Sunday, 2 April 2017

Four Views on Divine Providence

What is the relationship between things happening to you or you making decisions and God's plan for this world? What happens if you apply for a job and don't get it, or your kid ends up in hospital very sick or you just can't decided to wear a jumper or not as it doesn't seem that cold right now. How does any of this fit into God's plan. Does God overrule our decisions in some way, if so how then are we free agents - maybe we aren't. Sam Harris doesn't hold to free will. If we aren't free, then how can God hold us responsible for the bad things we do?

There is no doubt that the relation of God's involvement over our free choices is a bit of a pickle. But it is a Christian pickle. Those who do not believe in God of cause don't have to incorporate God's will into things of this world, but then again they also can't tell you if things of this world are objectively evil or bad, as things are just, like, your opinion, man.

This book looks at four views of how God's plan for the world incorporates human freedom. It pulls in four academics from various circles to put forward their take on the issue. This is a counterpoint book, so at the end of each chapter, the other authors write their response to that chapter. As William Craig Lane pointed out in response to Ron Highfield, this book really has three views of Divine Providence as Highfield's view is quite the same as Paul Kjoss Helseth's. I think that is because Highfield and Helseth were the guys who mostly stuck with scripture and not philosophy.

Paul Kjoss Helseth was unashamedly for the sovereignty of God in all things. God causes all things. Helseth goes to creation and God's continual sustaining of the world to show that obviously, since God is sustaining the universe, he is in effect controlling everything that takes place in it. This was an almost deterministic view of the world. Helseth says once or twice that trying to mesh human freedom with God's actions in the world is "inscrutable". He kind of got hammered in the responses on two fronts. First by just throwing up his hands in saying "who knows how human freedom works" and second with his deterministic view. When it comes to pain and evil he was not clear in how God is off the hook for causing pain and evil in this world.

William Craig Lane's position is called Monlinism. Lane concedes that scripture doesn't really resolve this issue but what little bits of evidence we have about God we can enter into the world of philosophy. This chapter had it's own vocabulary with things like middle knowledge and counterfactuals which pretty much means possible situations. I think scripture is clear that God knows what would happen in possible situations (1 Sam 23:7-13, Mat 11:20-24) but what is not clear is if God used His power of knowing all possible situations when He created this world. Lane's position is that God used His middle knowledge before creating the world to produce situations that He knew we would choose of our own free will. This way our choices are really free, but God's use of His middle knowledge means that He knows what free choices we are going to make, so has already worked around this by making this world. It kinda sounds like a popular level of Arminianism where predestination works by God looking down the corridor of history to see who would choose to follow Him. Lane believes, this world is the best possible world God could create giving certain logical constraints.

Generally objectors to this position don't like the idea of something besides God existing before the beginning of time, namely these counterfactuals. It sounds like in the beginning God and counterfactuals existed. However, counterfactuals don't seem to be material or existent without a mind, so they do kinda seem dependent on God. Another objection is how free are we really if God has engineered this world knowing what we would decide? We may feel free, but it seems that ultimately it is an illusion. Also on the problem of evil front, Lane didn't fair so well in saying that this is the best possible world God could have made, however we don't have all the facts at hand, so its possible this is the best possible world. It is kinda hard point to prove.

Ron Highfield is a compatibilists, that is people are free and God is sovereignty controlling all of history. Instead of relying on the "traditional" position like Helseth or a philosophical position like Lane, Highfield tried to grasp what scripture says. We see God working throughout history, we know He is taking it somewhere and had a goal in mind and we also see people are making free decisions of their own throughout the Bible. We know in salvation that God saves people, but also to be saved you have to repent. Both parties are involved. We know that the Bible is the word of God, but it was also completely written by humans. Again, both parties are involved. While Helseth language seemed more deterministic, Highfield did give people free choices. This position also got hammered for the same reasons as the first view.

Greg Boyd put forward the idea of Open Theism. This seems to push the Molinist view even harder. Instead of thinking about what God knew at the beginning of creation, here the focus is on what God knows in the present. God's omniscience is (re)defined as to contain all that is possible to know, and it is impossible to know the future. God is like a good author in a choose your own adventure book in that he allows people to make real choices and those do alter the future plan. God is like a master chess player who can predict what may happen from those choices, but it is not certain. This view elevates human's freedom with the reasons that it is a way of God showing His love to us. This also gives a reasonable account of evil in the world - it is cause by people's free actions.

The main problem that stood out to me came from the concluding chapter written by the editor of the book, Dennis W. Jowers. They state that "The value of Boyd’s theodicy, finally, hinges on the accuracy of his views on the divine nature, that is to say, the crucial question for Boyd’s theodicy is not whether he succeeds in absolving God of responsibility for evil; it is whether he absolves the right God." The issues isn't if this theory solves the problem of evil, the issue is if this theory aligns with the Christian God in scripture. Having God not know the future makes Him dependent on time and so is subject to change or is contingent on something. The other issue is if scripture actually gives humans libertarian free will. Romans 6 says we are either slaves to sin or slaves to God, upon conversion we get one heart taken out and a new one put in (Ezk 36:26-27; Jer 31:33). The choices we make are not an even 50/50 of making a good or a bad choice, our master or our hearts control our decisions, regardless of how free we really think we are.

When I was about 80% into this book I went on my church's weekend away. There Ray Galea was speaking on God (talk audio). Ray's last talk was on God's wisdom and in that he touched on Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
There are some things that we can know because God has revealed it to us, and there are some things we don't know, not because we aren't smart, but because God just hasn't told us. Ray was a bit pragmatic in the sense that we should just get on with what we do know and not spend too much time on what we don't. I thought that was helpful while reading this.

So where do I stand on this issue? I think if I had to align myself with a view I would go with compatibilism. God is sovereign over people's  free choices. People's free choices are of cause limited by their own hearts, desires, will, habits and/or biases and are sustained by God Himself who is working out His plan that He set before time began. The tension seems to be between giving God sovereign rule over the world causing Him to be at least passively responsible for bad things in this world OR giving people libertarian free will causing God to be reduced in His attributes. I would rater give God His glory and reduce my own free will than absolve the wrong God from the issue of theodicy.

Other counterpoint books I have reviewed
Five views of apologetics


Post a Comment