• Earl Miles

Thinking about God's Involvement in the World

Divine Providence

The Christian Church has largely agreed, historically, that God sustains, cares for, and rules over the world (doctrine of divine providence). But the church, historically, has wrestled with two questions:

Question 1: What about human freedom?

Question 2: What about the problem of evil?

While we can't fully comprehend the work of an infinite God in relation to His finite creatures, in our thinking, we can go, either, in the wrong direction or in the right direction. Here are some of the ways both have happened in Church history:

Wrong Direction in Thinking:

Chance or Fate

Two God Theory

Hard Determinism

God as Author of Sin

Infusing Malice in Unbelievers

Virtue in Crime

Absolute Freedom of Man

Reunification in the Divine

Process Theology

Open Theism

Risk Taking God

Right Direction in Thinking:

Laws of Nature as Acts of God

God as First Cause and Secondary Means (Aquinas)

God Causes Evil to Be, But Not to Be Evil (Anselm)

God is the Reason for Evil, But Evil is Not His Fault (Aquinas)

God is the Author of Sin and Not the Author of Sin (Edwards)

Evil: Absence of Good (Augustine)

Absolute and Fallible Goodness (Aquinas)

Permit vs Will (Clement of Alexandria, Edwards)

Virtue and Vice Dependence (Origen, Lactantius)

Free Will Defense (Tertullian, Augustine)

Bondage of the Will (Luther)

Greater Good Defense (Helm)

Comfort of Providence (Calvin)

Free and Determined

Compatibilism (Helm)

Mystery of Evil (Arnobius)

Bottom line:

  1. We cannot fully comprehend and explain God’s providence, but our thinking is going either in the wrong direction or the right direction.

  2. We get into trouble when we try to answer questions that the Bible doesn’t answer.

  3. The doctrine of providence is designed to give us comfort not to create confusion.

  4. We have to learn to live with tensions in Scripture or we won’t believe many things in it (like the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation).

When the light of divine providence has once shone upon a godly man, he is then relieved and set free not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. For as he rightly dreads fortune, so he fearlessly dares to commit himself to God. His comfort, I say, is to know that his heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can happen except he determine it. Moreover, it comforts him to now that he has been received into God’s safekeeping and entrusted to the care of his angels and that neither water nor fire nor iron can harm him, except in so far as it pleases God as governor to give them occasion. … Whence … do they have this never-failing assurance but from knowing that, when the world appears to be aimlessly tumbled about, the Lord is everywhere at work and from trusting that his work will be for their welfare? Now, if their welfare is attacked either by the devil or by wicked men, then indeed, unless strengthened through remembering and meditating upon providence, they will certainly and quickly despair. But let them recall that the devil and the whole cohort of the wicked are completely restrained by God’s hand as by a bridle, so that they are unable either to hatch any plot against us or, having hatched it, to make preparations or, they have fully planned it, to lift a finger to carry it out, except so far as God has permitted, indeed commanded. Let them, also, recall that the devil and his crew are not only chained, but also curbed and compelled to do service. Such thoughts will provide them great comfort! – John Calvin

To hear more about this, go here and listen to Theology of Divine Providence - Part 1.

* Video: Scene between Pintel and Ragetti from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

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