Re: divine action/creaturely action

From: Terry M. Gray (
Date: Mon Jun 11 2001 - 11:19:23 EDT

  • Next message: george murphy: "Re: divine action/creaturely action"

    I too have problems with Howard's notion of coercion. I just had the
    occasion to be re-reading Charles Hodge's chapter on providence in
    Systematic Theology. At the end of a long discussion on the various
    speculations about God's interactions with the creation in his
    governance and sustenance, he writes:

    "All we know, and all we need to know, is, (1.) That God does govern
    all his creatures; and (2.) That his control over them is consistent
    with their nature, and with his own infinite purity and excellence."
    (p. 605)

    We may not be satisfied with an "all we need to know" type answer,
    but what is interesting about Hodge's conclusion is that it affirms
    God's absolute control and at the same time affirms the creature's
    authentic creaturely activity (even the action of free agents). He
    also escapes the problem of evil. What an economy of words!

    Those of us who think this statement contains a contradiction or want
    to peer in more detail into the how's of God interactions with the
    universe will indeed be dissatisfied, but, as I have said before,
    this antinomy is just an extension of the sovereignty/responsibility
    antinomy. Christianity is no stranger to such formulations. We see
    the same sort of tensions in our discussions of the human/divine
    natures of Christ and the nature of the Trinity.

    So in answer to Howard's concern about "coercion", I simply say,
    "No!" God's control does not violate the real agency of the creature.
    One of the interesting things about Hodge's evaluation of the various
    solutions posed is that they each introduce new problems. Howard's
    formulation, I believe, does just that. It compromises the governance
    of God over the details of creation because he desires to preserve
    authentic creaturely agency (and perhaps in the interest of solving
    the problem of evil). But, this only appears to be the case because
    he cannot see how both can be true. He cannot see how God can control
    without coercion. (I'm not sure I can either, but I affirm that it is
    possible since both scripture and experience tell us so.)


    >Uko Zylstra, Ph.D.
    >Biology Department
    >Calvin College
    >tel: (616)957-6499
    >>>> "Howard J. Van Till" <> 06/08/01 08:59AM >>>
    >Uko wrote:
    >> In discussion concerning divine action, Howard Van Till asks "What word,
    >> than "persuasion", describes an action that is effective but not coercive?"
    >> Although I am not keen on the distinctions introduced by the terms
    >> or "coercive", it strikes me that the word Howard is looking for is "law".
    >But the word I was looking for was to describe _divine action_, not to
    >introduce another category.
    >> It is through
    >> God's laws that God governs the creation.
    >What kind of divine action is 'governance.'? Is is 'coercive'? or
    >'persuasive'? or '?'
    >George also commented as follows:
    > 1) As to the general idea, yes - but God also (at least in the vast
    >majority of cases) limits his action in the world to what can be
    >done in accord
    >the laws of nature (to which our "laws" are only approximations). This is the
    >in which divine action is non-coercive.
    > 2) In what sense are "biotic laws" different from "physical laws"?
    >In response to Howard and George's questions, I have reservations about the
    >terms "coercive" or "persuasive" in reference to divine action.
    >Both terms have
    >a connotation that the world exists independent of God as some
    >autonomous entity
    >(entities). The concept of law as the relation between God and the creation
    >entails that
    >The challenge for us is to understand the differentiation of laws that thus
    >account for the diversity of the unfolding, development and
    >continued existence
    >of created structures. This includes, for example, the recognition that there
    >are also biotic laws (as distinct from physical/chemical laws) that also hold
    >for living things. Living things are distinct from non-living, physical things
    >in that they are also subject to biotic laws which account for the life
    >functions that they reveal. An example of such a biotic law would be the "law
    >for cell division". Cell division is a pattern of a life (biotic) function of
    >cells. The cell division is a function of the cell, subject to the biotic law
    >for cell growth and division. Although this function of cells orchestrates the
    >activities of many molecules (physical entities) enclosed within the cell, the
    >cell division itself is not a function of those molecules. Our
    >understanding of
    >the roles of these molecules and the numerous cell division genes (cdc genes)
    >that are involved with the cell division process has certainly contributed to
    >our understanding of regulatory pathways of the cell division process, but the
    >cell division itself is not a function of any one of these genes,
    >but rather of
    >the cell as a living entity. The process of cell division is thus governed by
    >the laws for the cell, including the "law" for cell division.
    >I don't see how the terms coercive or persuasive helps me in understanding the
    >notion of governance as divine action.

    Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
    Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
    Fort Collins, Colorado  80523
    phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801

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