Re: Seeking God's will in physical phenomena

From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
Date: Fri Dec 09 2005 - 23:42:02 EST

George Murphy wrote:

> God cooperates with creatures in everything that happens in the world
> & limits what is done with them to actions that are within their
> natural capacities. Thus what happens in the world can be described
> in terms of those creatures and their interactions withour explicit
> reference to God. This is not pantheism but a relatively traditional
> view of providence. What God exercises in the world is not his
> "absolute" but his "ordained" power. One can, of course, also allow
> for "extraordinary" providence on very rare occassions, but there are
> other ways of understanding miracles. One exposition of such a view
> is at .
> Shalom
> George
> <>

I may be playing fast and loose with the term 'pantheism' (Dave
attribution of apparent confusion to me in his post may be well
warranted -- I haven't looked up or researched the term recently.)
But I did read the article at the link George provided "Chiasmic
Cosmology..." and appreciate the insights given there. In particular I
will reference this snippet from that article.

"... If God voluntarily limits divine action to that which can be
accomplished through natural processes, then God will not (and, as we
commonly observe, does not), in the vast majority of cases, intervene
miraculously to dissolve blood clots which cause strokes or divert
tornadoes from populated areas. "

Aside from deeper philosophical differences that pantheism may have with
Christian thought (and I don't mean to trivialize a rejection of the
incarnate Christ or imply this to be a minor difference), I am still
intrigued by what might amount to a functional similarity. If it were
not for the pantheistic limiting of a god to the realm of natural laws,
then I would see no functional difference between that view and a
providential one. One distinguishing functional feature of the
providential view is that it adds the caveat "in the vast majority of
cases" --thereby refusing to limit a view of God's works as only within
providence (again -- not to minimize other nontrivial differences over
who God is) . This 'vast majority of cases' is the easy realm for us
to latch onto -- precisely where science can provide glorious
enhancement to faith, a continuing fruition of Romans 1:20 (God being
seen by all in creation). But it is the other side -- that minority of
cases so seldom observed (or some insist never observed) in which the
tantalizing 'mischief' lies that confounds and yet attracts our

Even if my earlier reference to the 'artificial' distinction stemmed
from a misunderstanding of something you said, I am still inclined to
view that as a theologically 'beautiful' or 'true sounding'
understanding. At the risk of mis-attributing something to Lewis, I
credit his work for instilling in me the idea that all of reality would
be a seamless garment which, were we to have perfect and complete
knowledge, would show all our previous distinctions ('natural' and
'supernatural') to be relics of ignorance -- albeit useful and even
necessary relics for us at the moment in our partial knowledge.

Thanks, George, for the link to that article.


> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Mervin Bitikofer <>
> *To:* <>
> *Sent:* Thursday, December 08, 2005 6:06 PM
> *Subject:* Re: Seeking God's will in physical phenomena
> wrote:
> Karl replies: "The distinction between supernatural and
> natural is artificial. "
> I know this is probably re-hashing what has probably been
> thoroughly discussed in this forum. But how would you (or do
> you?) distinguish yourself from a naturalist? A seamless reality
> (not divided up with artificial distinctions of our own making)
> "rings true" to me as well. Also, if God is within and under the
> natural order -- then how is this distinguished from pantheism?
> Since I accept the transcendent deity (Creator whose existence
> precedes creation), I still have the challenge of wondering how
> such a creator "works" in creation in any way differently than the
> pantheist already allows for (as an immutable collection of
> natural laws.) If I can't or don't make such a distinction then
> it would seem I am effectively a pantheist or a deist -- both
> positions at odds with orthodoxy.
> --merv
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
>> To:
>> Sent: Tue, 06 Dec 2005 17:42:56 -0600
>> Subject: Re: Seeking God's will in physical phenomena
>> > <>Why not divine God's will by using 'chance'? In Acts 1:26 the
>> lot > was cast (after prayer to know God's will) to determine the
>> twelfth > disciple. And there is a good bit of Old Testament
>> precedence to > determine God's will in the (what I assume to be
>> random) process of > casting lots. Why do we not take this option
>> seriously in our > 'enlightened' times? How many churches today
>> choose their leadership > in such a way -- (there probably are
>> exceptions that actually do). But > obviously the Bible times
>> crowd took quite seriously that God would > intervene to make his
>> will known in this direct fashion. Of course, > one could point
>> out that the Spirit had not yet made its debut in the > tongues
>> of flame -- maybe no lot casting was needed after that. On the >
>> other hand Peter & Paul (both Spirit-filled men) might have
>> resorted > to this in their disagreement over John Mark or their
>> other > disag reements. But they didn't. > Maybe today we're more
>> inclined to line up our thinking with Solomon's > Ecclesiastes
>> 9:11 (911? I can just see conspiracy enthusiasts scooting > to
>> the edge of their seats) "...the race is not to the swift, nor
>> the > battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor
>> yet riches to > men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of
>> skill; but time and > chance happen to them all." More likely --
>> we are more comfortable > with God's will showing up in a
>> revelatory way that is brought to the > surface as we dicker with
>> each other over scripture and in prayer. > > Could it be that we
>> don't really trust God to intervene in this > physical way any
>> more? I'm not advocating that we start -- but I think > it
>> interesting to pose the question 'why not?' One of th e profound
>> > lines in the Lord of the Rings series is when Gandalf is
>> ruminating > over the 'chance' of the ring falling into Bilbo's
>> hands '...chance, / > if chance you call it/'. There is some
>> Christian profundity in that I > believe. I would love to see a
>> theological study on the mathematically > analyzed thing now
>> called 'random'. > > --merv > > > Karl replies:
>> > This is what a number of Reformation churches did. It was most
>> common > among anabaptist traditions, although Zinzendorf claimed
>> it derived > from Luther's commentary on Jonah. The lot (or
>> similar substitute) > was considered the best (only?) way to be
>> assured of determining God's > will. To apply it to our current
>> obsession with ID, they might say > that the only way to be sure
>> that God is the Creator is if He > incorporated chance into the
>> process of creation and did /not/ leave > his "fingerprints"
>> anywhere! :-)
>> > After all, the House always wins!
>> > > For a nice discussion, which also points out some of the
>> practical > pitfalls, see Elisabeth Sommer, 1998, Gambling with
>> Go d: The use of > the lot by the Moravian Brethren in the
>> eighteenth century: Journal > of the History of Ideas, v. 59, p.
>> 267-286.
>> > > Karl
>> > *************************
>> > Karl V. Evans
>> > <> <
>> <>>
>> >
>> >
>> You lost me in the statement: "...the only way to be sure that
>> God is the Creator is if He incorporated chance into the process
>> of creation and did /not/ leave his 'fingerprints' anywhere! ".
>> Would this be like a rejection of what is now called
>> 'supernatural' in favor of a deterministic 'naturalism' in which
>> everything that happens (& must happen) is God's will anyway?
>> You catch me by surprise referencing anabaptist traditions -- I'm
>> a Mennonite so you'd think I'd know. I guess there are some Amish
>> who cast lots to determine who the preacher will be Sunday mo
>> rning. But I haven't experienced such a practice first hand.
>> --merv
>> Karl replies:
>> My comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think still
>> accurate. The distinction between supernatural and natural is
>> artificial. Certainly I would not consider myself a
>> determinist. My own Lutheran tradition (as this layman reads it)
>> would say that God works "in, with, and under" the natural
>> processes. Luther would say that natural processes are the
>> "masks of [the hidden] God. So chance can be incorporated into
>> God's continuing creation. Thus I would not expect to see God's
>> "fingerprints" everywhere self-evident. I also want to point out
>> that this is not a purely Lutheran concept. Aspects of it are
>> found in John Polkinghorne (Anglican), Alan Padgett (Methodist),
>> Elisabeth Johnson and Paul Molnar (Roman Catholic), Nancey
>> Murphey (Anabaptist), Michael Murray (Evangelical - in the common
>> American sense of the term), and Alexei Nesteruk (Eastern
>> Orthodox) -- and that's just a short list of authors who ha ve
>> dealt with science/faith issues. Not everyone uses the same
>> terminology, but the concepts are there.
>> As for your second comment, I don't know how widespread is use of
>> the lot. It may be gone altogether. Sommer's article describes
>> some of the practical problems that developed even the the 18th
>> century. My point was that theologically chance was not a
>> negative -- in fact it was very much a positive.
>> Karl
>> *******************
>> Karl V. Evans
>> <>
Received on Fri Dec 9 23:49:00 2005

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