From six years of college, I believe the most important lesson I’ve learned is contained in two words. The two terms express something uncannily alike, but completely dissimilar. There’s only the smallest of gaps between their meanings, a gap exactly the size of a mustard seed. The last six years have taught me the sliver of mountain-moving difference between these two words: precarious and precise.
Precarious. After high school, through college, I was always worrying about God’s will for my life, and anxiously trying to find that plan. Looking out over a sea of life possibilities, with paths veering off toward this college or that and this apartment or job or roommate, it seemed like there was too much to get in order. All of it mattered so much, so all of it must matter to God. He cared what I chose, which meant there must be certain choices He would rather see me make than other choices. Anxiety met every effort to make a decision. How could I know if I was bringing the right thing into my life?
Providence seemed as precarious as standing on the head of a needle.
Freshman year, I happened to get the most wonderful roommates. This made me anxious as I faced the next year; how could I make sure the same thing occurred again? What could I do to be sure to find God’s will for my life? Two weeks after moving to a strange city 2000 miles from anyone I knew, I chanced to meet a new best friend (exactly what I needed!) outside of a church I attended after 15 minutes’ glance at their website. How precarious! What if I had left early? It terrified me: how could I make decisions to ensure these things when they seemed so arbitrary, so precarious, so close to not happening.
I was Elisha’s servant looking out over enemy armies, terrified beside my peaceful master.
And, I was the Israelite in the wilderness, shown manna given from heaven, who wanted to gather up extra for the next day.
And, I was Peter at the Transfiguration, wanting to build a dwelling place to hold the wonderful happenings in one spot.
In my infant conception of providence, it was as though God handed everything out at the beginning of a life event so that we could turn to Him and say, “Thanks! I can handle it from here!” I was afraid that the precarious was a flash of startling luck, and I assumed that providence was expressed only in my day-to-day decisions. I trusted that providence lay in the stability of knowing tomorrow and acted as though God gave us His blessings indirectly, through stable jobs and five-year-plans in which we could trust.
In Scripture, I can think of only one story of God handing off the decisions and the means at the beginning of a life event, so that the recipient could handle it from there. This story is the story of the prodigal son.
So is mine. So is yours.
The instability of not knowing tomorrow, an instability which we sublimate into fear of missing God’s will, is not faith. God will lead us and give to us and love us. By planning what tomorrow brings, we can only turn into our own gods, convinced that providing for ourselves is the Christian life. We desperately want to say to God, “Thanks for the job! The school! The money! Now, I can take it from here!” God’s giving may, after all, be precarious.
But maybe the almost-didn’t-happen blessings aren’t there to prove how precarious providence is, but to remind us how precise it is. Balancing life on the head of a needle could be dangerous, but it looks an awful lot like balancing life on the head of a nail, a thing much more wonderful. What could be more precarious than the cross? And what could be more precise?
The appearance of the precarious melts before the fire of an omnipotent, omniscient God. However many enemy armies and uncertainties and dangers we face, they are always out-numbered by the Trinity. What on earth is more sublime than the thin metal nails that went through the body of God? Three slivers of iron held up the eternal destinies of an entire Earth of human soul and sin. The same God that precisely balanced everything including Himself on three little nails is the God that orchestrates every encounter you have today. His will won’t be undone or thwarted by our accidental misstep.
All of my fears and worries have centered around a belief that I needed a providence of tomorrow, an up-front blessing that spreads out over future years. I don’t. I need the appearance of the precarious to remind me that God’s providence is surgical. The smaller the knife He uses, the more precisely He can help me. That knife may look powerless, like a moment of luck. But, in its precision lies its ability to address exactly what I need at that moment. Providence is a precise instrument, helping me today in different ways than it helped me yesterday and different ways than it will help me tomorrow.
The differences between precise and precarious lie only in my view of God. If I am alone, events seem to crash all around me haphazard and dangerous. If I am only in some sort of test or game, I am at every moment in the most precarious state imaginable. But, I am not solitary and imperiled in a game or test. I’m in a love story. When I realize that, everything snaps into focus. What sounded like crashing thunder was only a myriad of dancing feet. What looked like flames of destruction are only a fireplace, tamed by God for my warmth and amusement.
The only difference between the precarious and precise is God’s love. And that love is bigger than all my tomorrows.