The place of God’s providence in my theology

I have been musing lately about how my stance on the creation/evolution controversy would impact other areas of theology if applied consistently. The stance I’m referring to is my conviction that viewing the history of the natural universe as a string of miraculous interventions into nature is hopelessly misguided. I have argued that the atheistic science apologists and the fiat creationists find themselves in agreement on a falsehood, namely that there’s either a natural or a supernatural explanation for the physical phenomena of the cosmos. While agreeing in principle with those two groups, the God-of-the-gaps philosophy known as Intelligent Design tries to bridge the gap a bit and posits an admixture of natural and supernatural explanations that end up sounding arbitrarily inconsistent: the leading ID advocates accept common descent as predicted and confirmed by the scientific method but paradoxically insist that the theory of evolution is insufficient to explain natural phenomena without the aid of Someone/something (nah, just Someone) else whose interventions must remain unrecoverable by the scientific method. One is left wondering where the natural explanations stop and the supernatural ones begin, or even why one must stop for the other to begin.

In contrast, I and most other Christian advocates of evolution with whom I have interacted believe that the natural explanation for the physical world is the supernatural explanation and vice versa. We are wasting our time looking for secrets hidden in the natural world that point to God, because God simply built the universe as He wanted it using the natural laws He Himself created, and He now continues to sustain it in the same way.

Now, I wouldn’t argue that there is no such thing as miracles, defined as supernatural interventions into nature – obviously, Christ’s resurrection would be an example of one I affirm – but I don’t believe that supernatural events are regular occurrences that may be expected to break in and suspend the laws of nature at any time for any reason. Rather, I believe that, with relatively rare but monumental exceptions, the supernatural hand of God is sovereignly working out His will through the channels the Lord designed. I hear the objection, “But why should God be subject to His own rules?” My answer: why in the world did He even bother making the laws of nature if they require breaking any time He wants to get something done? Why hire a landscaping crew whose ability to perform you distrust and whom you’re going to be continually sending home so that you can accomplish the things that you want to in your yard by yourself? The physical world isn’t a prison that God is free of but breaks into occasionally to visit the prisoners: it’s the way God wanted the universe to be. This doesn’t downplay the miraculous, but rather makes it the more remarkable. Miracles are intended to shake up our world, rattle us out of our complacency, shatter our expectations, and demonstrate in full color God’s mastery over His creation. If miracles are to be expected, if they are the nuts and bolts of the Kingdom of God, then miracles are not miraculous but commonplace; as one of my professors at college said, “To argue that miracles are a normal, predictable part of the Christian life is in effect to deny the existence of miracles.” God doesn’t need miracles to get things done but to confirm to us that He is getting things done. Miracles aren’t for Him – they’re for us, and we need them a lot less than we think we do.

I have begun to notice that this coalesces with my view of God’s work in the world in ways other than cosmogony. For instance, my view of the origin and nature of the Bible is one of God ordaining, intending, willing us to have what the human authors wrote about their experiences with Him and the revelation they received. I refuse to read mystical messages into Scripture as some are fond of doing particularly to passages with little to no direct application for our life situations; I have been critical of an attempt to make Genesis mean something eschatological, insisting that it was never viewed as such by the original authors. In short, authorial intent is the fundamental hermeneutic with which we should approach Scripture.

Many Christians have been trying desperately to rescue biblical interpretation from the restrictive clutches of an authorial intent hermeneutic and hand it back to God, allowing Him to do what He really wants to do with it. If, as these argue, the Bible is a supernatural document – a miracle – rather than a natural, historical testimony empowered by Providence, then we who interpret the Bible based fundamentally upon authorial intent interpretations are putting God in a box. But even if that is so, what if God wants it that way? What if He were indeed inside a box of sorts, but willingly? Is the Bible somehow less useful or meaningful because He didn’t deliver us a pure chunk of divine truth, inerrant and brimming with divine revelation? The Bible is empowered by His intent, not by a miraculous origin, and its message is thus contained in that intent which in turn can only be realized from recognizing it in the context in which He ordained it.

Why do evangelicals tend to think of all of this as a letdown? Is it that we want signs and wonders to validate our faith? I’m sure that plays into it (especially among a certain segment), but another important factor is that we firmly believe our faith is to be relevant to us but cannot see how it can be unless we receive something personalized from God, something tailored to fit each of us in our circumstances of life. But this is where the little dialog I recently wrote comes in. We demand more from God than the blessings He has seen fit to bestow on us. We are too busy making those demands based upon our own expectations to appreciate the gifts and mission He gave us. I need something for me, now, today, special guidance that makes me feel significant and addresses my own perceived needs; I then have the audacity to pretend that the primary reason I’m asking those things of God is to help me help Him, as though “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch Yours” were the sort of bargain we should strike up with a supreme Being. What I really need is a book that will give me nuggets of truth beyond what it was originally written for, insight greater than that which those who first heard those words were able to receive. God’s sovereign providence isn’t enough: I need some of that magic.

But isn’t life itself miraculous enough? God doesn’t just fill in the gaps, or add flourishes to boring parts of the picture; nor is He a watchmaker who winds up the watch and then goes about some other business. He’s always at work in our universe, always moving, always guiding us through the example of His son, the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us. He is the focal point of both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature.

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