Re: divine action/creaturely action

From: george murphy (
Date: Mon Jun 11 2001 - 13:58:27 EDT

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    "Terry M. Gray" wrote:

    > 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.)
    > TG
    > >Uko Zylstra, Ph.D.
    > >Biology Department
    > >Calvin College
    > >tel: (616)957-6499
    > >email:
    > >
    > >>>> "Howard J. Van Till" <> 06/08/01 08:59AM >>>
    > >Uko wrote:
    > >
    > >> In discussion concerning divine action, Howard Van Till asks "What word,
    > >other
    > >> than "persuasion", describes an action that is effective but not coercive?"
    > >> Although I am not keen on the distinctions introduced by the terms
    > >"persuasive"
    > >> 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 '?'
    > >
    > >Howard
    > >
    > >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
    > >with
    > >the laws of nature (to which our "laws" are only approximations). This is the
    > >sense
    > >in which divine action is non-coercive.
    > .............................................................................

    > >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
    > .............
    > .......................................................................................
    > >I don't see how the terms coercive or persuasive helps me in understanding the
    > >notion of governance as divine action.

            The terms "coercion" and "persuasion" wouldn't be my first choices to
    express questions about divine action. My concern would be to bring out 2
    essential points:
            1) God is active in everything that happens in the world.
            2) God limits his action to that which can be accomplished through natural
            I.e., God limits the exercise of his sovereignty and grants a kind of
    relative autonomy to creatures in that God does not (at least in the vast majority
    of cases) make them do things which are inconsistent with their natures.
            There is probably a certain amount of old Lutheran-Reformed difference
    lurking behind this discussion, at least as it concerns my contribution.
            The comparison of this issue with the Incarnation & Trinity is
    appropriate. (In fact, the idea of God's cooperation with natural processes is
    closely related to the decision of the 6th ecumenical council that there are two
    natural operations" in Christ, divine and human.) But with all these we need to
    bear in mind an important distinction. It's one thing to confess, e.g., that the
    Trinity - i.e., the inner life of God - is ultimately a "mystery." It's quite
    another thing to say that a doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery. Doctrinal
    formulations are attempts to make sense of Christian beliefs, & are supposed to
    make sense. If a theologian's _doctrine_ of the Trinity is a mystery it's probably
    because he or she has formulated that doctrine carelessly - & similarly for other



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Dialogue"

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