noticed a pattern regarding the combination of two complex doctrines:
providence and predestination. The two are of course related, providence being
the secret divine willing of all events and predestination the eternal
election of who will be saved. It is precisely their close proximity that makes
the pattern of popular belief so striking. So here's my desciption
of how I have observed church folk approach these problems.
The funny thing about this pattern is that it displays our ability to sustain "happy inconsistencies." We have found a way to have our theological cake and eat it too. And maybe I shouldn't spoil the fun, because consistency isn't the only theological virtue. However, one wonders if we have any coherent sense of who God is if we think he works in two completely different ways depending on whether it is a matter of salvation or not. Is this really the God we serve?
Am I on to something here?
Is this pattern descriptively adequate?
Could you think of examples that fit nicely into this pattern?
What am I missing?
Which is the best approach?
Are we doomed to some 'happy inconsistencies' to avoid extremes?
Or is there a way to affirm both without becoming deterministic? If so, how?
Are you on to something here? Yes! You described
the people who "piously approach suffering and death as God's will",
but then claim free will in matters of salvation. These people might say,
"Katrina was God's will." These same people might also say that, "the
victims of Katrina are in heaven or hell based largely upon their capacity to
accept or reject salvation." However, I think there's another category of
I think the main reason for all these inconsistencies you cited boil down to the problem of evil. Those who are uncomfortable with a God who would create a world with evil cry free will. Those who are uncomfortable with a God who doesn't have the power to effect salvation on His own cry predestination.
Foolish is the parent who establishes a uniform system of child rearing and uses it for each of her children. Parenting is a collaborative, creative, innovative process with an ultimate goal that never changes but with unlimited methods depending upon the child. Perhaps God approaches people groups, faith communities or even individuals with a similar flexibility in the amount of collaboration he allows. And perhaps what we see as inconsistencies in predestination and providence are really evidence of the innovation and creativity of God.
Thanks for your subtle exploration of "providence w/o predestination". It is likely that those who hold to providence have some sort of "middle" view of providence, not a strongly deterministic form (certainly an advisable move, despite the crude platitudes about "God's will"). Pointing to the problem of evil is of course the crux of the matter. What do you do with that whopper?????!!!!!!
Your final suggestion that God's operation varies is very intruiging. I must ponder such a thing in my heart and get back to you on that one. Certainly we should not lock God into a uniform mode of action, although some consistency of character seems prudent. If only we could know if which kind of operation God is using with us ... Hmmmmmm ... very interesting!
To add my own quite unsystematic thoughts on this
issue, I would suggest three bits of "affirmation" that I have not
fit into an overall scheme:
1. God can and does intervene in history, but most of the time He lets cause and effect take their merry (and often not so merry) course. Katrina for me was a matter of high and low pressure systems, ocean temperatures, etc... Sometimes God adds an "extra-systemal" cause into the frey, but more often than not He doesn't. Without some allowance of this sort, Christianity becomes incoherent and undesirable as a religion to me--it makes God an evil God unworthy of worship, a Devil to be defied. The "godly" thing becomes to spend eternity in hell with the Father of our Lord in eternal defiance of this Demiurge. I could of course be overstating the case :)
2. The New Testament is not a good place to look for solutions, as its author's gleefully combined a sense of election (albeit more collective in nature, but nonethless with individual implications) with a functional operation in terms of free will. The NT does not connect these two philosophically paradoxical patterns (not even in a soft deterministic way).
3. If there is free will at all of any meaningful sort, it is an ex nihilo creation of God's grace. The more we ponder physical determinism, the less any sense of individual free will really seems to make sense.
Where I'm at today...
By the way, your questions remind me of Nietzsche's reminiscences in Beyond Good and Evil, I think. He says something like, I learned early on that if we are to give God credit for the good in the world, then we must give him credit for the bad as well...
My dad used to tell a story to illustrate how
sometimes a view of pre-destiny can work out at street-level: One of our
nation's Pilgrim fathers met a Methodist friend out in
"Say," said the Methodist, "you Pilgrims believe in predestination don't you?—when your time has come your time has come, right?"
The Pilgrim agreed, "Yes, we do." "If that's so," said the Methodist, "than why do you carry a musket when you go out in the woods?"
The Pilgrim replied, "You never know when you might meet an Indian whose time has come."
Ignoring for the moment the repugnant approach to Native Americans, the answer may be instructive for how these things often play out.
Actually, I think that "Indian whose time has
come" approach is very genuinely tied to many current evangelicalized
providence ideas that continue to be repugnant to me.
I won't go in to them all, but invoking God's will into one's corporate decisions continues to lead us into all kinds of repugnant acts.
"Spreading God's Democracy Across the World"