God’s Providence

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Thursday, May 29, 2014


THE word providence comes from the Latin pro-videre, fore-seen. We Christians believe that God foresees everything. He knows in advance what will happen to us. There is no such thing as a pure accident.

This is an age-old belief. Already in the Old Testament Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people, guided his people to Israel, the Promised Land. It was a journey through the desert, a life of many struggles, of falling and standing up again. In the New Testament this story repeats itself.

But here it is the story of the new People of God. In essence it is the Pascal mystery that repeats itself, the story of the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, who after his death and resurrection went back again to his Father in heaven in order to prepare a place for us in his Kingdom.

God the Father is in control.

I experienced this personally last Christmas. We were celebrating Christmas in our farm in Lala, Lanao Norte. Early Christmas morning I went for a walk. It was beautiful weather, only a slight breeze in the air. All of a sudden a coco nut fell from high above and dropped just in front of me. One step further, it would have dropped on my head and crushed my whole body. Clearly, God’s Providence was at work. I got another lease on life.

This week, as by ‘accident,’ I went early in the morning for a walk – I do this every day. A neighbor of mine who lives next door did the same. I was ahead of him, but he passed me by and he walks faster so he walked ahead of me. Suddenly there was a loud crack of a falling tree, accompanied with an explosion.

Far ahead of me I saw that a big tree had cracked down and fallen on the road. And then I saw my neighbor standing there upset. The tree had fallen just in front of him but he was still unhurt. Clearly, my neighbor got another lease on life like I did last Christmas. There is no such thing as co-incidence. But this happening chilled me to the bone.

Related to this experience I want to mention here a reflection I had during the Holy Week. When Jesus was crucified, there were two criminals who were crucified together with him. On his right hand there was the criminal who later became known as the Good Thief. That is more mildly said than in our tradition in Holland where he is called the Good Murderer.

The other criminal on his left hand was mocking Jesus together with the soldiers who had crucified him. He said: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well’. But the good criminal spoke up and rebuked him saying: ‘Have you no fear of God at all? You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replied: ‘Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Many centuries later, this Good Thief appears again in the apocryphal literature.

There he is called Dismas. In the apocryphal literature there is the most memorable encounter with the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt. Dismas was one of the band of brigands who plagued the area. When Joseph and Mary, wandering through the wilderness with their baby to escape the murderous despot Herod fell into his clutches, all seems lost. When he is about to smash in their heads the thief, however, has a change of heart. Indeed, he offers a bribe to his companion to let the travelers go without harm. The guy haggles for more cash, but then he agrees, and the Holy Family continues on their way with their lives intact.

Years later both thieves hang on either side of the crucified Jesus. Dismas became St. Dismas, the first saint who was canonized by Jesus himself. He is the patron saint of prisoners, those on death row, undertakers and the dying. It is easy to see what this saint offers: forgiveness when it does not seem possible, redemption in the worst situation impossible. I heard also that in Canada there is a new St. Dismas parish church opened.

Dismas is one of the revolutionaries of the Cross. Jesus is the very end of his life, dying in what seems like a torment of terrible failure, the Son of man is inspired by an individual whom our culture would probably term ‘the scum of the earth’. Others may give the Son of man his title of respect, such as Master, Teacher, Rabbuni, Son of David. Dismas just calls him Jesus.

Perhaps it is time St. Dismas was rehabilitated. Wherever he is venerated, he brings hope to the hopeless. Dismas was the first one who experienced in person God’s Providence. That is how God’s Providence works, up to our very own time.

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 29, 2014.

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