Monday, December 19, 2005

Providence? or Free Will?

There are several theological issues that I admit I don't understand. The more I study them, the less sure I am about them. One of those issues is God's providence vs. human's free will.

There is an old joke told about a man who steps from a curb and narrowly misses being hit by a car. "God (Providence) was looking out for him," some would say. Next day, the man steps from the curb and this time gets hit. After months of recovery, someone says, "Isn't it marvelous how God spared him?" Later, he steps from the curb again (this guy is a slow learner), is hit again. This time, he dies from the injuries. "Well, God saw fit to take him home."

While I certainly don't want to be lumped in with the deist who basically believes that God once set things into motion, but has now retired to heaven -- I also don't believe that God orchestrates every situation / event. However, I do believe that He can work in every situation -- both good and bad -- to bring something good from it (Rom. 8: 28).

Again, I don't understand this theological dilemma. But I am also comfortable in my faith journey at this point to say I don't understand. There are some things that we are not wired to be able to understand. But my Father in heaven does. And my faith is in Him -- not in theology.

What do you think?


Josh Ross said...

Great conversation starter. It is one that can ruffle our feathers and even get us in trouble.
One idea that I was introduced into is that of "Open Theism." This basically says that God has left the future open. He doesn't have every single thing planned (future mate, jobs, etc.), but instead He has given human beings the freedom to choose, and He has promised that His abiding presence will be with us always. Instead of us always living as if we have to find the right path that God has already chosen, the call to each human being is to be faithful to the mission of Jesus.
Are we okay with an idea like this?
I'm not saying that I have fully adapted my theology to that of an open theist because there are holes in this argument, but it has challenged me to think about God in different ways.

I do think that we need to be careful of claiming that each and every thing that happens in the world is because God ordained it. In the long run, this is going to get you in more trouble than you might think. The tsunami hits, and people like Jerry Falwell (who needs a serious fix in his theology) wants to claim that it was God's wrath on a pagan nation. 9-11 was God's way of waking up America. The hurricane in New Orleans was God's wrath on a sinful city, (even though the worse parts of the city were spared.) Where does this thinking stop? If someone dies in a car accident, was that God's wrath on them? If I stump my toe, is that God's wrath?
These stories ARE NOT the stories of God that are retold throughout Scripture. The stories that headline the Psalms and the festivals were those of the God who created, the God who worked in the Exodus, and the God of steadfast love.
Sometimes circumstances just happen. If these self-proclaimed prophets want to share what God is doing, than I would like to see a warrant.
For Christians, it is important for us to ask, "What is God up to in the world?" And how can we join in that activity. So, the questions to ask aren't so much, "What is God's will for MY life?" But rather, "What is God's will?" His will is for us to remain faithful to His mission despite the cards that we are handed in life.
There is my sermon.

Steve said...

Someone please explain to me why God allows evil things to happen to good people. I understand that there will be suffuring, but why unspeakable things to children and innocent victims that are preyed upon by degenerates. I know we will all have a reward some day, but why does one man prosper while another fails. Why are some so blessed with wordly blessings, is our time on earth so short that God doesn't even bother to worry about a short amount of suffering. I would really like to ask why this and why that. I have Faith that he knows what is best, but if he knows all then why does he allow some evil people to relish in their time on earth. I think of the horrible things that Sadam Hussein did, but yet he was allowed the luxuries of a King on Earth and I have to wonder why?

Rick Ross said...


I can't answer your question completely. But I believe that part of the problem is our limited view of time. Saddam Hussien had a very short period of eternity in which he lived in material luxury. But his heart could not have been at peace. And he will pay for it with an eternity of separation from God -- unless he repents.

Evil is Satan's gig. He introduced it in the Garden -- death, suffering, sin, etc. But God has provided a way back to Him. And God can also use what Satan means as bad and hurtful to cause us to grow and mature.

Satan is on a short leash right now. God has bound him and will destroy him. But until the Lord returns -- Satan is inflicting as much pain as he possibly can.

If God so protected us that we never experienced the consequences of sin, then we would not be able to respond to Him in love. Nor would we be able to relate to the world.

I know these are not totally adequate answers. But as the old song says, "We will understand it better by and by."

Dennis said...

Oh, Rick, if you only knew how much I have struggled with that same issue in the last few months. Wouldn't it be so sad for us to find out that God makes really bad things happen to teach us lessons. Don't we have example of that in the old testament? Why would it not be the same today? I don't know if that is the case, but it is something I would like your thoughts on......

Jeff said...

Rick, you should ask some tougher questions. Just kidding as this one is a doozy.

I don't accept the fact that God sent a hurricane to New Orleans to destroy the city any more than I can accept he caused me to leave the house 20 minutes late to avoid an accident that happened in my path.

I don't even know that He cures people from deadly diseases while allowing others to die. I obviously don't have the answers but I do believe God is always listening, always comforting, always promising of what is to come.

I don't know about Open Theism or any other but I do believe He sent His son to die so that I could live in heaven. I read that I am to prepare for eternity, not whatever my life span here will be.

We cannot know why things happen to people. We cannot understand all their choices. Too many suffer pain I think they shouldn't but even when "it feels like an eternity" it's just a short time. Eternity is in front of us. That is what we need to look at and look for.

randy said...

I don't find providence and free will incompatible but I'm not learned enough to express it in theological terms rather than as a personal experience. For me and others I know, it is unwise to question God as to why bad things happen to good people. When my daughter was born sick and handicapped, I did question God as to why an innocent child and her parents who were not particularly evil people should suffer so. My questioning served only to damage a faith that was weaker than I had assumed and I was many years recovering from asking questions that had no answers. However, I believe that I would not have survived the sorrow I feel from her death had I not experienced the difficulties of raising a child who was at first sick then handicapped. I do know that God disciplines those who he loves but I hardly know if that applies to me or to the disaster that engulfed Louisiana and Mississippi. I trust that one day I will better comprehend but my confidence is not in my understanding but in a saviour who died for me and I do not ask God "Why?".