God: Above, Within, Unnecessary

Transcendence, Immanence, Humanism

The cosmos continues to exist. The theist claims that God created the world. Those two claims imply that there are two realities, God and the world. That means that there is some relation between them. Talk about creation as beginning, and we have a question about whether the relation of God to the world at the beginning and to the world as a continuing reality is the same relation. Does the creative relation to the world continue as it was in the beginning or is there some difference between that ‘original’ reality and the present continuing reality. Or has God’s relation to the cosmos found its fulfilment at the beginning with the existence of the cosmos.

We can put the problem in different ways by reflecting that a doctrine of providence has in Christian theology always been associated with the doctrine of creation. God’s relation to the cosmos is the same, as expressed in the terse phrase, ‘as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.’

For the cosmos continues. Speak of providence and the image of a God supremely above the world in his transcendence directs events within the cosmos and acts within the cosmos to fulfil his purpose. Or put more piecemeal, he provides for as event here and another there as he sees the need in the individual case.

An alternative understanding of providence has God as the great spirit within the cosmos and the events that take place therein as expressions of his continuous activity and concern for the creatures. Here there is no talk of intervention.

What has to be taken as given is that the order of nature is consistent. We understand the workings of nature to the extent that we can discern this regularity. There can be no gate crashing into nature. An abrogation of the ‘laws of nature’ to produce what appears to be beneficial to some party within the cosmos would produce chaos and destroy the whole. It is irrational to conceive God as external to the universe and at the same time influencing this and that event and the whole as he intervenes as he purposes within the universe. For that kind of providence there is no defence.

So what alternatives are there?

Accept the givenness of the cosmos, and attempt to understand its operations as far as is possible

Postulate that the bringing into being of the cosmos was an act of God and that once in being the cosmos continues without any need for further divine influence.

Speak of God as within but not identical with the universe. The cosmos is as it were God’s ‘body’. It is the means through which he expresses himself, the medium for his self-expression

Respectively these varied positions are known by the following designations: humanism, deism, panentheism.

by Dr. Edward W.H. Vick, retired professor and author of Death, Immortality and ResurrectionFrom Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and FaithfullyPhilosophy for BelieversCreation: The Christian DoctrineHistory and Christian Faith and more!