Sunday, May 2, 2010

Providence and Freewill

Milton in the combox at Notes from a Common Place Book made a comment in passing in regards to God's decree and God's allowance of all that comes to pass. Without clarification such a statement could easily lead to misunderstanding and result in quite serious negative consequences. Let me make clear, my intent is not to put words in Milton's mouth, for I do not fully know his position. I do wish to briefly reflect on this subject here and for those interested we can have a conversation about this topic, and so as not interfere with conversation at Common Place Book (rule #1: never mess with ZZ Top!).

So let me just start by noting that it is important to make clear that by providence we are not to understand that everything that happens is a direct expression of God's will. To put in other words, an important distinction needs to be made between what God wills and what He permits. If this distinction is not made one falls into a dark theological fatalism, a theology of raw and arbitrary Power. We can see this in Reformation theology, in constructs such as limited atonement and predestination. A failure to understand real liberty within creation, without at the same time denying or diminishing God's freedom to will and sovereignty, leads to fatalism. As an aside, this is where a mere reliance on “physics and logic” and "theology by analogy" can easily mislead.

If one does not make this distinction every event is seen as a positive act of God's will and purpose, as if without such events God's plan would somehow be incomplete or not come to pass. There is no room for mere accident. We frequently see such unfortunate pronouncements made during the aftermaths of disasters and human suffering.