According to orthodox Christianity, God foresaw (pro videre) everything that would happen to His creation even prior to creating it.
While Genesis tells us “God saw that it was good”, theology tells us He also foresaw the evil that would occur and chose to go ahead anyway.
The technical term is concurrence. God goes along with evils and makes good come out of them:
“Sin and suffering are evils because they are contrary to the good of the individual and to God's original purpose in regard to the individual, but they are not contrary to the good of the universe, and this good will ultimately be realized by the omnipotent Providence of God.”
Many commentators predicted that the legalisation of same-sex marriage would inevitably marginalise Christian and other opposing voices in the public square.
They identified aspects of law and human nature that might impinge on freedom of speech once same-sex marriage became the law of the land, belying the claim that same-sex marriage would have no negative consequences for anyone.
But reading the tea-leaves on culture war clashes can leave us focusing on how things are going wrong, and how they might go even more wrong after that.
Where God makes good come out of evil, we risk seeing only evil from hereon in.
The Israel Folau case certainly confirms aspects of those predictions. It certainly looks at face value that Folau has been sacked for expressing his religious beliefs, and it's natural, intelligent, and may even be prudent to extrapolate from this to an ever-tightening consensus against orthodox Christian morality in the public arena, with real consequences for career and livelihood.
But what are we doing when we follow this cold logic through? Are we working at cross-purposes to divine providence when we attend too keenly to how bad things might get?
Looking for the good
Predicting possible negative outcomes is a learned skill. In fields like journalism and ethics it's an occupational hazard. We can learn to do the opposite instead, looking for the good in every situation, the good our faith tells us God will inevitably bring out of evil.
What happened to Folau is not exactly something his friends and family would cheer for, but it's also not an outright evil or pure misfortune.
For believing Christians, it's refreshing and inspiring to see someone take a very public pay-cut for the sake of his faith. Even if we don't share Folau's faith or agree with his social media posting, his conviction is worthy of respect. When was the last time a Christian so publicly suffered for his or her faith?
The right of Rugby Australia and other organisations and businesses to engage and enforce a code of conduct is something we can respect too, even if we don't agree with the content of the code or the judgement arrived at.
It's understandable that companies wanting to appeal to the general public, or specific communities, will do their best to control their public image. Churches and religious schools might likewise hope to have some say over how their employees represent them to the community.
That might mean Christians and others with “controversial” beliefs will think twice before signing a contract with businesses and organisations that don't share their values. But isn't that desirable too?
Yes it's daunting that Folau can't now play the game he loves professionally, but we'd be remiss in putting more weight on this tragedy than Folau himself is. Evidently Folau's faith is more to him than money, career, and the game.
And at the same time his story is not yet finished. Who knows what legal outcomes will complete this minor saga? Furthermore we have no idea what impact this entire episode will have on public opinion, or how the public discussion will shape the community going forward, not just for Christians and others with “controversial” beliefs, but for organisations and employers seeking to better manage these kinds of conflicts.
Faith in providence
Christianity epitomises seeing the good that comes out of evil. That's why the crucifixion of Jesus is Good Friday, and the Easter proclamation refers to the “truly necessary” Fall of Man itself as a “happy fault”, because it “earned so great, so glorious a redeemer.”
If we can believe God turned the very human condition of sin and suffering to the service of the ultimate good, a fortiori we can believe it of the Folau episode.
I'm not arguing we should be blind to negative repercussions of policies and actions, and we have a duty to warn others against the pitfalls and dangers potential or inherent in our society today. When you care about someone it's natural to look out for their welfare.
But at the same time we should never lose the lightness and hope that comes from seeing the good everywhere, even, miraculously, through the evils before us.
If we know about providence but only practice pessimistic prognostications, we're doing ourselves and others a disservice, and, I believe, working at cross-purposes to our own faith.
The precise working of divine providence will always be a mystery, but how else could the likes of Israel Folau take a stand, except through faith that everything will be okay?
Zac Alstin is associate editor of MercatorNet.