On the Curious Nature of Divine Providence

On the Curious Nature of Divine Providence

Divine providence is often thought of as being antithetical to the natural world. It is conceptualized as a kind of glorified deterministic meddling: an occurrence within the world on the part of God that would not have otherwise happened, had God not intervened within the affairs of man and changed the trajectory. A moment in time where God storms the cockpit, so to speak. However, is this really how one ought to think concerning providence? How many providential acts does it take for such an understanding of Providence begin to devour any real notion of free will? And doesn’t such an understanding turn all prophecies into mere self-fulfilling prophecies? This could bring the accusation that God does not truly know the future, but rather He merely coerces events to shape a future He desires, which has severe implications on the immoral state of the present world.

There are some interesting moments in the Old Testament where Providence reveals itself. For example, in 1 Kings 22, it has the account of King Ahab and Jehoshaphat switching places in battle, pretending to be the other. Earlier, the prophet Micaiah (my favorite of all prophets, due to his incredible sarcasm) tells the king that if he went to battle at Ramoth-gilead, he would die. Not only that, but the text says God was behind Ahab’s decision to go to Ramoth, because it was foreknown that Ahab would be naïve and listen to the false majority (1 Kings 22:22-23). This is when things get interesting. During the battle, everything seems to be going according to plan. The enemy thinks Jehoshaphat is actually Ahab, chasing after him, and nobody knows where Ahab actually is on the battlefield. But all of a sudden, some unnamed archer randomly launches an arrow into the air with no real purpose, and it is that very arrow that happens to strike the hidden Ahab right between his armor, killing him (1 Kings 22:34-35). The question becomes, where exactly was God’s providence? Did God providentially guide the arrow? Perhaps He providentially persuaded the random archer to shoot an arrow in a general direction. Perhaps it was simply the persuading of Ahab to providentially enter the battle and the way of death is irrelevant.

In the account of David and Goliath, we all know David defeats Goliath with a single stone and a sling. Again I ask, does God providentially guide the stone through the air in order to strike Goliath precisely on the head? Or perhaps David was providentially born left-handed, because Scripture explicitly goes out of its way to mention how left-handed people were gifted with being able to “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16).

Caiaphas providentially says, “It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, rather than the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). John, understanding the theology of this, mentions that Caiaphas was not merely speaking from his own violent heart and limited understanding alone, but such words, nonetheless spoken of his own will, were also providentially crafted from God (John 11:51).

Providence seems to be God paradoxically, synergistically, and mysteriously executing His will in natural ways, and the mystery is in how God is able to do this without also overruling human freedom.

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