Finding the Art in Everything

28 October, 2011

P is for Providence

In class, as we were working on models of creation and scientific reconciliation, we were challenged to choose one and defend it. I find these decisions difficult, but as I wrestled with it, a new standard occurred to me: I’m not just looking for truth, I’m looking for a truth I can live with. This makes all the difference when defining my own worldview: a worldview isn’t merely a set of ideas I comprehend and occasionally reference. It’s the set of ideas I’ve decided to live with, for better or worse.

In the creation exercise, I chose the pictorial day theory of reconciliation. This suggests that God revealed to Moses the sequence of creation in a series of visions, and Moses chose to organize and communicate them in terms of days. As a writer and an artist, the literary framework theory fits my context the best—it works in image and metaphor. Beyond its personal appeal, I chose it because it offers the most amount of space for both science and scripture to live in. It doesn’t insist on scientific proof we’ll never have, such as the exact age of the earth. It also doesn’t let the science we do have threaten the claims of the bible. It still follows a logical, recognizable ordered pattern, which is congruent with our scientific observations in creation, and our spiritual ones about God’s nature. But most important, it liberates the conversation from the confines of the literal six days hog-tied to soteriology. The credibility of a bible I’m willing to live with depends upon much more than the claim of 6 days. Questioning 6 literal days does not undermine the bible’s authority as much as pitting it against science, in my view, unnecessarily.

I then turned my attention to the doctrine of Providence I sifted through the ideological possibilities and measured those views against my world. I realized I’m unwilling to live with the idea of limited providence. A God I’ll stake my life on must offer comprehensive control or provision that is utterly independent from all other forces—a provident omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence that is subject to nothing, especially not me. Also, I can’t live with a reality that selectively includes Divine influence and assistance. I’m too aware of natural evil, the general moral evil, and my own faults and frailty. If God is our only hope, we can only hope that He is everywhere, working in everything, all the time.

Yet, I realize I can’t live with the idea that God eliminates or limits genuine human freedom. A divine totalitarian is inconsistent with both human behavior and His own definition of Love. Inherently, some aspects of love are voluntary. Observable reality shows that our choices have effects, and often painful effects from poor ones. If freedom is genuine, we must be permitted to choose poorly. Yet, I recall a set of historical political illustrations from the Great Depression that Norman Rockwell created for FDR. They were called the “Four Freedoms” and they changed the definition of American Freedom. They shifted the definition of Freedom from “Freedom to…” to “Freedom from…”. Not only should we be free to choose our leaders, but we should be free ­from fear and hunger. When I think about God’s capability to make us free from that which torments our earthly existence, I am not sure I’m unwilling to sacrifice my volition for the guarantee of peace and provision. I’m not impressed by what human volition has earned us.

This is partly why I have difficulty with the discussion of freedom and human will so commonly confined, again, to soteriological matters. I’m thinking of conversations that involve flowers and five points. They seem to trivialize the definition of freedom and our dilemma. Perhaps it would be better to begin the conversation with providence and extend it to soteriology, not work backwards from it. But I think it would be best to start the conversation with Jesus, who models the only conceivable solution to the quandary. God’s providence is deeply connected to freedom, yet the nature of freedom is deeply voluntary. And the consequences of (at least) human volition threaten or ruin the freedom and goodness He’s offered. However, if we voluntarily surrender our volition to God, praying “Your will be done”, as Jesus did, then freedom and will are reconciled. And that is a reconciliation I can live with.