Gleanings from the Collects: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect began in the Gelasian sacramentary[1]and was in included in the Sarum Rite[2]and the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was the collect for Proper 4 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and has been transferred to the 5thSunday after Pentecost in the 2019 BCP. The beginning of the original collect is translated as “O God, whose providence is infallible in ordering that which is proper for itself.” 

The theology of this collect is one of the most comforting doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the belief that “this is our Father’s world and that the affairs of men and nations, in the final analysis, are in His hands.”[3]It is rooted in a text from Romans. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.”[4]

It is very important to distinguish this belief from wishful thinking, superstitions and false doctrines. First we must note that the text does not say that all things that happen to us are good. Rather as Lord of all, He is able to turn even what was meant as evil to ultimately work for our good. A classic example of this is seen in the life of Joseph. His brothers, out of jealousy, faked his death and sold him into slavery in Egypt. While a slave he was falsely accused and imprisoned. No one could think that any of those events were good. 

But God in His sovereignty exalted Joseph to be second in command in all of Egypt and save a civilization from starvation. When finally reunited with his brothers, rather than receiving Joseph’s wrath, he pointed then to God’s providence. He said “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[5]

The central point to the doctrine of providence is that if you a child of God, then your heavenly Father wills ultimate good for you. And in His might He will see that good prevails. This is not karma, which is a supposed impersonal law of the universe. This is not the new age idea of sending good thoughts into the universe so that good returns. This is not an Osteenian approach of confessing health and wealth until you have them. This is a very personal engagement in your life by a loving heavenly Father to see that all things in the end work for your good.

How God is able to make all things work for our good, or why God allows bad things to happen in the first place, remains a mystery. But we don’t have to understand it to live and celebrate this truth. If you live long enough you will have things that happen in your life that you would not wish on your worst enemy. And yet those things became part of what makes you the person that you are today. You will make yourself mad if you try to figure it all out, but you will have no greater peace than to rest in this truth. So enter the room called “providence” and shut the door behind you.

[1]8thcentury book of liturgy

[2]11thcentury liturgy of Salisbury Cathedral

[3]R. C. Sproul

[4]Romans 8:28 ESV

[5]Genesis 50:20 ESV

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