Friday, October 18, 2013

Divine freedom

Systematic theology traditionally distinguishes between creation, providence, and miracle. Providence is the rule, while miracles are the exception. At least on one definition of miracles. 

Providence and miracle are both grounded in creation. If the world were eternal, that would imply the necessity of the world. At best, God would be steering the world. 

In paganism, nature is eternal. At the very least, the gods are coeternal with nature. At most, the gods are products of nature. 

By contrast, creation implies the freedom of God. The freedom to create or not create, or create one possibility while leaving another possibility unrealized. The world is a gift rather than a given. 

But the same principle underwrites miracles. Miracles imply the freedom of God. In making the world, God created agents and agencies. Endowed natural media with causal powers that work automatically.

But God isn't bound by the law-like, machine-like aspects of instinctive agents or inanimate agencies. Miracles reflect rational discretion. 

If God created the world, it would seem he is free to do with it what he wants. If the world is eternal… it would seem God enjoys no such freedom: history has always and will always follow its normal course. 
The difference between Maimonides and Aristotle is that the latter thought exceptions to natural laws were the result of chance while the former allows for the possibility that they are the result of design. 
God does not will things serially…God does not have to make a new decision every time an anomaly is needed. Rather there is one decision that holds for all time.  
K. Seeskin, "Miracles in Jewish Philosophy," G. Twelftree, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 256,258-259.


  1. I may be wrong, but I would place providence (God's sustaining activity Heb 1:3) and the miraculous in the same category as creation as the two sides of the creation coin. Providence is the apparent causal relationship between discrete events that gives us a confidence in the predictability that allows us to function reasonably in this world. It also serves as a backdrop for the more revelatory miracles which occur in some way outside of the normal causal flow of discrete events. Understanding time in necessary relationship to physical objects, temporal creation "in the beginning" is a representation of eternal creative expression that is experienced in all things at all times. That's my understanding of it anyway.

    1. Reading what I just wrote, I notice that I made a passing reference to the revelatory nature of these two creative patterns. I wanted to point out also then that this kind of creation is the foundation for Christian epistemology, aka revelation - how God makes himself known to us by providing contexts that we understand and the means for marking his chosen prophets, and even the work of Christ, in context by means of the miraculous.