A few weeks back I sat in a seminar led by a colleague in ministry, Nicholas Tuohy. Chef turned pastor, Nick has written a thesis on food in the gospels. In the course of conversation, Nick referred to God as ‘host and providore’. Honestly, I didn’t hear much beyond that. The second of these images struck a distracting chord, and one that lingers.
The idea of God as provider is, of course, nothing new. I’ve reflected on the notion of providence many times. It’s this more tangible and personal image of God as providore that helps me imagine providing as more than just a thing God does; it’s who God is.
Every Friday I shop at the Queen Vic Market. My providores are many. There’s Bill with his cheeses, dolmades and yoghurts. There’s Tan’s trestles weighed down with seasonal fruits and vegetables. There’s Jago, father and son, with their ordered display of meats that never varies, Judy and her fresh eggs, Joe’s poultry and game, and that brisk but anonymous woman who supplies the fresh pasta for our Sunday night dinner. As I see each one standing behind their produce, there’s abundance and beauty, honest work, connection between producer and product, and a relationship with customers that is so much more than conveyor belts, cash registers and plastic cards. The market itself is open to the elements, pungent, and often chaotic. As I push my trolley from shed to shed, there are puddles to navigate and overflowing garbage bins to avoid. No antiseptic aisles here. No piped music to sooth the consumptive spirit. And there in the thick of it are my providores, perspiring in the summer and rugged up in the winter.
There’s something about this that touches on the nature of God’s providence. In the creation story of Genesis, God’s creating and providing are one: God creates life and God sustains life. There are no degrees of separation, no progressive movement away from creation on God’s part. This is not the God of head office, the anonymous CEO of a global supermarket chain seeking market dominance. This is God the providore, creating, choosing, handling, connecting and feeding. This is God of the pantry not of the boardroom, a perspiring God who does not manage providence from afar but embodies it.