as an excuse for inaction when God has clearly provided means by which to accomplish his promises. On the contrary, in faith, we utilize these plain, ordinary means God has graciously given us instead of expecting (or dare I say demanding) God to respond through some extraordinary means.
Is this a real shift in thinking for us? For many of us it is not. For some, however, especially in the Word-Faith movement, this might be a huge shift in understanding. While I appreciate their openness to God’s extraordinary means, i.e. miracles, there is much in the movement that is deeply troubling–from the pragmatic problem of expecting God to heal by miracle in lieu of seeking medical care to the theological problem of turning God into a jinn/genie at our beck and call. While God certainly can and does use extraordinary means, they are just that, extra-ordinary.
Back to my focus…more from Luther on God’s use of means, plain and ordinary, to accomplish his will:
We aren’t supposed to question if God in his unchangeable wisdom is willing to help us and give us what we need. Instead, we should say with conviction, “I believe that God will take care of me, but I don’t know his plan. I don’t know exactly how he’s going to fulfill his promise.”
So we must take advantage of the opportunities we have at hand. We have to earn our money through hard work and diligence. In order to stay alive, we have to have milk, food, clothes, and so on. This means we have to cultivate the fields and harvest the crops. Providing for ourselves is a God-given responsibility. We can’t use God’s promise to take care of us as an excuse for not working diligently. That would be wrong. God doesn’t want us to be lazy and idle. He tells us in Genesis, “By the sweat of your brow you will ear your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken” (Gen 3.19). He also says of the ground, “It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (v.18).
The Lord is saying, “I promise that I will take care of you and give you food. But to the best of your ability, I want you to take advantage of the opportunities I have made available to you. Otherwise, you will be testing me. However, if you are in need and have nothing available to you, at that time I will take care of you and give yo food in a miraculous way. But keep this in mind: if any opportunities aren’t available to you, don’t forget that I am the one who gave them to you so that you would be able to take care of yourselves.”
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 7:219)