What is Providence?
In today’s Christian sub-culture, it is common for people to claim that just about anything unusual is a miracle. People talk about the “miracle of childbirth” or they speak of the raise they got at work as “miraculous” because it was unexpected and beneficial in its timing. Recovery from a disease or surgery is also spoken of as being a miracle as is surviving a car accident or other potentially tragic encounter. Interestingly, in almost every case, miracles are events that are seen as beneficial. Never once have I heard a Christian say, “It was a miracle that the tornado came through and destroyed my home” or “It was a miracle that the stock market crashed at just the right time that all my investments have been lost.” In common usage, miracles must, I think by definition, be good things. Yet, if a good thing for one person is a bad thing for another person, how now does it get defined?
Our problem, of course, is that we are self-centered as a culture and we also do not understand the difference between a miracle and God’s providence — the difference between primary and secondary causes for events. The Heidelberg Catechism, in fact, places far more in the realm of providence than I think most Christians are willing to concede, at least in our modern era for Question 27 speaks of God’s providence as the way in which God sustains his creation and governs all things so that not one thing that ever happens in this world of ours ever happens by chance.
Let’s start with the miraculous then. A miracle is an act of God’s divine interposition whereby he interrupts the normal chains of events and brings about a result that cannot be explained by ordinary causal relationships. God’s creation of the universe Ex Nihilo or Jesus changing the water into wine are examples of miracles. Biblically, miracles are also designed to testify to the authenticity of a prophet’s office or, in the case of the Gospels, be a sign that Jesus was who he said he was, God in the flesh. With the completion of the Scriptures, which is the ultimate testimony of God, the miracles no longer serve that function and thus are no longer normative for the church, that is, with the exception of God breathing new life into a dead soul when he regenerates one of his elect.
Does that mean that God no longer governs his universe? Of course not. Yet, what it means is that God no longer governs his universe by being the primary cause of events, but works ordinarily as a secondary cause — by his providence, massaging the causal factors in such a way as that they bring out the results He desires. In this work, his hand is still visible to the believer but it remains invisible to the wicked so that they may remain in their unbelief.
And so, God raises up governments and throws them down. God stirs up the storms and calms them. God raises events in people’s lives that stir them to action or that pacify them. All these things God does, but through ordinary means that do not require a miracle to take place apart from regeneration. Yet, as God is God, he still brings about all things according to the counsel of his will so that once again, not one thing happens by chance and everything that is experienced in this world (good, bad, or in between) comes from his Fatherly hand.
Faithful Obedience, Not Miracles
“When Herod beheld Jesus, he was very pleased for he had wanted, for a long time, to see him because he had heard about him and he hoped that he might do some sign for him. So, he questioned him with many words, but he would not answer him.”
We all want a magic show, don’t we. We want the skies to part and God’s blessed voice to pronounce to us what by faith we ought to embrace. We want rumbles of thunder to accompany our preaching and miracles abounding to attest to our ministry. I had a friend who once told me, “It would be easier for me to believe that God is real if he would just come down from heaven and show me.” The sad thing is that God has done just that and it did not change the unbelief of wicked men. God spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and people wrote it off. Jesus worked numerous miracles during his ministry and people were attracted to the performance. Everyone wanted to see the spectacle…even the jaded Herod…but unbelief is unbelief no matter how many miracles are worked in one’s presence. Judas witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles firsthand, yet still sold his master into the hands of the wicked.
Miracles do not generate faith. Faith is generated by the Holy Spirit as he gives new life to our sin-dead souls. Miracles are meant to confirm faith — to attest to the truth of who Jesus really is — not to set up a circus act. Thus Jesus did no miracles when he was in the midst of his unbelieving home-town and he will do no miracles here in the presence of Herod. Such is the judgment of God — the wicked left in their rejection and wickedness, the blind remaining so.
Pastors and churches, too, often fall into this trap in a different way. They call a new pastor and expect that in a year or so all of the problems of the church will be resolved, it will be growing and thriving, and they will be enjoying the good fruit that is characteristic of a long and enduring ministry. But that is the point, to see the fruit of a long and enduring ministry, the congregation must learn the patience to allow their pastor, barring any major sin, to have a long and enduring ministry while also submitting to his teaching and leadership. The miraculous is not the mark of the true church; faithful obedience to God’s word is.
Forms of Special Revelation
Forms of Special Revelation:
We have been speaking of and citing some of the weaknesses of General Revelation and our need for something more. Yet, let us point out that General Revelation was never designed to teach us our obligation towards God and our proper relationship to him as our creator. Indeed, it was never designed to even guide us in morality even if the fall were not to have taken place. How do we know this? It is because God engaged in Special Revelation prior to the fall of mankind. God gave Adam the law in the garden and regularly communicated with him in terms of instructing him in his role as regent over the creation. We are also told that God was prone to walk through the garden (by implication, to speak with Adam and Eve). Thus, communication beyond what could be learned from nature was part of God’s pre-fall relationship with his creatures. Now, one could argue that all revelation from God is Special Revelation. Was not God the author of the genetic code by which organic creatures function? Was God not the author of the laws of science by which the physical bodies of the universe operate? Certainly the limitation of understanding science lies within us, not within God’s revelation of it in creation. And certainly, in our fallen state, we sometimes mis-interpret the Special Revelation that is given to us. Thus, the important thing to note is that the purpose of General and Special Revelation is different. General reveals broadly and to all; Special reveals narrowly (dealing especially with God and our relationship with and obligation towards him) and only to whom it is delivered. How many people have read the scriptures only to come away with heretical teachings? Thus, not only is it delivered to few, its proper interpretation requires insight from the Holy Spirit, who effectively guides Special Revelation’s delivery.
We can categorize Special Revelation in the following way:
- Manifestations of God: God manifests himself to his people to guide them, encourage them, and teach them. And, God has done this in a variety of ways.
- Theophanies: Where God physically presents himself to the prophet while the prophet is awake and aware of such taking place. For example, God descended upon Mount Sinai when the law was given, He appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and He spoke to Elijah on Mount Sinai to mention just a few.
- Visions: This is where God manifests himself in a vision (not physically) to a prophet who is awake and aware of what is taking place. God came to Abram in a vision, to Samuel, and to the prophet Isaiah again to name just a few.
- Dreams: This is where God manifests himself visually (not physically) to a prophet who is asleep. God communicated this way to Jacob, to Joseph the son of Jacob, and to Joseph, the earthly adoptive father of Jesus again to name just a few.
- In his Son: Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God given not just to the prophets, but to all people. He is also the perfect image of the invisible God and the object of all Special Revelation. All of scripture, not just the Gospels, points to Jesus.
- Prophesy: God also speaks to and through his prophets. The role of the prophet, as we have already discussed, is to faithfully be the mouth of God to his people. The role of prophesy is two-fold: it is to foretell and to forthtell. While some prophesy does speak of things that will take place in the future (foretell), the bulk of prophesy is to speak forth God’s word to the people of God, for rebuke and encouragement (forthtell). With this before us, God speaks prophetically in a variety of ways.
- Direct Verbal Prophesy: God speaks directly to his prophets and then the prophets relate it either orally or in writing to God’s people. This is the “thus says the Lord” clause in scripture.
- Indirect Prophesy: God also spoke to his people through indirect means. God gave the High Priest the Urim and Thummim, by drawing lots, and signs.
- Typology: As God is the God of history, it is not surprising that God would order events in similar ways as a means of demonstrating his hand at work. Typology is the study of these repetitions through persons, events, or institutions that are repeated with intensification in the events that follow—usually pointing toward Christ. For example, the institution of the priesthood, particularly that of the High Priest was designed to prefigure Christ’s priesthood. Moses, as a mediator for his people, prefigures Christ’s mediatorial work. There are many more such events that God has arranged in such a way as that they point to what is to come.
- Miracles: While miracles are not sufficient in and of themselves to generate faith, but they are given to confirm and strengthen the faith that is already present. They were given as signs that the prophets were genuine and given as signs that Jesus really is the Son of God.
In a sense, scripture is the ultimate Special Revelation of God as it is the record of the forms of Special Revelation we have already spoken of that is preserved in writing for God’s people through history. Scripture is the ultimate manifestation of God’s special Revelation to his people, revealing Christ and uniting in Christ all of these separate forms of Special Revelation. Thus, with the close of scripture, the necessity of such authoritative revelation from God has ceased. Scripture reveals Christ in his fullness for God’s people and thus, the completed canon of scripture is given to us as the capstone upon which our faith is held together. It is, according to the Apostle Peter when comparing the scriptures to his own experience of walking with Christ and witnessing (as well as performing) miracles, something that is “more sure.” Thus, we have General Revelation and Special Revelation, and all of the many forms of Special Revelation find their climax in the Scriptures—the written word of God.
This phrase occurs 414 times in the Bible, some examples are: Exodus 4:22, Isaiah 37:33, and Jeremiah 23:16.
This is a view that is hotly debated by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in the church, and this is not the place to go into an extensive discussion of the relevant issues. In short, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements would look to what they refer to as gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy and Tongues) from the New Testament as normative for the church in all ages. In response, the question must be asked, “Is the canon of scripture closed?” Certainly that is the Bible’s own testimony about itself, as we have discussed. If there is continuing authoritative prophesy, for example, thus God speaking verbatim (thus says the Lord) through an agent to his people, are you not adding to scripture? There are many good books which argue on both sides of the debate, but the most important aspect of this discussion is what scripture says of itself. Scripture’s testimony, as we have discussed, is that it is complete and sufficient for matters of faith and matters of life. If it is complete and sufficient, why is there need for further supernatural revelation to be given?
C.S. Lewis: Miracles (outline, part 2)
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea
a. The difference between Tradition and a living faith
II. “Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion” Thomas
a. Popular Religion
1. God is abstract
i. God is truth
ii. God is goodness
iii. God is a spiritual force pervading all things
2. Makes God impersonal
i. impersonal gods make no demands
ii. impersonal gods are more “comfortable” than a god who
demands of us
iii. hence, impersonal gods are more preferable
3. this kind of religion is really pantheism
i. “the fact that the shoe slips on easily does not prove that it is a
new shoe” (131)
ii. pantheism is the permanent “natural bent” of the human mind
iii. only religions to refute pantheism
c. Christianity (the only truly formidable opponent)
4. Pantheism leads to immoral behavior
ii. German racial nationalism (Sprach Zarathustra)
5. Christian vs Panthistic view of God
i. Pantheists believe that God is present everywhere because he is
diffused or concealed within everything
ii. Christians believe that God is totally present at every point of
space and time but not locally present anywhere (no place
or time can contain the fullness of God)
6. Good theology is a nuisance to the fancies of popular religion
i. true historian is a nuisance to one reminiscing about the “good
ii. real musician is nuisance to one indulging in self-taught music
iii. truth vs. preference
iv. “IF God is the ultimate source o fall concrete, individual things
and events, then God himself must be concrete and
individual in the highest degree. Unless the origin o fall
other things were itself concrete and individual, nothing
else could be so; for there is no conceivable means whereby
what is abstract or general could itself produce concrete
v. God “is not a universal being: if he were there would be no
creatures, for a generality can make nothing.
vi. The Limpet analogy (142-143) –note that a Limpet is a marine
vii. must have a conception of what something is to say what it is
viii. the ultimate spiritual realities are more real, not less real than
ix. Note that this is the Rubicon that you cross—once you reject
pantheism, you find yourself crossing into Christianity
I. The Big Idea
a. Are Miracles “acceptable” to a mighty God?
II. Would God break his own scientific laws
a. difference between elementary rules taught to schoolboys and deeper rules
employed by the masters for the purpose of style
b. God created the universe intentionally for a relationship with himself
c. Science is not the rule that constrained God’s creation; science is the byproduct
of God’s orderly creative work
d. “if miracles do occur then we may be sure that not to have wrought them
would be the real inconsistency” (155)
e. we don’t understand God’s deeper plan because “it is a very long story, with a
complicated plot; and we are not, perhaps, very attentive readers.” (158)
I. The Big idea
a. The probability of miracles is not the question, it is how fit miracles may seem
to one’s mind
II. Nature and uniformity
a. “the fact that a thing had happened ten million times would not make it a whit
more probable that it would happen again” (162)
b. “Experience therefore cannot prove uniformity because uniformity has to be
assumed before experience proves anything” (163)
c. we have a sense of “fitness” about the way things go, so all things must be
consistent with that fitness if our minds will readily accept them
d. If God is “a rational Spirit and we derive our rational spirituality from it, then
indeed our conviction can be trusted. Our repugnance to disorder is
derived from Nature’s creator and ours.” (168)
e. “Even those who think all stories of miracles absurd think some very much
more absurd than others: even those who believe them all (if anyone
does) think that some require a specially robust faith. The criterion which
both parties are actually using is that of fitness.” (171)
Chapter 14: The Grand Miracle
I. The Big Idea
a. the Incarnation is the grand miracle of all from which all other miracles stem
from or lead up to
II. The Incarnation is the Grand Miracle
a. greatest importance
b. the supernatural coming down and becoming part of nature for a time
III. Patterns of this in Nature
a. Descent/ascent (death/rebirth)
1. the corn god motif
3. life and rebirth in nature
b. chosen-ness/God’s selectiveness
1. selectiveness in nature
2. selectiveness in redemptive history
c. Vicarious nature
1. exploitation and oppression
2. kindness and gratitude
IV. How other religions respond to these themes
a. Natural religions deify them
b. anti-religions deny them
c. Christianity explains them as illuminated by supernatural
V. Original vs. Imitation
a. Christianity is the original pattern from which all other cultic religions get their
start, not the other way around
b. Christianity as the one true “myth” that really did happen
I. The Big Idea
a. Miracles can be divided in many different ways
d. dominion over inorganic
2. Old and New creation
a. Old Creation= a reflection of what God has already done in
nature on a vast scale
b. New Creation= pointing toward that which is to come
b. note importance of these chapters for apologetic arguments
I. The Big Idea
a. You are now prepared, having dealt with the philosophical aspects, to deal with the historical question. Yet, if you do, make sure that you re-teach yourself what you have been taught for so many years by the culture. Reject Everythingism as something that offers nothing.
The different usages of the term “Spirit” and we must define our terms and say what we mean by the word spirit when we use it in dialogue
On Providential matters—understand the difference between first and second causes and how Lewis is defining Providence as the miraculous and thus rejects providence.
Also understand Lewis’ analogy of the curved lines running parallel to one another and how God views history from the outside, not being bound to it.
C.S. Lewis: Miracles (Outline, part 1)
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea: Before we can argue for Miracles, we must answer the philosophical
question as to whether miracles can exist.
a. They either do exist or they do not.
b. If they do exist, we must also ask if they are likely or not.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. What is your presupposition about miracles?
1. If you don’t believe they exist, even if you are confronted by one you
will explain it away.
2. If you believe that they are possible, but unlikely, you will also explain
them away even if confronted by one.
b. Because historical data is recorded by the observation of people with
presuppositions, historical inquiry cannot prove the miraculous unless the
initial philosophical question is answered.
I. The Big Idea: Defining the terms Miracle, Naturalism, and Supernaturalism.
a. Miracle: “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” (5)
b. Naturalist: Those who believe that nothing but nature exists (5-6)
c. Supernaturalist: Those who believe that there exists something in addition to
nature that is outside of nature (6)
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Given the broad definition of a miracle, the naturalist must, by definition, deny
that miracles are possible
b. The Supernaturalist accepts the possibility of miracles by Lewis’ definition,
though the supernaturalist does not necessarily think that miracles are
c. For the naturalist, nature must be the “whole show” and include whatever there
d. What is “nature” or “the natural state”?
1. the state that something would be in without outside interference
i. the dog would be unkempt and have fleas
ii. the wilderness would not have roads or houses in it
iii. “The natural is what springs up, or comes forth, or arrives, or
goes on, of its own accord: the given, what is there already:
the spontaneous, the unintended, the unsolicited.” (7)
2. As everything must be explainable in terms of the whole system
i. nature must be cause and effect
ii. any spontaneity and originality is reserved for the whole
iii. Nature exists in its own right with nothing outside of it
iv. Nature is independent and depends on nothing.
e. The Supernaturalist
1. Agrees with the naturalist that there must be something that exists in its
2. this self-existing reference is the “Starting point for all explanations”
3. Supernaturalist does not identify this self-existing entity with nature,
and nature is seen as being derivative from that one thing
i. “The one basic Thing has caused all other things to be. It exists
on its own; they exist because it exists. They will cease to
exist if it ever ceases to maintain them in existence; they
will be altered if it ever alters them.” (9)
f. the God of the naturalist
1. a naturalist need not be an atheist if the naturalist’s god is understood to
be within or part of nature, much like the gods of Ancient Greece
and Rome or the Gnostic perspective
2. the naturalist cannot accept a god who is outside of nature or one who
g. the Naturalist view is a view that all things exist within the framework of
nature, the supernaturalist holds that God created the framework within
which nature operates
h. the possibility of a plurality of “Natures” as long as they are not interconnected
in any way, nor do they influence one another.
i. a speculative view of a plurality of natures opens up two kinds of miracles
1. God bringing two natures together for a time
2. God interfering with one or both natures
I. The Big Idea: Naturalism rules out reasoning.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. By definition, Naturalism must be explainable in terms of the whole system
b. Anything found outside of the system ruins the naturalistic argument
c. This rejects science by statistics—everything must be calculable
i. “The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a
coin once is incalculable: the majority movement of a billion units
can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion
times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails.
Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature. If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.” (19)
d. The knowledge we have of any information is observation + inference, thus all
possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning.
i. our observation demands that we recognize something outside of
ii. when we recognize that which is outside of ourselves, then we are
iii. “It follows that no account of the universe canbe true unless that
account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. A
theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but
which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid,
would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have
been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory
would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its
own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no
argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as
proofs—which is nonsense.” (21-22)
e. If nature is explainable in terms of the whole system, it must, by definition,
imply a cause & effect universe—cause and effect all of the way back to
f. In this view, then, reasoning must be nothing more than “one link in a causal
chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of
g. Thus, mental events are caused by previous mental events and nothing more—
“knowledge” plays no role in the progression of these mental events—also
mental events came into being in the same evolutionary way that physical
events came into being—mental events to the naturalist, then are nothing
more than responses to stimuli.
h. Yet, the experience that things are always connected (fire burns you) is only of
animal behavior, Reason comes into play when you infer something from
i. Nature cannot show how one turns sub-rational, animal instinct, into rational
thought, thus a break in the chain occurs
j. Knowing is more than mere remembering what happened last time, but of
inferring that what happened in the past will continue to take place in the
future. Inference, then is determined by genuine knowledge, not by cause
k. Inference and reason are the means by which we know and understand nature
and how we explain nature and cannot be explained by nature
I. The Big Idea: Acts of reasoning are not interlocked in the system of Nature as all
other items are interlocked with one another.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Reasoning is not interlocked with the system of Nature but is connected
1. the understanding of a machine is connected with the machine but not
in the same way that the parts of the machine are connected with
2. My understanding of the machine is outside of the functioning of the
b. Reasoning affects the cause-effect process, but it is a one-way street
1. Nature is powerless to produce rational thought
2. Rational thought produces actions which change nature
i. “Nature can only raid reason to kill; but Reason can invade
nature to take prisoners and even to colonize” (39)
ii. “The walls, ceiling, and furniture, the book, your own washed
hands and cut fingernails, bears witness to the colonization
of Nature by reason: for none of this matter would have
been in these states if Nature had her way.” (39)
c. Asymmetrical relationship (A yields B but B does not yield A)
1. (A) is the father of (B), the reciprocal cannot be said of (B) to (A)
d. Does not follow that rational thought exists absolutely on its own (rational
thought is not God)
1. As above, rationality would become irrationality if it is dependent on
2. Yet, my reason stops at night when I go to sleep or when I am
3. Reason must come from something outside of nature that also exhibits
1. Rather, then of saying, “I reason,” should we not say, “God reasons
2. “Reasoning does not happen to us; we do it.” (43)
3. We also have false conclusions, which would be impossible if our
reasoning were only God reasoning through us.
1. Could this greater reasoning, be a part of nature, having emerged or
evolved as we do?
2. Nature, by definition, cannot beget reasoning, thus that which begets
our reasoning must be outside of nature
I. The Big Idea:
a. Moral arguments are a product of reasoning and not merely a result of societal
II. The Flow of Reasoning:
a. Many suggest that “morals” are merely a result of conditioning by society
b. but “ought”, “this is good” and “this is evil” are value statements, not
c. “If the fact that men have such ideas as ought and ought not at all can be fully
explained by irrational and non-moral causes, then those ideas are an
d. Yet, “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you
will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionize,
liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.” (57)
e. the naturalist is inconsistent—his philosophy does not match his living
f. “If we are to continue to make moral judgments, then we must believe that the
conscience of man is not a product of nature.” (60)
I. Big Idea:
a. Our reasoning is done through the medium of the brain much like we observe
through the medium of a looking glass
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. if the brain is impaired our reasoning is impaired (though the opposite does not
b. When we look at a garden through a window, we are not cognizant of the
window unless we intentionally look at it or it is distorting our field of
c. “The naturalists have been engaged in thinking about nature. They have not
attended to the fact that they were thinking.” (65)
d. The implication is that we ought to discover the looking glass through which
we view nature and understand his character
I. Big Idea:
a. Does nature, by its very nature, exclude the miraculous?
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. People of old believed in miracles because they were uneducated and knew no
1. Joseph understood that virgins did not get pregnant, which is why he
went to send her away
2. Bible presents these things as miracles, not as the norm
b. People of old did not have good enough science to know better
1. Ptolemy taught that earth was point with no magnitude in comparison
to sun 1700 years ago
2. Pythagoras (525 BC) calculated
i. earth was round
ii. earth revolved around a “Central Fire” (though the central fire
was not the sun, and only reflected the sun’s light.
iii. popularized base 10 mathematics
c. Thus, there is no reason to write off miracles because of our chronological
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing that there are regular laws within nature, How does God interact?
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. 3 conceptions on the “Laws of Nature”
1. They are “brute facts” known only by observation
i. but observation cannot give us knowledge—knowledge requires
2. They are applications of the law of averages
i. yet, if the Naturalist is correct, there must be no law of averages
and all must be predictable down to the smallest element
3. Fundamental laws of Physics are “necessary truths”
i. they provide meaning to the system of nature
b. Thus, God’s interaction is an interaction that in itself is a “cause” and effects
come from it—God as a “cause” from which effects come
1. “a miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without
results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow
according to the Natural law.” (95)
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing a God, must he be the kind that acts and is nature any less real as
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. this line of objection (that God would not wish to act) is a purely emotional
b. to say nature is unreal because a God has created her is nonsense
c. Every aspect of nature expresses the character of nature that God wished her to
I. The Big Idea
a. We must understand the nature of this Supernatural God through Analogy
II. Flow of reasoning
a. we cannot understand many finite things but through analogy (imagining
London)—analogies being imperfect notions
b. Yet even an imperfect analogy does not invalidate the results (horrid red
c. 3 principles
1. Thought is distinct from the imagination that accompanies it
2. thought may be sound even when false images accompany it
3. anyone who talks of that which cannot be seen, touched, or heard must
inevitably speak of them as if they could be seen, touched, or heard
d. We must then use analogy to explain the supernatural, not to explain it away