Saturday, July 22, 2017

Prayer, providence, and Dunkirk

Then another thing that has focused attention on the doctrine of providence is what we call 'special providences'. Now special providences are special interventions of God on behalf of individuals or groups of people. For instance, at Dunkirk during the War a kind of mist came down to protect the soldiers while at the same time the sea was unusually calm and smooth, and many people in this country were ready to say that that was a providential act of God. They said that God had intervened in order to save our troops by making it possible for them to be brought back into this country. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible (Crossway, 2012), 141.

1 comment:

  1. C.S. Lewis likewise mentions Dunkirk in Miracles (Appendix B):


    In this book the reader has heard of two classes of events and two only - miracles and natural events. The former are not interlocked with the history of Nature in the backward direction - i.e. in the time before their occurrence. The latter are. Many pious people, however, speak of certain events as being 'providential' or 'special providences' without meaning that they are miraculous. This generally implies a belief that, quite apart from miracles, some events are providential in a sense in which some others are not. Thus some people thought that the weather which enabled us to bring off so much of our army at Dunkirk was 'providential' in some way in which weather as a whole is not providential. The Christian doctrine that some events, though not miracles, are yet answers to prayer, would seem at first to imply this.

    I find it very difficult to conceive an intermediate class of events which are neither miraculous nor merely 'ordinary'. Either the weather at Dunkirk was or was not that which the previous physical history of the universe, by its own character, would inevitably produce. If it was, then how is it 'specially' providential? If it was not, then it was a miracle.

    It seems to me, therefore, that we must abandon the idea that there is any special class of events (apart from miracles) which can be distinguished as 'specially providential'. Unless we are to abandon the conception of Providence altogether, and with it the belief in efficacious prayer, it follows that all events are equally providential. If God directs the course of events at all then he directs the movement of every atom at every moment; 'not one sparrow falls to the ground' without that direction. The 'naturalness' of natural events does not consist in being somehow outside God's providence. It consists in their being interlocked with one another inside a common space-time in accordance with the fixed pattern of the 'laws'.

    In order to get any picture at all of a thing, it is sometimes necessary to begin with a false picture and then correct it. The false picture of Providence (false because it represents God and Nature as being both contained in a common Time) would be as follows. Every event in Nature results from some previous event, not from the laws of Nature. In the long run the first natural event, whatever it was, has dictated every other event. That is, when God at the moment of creation fed the first event into the framework of the 'laws' - first set the ball rolling - He determined the whole history of Nature. Foreseeing every part of that history, He intended every part of it. If He had wished for different weather at Dunkirk He would have made the first event slightly different.

    The weather we actually had is therefore in the strictest sense providential; it was decreed, and decreed for a purpose, when the world was made - but no more so (though more interestingly to us) than the precise position at this moment of every atom in the ring of Saturn.

    It follows (still retaining our false picture) that every physical event was determined so as to serve a great number of purposes.

    Thus God must be supposed in predetermining the weather at Dunkirk to have taken fully into account the effect it would have not only on the destiny of two nations but (what is incomparably more important) on all the individuals involved on both sides, on all animals, vegetables and minerals within range, and finally on every atom in the universe. This may sound excessive, but in reality we are attributing to the Omniscient only an infinitely superior degree of the same kind of skill which a mere human novelist exercises daily in constructing his plot.