October 13, 2016

By His Fatherly Hand

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that

leaf and blade,

rain and drought,

fruitful and lean years,

food and drink,

health and sickness,

prosperity and poverty—

all things, in fact,

come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

—Heidelberg Catechism, QA 27

I have read the above question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism dozens of times throughout my life. I likely read it through at least 3 times alone while planning and preparing for that worship service. But as I sat at the piano bench, leading the congregation through this question and answer responsively, it suddenly struck me . . . deep to the core and in a way it never had before. In that moment, it was not just a piece of an ancient catechism that was strategically placed in a modern worship service. It was not just a theologically sound statement of faith that perfectly preceded “This Is My Father’s World.” It was the question that I had been rolling around in my subconscious like a buoy drifting in the waves of the sea. It was the answer that anchored my wanderings and wonderings.

I very rarely think about my adoption. I don’t think it’s because it is a part of my past and a part of my story that I somehow am subconsciously wishing to bury and repress. I honestly think it has just become one slice of the pie of my life, surrounded on both sides by my loving family, involvement in abundantly accepting church communities, my vocation as a worship minister, my calling to being a wife and a mother, my love of fantasy football. . . . All pieces of the pie. But there are days where I find myself deep in thought about my adoption. I was born in Seoul, South Korea to an unwed woman, at a time when abortion rates were soaring. My birthmother chose to give me life, and knowing she would not be able to provide, she placed me with a foster parent and put me up for adoption. Four months later, I arrived on an airplane in Denver, Colorado and was greeted by a six year old blond girl, a four year old red-headed boy and two Dutch parents who all instantly became my family.   

It is such a beautiful story of God’s grace. It isn’t a story of “I once was lost, but now am found”. . . . It’s more of a story of being eternally found from the beginning of time, with a very visible, tangible example of God’s providence. It’s a story that embodies the words of Psalm 139 which reminds us that before we were born, our Creator saw our unformed bodies and knew the entirety of our lives yet to come. Every single detail, no matter how inconsequential, was known to our Maker before we came to be. Every tear shed: by the wobbly and tumbling toddler, by the child standing on the soccer field when the referee blew the whistle, by the anxious teen taking the SAT’s, by a joyful couple on their wedding day, in the doctor’s office after hearing the news, during the final words at the graveside. Every tear, every joy, every experience . . . “all things in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

This particular Sunday was following the week of my “Gotcha Day”— the day my family and I got each other! This day is one of the few where I often find my thoughts drifting towards my adoption story. I often think about how easily life could have been so dramatically different. I could have been a Korean citizen, a Korean orphan, a citizen of any other country in the world, a member of any number of families. Yet here’s my story . . . come to me not by chance, but by God’s fatherly hand.  

As the congregation read the response to this question, I looked around the familiar sanctuary at the familiar faces, sitting in their familiar places, and I realized again the power of our creeds and confessions and the importance of reading them and reciting them together as a declaration of our faith . . . a reminder of what we believe. They aren’t just words written 400+ years ago to educate pastors and teachers of theology. They are words with a significant message for us today. They are words that serve as a hard and fast anchor, grounding us in what we believe. They are words that serve as a gentle reminder of God’s grace and presence that is always at work in the world. They are a way of corporately reminding one another of what we believe, even when it might be difficult to do so. Keep giving your congregations opportunities to read and recite the creeds and confessions. Trust that God is present and that the Holy Spirit is at work in your worship.

Kathryn Ritsema Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and serves as a worship specialist with Thrive, a ministry of the CRC. She is also the managing director of the Worship for Workers project through Fuller Seminary.