I mentioned in my Gettysburg post yesterday that I find the appeals to “providence” when referring to events in the war unconvincing. Today I came across a quote that communicates why it is that I feel this way:
The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.
The above quote was written after the Civil War by Robert E. Lee. From quotes like this I get the feeling that Robert E Lee was a better theologian than most of the pastors in our pulpits today – for he never confused Western individualism (which was coming into its own in post-Civil War America) with the Christian Religion. Providence guided the long life of humanity, rather than blessed the brief life of the individual. It is a sentiment that is antithetical to the self-lusting belief that the “individual” is all that matters (for the record, Robert E. Lee valued both the society and the individual).
So, let’s not be too quick to interpret the acts “providence” we see in the daily news – nor should we be so quick to certainty about the “meaning” of events in history. As the wise theologian said above, it is history that teaches us to hope in the future God’s providence is unfolding – rather than to have certainty that we know it’s path.