“With all wisdom and insight [God] has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:8a-11).
There is very much to comment upon in these verses, in which the Apostle Paul’s doctrine of providence is fully in display. For example, there is the notion of God’s wisdom and insight, or that of mystery, or that of a plan for the fullness of time, and so on. Furthermore, there is this very fascinating notion that God’s intention is to gather up all things in Christ, things both in heaven and on earth. There is far too much to comment upon in only one post, so I will have to approach the matter piece-by-piece in the coming days.
First, let me focus on these words from v. 8b: “With all wisdom and insight…” Paul is speaking about the revelation of the mystery of God’s will in Christ. He tells us that this took place with all wisdom and insight. But how is that so? Where was God’s wisdom and insight in approaching matters this way? After all, oftentimes it seems as if there is very little wisdom or insight in the way things go, in the order of events which take place in history, or even in our own lives!
I think what Paul says here is very provocative. The disciples of Jesus had no idea that He was supposed to die and rise again from the dead, since their expectations regarding the coming Messiah were totally different. And yet, if Paul is to be believed, the death and resurrection of Christ was the end towards which all of history was pointing up until that point. Paul can say this only now that Christ has already died and resurrected and ascended into heaven; only from this vantage point, retrospectively, can he see how God can have been intending this all along. What lesson can be learned from this?
I think one important lesson to learn from all this is the following. We do not know where our lives are headed. We do not know what God’s providence is trying to accomplish with and around us. This is especially clear when bad things happen to us. We cannot understand why we should have to suffer the things we are suffering. We can only see the connections once they are finally made, whereas we have to live each moment as it happens, without being able to “skip ahead” to see the ending. God’s wisdom and insight does not necessarily overlap with my own wisdom and insight, and for this reason I cannot often understand why things happen the way they do. That is why it is necessary to live with faith, which means trust: I must trust in God’s goodness to guide my life to the end which He desires for it. This trust also means negating myself, since implicit in the act of trusting God’s wisdom and insight is renouncing my own wisdom and insight, which cannot see the sense in things as they are happening, indeed, which is inclined to think of them as positively senseless.
But how can I trust God with my own life? Why not take my life into my own hands? I think that what the Apostle says in this epistle can provide a twofold answer. First, God’s providence and sovereignty extends over all of history whether we know it or not. We are already a part of the story that God is writing. But we are given the privilege of knowing the Author, so to speak, and living the story together with Him. Second, we know that God’s intentions for us are good because of the revelation of Christ: God’s purpose in everything is to bless us with a rich and holy spiritual life in Christ, in unity, as Paul says here. God intends to “gather up all things” in Christ, to bring things to a state of unity and harmony with one another. He does not want to destroy us or to do us harm, but only to help us to live in the unity and harmony which He intends for us as His creatures.
As Paul says elsewhere, “He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:32) In everything, Paul always points back to Christ. It is as if every question is answered by appeal to Christ, to who He is and what He has done for us. Christ is the definitive spoken Word of God. So the question of our trust in God must also lead us back to Christ. We must trust in God to take care of us, on the basis of what He did in Christ. This would also seem to be a part of the adoption which Paul mentioned in an earlier verse. If we are adopted in God’s family, if we are His children now, then we have to trust Him to take care of us as His children, like our own parents took care of us (or, at least, as they should have taken care of us) when we were children, just like the Father takes care of the Son and does not abandon Him or leave Him, even when He is suffering profoundly, even when He undergoes death.