Worry vs. divine providence

God created everything: the heavens, the earth, the trees, the flowers and every creature on the earth; God did not create worry. Call it by any name, despair, anxiety, concern, God did not create it.

We mortals often get worried and preoccupied about something in the future that will never happen. The great American writer Mark Twain said that “worry is like paying a debt that we don’t owe.” God is always with us; whatever we think is going to happen, whatever we are worried about is in the loving hands of our Creator, all we need do is submit to him and not our own self-sufficiency. We have heard it a 100 times: “Let go and let God.” There are and will always be thickets in our lives. God won’t take the thickets away, he didn’t do that for his Son, but he will walk with us through every circumstance we encounter.

God and the devil

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples that it is useless to worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear … Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:25-37). Rather he tells them that God knows what they need and they should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33). Then he addresses the future: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Mt 6:34). From the lips of Jesus we are told not to worry, that God will provide for our needs. The evil one can, of course, instill chaos and worry in our lives if we allow it.

In 1941, C.S. Lewis wrote a book called “The Screwtape Letters” (HarperCollins, $14.99). The book is a series of humorous, tongue-in-cheek, short letters from Screwtape, a devil, to his nephew Wormwood. It tells how the devil goes about seducing mankind. In chapter six, Screwtape discusses a man who may (or may not) be drafted into the war-time army and how the devil and his agents can keep the man worried about this situation:

“I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

Lewis well describes what happens when we worry, fear or become anxious about an unknown future instead of living each day with God as our guide, turning to his divine providence. Screwtape is trying to lure the potential draftee away from God, “get him to think only of the things he is afraid of.”

Provident care

God has nurtured mankind down through all the centuries; thus, it is obvious that from the beginning he had a plan for our welfare. The plan is known as divine providence, the way God governs and preserves all he made. He has directed and overseen everything that has taken place beyond creation, which included making each of us in his image.

When wickedness enveloped the earth, God sent the great flood to destroy it, then he recreated everything. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and, despite their grumblings, sustained them for 40 years. He sent his Son as the Savior of the world, to suffer, take on the sins of man, die on the cross and then to be resurrected. Once the Son went back to the Father, the Holy Spirit came as our guide to the joys of heaven. None of this took place by chance but is accomplished through the goodness of our omniscient Creator. Our role in God’s providential plan is to continually praise, worship and give him our unconditional love.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commissioned the Twelve Apostles to go throughout Israel spreading the Good News: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse leapers, drive out demons” (Mt 10:8). He tells them not to take any extra provisions, money or clothing (v. 9-10), that he is sending them “like sheep in the midst of wolves” (v. 16) and because of their mission on his behalf they will be confronted before governors and kings. When that happens, he says, “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say … the Spirit of your Father [will be] speaking through you” (v. 19-20). Despite Our Lord’s reassurances, the apostles must have worried how they were to accomplish this task. Jesus, reading their hearts, explains that God will provide, that he carefully watches over each one of us, saying that even if a sparrow falls to the earth, it doesn’t happen “without the Father’s knowledge” (v. 29).

St. Jerome (347-420), referring to the sparrow, said, “If the sparrows are so cheap and yet fall under the providence and care of God, how can you who are eternal by the nature of your souls be afraid that he whom you venerate as your Father will not take special care of you?”

Jesus, described by Matthew, admonishes the apostles, as well as disciples today, that we should not give ourselves up to worry but trust in God’s love and in the words of our daily prayer: “Thy will be done.” Long before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah said that even though a mother would forget her child, God would never forget us (Is 49:15).

One thing necessary

Throughout the Bible, the Scripture writers describe many worrisome situations, but somehow the difficulty ends well because of God’s ever presence. Daniel was thrown to the lions but came out unscathed; the widow of Zarephath gave her last morsel of food to Elijah and prepared to starve with her son, but God replenished her oil and flour. The apostles worried how they were going to feed 5,000 people, only to watch Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes.

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There are also current examples of God’s providence. My uncle told the story of being on an aircraft carrier under attack in World War II. He watched as an enemy plane approached unscathed through the flack, but then the plane passed over without firing a shot. Obviously a soldier in combat is fearful as well as worried, and there are hundreds if not thousands of stories like my uncle’s. Divine providence has sustained creation since Adam and Eve, and it sustains us today.

Of course one of the most remembered lessons about worry took place in Bethany between the Lord Jesus and his friend Martha. We know the story that, while Martha rushed around making sure everything was just right, Mary sat listening to Jesus. When Martha complained, Jesus said: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing, Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42). There is, indeed, need for only one thing.

D.D. Emmons writes from Pennsylvania.