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 think about.
God’s Providence and Freedom
As Westerners, freedom is something that we greatly value. Living in the United States one is taught from childhood how valuable a gift freedom really is, so naturally people who think about God in America are interested in how their freedom relates to God’s providence. One way to think about freedom is in the libertarian sense. Libertarian freedom is the view of freedom in which an action is free if and only if one has alternate possibilities. That is, if an agent can choose to do x or y, then that agent is free. In other words the agent is free if her actions are undetermined.
When talking about God’s providential purpose we want to affirm that in some sense humans are free agents. Yet an issue arises when we define freedom in a libertarian manner. If an agent is free if and only if the agent has alternate possibilities, how can God ensure that his purposes are accomplished? It seems as though we cannot affirm with absolute certainty that God will accomplish his ends if agents are free in the libertarian sense. For if there are genuine alternatives in the created order then it seems that God is taking a risk in allowing for freedom. How is God taking a risk? It seems as though if there are truly alternative possibilities in creation then God cannot truly know the outcomes of those possibilities, if he did then they would not truly be alternative possibilities. So a consequence of holding a libertarian view of freedom is that we must say that God takes risks. Saying that God takes risks is too high of a price to pay. First if we affirm this position, then we must say that God’s grace will not necessarily be efficacious. That is, it is possible that God’s grace does not actually end up bringing anyone to salvation. This seems strange and contrary to biblical evidence. Secondly another consequence of affirming that God takes risks is that it would mean that God is in time, and so is not timelessly eternal. Some theologians might be fine with this result, but others won’t. Finally and perhaps the highest cost of this position is that if God takes genuine risks, then it is possible that in the end God’s purposes never come to pass. This is too high of a cost to pay.
So how can we hold a position that upholds human freedom and ensures that God does not take risks? The answer is compatibilism.