Many Christians have the idea based on scripture that God promises to provide for us. I have a sense that this is true, but not in the way we thought. It seems that we have the idea that God will provide everything and keep us from trouble in this life, unconditionally.
But something inspired me to think differently about this recently. It may have been hearing about martyrs. I’ve heard that many early Christians realized that their willing deaths were a witness to radical nature of God’s nation. The fact that they died joyously and blessing their enemies was a testament that something incomprehensible to the natural mind was happening. There was some other worldly substance to the empire which Jesus had started. In fact, as I understand it, “martyr” originally simply meant “witness”; it was because of the way Christians died as a witness that martyr came to have the meaning with which we now associate it.
It should be obvious from this that these early Christians didn’t see persecution as antithetical to God’s promise to provide. This is where my mind is blown. I think Jesus taught us not to worry, not because we’ll always be free of trouble, but because we’re safe in God’s hands whether we are well or we have trouble—or even face death. This is radical. It’s easy to say that God provides when we have all we need. But to still hold that God provides when we don’t have what we need and/or are facing trials, and to hold this not out of irrational wishful thinking but rather understand that this is really part of the good news… that’s amazing.
I find it interesting that Jesus, in teaching us not to worry, points to birds and flowers as an example of how God provides. It is interesting because aren’t birds sometimes injured? Don’t flowers die? In fact, Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:27 NIV) (The obvious implied answer is “no”). This sounds to me as though Jesus expects us to die despite God’s provision.
I believe the in God’s provision. The Bible teaches us this. Yet… Jesus was tortured and died. Paul went through all kinds of shipwrecks, beatings, lack of provisions, etc. All of the twelve save for John were killed for their faith. Numerous early Christians were persecuted and killed. If all this happened to these faithful followers, the either God doesn’t provide or God’s provision must mean something else.
I argue that these Christians understood what God’s provision meant, an understanding which we have lost. The persecution which the early Christians experienced shouldn’t make us afraid nor should we feel that God has left us on our own here. I believe Jesus intends for us to have our provisions met. Yet our world is in conflict and the forces of sin and evil mean that this doesn’t happen in many cases.
It’s a massive paradigm shift. But because early Christians had an understanding of the nation of God, they could face these trails with joy. It’s not that the persecution was pleasant, but they maintained faith in God to carry them through and hold them on the other side. Can we recapture this understanding today?
I admit: at the moment, I don’t know how I could prove this from the Bible. There are a number of places which seem to say that God will provide without qualification. Yet I think what I’ve said fits what we know from the new testament overall as well as real life. What do you think?
I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t life worth more than food? And isn’t the body worth more than clothes? Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren’t you worth much more than birds? Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?
And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers. It is God who clothes the wild grass—grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, burned up in the oven. Won’t he be all the more sure to clothe you? What little faith you have!
So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings. – Jesus as quoted in Matthew 6:25-34 GNT (corresponding passage in Luke 12:22-31)