Saturday, August 7, 2010

Natural limitations vs. Divine provision

This post is cribbed from an email I sent to a group of friends, but it should be interesting and profitable even without the discussion that preceded it.


Hey guys, great discussion on the group today. I've been thinking about the first topic, the dichotomy between finite natural resources (and the human needs thereof) and infinite divine resources (and how we need provision from this too).

What I said on the call was that infinite divine provision "trumps" natural limitations, such as Jesus multiplying food to feed the 5000 and the 4000. However, in the same parable Jesus tells the disciples to collect the leftover scraps of bread. So at first glance there really is a paradox here: why would God who can multiply food tell people to collect the scraps of leftover bread and take it along? If he can multiply food, then "wasting" food becomes irrelevant. In a hypothetical scenario, why didn't Jesus multiply the food so much that it could feed 10000 and leave piles of bread in the dirt when everyone was done? It would have been a great testament to the extravagant, wasteful love of God, and yet he was not wasteful. He gave out as much food was needed and then stopped. It's actually somewhat surprising that there was ONLY 12 basketfuls of bread leftover, because that means that Jesus did not make too much.

There are two old testament parallels I can think of (I'm sure others can name more). One is the manna from heaven, where the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. God prevented people from hording by making the extra food spoil, so that they would have to come to him every day, but once again you see that the resource (manna given) matched the need. The second is the jars of oil that were multiplied for the widow (2 Kings 4). Once again you see that the oil stopped flowing when all the jars were filled, so there was provision to fill every jar to the fullest, but it stopped flowing so that oil was not wasted and poured out on the ground with nothing to contain it.

I believe all of these examples strongly highlight the importance of resource stewardship. Everything we have been given should be well managed (cf. Joseph in Pharaoh's house), and in an aggregate sense this means that we as a people should manage national resources well: natural resources, economic resources, technological resources, and the land, people and properties of our country. I believe that we individually and as a group collectively have a responsibility to govern the earth correctly and with prudence, including the preservation of natural habitat. In Revelation it says that God will destroy those who destroy the earth (Rev 11:18). Obviously it's important to not fit in that category (people who destroy the earth), but of course this is only one aspect of stewardship.

It's a very important question to ask how and why to reconcile natural stewardship (stewarding natural resources like money, property, land, human resources, etc) with divine provision. I believe that there are two equally-flawed extremes one could take and the best path is walking between them. On one extreme is focusing entirely on natural stewardship ("wisdom") and ignoring divine provision ("faith"). This would be the standard secular humanist perspective. Cf. Matthew 6:25-34, but in particular verse 32-33. In 32 you see that pagans (those who do not know God) run after natural resources, because they do not know divine provision. I'm sure they are great stewards of their possessions, because that's all they have.

The other extreme is ignoring "wisdom" and relying on "faith". In this case, you have people who believe that God will provide everything they need, but don't bother to save money or invest, or handle their finances correctly, etc. This is common in certain streams of charismatic Christianity and I don't think it's the right perspective.

Ultimately I don't think the flaws with either of these extremes is in actions, but ultimately the root issue is in the mentality. You see that again in Matt 6 where Jesus focuses on WORRY for "wisdom" based people. While I don't have a corresponding passage for "faith" based people, I think the bad mentality there is simply not understanding the ways of God and the original mandate of humanity (Gen 1:28, to care for and govern the earth). I don't know if I can identify one root mentality behind this behavior, but at least I can show in numerous ways how it contravenes God's desire and intention for humanity.

So in conclusion I think the best perspective is to combine both approaches with the Godly mentality of Matt 6:33-34, to seek first the Kingdom, to not worry about material possessions, to govern what is within our control with wisdom and intelligence, but always to have faith and belief in the abiding presence and provision of God. Do not seek after material things, do not let them control you, but use wisdom in investing what you have (donation is a form of investment), and let your peace rest in the knowledge that God will always provide what you need.

Finding the balancing point between faith and wisdom can be tricky, but if you seek the heart of God about this and seek his ways I believe that he will give us all clarity on this matter. See Psalm 25 for a GREAT prayer on learning the ways of God.

The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.


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