Charlie's Blog: Providence and Prudence


Providence and Prudence

Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.

People who believe in God often have trouble with a particular issue. It has to do with the relationship between being prudent while at the same time acknowledging total dependence on God in everything. Who is doing the work here? Is it us? Or, is it God? The answer to that question is obvious. It is both.

Anyone who farms for a living or just has a garden understands this relationship between our work and God's work. We can till the soil. We can plant the seeds. We can pull the weeds. We can irrigate if this is required. But once the seed leaves our hand, it really is up to God to make it grow. You can plant and water those seeds, but it is God who gives the increase.

The first error we encounter is the proud atheist or semi-atheist who does not acknowledge God's hand in his affairs. He is the type who scoffs at "thoughts and prayers" when calamity strikes. What is needed is intelligence and science and whatever. It is not the hand of God but the ingenuity of man that does the trick. The result is that this man's wisdom leads to hubris and arrogance which results in a great deal of foolishness.

The second error we encounter is the thick headed fideist who believes that God will provide and presumes upon it. They put away common sense and reason and "live by faith." This usually takes the form of a prosperity gospel believer who charges up her credit cards trusting God to make the payments for her. Something recoils in our souls when we hear of things like this. This is disgusting behavior.

A fundamental concept that all believers need to embrace is fides et ratio--faith and reason. These things are not in opposition. Since the Enlightenment, these things have been put in opposition with Protestants taking one side and atheists taking the other side. But the correct answer is that you need both.

In life, you need to rely on Providence while exercising prudence. This means praying to God that He will provide for your needs then clipping coupons to help save on groceries. It means saving your money for a rainy day instead of spending it. It means storing up food for the winter while saying grace before every meal in acknowledgement that God has provided even though it was your paycheck that covered it. In these things, we remain free of both arrogance and laziness.

A group that figured out this relationship between providence and prudence were the monks especially those that embraced the Rule of St. Benedict and the motto ora et labora--pray and work. When we pray and work, we embrace both providence and prudence. As a consequence of this, those monks built and preserved what we know as Western civilization. They were devout but also brilliant. They learned theology but also practical things like tending to their gardens, blacksmithing, raising animals, making clocks, and other things. They planted the seeds of science and invention. They preserved the philosophy of the Greeks.

My wife and I enjoy watching videos from homesteaders, and we have noticed a trait that many of them have. They have a great deal of practical wisdom combined with deep faith in God. Many of them turned to homesteading out of necessity especially during the Great Recession. They work hard, but they also pray hard. People in agrarian lifestyles grasp ora et labora. They are too poor to be prospetarians, and they are too reliant upon God to see them through to ever become proud. These people are truly the salt of the earth.

We make it through life with both Providence and prudence. When we say grace, we should also be thankful to God for the wisdom and prudence He gives us. Likewise, we are most prudent when we see the Divine Hand in all of our projects. Faith and reason are not in opposition. They reinforce each other. Everything we have and do comes from God including our own works. God always has us in His hands. Nothing we do succeeds apart from His will. Consequently, we should be both humble and wise. There's a reason the Book of Proverbs is in the Bible. We should the use the brains God gave us without forgetting that it was God that gave us those brains.