I’d like to invite you to do a little thought experiment with me. Shut your eyes and imagine that every single person on earth is thinking about you right now. Moreover, imagine that every person is not only thinking about you, but loving you and working to arrange all things for your benefit. Of course that could never happen, but just imagine for a moment that it were possible and what it would feel like. In this thought experiment, everyone in the world feels the same protective love towards you that a father and mother feel for their young child.
Now I want to ask you a question: in the state of affairs I’ve asked you to imagine, would you ever have reason to worry, to feel anxiety or be insecure? Would you need to grasp good things for yourself? Obviously not.
I have news for you. If you are in Christ then you are in a better position than you would be if that thought experiment was real. You are better off than if every single person in the world had their attention continually focused on arranging things for your advantage. The desert father, Dorotheos of Gaza, explains why in his Discourses and Sayings:
“And he must believe that nothing happens apart from God’s providence. In God’s providence everything is absolutely right and whatever happens is for the assistance of the soul. For whatever God does with us, he does out of his love and consideration for us because it is adapted to our needs. And we ought, as the Apostle says, in all things to give thanks for his goodness to us, and never to get het up or become weak-willed about what happens to us, but to accept calmly with lowliness of mind and hope in God whatever comes upon us, firmly convinced, as I said, that whatever God does to us, he does always out of goodness because he loves us, and what he does is always right. Nothing else could be right for us but the way in which he mercifully deals with us.
“If a man has a friend and he is absolutely certain that his friend loves him, and if that friend does something to cause him suffering and be troublesome to him, he will be convinced that his friend acts out of love and he will never believe that his friend does it to harm him. How much more ought we to be convinced about God who created us, who drew us out of nothingness to existence and life, and who became a man for our sakes and died for us, and who does everything out of love for us?
“It is conceivable that a friend may do something because he loves me and is concerned about me which, in spite of his good intentions, does me harm; this is likely to happen because he does not have complete knowledge and understanding of what my needs and destiny are. But we cannot say the same about God, for he is the fountain of wisdom and he knows everything that is to my advantage, and with this in view he arrange4s everything that concerns me without counting the cost. Again, about the friend who loves me and is concerned about me and conscientiously looks after my welfare: it can certainly happen in certain circumstances that he thinks I need help and yet he is powerless to help me. Even this we cannot say about God. For to him all things are possible; with God nothing is impossible. God, we know, loves and takes care of what he has fashioned. He is the fountain of wisdom and he knows what to do to promote our welfare and nothing is beyond his power. Hence we must be convinced that all he does, he does for our benefit and we ought to receive it with gratitude, as we said before, as coming from a beneficent and loving Master—and this even if some things are distressing, for all things happen by God’s just judgment …
Think about that for a moment and just drink it in! God Himself, the maker and sustainer of the entire universe, has His infinite attention continually focused on arranging every circumstance to your benefit (Romans 8: 28 & 35-39; Matthew 10:29-31). This doesn’t mean that God always gives you what you want any more than an earthly father will give his son or daughter everything they want. But God does give you what you need in order to truly benefit your soul. Because God has given us free will, it’s possible to separate ourselves from God’s ordering of things, just as a child may run away from his father into danger. But to the extent that we remain connected to God, we can benefit from Him lovingly arranging each moment for our eternal benefit. As Saint Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
I’m sure this isn’t telling you anything you didn’t already know. If we are Christians, we already believe all this in our heads. Whether we are Calvinist or Arminians or Evangelicals or Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, we believe that God mysteriously weaves everything that happens into His perfect plan so that all things work together for good for those who love and follow Him. This being the case, why don’t we feel more secure? If God is ordering all circumstances for our eternal benefit, as Paul declared in Romans 8:28, why do we so easily feel frightened, fragile, vulnerable and anxious? Why do we allow other people have enormous power over us, so that we get tied up in knots over what others might be thinking of us? In other words, why do we so easily act as if the burden for our survival lies in our own hands instead of God’s?
The answer to this question goes back to the fall of man when our first parents believed the lie that they could live separately from God. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God their first instinct was to try to separate themselves from their Maker by hiding from Him (Gen 3: 8-10). Adam and Eve had embraced the illusion that they could live separately from their own Creator and that their survival depended on actions they performed separate to Him. Not only that, but they hid behind the things of creation, namely the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:8) The instinct to hide from God was natural, since Adam and Eve were naked and felt ashamed. However, after God called them out of hiding He was able to take control of the situation, dealing with the consequence of their sin by making garments to cover over their nakedness (Genesis 3:21) and promising to send a redeemer (Gen 3:15).
During our own difficult times, the temptation is still to use the things of creation to hide from God, and to cover over our primal condition of nakedness, vulnerability, confusion and fear. The temptation is to start feeling like we are separate from God and, hence, that our mental, emotional and psychological survival depends on ourselves and on our ability to use the things of creation for our own survival and security. Thinking that our survival depends on ourselves, we live day by day in a state of fight-or-flight, vigilantly looking our for our own interests and constantly trying to protect ourselves from physical, emotional and psychological pain. This condition—assuming control of our own survival instead of trusting God—lies at the root of so many, if not all, maladaptive behaviors and pathologies.
In his book The Ancestral Sin, John Romanides explained how maladaptive behaviors emerge when separateness from the Source of life causes us to assume control for our own survival. Although I’m not a huge fan of Romanides, what he writes about this is totally spot on:
“This tendency [towards evil] grows strong when the ruling force of corruption becomes perceptible in the body. Through the power of death and the devil, sin that reigns in man gives rise to fear and anxiety and to the general instinct of self-preservation or survival. Thus, Satan manipulates man’s fear and his desire for self-satisfaction, raising up sin in him, in other words, transgression against the divine will regarding unselfish love, and provoking man to stray from his original destiny. Since weakness is caused in the flesh by death, Satan moves man to countless passions and leads him to devious thoughts, actions, and selfish relationships with God as well as with his fellow man…. Because of death, man just first attend to the necessities of life in order to stay alive. In this struggle, self-interests are unavoidable. Thus, man is unable to live in accordance with his original destiny of unselfish love. This state of subjection under the reign of death is the root of man’s weaknesses in which he becomes entangled in sin at the urging of the demons and by his own consent. Resting in the hands of the devil, the power of the fear of death is the root from which self-aggrandizement, egoism, hatred, envy, and other similar passions spring up. In addition to the fact that man ‘subjects himself to anything in order to avoid dying,’ he constantly fears that his life is without meaning. Thus, he strives to demonstrate to himself and to others that it has worth. He loves flatterers and hates his detractors. He seeks his own and envies the success of others. He loves those who love him, and hates those who hate him. He seeks security and happiness in wealth, glory, bodily pleasures and he may even imagine that his destiny is a self-seeking eudaemonistic and passionless enjoyment of the presence of God regardless of whether or not he has true, active, unselfish love for others.”
Turning to God doesn’t mean we won’t feel lonely, confused, vulnerable or insecure. Rather, it means that we can turn to God in these conditions. As we do so, we can begin to reframe our difficulties by seeing all that happens to us as organized by Divine Love for our benefit. Consequently, we can believe that there must be a positive purpose to even the most challenging things we experience. We can begin to see our trials as opportunities instead of obstacles (James 1:2-3). With this new way of thinking, abundant life is no longer based on getting what we want, but re-connecting with the Source of Life.