Monday, August 18, 2014

Three Kinds of Providence

In the combox of a Triablogue post I wrote :

- I don't know if it's an idiosyncratic categorization on William Lane Craig's part, but I think/believe I've heard him refer to 3 kinds of providence. Maybe these are standard categories in the theological and philosophic literature.

1. Ordinary Providence
2. Special Providence
3. Extraordinary/Extra-ordinary Providence

#2 would seem to be a special kind of ordinary providence that's miraculous because coincidental. For example, it so happens that, all things continuing as they are, it won't rain on Joey's outdoor birthday party next Saturday just as he prayed to God that it wouldn't. In this kind of providence, it didn't require God to do anything extra because He rigged ordinary providence to answer Joey's prayer long before Joey prayed. It was coincidental, yet purposed by God rather than unintentional and merely fortuitous.

#3 would be where God would need to intervene without, or apart, or above, or against His ordinary providence (i.e. God's normal way of upholding, directing and sustaining creation). Turning water into wine or restoring a missing limb instantaneously would be an example of extraordinary providence.

- I've added a link to Poythress' book on my blog:

Definitions of Chance [ 7 so far listed ]

In which case #2 and #3 can be considered miraculous even though #2 shares with #1 a kind of ordinary providence. Just as #2 shares with #3 a special intention and/or sign on God's part in the event. Also, given classical theism (especially but not limited to Calvinism), #1 would also be under God's sovereign control as are #2 and #3.

I like and have used the 3 categories. So far I haven't found an example that would not fall into one of these 3 categories.

I found a quote of William Lane Craig that confirms my memory.

What all this implies is that in between events brought about by God’s extraordinary providence (miraculous interventions) and events brought about by His ordinary providence (events which regularly occur as products of purely natural causes) there is a third category, which we may call God’s special providence, namely, events which are the result of purely natural causes but which are unusual in terms of their special timing and context. For example, if just as George Muller is giving thanks for God’s provision of daily bread for his orphanage, knowing all the while they have no food, and at that moment a bakery truck breaks down outside in the street and gives all its provisions to the orphanage, then we may regard this as an answer to prayer, even if there are wholly natural causes of the truck’s breakdown at just that place and time. It’s a special providence of God, prearranged in answer to Muller’s prayer.

Quote taken from Craig's Questions and Answers article titled: Must We Pray for a Miracle?

I don't agree with Craig's Molinism or use of Middle Knowledge. Also, if I'm not mistaken, it appears that Craig doesn't consider Special Providence as being miraculous like I did. There are three possibilities regarding the miraculous nature of special providence. Either 1. it's always miraculous, 2. it's never miraculous or 3. it's sometimes miraculous and other times it's not.

At present, it seems to me that in this instance Craig is wrong. For example, let's say hypothetically that the parting of the Red Sea (or Reed Sea) was a case of special providence where a volcano erupted and caused a chain of events (including an earthquake) that combined with strong east winds which together resulted in the sea parting just at the time when Moses stretched out his hand over the water (Exo. 14:21). The text states that the wind blew all night long. Can we really say that this wasn't an instance of a timing miracle even though it was all natural and God didn't have to do anything extra to bring it about? I find it difficult to not call it a miracle since the Biblical understanding of a miracle doesn't seem to discriminate or distinguish between miraculous answers to prayer 1. which go beyond the power of natural causes and 2. those which don't.

So, contrary to Craig and my own previous opinion, I'm now inclined to think special providence is sometimes miraculous (e.g. the parting of the Red Sea in answer to prayer) and sometimes non-miraculous (e.g. having food on the table in answer to prayer). The difference would seem to be in the degree to which the special providential coincidence was likely or probable given ordinary providence. The parting of the Red Sea at just that time is highly unlikely. While it not raining on Joey's 10th birthday party in answer to prayer might also be an instance of a timed providential occurrence but it would hardly be called miraculous.

Also, previously I considered special providence a special form of ordinary providence. Thinking about it, I have to ask "What similarities the two have and what makes the difference or distinguishes between the two?" What makes them similar is that they both are the result of purely natural causes. What makes them different and distinct is the special and extraordinary intention and purpose on God's part in special providences. So, in one sense one could call special providence a unique category of ordinary providence. Yet, in another sense, by so doing, one would be blurring the line and disregarding the very difference and distinction between ordinary providence and special providence. Namely, the special or non-special, extraordinary or non-extraordinary intent and purpose God has or doesn't have in the event. Though, I've chanced my mind back and forth repeatedly, I'm now inclined to call special providence a unique form [or special type] of ordinary providence. But I make sure to point out their similarities (i.e. purely natural causes) and dissimilarities (presence or absence of special intention on God's part). In one sense, all of God's various providential activities have a special intention since every instance has a special role to play in the grand design of history. However, in some instances there's an especially special intention. Such cases would fall under either God's special providence or extra-ordinary providence.

Re-wording something William Lane Craig wrote in his Q&A (because I reject Molinism), I can agree that a belief in special providence " a tremendous encouragement to prayer...because it doesn’t require the faith for a miracle. You can pray that God will provide you with a job, for example, without thinking that during your job interview God must cause miraculous neural firings in the boss’s brain causing him to hire you."

My Understanding of Providence
Ordinary Special Extraordinary
purely natural causes involved purely natural causes involved supernatural cause(s) involved
no special intent or purpose special intent or purpose special intent or purpose
non-miraculous sometimes miraculous always miraculous

Things get a bit more complicated (or messy) if we were to factor in angelic and demonic activity and intervention in the physical world. Say for example that an angel prevents a car accident because he was sent by God to be the person's guardian angel. Or say for example, an occultist who apparently is able to levitate objects when in actuality it is a demon that is manipulating the physical object to "levitate." In both instances what happened went beyond the natural causes of the physical world via God's ordinary providence in the natural world. However, angels and demons have their own properties and abilities which are "natural" to them according to their own nature or being. What is "natural" to them would be beyond nature to us (i.e. our natural/physical world). In instances like that, we can say that at the angelic dimension and from the angelic perspective they too have God's ordinary providence working in their lives. We can consider some angelic interventions in the physical universe as instances of God's extra-ordinary providence because angels perform their work (say of protection) in the name and stead of God. For us it would be an instance of God's extra-ordinary providence, but for them (the good angels) it would be an instance of ordinary providence since they are merely exercising their powers which they have from God in order to protect us. However, demons can affect the physical world in a way that goes beyond what the physical world's natural processes can produce. Yet, it would not be appropriate to call it God's extra-ordinary providence since demons do not act in the name and stead of God. Since demons are evil angels. In which case, what demons are able to do in the physical world could be considered ordinary providence from their angelic perspective (since they are only exercising powers which they normally have by God's endowment) yet at the same time it is a supernatural event from the perspective of human beings and the physical world (since the event would not and could not happen according to the natural properties of matter).

Related  Blogs:

 Distinctions in God's Will from a Calvinist Perspective [ My Five Distinctions]

Definitions of Chance [ 7 so far listed ]

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