Towards a Theology of Place, Or Bloom Where You’re Planted

Once a week I begin my theology class with a time of Q&A. For me, this is just applied theology, a chance to show how the Bible relates to what’s going on in the lives and minds of my students. The most frequently asked questions almost all relate to God’s providence.

My answers on this topic probably aren’t always satisfactory for my students. It’s a mystery, I tell them. There are known knowns (to borrow some political jargon), unknown unknowns, and seemingly (to introduce a category of my own) unkownable unknowns.

In short, God is sovereign. We aren’t. God is omniscient (He knows everything). We don’t. I tell my students that if they want proof of their intellectual limitations to simply look to their most recent quiz grades. That usually evokes more frustration than laughter.

I’ve reflected on this regularly, God’s providence that is, as I think most Christians likely do. It is central to so much of our lives. Why pray if God knows everything? Why do anything if God is sovereign? I know, I know. Some of you are right now judging me for not more strongly affirming a reformed understanding of sovereignty. To be clear, I do affirm God’s sovereignty. That doesn’t mean I understand it. I don’t pretend to.

It’s the understanding part, the dogmatic insistence that there is no mystery, the smug raise of the eyebrows, the canned response, the regurgitated theological truisms, that get under my skin. I’m a little skeptical of anyone who acts like they have God’s providence all figured out. Trust me, I believe it. God’s sovereignty is the pillow on which I lay my head, to borrow a line from Spurgeon. That doesn’t mean it’s not a mystery.

To turn from a gloriously mysterious theological topic to a single application in real life, how does this play out in our sense of location? The Apostle Paul talked about this in his sermon in Athens on Mars Hill. He said that God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). In sum, God has chosen when and where people will live.

Question: Why are you from where you are from?

Question: Why do you live where you live?

Question: Why wasn’t I a child of the early 1950s back when they had really good music?

Answer: God.

This gets complicated when we apply it not only to where we are from, but also to the places to which we move. For students anticipating a move from college, how might they best decide where to go, which internship to take, what grad school to apply to, what job offer to accept? Well, they actually have to make a decision. Some people call this adulting. God won’t make the choice for them. But at some future point in their lives they will see the hand of providence that was directing their steps.

That’s why I often tell my students, and myself, “We see providence in the rearview mirror.”

I’m approaching the one year mark of my move to Cedarville, Oho. We transitioned here after a joy-filled eleven years at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. I made a decision to move my family from the only home they had ever known. It was a big move for us.

We have been blessed by the hospitality and generosity of the Cedarville community and our local church Dayton Avenue Baptist Church. We are thankful to be here. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it has been a tough year. It’s been a big transition for our family personally and for me professionally. But looking back, looking through the rearview mirror, I see providence. I see a sweet providence that has been working things for his glory and for our good. That’s how God works.

So, wherever you find yourself, from wherever you might be reading this, recognize God’s sovereign direction in your life. To borrow an over-used leadership expression, “Bloom where you’re planted.” After all, God is the one who placed you there. Bloom for for his glory.