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!

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  1. Dr. Vick, did you intentionally omit theism in your summation? Is theism inevitably connected to interventionism which you seem to reject? Can theism and non-interventionism be held together?

  2. Dr. Vick, did you intentionally omit theism in your summation? Is theism inevitably connected to interventionism which you seem to reject? Can theism and non-interventionism be held together? Non-interventionist theism inevitably leads to deism or panentheism. Since God is certainly apparent in many ways short of intervention, I prefer panentheism.

    1. you have stated the question that remains after due consideration of what was mentioned in the post as the problem that remains when the premise of traditional theism proves difficult. But is not panentheism a version of theism? Half of the word suggests just that! What does the idea of God ‘luring’ mean in such a ‘natural’ theology?

      1. Well, certainly to oversimplify, the difference between traditional theism and panentheism is where God (theos) is located. For traditionalists, God is “out there” beyond the cosmos and occasionally visits the creation by acting upon it with the notion of omnipotence. For panentheists such as myself, God is “in, with, and under” the creation and never outside it, permeating all there is without being identified with it (pantheism). The “luring” of God is the pull toward love/perfection that the presence of God exerts on the creation.
        Perhaps the most influential aspect of panentheism for me is that it offers a cogent answer to theodicy. As you know, there is no sufficient theistic answer, merely attempts. In panentheism, God’s “lure” is effort toward overcoming evil, and not yet fully realized. There is no possibility to charge God with failure to act when, in fact, God is acting, but necessarily provisionally. In theism, we are left with a God who could overcome evil but refuses to act for whatever reason.
        So, for me, “luring” is the natural way the world works, God working within the natural laws to bring the world to shalom.

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