In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God give us our daily bread, which He does. He does so not directly as with the manna to the Israelites, but through the work of farmers, truck drivers, bakers, retailers, and many more. In fact, He gives us our daily bread through the functioning of the whole accompanying economic system — employers and employees, banks and investors, the transportation infrastructure and technological means of production — each part of which is interdependent and necessary, if we are going to eat. Each part of this economic food chain is a vocation, through which God works to distribute His gifts.
God heals the sick. While He can and sometimes does do so directly, in a spectacular unmediated miracle, in the normal course of things God heals through the work of doctors, nurses, and other medical vocations. God protects us from evil. This He does by means of the vocation of police officers, attorneys, judges — also through the military vocations. God teaches through teachers, orders society through governments, proclaims the Gospel through pastors.
Luther pointed out that God could have decided to populate the earth by creating each individual and each generation separately, from the dust. Instead, He invented families. God ordained that new life come into the world — and be cared for and raised into adulthood — through the work of a man and a woman who com together into a family. Husband, wife, father, mother are vocations through which God extends His creation and exercises His love.
All of this simply demonstrates that, in His earthly kingdom, just as in His spiritual kingdom, God bestows His gifts through means. God ordained that human beings be bound together in love, in relationships and communities existing in a state of interdependence. In this context, God is providentially at work caring for His people, each of whom contributes according to his or her God-given talents, gifts, opportunities, and stations. Each thereby becomes what Luther terms a “mask of God”:
All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government — to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things. (Luther, Exposition of Psalm 147)
• Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
The Spirituality of the Cross