ENGLISH VERSION - Bulletin Nº 24 March 07, 2021
Everything is Providential
Lews in the
Symphony of History
by Joey Rigney
When we consider theologians in church history who have celebrated the doctrine of God's exhaustive providence, the names that immediately come to mind are Augustine, Calvin, Edwards and Owen. For my part, I would like to add perhaps a surprising name to that list: C.S.Lewis. Although Lewis is widely recognized for his emphasis on human freedom and the centrality of our choices, he also has a deeply insightful and biblical view of divine providence.
His latest book, Letters to Malcolm, is mainly about prayer, but it is partly about providence. And this is not surprising, because the question "If there is such a thing as divine providence, why should we pray?" occupied Lewis throughout his life. And in this final book (published after his death), he instructs us on how to think about God's providence. Furthermore, Lewis shows us the value of clear theology for practical life. Although his thoughts about God and his attributes can sometimes seem complex and difficult to understand, the practical reward is real and tangible. Thinking clearly about who God is and how he relates to the world aims to lead us to a true encounter with him in prayer.
In all the Letters to Malcolm, Lewis returns to two fundamental facts: God is God and we are creatures. God is God means that he is ultimate, absolute and incomparable. He is the Absolute being that speaks freely to the existence of derived beings. For God to be absolute means that he is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. It also means that being his is fundamentally unique. "The words 'to be' cannot be applied to him and [his creatures] in exactly the same sense". God's way of being and existing is incomparable; there is no one like him. God is the absolute, infinite, eternal, impassive, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Creator.
Creation is the universe derived and invented from time and space, brought into existence by God from nothing in a single eternal creative act. Lewis shares a belief in these two fundamental facts with the entire Orthodox Christian tradition. And from these two fundamental facts, Lewis unfolds a wonderful and fruitful vision of divine providence. First, because of the uniqueness of the Creator-creature relationship, Lewis believes that divine and human action are not mutually exclusive in the same way that the actions of two creatures would. "God made" and "I did" can both be true for the same act. As the Bible says, we are working on our salvation because God is working on us (Philippians 2: 12-13). God Himself "[works] in us what is pleasing in His eyes" (Hebrews 13:21). And this provision does not apply only to our good deeds. What we intend for evil, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20). Lewis does not intend to explain the mystery of God's providence and human choice. In line with the Scriptures, he simply states that God and man cannot be excluded on the mysterious frontier where the timeless Creator and the temporal creature meet. God is the absolute agent; we are derived patients. But one of the things that God did was to make us practitioners in our own right.
The God who is Pure Act made us agents. In our derived way of creation, we also “manage our little tridents”. This relationship between the timeless God and his temporal creation is crucial. For Lewis, God's only creative act contains all of God's providential acts in history. In fact, history is simply the only creative act of God "spread over time". “God and his actions don't happen over time. The relationship between God and man occurs at particular times for man, but not for God ”. Thus, all adaptation and entanglement that occurs between the actions of God and our actions are given from the beginning.
The divine “Haja” includes not only the first moments of creation, but all moments of creation. "Each stroke, including the fall of each sparrow, accomplishes exactly what the Creator wants." From these basic facts about God, creatures and history, Lewis draws the following conclusion: "If there is Providence, everything is providential and every providence is a special providence" The world is not simply a collection of billiard balls, with God as the white ball that hits everything around the table. He associates such determinism with the atheistic and scientific point of view, which reduces human choices and acts to the torrent of universal processes that are inevitably occurring throughout the system. Whatever the merits of this view in thinking about the natural world, it does not do justice to the kind of creatures God made us to be - creatures with a conscious sense of our freedom and responsibility for our actions.
In place of this mechanistic determinism, Lewis offers a poetic view of providence. God is an artist, a composer, a poet. History is governed, not as a state, but created as a work of art to which each being makes a contribution and (in prayer) a conscious contribution, and in which each being is an end and a means. Finally, Lewis's vision of providence is personal and practical. Because everything is providential, all of our actions were “taken into account” by our Creator. Nothing is left to chance; everything is included in the great symphony. This includes our prayers, which, for Lewis, are a crucial element in the Christian life. When we pray, we don't just want "results". We want to be heard. In fact, Lewis says, we can withstand refusals, if we know that our prayers have been heard by a loving Father who rules everything for his good purposes. But we can only know this if we believe that our Father is the Absolute Creator, that we are his creatures and that everything is providential.
Our prayers - both those that God answers as we hope and those that he does not answer - are deliberately woven into the fabric of history. Both types of prayers are part of the great symphony, each taking its place within God's great project. No matter the outcome of our prayers, we always know that we have been heard. As the Absolute Creator, God sustains everything by his word of power. It is present everywhere and in everything. Thus, everything is providential and every providence is a special providence. However, when we pray and when we act in a spirit of prayer, we make a conscious and deliberate contribution to the course of events. Of course, our contribution does not nullify that of God. "God made" and "I did" are both true. But in prayer and in our consciously dependent actions, we rise from the ontological continuity that we share with all things (like sparrows) to the union of wills that is the true end for which God created the world. We become more than mere notes in the divine symphony; we become people in the divine presence. Everything is known to God, because everything is included in the one creative act. The change is in us. The liability changes to the asset. Instead of just being known, we show, count, offer ourselves in sight.
This meeting of people - this meeting between the absolute Creator and his derived and redeemed creatures - is the whole reason why history exists. And it is open to you today, even at this very moment. Everything is providential, including your reading this article now.
Every providence is a special providence, which means that your Father is graciously issuing an invitation to get up to meet and be known by him. The entire symphony has been built up to this point, until the next note. What grade will it be?
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