Creation and Sovereignty: What does it mean that God’s in charge?

(system) #1
We want God to control and determine things enough to guarantee that the good guys win in the end; but not so much that God is on the hook for everything bad that happens along the way.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(James Stump) #2

These are challenging ideas. We won’t all come to the same conclusions about them. What do you think are the non-negotiables about God’s providence?

(George Brooks) #3

God has to be responsible for emergence of moral mankind. I think this ultimately has to include the meteor strike 65 million years ago.

(Keith Jones) #4

This seems to be one of the big questions regarding the book of Job. In Job, we see God taking responsibility for Job’s suffering in a way that makes us feel very uncomfortable. As far as God’s sovereignty, He’s in control and that’s that. We know that God is loving and just, so regardless of how to answer this question, we can still find comfort in that. I don’t have a satisfactory answer, even for myself, but I think the important thing is to keep searching and going to God, regardless of what the answer might be.


So Jim, do you believe that man can change the course of evolution?

(GJDS) #6


"… we might recognize what we say God does and what we say humans do as belonging to different discourses that are not reducible one to the other."

I think this approach is a step in the right direction. An additional point is that of differentiating laws of nature (science) as a means to understand natural phenomena as under God’s providence, and that of the divine Law, which sets for all time our understanding of good and evil, and our responsibility regarding our actions (free will) within that law. In both cases, God has determined all that we may comprehend, but our comprehension does not encompass all that God has determined.

(James Stump) #7

Sure, and so can woman!

Seriously, it seems possible that we could alter evolution. We have done so for plants and some animals already through genetic engineering. Is this what you’re talking about?


It could be, but I’m really thinking about the misuse of antibiotics; overusing them or feeding them to healthy production animals just to make them grow faster. That makes bacteria more resistant to antibiotics, and it’s a real problem. So our actions change the course of evolution, right?

(James Stump) #9

That much seems uncontroversial. And of course we’ve changed dog evolution through artificial selection practices. If all you’re talking about is change in the frequency of alleles over time, does anyone deny that our actions affect this? It feels like there is something more behind your question…


I’m talking about evolution. I’d say that humans change the course of evolution in major and minor ways. We drive entire species to extinction and introduce invasive species, etc. Do you agree?

(James Stump) #11

Yes, I agree we have driven entire species to extinction and have introduced invasive species.

I still feel like I’m walking into a trap! What conclusion are you deriving from all this? Are you claiming that this undermines a belief in God’s providence somehow?

(George Brooks) #12

There seems to be no doubt that we can see humanity sending shock waves through ecosystems all around the world. We may not live long enough to see speciation per se - - we certainly do live long enough to see extinctions … and with each extinction, the forces of evolution are pivoted on countless species everywhere …with unknown ramifications.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #13


Thanks for this thought-provoking essay. At one part you wrote:

But this example doesn’t work so well for cases of human actions because the hammer doesn’t have any moral responsibility for what it causes; it’s just a tool. I don’t think we’re just tools.

It would seem that some prophets of old do not shy away from comparisons that compare us to God in just this “mere tool” sense. Of course I’m thinking of the potter and the pot metaphor. It seems to me that this view unapologetically embraces the “God does it all” side of this without fretting over any apparent moral culpability that seems to come inseparably with that. And yet we don’t see prophets yielding one iota on issues of our own moral culpability. So somehow Jeremiah maintained both of these in a way that could merit further exploration. And we know Paul uses the same metaphor (approvingly of course) linking it into Christian orthodoxy.

And I admit all this as somebody who unflinchingly maintains a conviction that we have free will. Maybe the proposition you find so unsatisfying (that we might be ‘mere hammers’) could be an instance of what you later compare to a kind of duality principle: that pliant “clay” in God’s hands could still be equated to free will complete with moral culpability in us.

I think you absolutely “nail” it in your final paragraphs, by the way, when you conclude that these comparisons can “force us to admit that neither perspective tells the whole story”. Thanks again for that.

(George Brooks) #14

Questions of whether humans (or humanity in general) are “just tools” or not - - are raised and addressed by any number of denominations.


(Tim Reddish) #15

This carefully crafted post treads carefully through the minefield of providence. It is not that I want to a use war metaphor, but it is a contentious issue to some! This is a challenging—and exciting—issue for Science-Christianity dialog, yet having the potential for further new insights that help foster faith. I wonder sometimes if we make little progress along certain lines of thinking because we have created false dualisms or we are asking the wrong question…

Your comment on wave-particle duality may need qualifying. I suspect a theoretical physicist, like Polkinghorne, would say the issue is “resolved” (united) by quantum field theory. As an experimental physicist, I suggest that they are, nevertheless, very different phenomenological manifestations of the same ‘reality’. Consequently, the term “paradox” is still appropriate and potentially useful in the context of providence. But I totally agree that we should not invoke ‘mystery’ prematurely, or use it to wrap up confused, incoherent ideas and demand others accept them “by faith”. As you say, there will, in the final analysis, always be an element of mystery. That is why humility is required in defending our passionately held views and grace extended to those who see things differently.

(John T Mullen) #16

Thanks for the excellent post @jstump . At the risk of sounding like a guy with an agenda, I was wondering where the Molinist view of Providence fits, or doesn’t fit, into the list of available options. I take it to be consistent with Aquinas’ distinction between primary and secondary causes. I remember William Hasker, a vigorous anti-Molinist, once remarking that for those wedded to both a common-sense, experiential view of free will and a traditionally strong view of Providence, Molinism is the “only game in town” (Hasker himself opting for open theism). Do you take it to have such severe problems that it cannot be seriously considered? Or is it coming soon to a post near us?


Not a trap. I just wanted you to understand that evolution involves a lot of contingency.


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(George Brooks) #19


I look forward to your thoughts on this. Much depends on a person’s personal view of how much randomness God works “around” … vs. how much randomness God works “through”.


(Jon Garvey) #20

Or to put it another way, George, one could ask whether a guy who plays roulette at a casino is “working through” randomness, or whether only the owner is.