Reflections on Sermon 67: "On Divine Providence"

My kids came inside one day and told me that there was a sparrow on our patio that was hurt and unable to fly. While hovering over its frightened body, my children asked, “What are you going to do, Dad?” I told my oldest boy to grab an old birdcage from the basement and hang it on the patio. I attempted to comfort the sparrow with words it didn’t understand as I leaned over to pick it up. Tenderly cupping it in the palm of my hand, I placed it in the cage. Full of compassion, my kids filled containers with food and water. “Let’s care for it,” I told the kids, “and see what happens.”

The collaboration between our choices and God’s interaction in our lives are theological mysteries that involve far more questions than answers: Why are some born in this or that nation, or into poverty or riches, and why do some survive a battle when others die? Wesley’s answer to this question was that God interacted with humanity through divine providence. This served, in part, as refutation to a two-sided theological problem: predestination and antinomianism.1

Human interactions (both with God and each other) show that humans are more than “mere machines,”2 who are incapable of virtue or vice. But, what does that have do with taking care of a sparrow? It means that God’s interaction with animals is different than His interaction with people. Only humans are created in the image of God, and free agency is embedded in imago Dei.

Humans “are creatures capable of God, capable of knowing and loving and enjoying him,”3 A sparrow is not capable of the same conscious interaction. Therefore, it is true that God cares about the details of our lives, while providentially using creation to assist humans in choosing what is good “without overruling [our] liberty.”

God does have a “tender regard” for His creation, according to Wesley, but God does not see a bird “with equal eyes” as people who are created in the image of God. Certainly, God provides for animals like the ox and the lion, just as he provides for humans, but Wesley questions, is “a sparrow…equally precious in [God’s] sight? Are you not of more value than many sparrows?”

After a few weeks, we opened the cage door, and the once injured sparrow flew off into the vast sky of God’s creation. It is a fond memory for our family. What makes us much more valuable than this sparrow in God’s sight is that we are capable of being instruments of God’s providence. It is a partnership given to us by the assistance of God’s grace. If we are capable of reflecting the nurturing attributes of God upon a sparrow, how much more can God assist us in doing good for our fellow neighbor without overruling our liberty?

H. Gordon Smith III is senior pastor at Frankfort First Church of the Nazarene in Frankfort, Indiana, USA.

1. Antinomianism is the belief that Christians by grace are released from moral obligations.

2. John Wesley, “Thoughts upon Necessity,” The Works of the Rev. John Wesley (London: John Mason, 1831), 10:468.

3. Wesley, John. “The General Deliverance,” in The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, Vol. 2. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985), 79.

To read the full text of the sermon, click here.

Please note: All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of original publication but may have since changed.

Written for devotions with Holiness Today