Have you ever been in a crowded parking lot and prayed for a good spot, and then one opens right near the door? Or you’re running late but get a string of green lights on your way to work and thank God for taking care of you? But is God actually invested in you getting a good parking spot? Is he controlling any aspect of the street lights to help you get to work on time?
A listener named Ellen called-in to The Patrick Madrid Show to ask about this. She said she knows God in involved in her life, but asked, “Does it apply only to the big things or is God also involved in the minutiae of all these billions of people on the planet? And how do I know when I should appropriately be thanking Him for what just happened and when He really had nothing to do with it?”
Patrick responded, “You’re referring to what is known as providence. Providence can be understood simply as God’s loving plan for your happiness. And the plan is constantly unfolding. And it’s mysterious for us because, as you say, when we pray for things sometimes it seems that the answer to our prayer is what we asked for, while other times we don’t get what we asked for and yet we thank God in either case.”
Addressing Ellen’s question of how involved God is in our daily lives, Patrick said, “The answer is: at every level, but not in the same way. God is the first cause of anything that happens, anything that changes, anything that moves. God is the first cause, He’s the uncaused cause. So there’s nothing that brings about those things in God. He is the initial source for all these other things that are caused.”
“But God works not only in His sovereign decrees, but more often than not He works in secondary or tertiary causes,” Patrick explained. “So God works indirectly, and His providence is felt indirectly through things. We look at things in this world and we think, ‘How can I explain that? Is this just happenstance or did God have a hand in that?’ And that gets me to St. Thomas Aquinas, and he has a whole section in the Summa on providence and what we think of as chance or luck.”
Patrick recommended that listeners a video from The Thomistic Institute to understand more about providence and chance. You can watch the video below:
Patrick told Ellen, “The punchline is that everything that we experience in this life is in some way or another part of God’s providence. Some things He proactively decrees, but some things, in fact many things, happen by His permissive will in which He permits things to happen that He doesn’t decree or that He doesn’t necessarily want. He permits things to happen when somebody commits a sin. He doesn’t want that to happen but He permits that to happen.”
However, Patrick pointed out that there are many things that happen and choices we make that are happenstance, but that God uses as part of his providential plan.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “Maybe you decide to wear your precious feet pin – the tiny baby’s feet that are the actual size of a baby’s feet at 10 weeks old. You just decide out of happenstance to put that on in the morning, and then later that day a young woman who is considering having an abortion sees it and asks what it is and she doesn’t have an abortion.”
“God didn’t cause you to or make you put that pin on your lapel when you got dressed that morning. But as part of His providential plan, knowing that you would do this it becomes part of His providence.”
Listen to the full conversation below: