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How God Acts – Non-interventionist Divine Action

"The Ancient of Days", William Blake, 1794

“The Ancient of Days”, William Blake, 1794

Throughout my life I’ve experienced a wide range of beliefs: from Evangelical to agnostic, then to atheist, then a period of dabbling in Eastern religions, to Pentecostal, then to Presbyterian/Calvinist, and now, well, to where I am today let’s just say.

Once you think you have grasped a firm understanding of God, you come across something that catches you off-guard and makes you re-evaluate everything you’ve believed in.  As St. Augustine once said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand.  If you understand, you have failed.

Over the recent years, as I have delved a bit more into the scientific underpinnings of God and theology, as well as my ruminations of the Bible, I’ve adopted more of a “non-interventionist” viewpoint of God.

After experiencing a family tragedy several years ago, I began to re-evaluate my views on how God acts and relates to the world.  Before, I was really under the impression and even comforted by the fact that everything was under God’s sovereign control.  And by control, I meant that God was directly and actively in control of everything that goes on in a person’s life- that God had a set “master plan” for everyone’s life (derived from every evangelical Christian’s favorite comfort verse Jeremiah 29:11, which is also one of the the most misinterpreted verses as well) – from first breath to last.

But after experiencing the death of a loved one (and the way in which she had died), I began to re-assess what God’s sovereignty and power really meant.  In the past I had thought that free will was an illusion (that God causes you to believe and act according to his will), but while reading upon quantum mechanics, I came to the conclusion that free will is a solid reality in the fabric of universe.  Yes, it took me a while come to accept that almost intuitive, self-evident reality.  (Though I found out that the reality of free will is a lot more complex and nuanced when you read about cognitive neuroscience.)

However, whenever I came across sermons or talks about God like the one below from John Piper, I became more and more uncomfortable while listening to them.

If you’re comforted by and wholeheartedly share his views above, then more power to you.  I remember a time when I believed every single word Rev. Piper says above, but such words ring shallow to me now.

Instead of taking the easy route and disbelieving God altogether, I re-calibrated my understanding of God and how he relates with his creation, especially in relation to how randomness and chance plays into divine action and the world in which we experience and live in.

The summaries I present under the the “Divine Action” section of the “Science and Theology” menu above are from a book titled How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action (Theology and the Sciences) by Denis Edwards.  As I summarize some chapters while progressing through the book, I’ll share my thoughts here and there in a grey shaded box.

One essay focuses on Why did God create the Universe?  The Role of Evolutionary Emergence and God’s Actions and the other, Noninterventionist Divine Action; How Does God Relate to His Creatures? .  

One of the main and central topics discussed is trying to understand if God intervenes in creation or does he let things be as they are with little or no direct involvement.

Of course, I take every understanding presented here and moving forward to be provisional, but I present these thoughts here which I believe make best to me in terms of understanding God and the world we live in at this point in my journey.  Does Denis’ view as presented in his book, along with my views, air-tight and without error?  Of course not – no theology is perfect, and no one point will ever encapsulate all of God.

It is just my response to God’s invitation of “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 1:18)

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4 Comments

  1. vonleonhardt2 says:

    I just hate it when people say someone dying is for a “reason,” etc. they are just a platitude. I am a firm predestinationist because I hold free-will to be an obsolete construct as well as anachronistic if applied to the Old Testament, (also the issue of souls/ resurection, etc.) but I don’t go at with rose colored glasses. I just don’t like Piper’s use of Satan in a dualistic sense. I like the quote from Total Recall “I don’t give you enough information to think!” and when it comes to crummy stuff, we just trust him who started it to finish it towards his end.

    • Hi vonleonhardt2,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Can you explain to me why you think “free-will to be an obsolete construct as well as anachronistic if applied to the Old Testament”? Any examples you can think of and share? That’s an interesting perspective.

      There is a post on this site concerning predestination here: https://projectaugustine.wordpress.com/theology/reformed-theology/concerning-predestination-a-biblical-perspective/

      Would love to read your perspective on this.

      • vonleonhardt2 says:

        I tend to approach free-will with the perspective it must be proved by the person postulating it, not that it is an axiom. So it may color my response a bit.
        Charge of Anachronism:
        The Greek philosophical drive to find the prime mover comes from their fatalism, so even Heraclitus who states you can’t step in the same river twice sees a “prime mover” driving everything. Even the words used like cosmos/ universe take for granted an ordered existence and fatalist bent. The Latin’s are the first to coin the term “free-will” outright, but it was hinted at earlier by Aristotle, Epicurus, and others but they lack the terminology/ counter-points necessary to make a debate of it. So formal “free-will” is not going to be found in books that even liberals date to the return from the exile ( 400’s). (Easiest source: Stanford dic. Of philosophy)
        Zoarastrianism is inherently a monism split into a moralistic dualism, but that monism and interconnectedness it focuses on is really too strong to have led the Babylonians to push beyond the Greeks. (Source: The Persian systems of philosophy. by Arthington Worsely.)
        None of the above means “choice” isn’t important in the Old Testament; it does mean that the philosophical debates of a “will” and “freedom” are not going to be addressed due to the date of composition. So I would say there is not the conflict in the mindset of the original audience between Pharaoh’s heart being hardened and the multiple “choose this day” passages that we want to interject. It means that whatever the view of the authors was, “free-will” argument’s both for and against are creating a false-dichotomy in our readings that really show OUR philosophical system is incompatible with the versus intention and both sides are clearly reading in and forcing a view.
        Charge of Obsolescence of “Free-will”
        I think it’s obsolete on multiple fronts:
        -Science:
        In a recent article in Discover Magazine, “Back From the Future,” Zeeya Merali relates that earlier in the 21st century ideas such as Quantum Indeterminacy made it seem impossible to predict sub-atomic particles’ behaviors. Nothing could be inferred about their next behavior from their past states; one could not tell where they were going. Trying to prove that theorem, scientists have actually recently stumbled mathematically upon the fact, that a future event(s) controls the current activities of sub-atomic particles. A counter intuitive notion, it is as simple as saying that when you read a watch, you know in ten minutes the bell will ring and it affects you currently.[1]

        “Free-will” advocates often try to parry predetermination arguments by referencing the indeterminacy theorem[2] or more generally the fact that the future is unknown. Eric learner sums it nicely:

        “[It is] central to our idea of free will… that our actions in the present affect the future, that the past is fixed but the future can be changed. How can these ideas be reconciled with a concept of physical laws in which past, present and future all exist equally and cannot be distinguished?”
        -Philosophy
        The Cartesian version you run into is probably exaggeratedly bad for this, but other’s system’s go the same way. Most “free-will” arguments have been cornered to the point that freedom only exist if no influence is felt. They have to go the enlightenment route and postulate a rational mind weighing options in the mini-verse of the mind. But, even the mind can’t escape the fact that it learns from the universe it is in…
        I don’t wan’t to give a thesis on this point, but the real issue is the core of the post-modern criticism. Basically, a human is IN the universe, IN time, IN need, can only process IN-puts. To put a good image to it, your will without an environment on which to act is not free, and in an environment it is affected by environmental variables.
        You also have the unresolved issues regarding the ontological I who am, and I who Choose and the inability for free-will to exist in an individual at the base level of being, thus it’s a contingent existence that is re-created every time we choose… but this is way over the level of this discussion
        -Ethics
        The free-will debate really is a debate of can I fault someone else… who do I ultimately blame. I was born this way, can’t blame me… etc. The Church has had its ethical back broken because it stuck with this route. Biblical Christian ethics has always ran on I was born a sinner, and it’s my fault I do the things I do. So God please give me grace. The system is incompatible.
        -Hermeneutics:
        Post-modernism guarantees that there will come someone who challenges the old readings on all these parts, and they are not weak enough to not shift the debate

        There are many others. But my main view is that it is an anti-Gospel ideology and like all things will fall in the face of God’s truth. I even play with it sometimes myself while bored in Seminary:
        http://brotherpo.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/shoveling-non-baptized-babies-into-the-furnace/

  2. 1happyidiot says:

    Just checking in to see where you are on your “finding God” adventure. This blog is older, but I was curious if you are still blogging, and what your views about the definition of God are today. Hit me up if you get this.
    -Peace

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