The relationship between creation and providence is not one that is often considered. Usually when we talk about creation we think about the “7 day” or the creation/evolution debate. When we talk about providence we usually speak of God’s providence in “helping me get that job” or “keeping me from getting in that car accident.” In this blog we will be talking about creation and providence in ways that we don’t usually discuss.
Creation and Providence
The Church has traditionally affirmed several things about God and creation. First, that God himself is the only uncreated necessary being. Second, that God is the creator of all things that exist outside of himself (for all things x, if x is contingent, then God creates x). Third, that God creates ex nihilo, that is God does not create the universe out of some pre-existent matter rather God creates out of nothing. This follows from the first and second points, for if God is the only uncreated necessary being, and God is the creator of all things which are contingent, then it is not possible that there is some matter which exists outside of God but is also uncreated. Finally, God conserves the creation in being for as long as the creation continues to exist. That is, if x is contingent then God has brought x into existence and God conserves x in existence. Some have argued against this final point, that God conserves x in existence. These people argue that God does not conserve things in existence; rather God is continually creating new things. Thus, if x is contingent then God continuously creates x at each moment of its existence. But this formulation of the notion that God continuously creates does not accurately portray what actually happens, because God is not creating x at each moment of existence, x flashes out of existence and God brings into being a numerically distinct entity, y, and so on as long as contingent objects exist. Yet if God continuously creates the world, then it does not make sense to talk about God’s providential action in the world because it is unclear which entity God’s providence is directed towards if that entity no longer exists after it is created. Thus if we are to have a doctrine of providence, it seems as though we cannot accept a continuous creation account of creation. Providence is a concept that we find in the Bible (Mt. 10:29-31, Romans 8:28, Psalm 147) so it is a concept that we want to keep in our theology.
The concept of providence is multifaceted. When talking about providence we can talk about how God preserves his creation in existence. God brings creation into being and God keeps creation in being. We could also talk about how God sustains his creation; although he is transcendent he is also intimately involved with his creation. Finally we can talk about how God has a purpose for his creation. God has certain ends in view for all of creation, for the Church, and for individuals. However in saying that God has ends in mind for his creation, and more importantly for the humans he has created, we are faced with a question: Does God and the humans he has created have the same ends? It seems as though the answer is no, they don’t always have the same ends. So if God has some ends in mind and humans have other ends in mind, which are often quite different from God’s ends, is it possible for God to achieve his ends without limiting the freedom of humans to fulfill their ends? To answer this question we must first look at what it means for humans to be free.