God’s Interaction with the World

“We believe that the same good God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment” (Belgic Confession, Article XIII). Although origination is usually the first thing we think of when we speak of God as Creator, the Scriptures have a much richer notion of “creator” that includes the notions of sustenance, governance, and providence. In Reformed systematic theologies, these concepts are often treated under the heading of Divine Providence.

To call God Creator is to call Him the Sustainer. God not only originated the world, but he sustains it moment by moment. The existence of the world continues to be radically dependent on Him. Scripture verses in support of this relationship between God and his Creation are the following: “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28); “He (Christ)…sustains all things by his power” (Heb. 1:3); “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Were God to remove this sustenance, the creation would cease to exist. This is no pantheistic doctrine that makes the creation out to be God. Nor is it a doctrine of continuous creation whereby God re-creates the universe moment by moment.

To call God Creator is to call Him the Governor. God not only governs by law and ordinances as described earlier, but He is intimately involved in its moment by moment workings. “He sends forth springs…He causes the grass to grow…Thou dost give them (animals) their food…Thou dost open Thy hand” (Ps. 104 passim.). “He causes the vapors to ascend…makes lightnings for the rain…brings forth the wind” (Ps. 135:5-7). “He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments” (Ps. 147:16,17).

“Who gives the sun for light by day…who stirs up the sea” (Jer. 31:35). See also Job 38, 39 passim. God’s rule in the Creation is attested to by all the Reformed creeds. The Belgic Confession (Article XIII) says that he “did not forsake them or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter V, Section 1) says that he “doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least”. This governance extends to chance events (Prov. 16:33). The Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter V, Section 2) while acknowledging God as the “first Cause” affirms that “he ordereth them (all things) to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. It also recognizes that “God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means” (Chapter V, Section 3).

To call God Creator is to call Him the Provider. Often in Scripture and in the Confessions, this Divine Governance is set in the context of God Providence. “They all wait for Thee, to give them their food in due season. Thou dost give to them, they gather it up; Thou dost open Thy hand, they are satisfied with good” (Ps. 104:27, 28). “Who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains. He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Ps. 147:8, 9). “But if God so arrays the grass of the field…will he not much more do so for you?” (Matt. 6:30). The Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 27 says: “What do you understand by the providence of God? Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty– all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

These doctrines of sustenance, governance, and providence are foundational for understanding the relationship between God’s role in creation and providence and the fruit of an investigation of the world using the tools of science. Order and regularity in the operation of the world, features of the world presupposed by practioners of science, result from God’s lawful creation and his regular governance. The Scriptures go one step further and recognize that regularity in the functioning of the universe is a manifestation of the faithfulness of God. God has made a covenant and governs in a manner consistent with that covenant (Jer. 31:35,36; 33:20-26).

God’s governance structures the created world, and God is free to govern how He pleases. This provides the underpinning for the empirical nature of modern science. We may not presuppose how the world is or how God has chosen to govern it. We have to investigate the world to discern patterns and regularities that exist as a result of God’s governance. It may be the case that there are certain boundaries that we simply accept as givens. These boundaries, however, are conditions that we run into as we explore the creation and are empirically derived not imposed on our study of creation by some philosophical system. Examples of such boundaries may be life/non-life, sensory/non-sensory, human/non-human, etc. Of course, if scripture reveals such a boundary, then we must accept it. In my reading scripture emphasizes only one such distinction, human/non-human, i.e. only human beings were created in the image of God.

An additional consequence of these doctrines is that there is no natural/supernatural distinction. In one sense all of creation is “supernatural”, i.e. God is always actively involved. At times I think that we ought to dispense with this natural/supernatural language because it gives the impression that normally things occur according to their “natures” apart from the Divine governance. The distinction ought to be between ordinary/extraordinary or regular/irregular. Ordinary events are no less acts of God than miracles. In the miracle God does not act contrary to natural laws (for there are no such things), but contrary to his normal manner of governance. “Miracles” everyday would conflict with God’s covenant faithfulness described above. It seems that the miraculous is to shock us into listening to God and His spokesman at key events in redemptive history. This is due in part to the fact that in our sinful state we no longer see God at work in the ordinary events of life.

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