God’s Providence

Providenceby Jerry Richardson3/29/15
Is there a time in your life that you are personally convinced that you were providentially protected?  Why do you think that? I had such a time when I was 14-years old.Here is what happened.

My teenage years were spent growing-up on a farm.  Although my dad was a school principle, nevertheless we moved to a farm near-by during my early-teen years because he wanted me to grow-up in the same environment that he had grown-up in.  To this day I have felt blessed by his choice.

During the summer my dad and I would use a tractor and bush-hog to cut the grass on the pastures where we grazed our small herd of cattle (mostly Herefords for beef but a few Jerseys for milking).  When dad took his turn driving the tractor and cutting grass, I would grab my cricket-cage and catch crickets that I would later use as fish bait.  There were literally handfuls of crickets available in the wake of the grass cutting.

It was on one of those summer days in late July, with a cage-full of crickets, that dad let me go fishing with an uncle and a cousin so I could use those crickets.  The target was red-bellied perch from a small, cold creek not far from where we lived.

I liked to fish, but didn’t have much patience for it; if the fish weren’t biting I would quickly loose interest.  That’s what happened on that day; the perch weren’t biting and I got bored; I wanted to do something else.

On that day I learned a valuable but almost deadly lesson on safety that is now often stated on television: “Don’t try this at home.”

What I had seen that I was itching to try were various styles of diving (into water) that I had recently watched on the new black-and-white television that some of our relatives had—we still had our radio; no TV.

So, since the fish weren’t biting and we were fishing in the same, small, cold creek were our swimming-hole was located; I decided I would go over to the ole swimming-hole and go for a swim; and sure, while I was at it I could try-out some of those fancy dives I had watched recently on the TV.

So, telling my uncle and cousin, who were still fishing, what I was going to do I trotted over the fifty yards or so and prepared for the swim.  Now when I say prepared for a swim, I simply mean that I undressed.  The creek was isolated in the countryside with no houses near-by; and in those days unless we were in mixed company we didn’t bother with swim trucks, and besides I didn’t have any with me.  So there I was, ready to go, in my one-and-only birthday suit.

I decided that the first dive I would try would be a swan dive.  I still remember how impressed I was with the skill and grace of the divers doing their high swan dives.  I could just see myself gracefully gliding through the air before zipping into the water.

Our swimming-hole was in a slightly wider part of the small creek.  It was approximately 10 yards across at the widest point, bank-to-bank.  There was a large oak tree on the other side, the deepest side, that grew-out of the bank and then turned up.  This made an excellent platform for diving—on the other side of the creek.

But today, I was going to dive from the shallow-side of the swimming-hole because I intended to take a long running start and do a high, graceful swan into the deepest part of the creek—probably 8 to 9 feet deep at the most.

So after throwing a few chunks into the water—this was to scare-off the ever present water-moccasin or two that always hung around—I backed-off twenty or thirty yards and sprinted toward the creek for my sure-to-be-sensational first-ever swan dive.

However, upon reaching the edge of the creek, instead of using that momentum to swan-out over the deep part of the creek, I sprung of the creek-bank, undoubtedly in some form of a high jack-knife and went up and then straight down into 3 to 4 feet of water on the shallow side of the creek.

I had no recollection of my head hitting the hard, sandy bottom but it obviously did.

The first thing I was aware of as I quickly regained consciousness, and was floating-up through the water was that I could not move; I was completely paralyzed.  And to make matters worse, by this time I was in the deep part of the creek.

It was strange.

I wasn’t in pain, and I did not feel any fear even though I knew I had better get some help.  So as my head bobbed-up out of the water, I hollered for help; closed my month; went under and bobbed-up again; hollered again, etc.  This sequence happened several times in a row while I was still completely paralyzed.  Fortunately my uncle and cousin heard me, and they ran over and pulled me out of the water—paralyzed and with mud all over my best birthday suit.

I still had no sense of fear.

I mention this because somehow, even as a 14-year old boy, I “knew” that God was protecting me during that ordeal.  Don’t ask me how I knew, I just knew.

After my uncle and cousin had pulled me out, they walked me over to the shallow part of the creek where I wash the mud off.  It was only then that I felt some alarm; and it was because as I reached for a handful of water and brought it toward my face, I suddenly hit myself in the face with my hand—I had no control over part of the range of movement of my own arms and hands.  That got my attention; I knew something was wrong. But strangely I still was not afraid.

My folks took me to the nearest town where there was a hospital and they x-rayed and found that I had fractured the 3rd vertebra in my neck.  It was sometime later that I was told that I was lucky that I wasn’t a paraplegic or more probably a quadriplegic—I never thought of it as luck; to me it was God’s providence; He looked-after a dumb 14 year old boy: Me.

I spent the next month in an un-air-conditioned hospital flat of my back on a hard hospital bed with 3-pounds of weight attached to a harness around my jaw and neck—designed to keep the neck-bone straight.  After that month, when I first got-up, I had to actually relearn how to walk.  Then following that I wore a neck-brace for three months. There was a lot of discomfort but after that I returned to normal; later lifting weights, playing football, jumping out of airplanes—no problem with the fractured neck.

Was I lucky?  You can certainly call it that if you like.  I will always call it God’s providence and thank Him for it.

© 2015, Jerry Richardson • (2805 views)

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28 Responses to God’s Providence

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I had my share of unpleasant incidents when young (including a few which gave me nightmares), but nothing remotely as bad as that. I do recall the bad day for a cousin who was mowing on the family farm (I never had to do work like that, fortunately) on a tractor (your beginning reminded me of this) ran over a hornet’s nest and was stung 4 times. Probably the worst thing like that ever happening to me was going through a glass-paned door and developing a bad cut at the base of my left thumb (which had to be stitched up, and we were 20 miles or so from the hospital), but no artery was severed. Like so many things it could easily have been a lot worse, but it was a long way from it.

    • Jerry Richardson says:

      Timothy,

      Unexpected danger is easy to encounter, especially when you’re young. But regardless of life’s vicissitudes it is comforting to feel the presence of God in your life.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, I never had any such feeling. This may reflect my natural lack of absolute faith, or it may reflect my Episcopalian upbringing (which isn’t oriented to such a personal relationship with God).

        • Jerry Richardson says:

          Timothy,

          I’m not questioning your faith. As the much used saying goes, “That’s above my pay grade.” Going through life, different people have different experiences and different feelings and insights relative to those experiences. The important thing, in my opinion, is for our faith to be grounded in the Bible.

  2. Jerry Richardson says:

    The “providence” of God is a deep and much debated theological subject. In the article I have submitted here, I attempted to provide a simple, true occurrence of what I consider an occurrence of God’s providence in my own life.

    My intent is not simply to illicit other similar experiences—which of course, would be most welcome—but also to prompt a general discussion of the connection that the concept of providence has to a number of theme’s that have been highly discussed on this website: Neo-Darwinism, Intelligent Design, Creation, etc.

    It is probably not immediately apparent what connection the themes just mentioned have to the topic of God’s Providence. Hence the need for the discussion.

    One of the clearest articulated linkages of the concepts that I have found is written by Alister E. McGrath:

    Alister Edgar McGrath (born 23 January 1953) is a Northern Irish theologian, priest, intellectual historian, scientist, and Christian apologist. He currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford.
    —-
    Aside from being a faculty member at Oxford, McGrath has also taught at Cambridge University and is a Teaching Fellow at Regent College. McGrath holds three doctorates from the University of Oxford, a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics, a Doctor of Divinity in Theology and a Doctor of Letters in Intellectual History.

    I use a chapter (Chapter 10), entitled, The Secularization of Providence: Theological Reflections on the Appeal to Darwinism in Recent Atheist Apologetics written by McGrath in a book—with numerous other authors—entitled: The Providence of God in order to collect his responses to some of my questions, pretending that I could quiz him.

    MY QUESTION FOR ALISTER McGRATH (in absentia)

    Where do the most significant challenges to Divine Providence come from?

    `The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’ This bold and sweeping judgement lies at the heart of the `new atheism’ which swept through Western culture in 2006.

    Purpose is a human invention, a desperate yet ultimately doomed attempt to impose meaning upon an unfeeling, uncaring universe. Scientific advance will ultimately eliminate such spurious notions, offering a purely naturalist account of reality.

    While attacks on the notion of divine providence have come from many scientific quarters, there is little doubt that the most significant challenges to the idea have come from evolutionary biology.

    Writers such as zoologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher of consciousness Daniel Dennett, and philosopher of science David Hull have expressed their view that the evolutionary process, as now understood, demands the rejection of obsolete notions of purpose and providence.

    —Philip G Ziegler. The Providence of God: Deus habet consilium (Kindle Locations 2845-2850). Kindle Edition.

    What is the relationship between providence and human observation?

    Indeed, one might suggest that one of the more fundamental questions that need to be addressed in any attempt to engage with the idea of providence is this: why do some people view certain events as providential, while others regard them as a matter of happenstance or downright misfortune?

    Providence is a notion which engages the human process of perception, rather than a purely objective entity, existing in its own right. To speak of an event as bearing witness to divine providence hence clearly requires us to account for the human process of judgement that gives rise to that conclusion.

    Such a conclusion is not especially contentious. It does, however, require us to concede that two observers might view the same sequence of events, and come to very different conclusions concerning their significance.

    One sees a random series of events, the other a pattern of actions which points to divine providence. The discernment of providential action may thus require the development of certain habits of thought. It is a judgement of the theologically informed way of thinking that we call faith.

    —Philip G Ziegler. The Providence of God: Deus habet consilium (Kindle Locations 2889-2894). Kindle Edition.

    What is the biblical theme that encompasses this issue of discernment?

    This is a significant theme within the wisdom literature of the ancient Near East. True wisdom is about discerning the deeper structure of reality, lying beneath its surface appearance.

    The book of job, one of the finest examples of wisdom literature, speaks of wisdom as something that is hidden, that is to be found deep within the earth, its true meaning hidden from a casual and superficial glance.

    The emergence of the discipline of semiotics has encouraged us to see natural objects and entities as signs, pointing beyond themselves, representing and communicating themselves.

    To find the true significance of things requires the development of habits of reading and directions of gaze that enable the reflective observer of nature to discern meaning where others see happenstance and accident.

    Or, to use an image from Polanyi, where some hear a noise, others hear a tune.

    —Philip G Ziegler. The Providence of God: Deus habet consilium (Kindle Locations 2894-2899). Kindle Edition.

    What is the relationship between the concepts of teleology and providence?

    So where do these lines of thought take us? It is clear that most of the traditional objections to the appeal to the notion of teleology in biology noted by Mayr reflect a belief that an a priori metaphysical system, often theistic, is imposed upon the process of scientific observation and reflection, thus prejudicing its scientific character.

    The natural sciences rightly protest about the smuggling of preconceived teleological schemes into scientific analysis. But what if they arise from the process of reflection on observation? What if they are a posteriori inferences, rather than a priori dogmatic assumptions?

    Conway Morris’s analysis suggests that a form of teleology may indeed be inferred a posteriori, as the `best explanation’ of what is observed. This may not directly map onto a traditional Christian doctrine of providence; nevertheless, there is a significant degree of resonance with the notion which merits closer attention.

    John Henry Newman’s enlightening remark is of relevance here: `I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.’

    —Philip G Ziegler. The Providence of God: Deus habet consilium (Kindle Locations 2958-2963). Kindle Edition.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Purpose is a human invention, a desperate yet ultimately doomed attempt to impose meaning upon an unfeeling, uncaring universe. Scientific advance will ultimately eliminate such spurious notions, offering a purely naturalist account of reality.

      I can’t help but think how evolutionary theory (how we think about it) can apply here in response to Philip Ziegler who writes in response to Alister McGrath (if I’ve got that right). It seems in our culture today (perhaps it has always been thus…I don’t know) there is a lack of imagination, reasonableness, and proportionality.

      Let us use the idea of “macro” and “micro” evolution in regards to purpose. Surely there is the kind of “micro” purpose in which, indeed, purpose is a human invention in that I find purpose in growing sage and someone else finds purpose in perfecting the art of golf. Our purposes can be sublime, silly, superficial, economic, familial, or whatever, but we are able to choose and create or find purpose. This is not in dispute and is part of the freedom we have, despite the denial of any aspect of free will by the reductionists.

      The error that the rigid, dogmatic, and fundamentalist minds of the Darwinian-atheistic Left make is to define (once again) the whole by the part. Clearly given the fine-tuned aspects of the universe, the existence of inexplicable digital code/integrated systems of the cell, and the ontological reality and order of existence itself hint at some larger “macro” purpose.

      Whether talking libertarians or Darwinists, there is the tendency in human nature to fuel one’s inner zealousness in pursuit of a complete and simple truth, no matter what has to be sacrificed on their altar of Special Knowledge.

      Granted, I might agree with many on the atheistic Left that some find too much detailed purpose in the macro aspect of purpose. Certainly Christianity has its take on this macro purpose, but it’s not the only take. But the general logical agreement by those whose minds have not been artificially shrunk by their supposed refined and complete dogma is that the universe seems to be some kind of put-up job, in the words of David Berlinski. It’s far from random and pointless even if we can’t concretely and assuredly say what the macro purpose or purposes are.

      Much of this debate is merely about the egos of the wanna-be Golden Boys and Super Men of the culture. I find that both libertarians and Darwinists want to hold the monopoly on how to run the world or interpret the world. We might ask why men’s minds contract instead of expand, but that seems to be a tendency for many.

      Still, I don’t consider it an attack on the idea of macro purpose if someone doubts that this event, rather than that one, is the work of Divine Providence. Who knows? We humans are quick to layer some events in a pleasing and self-serving mysticism. But who really knows? What standard is there for determining Divine Providence other than guesswork or wishful thinking?

      We might expect the hand of the Creator to appear in human affairs, but I find it hard to figure out when and where. It seems very much a matter of mere opinion. It’s thus not unwarranted that a more scientific mindset would be skeptical of some aspects of macro purpose as intuited (or invented) by us mere creatures of micro purpose. But the contracted mind will take a molehill of reasonable skepticism and create a mountain of dogmatism out of it, as materialists/atheists/reductionists clearly have. In doing so, they’ve scrambled their own brains.

  3. Jerry Richardson says:

    Brad,

    I can’t help but think how evolutionary theory (how we think about it) can apply here in response to Philip Ziegler who writes in response to Alister McGrath (if I’ve got that right). —Brad Nelson

    Sorry I didn’t make that clear. My bad. Philip Ziegler is the principle compiler or editor and also one of numerous contributors. I have not sorted-out yet the issues that I think Philip Ziegler and Alister McGrath agree and disagree on; but they are not writing as antagonists in the book.

    But the general logical agreement by those whose minds have not been artificially shrunk by their supposed refined and complete dogma is that the universe seems to be some kind of put-up job, in the words of David Berlinski. It’s far from random and pointless even if we can’t concretely and assuredly say what the macro purpose or purposes are.—Brad Nelson

    I think part of what makes this difficult to think about and perhaps talk about is the fact that long-ago the intellectual world gave-up on Aristotle’s concept of 4 causes:
    1) Material, 2) Formal, 3) Efficient or moving, and 4) Final.

    Positivists and scientists had no problem with the first three but they jettisoned the 4th, final cause—which resulted in the other 3 and their contrast being pretty-much forgotten—the 4th, final cause is what we synonymously know as teleology or purpose.

    And part of the difficulty in even trying to have a serious discussion on what the purpose or purposes are in life or various areas of life is that thinking and speaking of purpose, in scientific realms, has been completely labeled as taboo; it’s out of bounds, so none, except philosophers and theologians, spend time and brain-power thinking about it.

    Because of this, people like Berlinski are forced to communicate in metaphorical words such as “some kind of put-up job”; because no one has done the hard work and hard thinking to build same specific scientific concepts and vocabulary.

    We see this difficulty in the Intelligent Design (ID) controversy. Many scientists, certainly those with a worldview of total naturalism, constantly dispute the notion of “design” in biological organisms. They prefer the concept of non-teleological or purposeless adaptation.

    Their disputation ties directly to two evolutionist concerns: 1) A true design has to have a purpose, and everybody knows that neo-Darwin evolution does not proceed with or from “purpose.” 2) If “design” hence “purpose” can be scientifically identified in a biological organism then one has to ask when and how it got there, who put it there, and how did it get there (the exact mechanisms)? Furthermore was it somehow providential—occurring extemporaneously along the way to its current state—or were the necessary ingredients for it completely there from the get-go just requiring time to appear?

    No serious questions concerning design, purpose, or providence are well received by those whose worldview is naturalism.

    Still, I don’t consider it an attack on the idea of macro purpose if someone doubts that this event, rather than that one, is the work of Divine Providence. Who knows? We humans are quick to layer some events in a pleasing and self-serving mysticism. But who really knows? What standard is there for determining Divine Providence other than guesswork or wishful thinking?—Brad Nelson

    We might expect the hand of the Creator to appear in human affairs, but I find it hard to figure out when and where. It seems very much a matter of mere opinion.—Brad Nelson

    Of course its hard to figure-out when and where the hand of the Creator might appear in human affairs. I spent much time writing my article about Blood Moons to justify my conclusion that the Creator is NOT using Four Blood Moons to send a signal—in other words, I don’t believe that Four Blood Moons is providential; and I marshalled facts in support of my opinion.

    But that sort of discussion is not really the most difficult or the most important. The most difficult discussion is whether there can and will be providential events or not—does God intervene in the on-going affairs of life? That’s the crux question concerning the issue of God’s providence.

    As to standards, it’s not that there is no standard; it’s that the type of standard available has long been declared off-limits and taboo by scientists and naturalists. Here was McGrath’s discussion of providential occurrences and standard for recognition:

    Such a conclusion is not especially contentious. It does, however, require us to concede that two observers might view the same sequence of events, and come to very different conclusions concerning their significance.

    One sees a random series of events, the other a pattern of actions which points to divine providence. The discernment of providential action may thus require the development of certain habits of thought. It is a judgement of the theologically informed way of thinking that we call faith.—Alister McGrath

    But for a long time now faith has been discarded by many as a useless method for discovering truth; since long-ago in an enlightenment-universe far-far-away where discoverable truth was arbitrarily divided along the lines of facts/values, faith is considered nothing other than “blind-faith” and must, at all cost, be excluded from the house of accepted truth.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I think part of what makes this difficult to think about and perhaps talk about is the fact that long-ago the intellectual world gave-up on Aristotle’s concept of 4 causes:
1) Material, 2) Formal, 3) Efficient or moving, and 4) Final.

      Yes, I’ve read a bit of Aquinas’ thoughts on that. And I’d certainly agree that at some point teleology was ejected. And I’d certainly agree with those (Berlinksi, Lennox, others) that by doing so, matter itself is then usually given magical properties — such as being able to spit out 10500 fully-formed, yet randomized (in regards to the laws of nature) universes. Pretty amazing stuff, this matter.

      Also, C.S. Lewis brought up a very good point in an article I read just the other day. (Poor C.S., I’m either kicking him or praising him.) In the article, Darwin in the Dock: C.S. Lewis’s Critique of “Evolutionism” by John West at Evolutionary News he writes:

      However, the truly radical part of Lewis’s critique of modern science was still to come. In his epilogue to The Discarded Image, Lewis discusses at length the shift from the medieval to the modern model of biology. It soon becomes evident that he does not think empirical evidence drives scientific revolutions. Lewis declares that the Darwinian revolution in particular “was certainly not brought about by the discovery of new facts.”

Lewis recalled that when he was young he “believed that ‘Darwin discovered evolution’ and that the far more general, radical, and even cosmic developmentalism… was a superstructure raised on the biological theorem. This view has been sufficiently disproved.” What really happened according to Lewis was that “[t]he demand for a developing world — a demand obviously in harmony both with the revolutionary and the romantic temper” had developed first, and when it was “full grown” the scientists went “to work and discover[ed] the evidence on which our belief in that sort of universe would now be held to rest.”

      Lewis’s view has momentous implications for how we view the reigning paradigms in science at any given time — including Darwinian evolution. “We can no longer dismiss the change of Models [in science] as a simple progress from error to truth,” argued Lewis. “No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy… But… each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge.” Lewis added that he did “not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory… But nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her.”

      That’s a nice way of saying, “People will often find what they want to find.” And I think he’s right. As noted in the book, “A Meaningful World,” even if Pythagoras hadn’t discovered the Pythagorean theorem, somebody would have eventually. It was not a mere product of his imagination. There are realities to a triangle independent of human desires and needs.

      The same argument the authors make regarding mathematics. (And I could be drawing from other sources that I’ve read recently.) Although mathematics aren’t always drawn from a one-to-one correspondence with what exists in nature, mathematics themselves have an existence independent of mere human imagination. But that is not so regarding Darwinism. There was no inevitability about that particular theory. This appears to be somewhat Lewis’ final opinion of Darwinism.

      So it’s perhaps easy enough to see the current reductionist/materialist movement in science (and society at large) not as anything necessary but as a mere cultural affectation or conscious pursuit, desired for the sake of being desired. And then the “facts” are back-filled as necessary. This is the same with global warming as well (“climate change,” if you will).

      And part of the difficulty in even trying to have a serious discussion on what the purpose or purposes are in life or various areas of life is that thinking and speaking of purpose, in scientific realms, has been completely labeled as taboo; it’s out of bounds, so none, except philosophers and theologians, spend time and brain-power thinking about it.

      I’m glad you said that, Jerry, and you said it well. That almost exactly describes my orientation to all of this. Rather than being some snot-nosed atheist who just loves pricking Christians, I like having serious discussions regarding all four of those causes, if you will (although I rarely think in terms of the four classical causes). No area is considered taboo.

      Teleology is out of bounds regarding materialists, atheists, reductionists, and I would say Progressives in general. (And, really, I’m not too sure how many liberal Christians actually believe in Christ.) But teleology goes with the territory. It’s not an add-on according to delusional, wishful-thinking theists.

      Now, whether or not Christianity is the better description of reality than Hinduism, for example, I couldn’t say with any degree of certainty. But to the extent that both reference a transcendent Creator (and I’m not that well versed in Hinduism to say that they do), then these philosophies are on solid ground in this regard. Surely even the scientific method would agree that positing one necessary-being-like Creator is more plausible than 10500 auto-generating (and somewhat magical) multi-universes where matter is given the power of the Creator (and thus doing nothing to solve the basic question by simply piling on add-ons). Either is impossible to prove logically. But one or the other (or something like them) is necessary because of the existence of existence itself.

      Regarding Berlinski, I understand where he’s coming from with his lingo of the “put-up job.” He’s either not ready to admit to a Creator or it doesn’t fit the marketing plan for his speeches and books. Plus, guys such as Berlinski are in a somewhat difficult position already. It’s one thing to reject materialism while actually being in the general profession of a scientist. It’s another to leap into the opposing camp, especially when that opposing camp is populated by more than its share of snake-handlers. I sympathize with Berlinski. For him, it’s a big enough task just to be refuting the dogmatic scientific establishment. If only for political and marketing reasons, it would be a lot of baggage for him to take on by jumping to an explicit idea of a Creator. That’s a pretty loaded word at this point.

      Furthermore was it somehow providential—occurring extemporaneously along the way to its current state—or were the necessary ingredients for it completely there from the get-go just requiring time to appear?

      My opinion on that is still being formed. Having absorbed quite a few opinions and peripheral data, it would seem as if the Creator was working within the margins of his own “laws of nature.” Granted, if one is Almighty God, one assumes you can just raise your scepter and anything can be blinked into being as if you were Elizabeth Montgomery of “Bewitched.” And the creation of the universe itself probably required such a thing, as did the initial creation of life.

      And this is where to me it gets interesting and perhaps bucks up the argument of those (Catholics, in particular) who so often opposed the heresy of nature being inherently bad and corrupt, for the way I see it provisionally is that the Creator worked within quite concrete space-time-matter constraints in order to establish something that would actually work.

      That is, who hasn’t taken a plant home with the best of intentions, planted it somewhere, and then promptly had it die? If you had God-like powers, you could just instantly make the sun shine longer where you are. Or change the essence of the plant to accommodate more or less light. You could instantly change the latitude or longitude of your greenhouse. But although this might work for one plant, it wouldn’t work so well in a greenhouse of millions of plants spread literally all over creation.

      So what we likely see is the Creator setting up, and then working within, a stable and cleverly-designed ecosystem and laws of physics. And this is where religious sensibilities could be bruised or shown to be incomplete, for surely a God who is omnipotent would never let one of his species go extinct. And yet, many have and continue to do so. And it seems clear that in order to have a functioning world of life as we know it (where there is a large extent of freedom combined with creativity and contingency), you can’t just be micro-managing every little thing with constant adjustments. Oh, I suppose if you had omnipotent powers, you could. But you wouldn’t be building a clever system that was somewhat off and running on its own (for better or for worse). You’d just be the ultimate micro-manager, almost an overbearing parent who never let his children even have the least breath of free air.

      So what we see (however the earth got to be the way it was) is blue-green algae being the only life form for the first few billion years. And they oxygenated the atmosphere (real, live terraforming as in Star Trek) making way for more complex forms. (And who knows what else had to be prepared or jiggered as well?) And then came the Cambrian explosion where twenty to forty (I forget the exact estimate) new Phyla came into being which were the equivalent of seeds being planted. What we don’t know is how much evolve-ability was programmed in at the start. But if the “non-jiggering” paradigm is the better one (and I think it is), one could assume a whole lot of evolve-ability was programmed in.

      But some Phyla became extinct and others were later added. It would appear, as Stephen Meyer says, that instead of a Darwinian branching “tree of life” that a more grass-like structure is applicable. All those basic body plans evolved from there, but in parallel. (And many I.D. advocates believe in common ancestry, such as Behe, although I’m not quite sure why. But if the Cambrian explosion was an explosion of the program already implanted into blue-green algae, then common descent holds. If not, then seeds were planted at least a couple times.)

      Still, we have all kinds of fossils appearing instantaneously of fully-formed speices in the fossil record and then often disappearing, with no “intermediate” or “transitional” fossils left behind to show any kind of Darwinian evolution in action. Is this a sort of special creation over and over again at the designer’s whim? Or is it built into life the ability (under some circumstances) to rapidly change according to built-in biological information? If you look at the chihuahua and the Saint Bernard, both are of the same species and descend from the wolf. Clearly quite a large ability for change is built in. How deep this goes (Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”) is a good question. No one as far as I can see has any kind of even well-formed opinion on all that.

      So the story, assuming a Designer, is still patchy. But it would appear, for purposes we can only guess at, that the ecosystem of the earth is indeed intelligently designed, somewhat as a whole. Not only were things like birds conceived with flight as a goal in mind (as opposed to blind evolution which could never have assembled all the various parts together at one time — feathers, bone structure, flight muscles, navigation cognition, etc.), it would seem the world’s ecosystem was designed with many things thought out in advance (such as plants giving off oxygen as a waste product and animals giving off CO2 as a waste product, each essential to the other).

      And, to me, this is all a little bit of a different paradigm than God the Blood-Moon Enchanter. To me, this is the Creator who is tangible, not magical; mysterious, even mystical, but not superstitious.

      But for a long time now faith has been discarded by many as a useless method for discovering truth…

      I don’t discount the possibility of “faith” being like an intuitive sense, a “third eye,” if you will. If so, I think some obviously have it more than others. Whatever the case may be, clearly some have it very little at all, through no fault of their own (some people are born blind, for instance). And thus we do get down to that familiar paradigm of the four blind men all touching different parts of the elephant, and each giving a different picture according to their means of knowing. And, indeed, reductionists have shown us part of the picture as well. The problem is, their egos and lust for power and prestige propel them want to own the whole pie.

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Brad,

        I think that I have enjoyed this last discussion of yours more than anything I have read that you have written. Maybe it’s because I agree with so much of it. I’m not going to produce quotes of all the stuff I agree with; and I’m not in serious enough disagreement with anything you’ve said to quote it—I could nitpick but what’s the purpose.

        I’ll just quote a few of my favorite statements that you made.

        …I like having serious discussions regarding all four of those causes, if you will (although I rarely think in terms of the four classical causes). No area is considered taboo.
        —-
        Teleology is out of bounds regarding materialists, atheists, reductionists, and I would say Progressives in general. (And, really, I’m not too sure how many liberal Christians actually believe in Christ.) But teleology goes with the territory. It’s not an add-on according to delusional, wishful-thinking theists.
        ====
        “Furthermore was it somehow providential—occurring extemporaneously along the way to its current state—or were the necessary ingredients for it completely there from the get-go just requiring time to appear?” —Jerry

        My opinion on that is still being formed. Having absorbed quite a few opinions and peripheral data, it would seem as if the Creator was working within the margins of his own “laws of nature.”
        —-
        …for the way I see it provisionally is that the Creator worked within quite concrete space-time-matter constraints in order to establish something that would actually work.
        ====
        So what we likely see is the Creator setting up, and then working within, a stable and cleverly-designed ecosystem and laws of physics.
        —Brad Nelson

        I guess the key statement you made is “…I like having serious discussions.”

        I do too. Maybe too much; so I keep coming back. Maybe it’s like General Patton said while surveying one of his battlefields (not that I view this as battle): “God help me, I do love it so.” And if we ever start agreeing too much, I’ll leave…Now I really don’t understand why I just thought and said that.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          “God help me, I do love it so.”

          Eventually people get tired of me. They move on. They wish for more fertile ground than broken records. But until they’ve heard the recording, many find a few things intriguing. My job — similar to how Rush Limbaugh says his talent is on loan from God — is to be the person you need to meet, for now.

          Now I really don’t understand why I just thought and said that.

          Ditto! For my own part, my need to write is to work stuff out. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t painfully feel another layer of the onion peeling off. Truly, willful blindness is likely a function of a deep need to be verified, ratified, sanctified exactly as we are. It is considered worse than death — an insult — to have to peel back the layers of the onion of one’s personhood, to admit that there is room to grow, that we’re not God’s gift to whatever. To have to adapt can feel like a situation of “They win, I lose.”

          There is likely deep magic in the idea of Matthew 10:39, that in order to find your life you have to lose it. Not many know what that means. It can be a very troubling and threatening experience.

          Now, cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone.”

          • Jerry Richardson says:

            Brad,

            There is likely deep magic in the idea of Matthew 10:39, that in order to find your life you have to lose it. Not many know what that means. It can be a very troubling and threatening experience.
            —Brad Nelson

            Brad, I’m (as the Brits say) gobsmacked. Why do you insist on not being a Christian?

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              That reminds me that “gobsmacked” is a nice word.

              The honest answer, Jerry, (as opposed to the dishonest one) is that there’s a whole lot of creepiness that goes with being a “Christian” that I want no part of. Now, I don’t mean you, Deana, Annie, or anybody else here. But in my own life, with the people I know, the thick BS that comes with the word “Christian” has negatively impacted me like the inverse of Pavlov’s dog.

              I would rather figure things out in my own way. I don’t have a desire to belong to any club. I have no desire to don an identity, which today are taken on and off like underwear. Besides, any identity I self-consciously donned would be more about me than about reality. If there is a God in heaven it’s up to him as to whether I’m on the right side. You can call a dog a cat but it’s still a dog.

              And I like the intellectual freedom of not being constrained by the tenets and beliefs of Christianity. There is baggage there, whether one wants to identify it or not.

  4. Anniel says:

    Jerry, I found your story both interesting and disturbing. I have listened to starry-eyed people describe the providence of God in their lives, like you with a good outcome. Do they ever think about the person or persons listening to them as people who may have suffered a devastating loss and stories like yours filling them with guilt because they must have done something “wrong” and thus deserved to be punished? What if the providence of God had left you permanently paralyzed? Maybe at the end of your life you might have recognized it as the most beneficial thing that ever happened to you.

    I would not in a million years have wished such devastating illnesses on my daughter, but looking back I can see how every member of our family has been blessed through her. And she would not change things either. I do not know how things work in the hands of God, who loves us all, but people can gain strength and goodness in so many different ways.

    • Jerry Richardson says:

      Anniel,

      Do they ever think about the person or persons listening to them as people who may have suffered a devastating loss and stories like yours filling them with guilt because they must have done something “wrong” and thus deserved to be punished? —Anniel

      There are few days in life that I don’t think about someone who suffered a devastating loss. I am one of those people. My wife and I, years ago, loss our last chance at having a natural child because my wife developed toxemia and the doctors had to deliver a dead baby girl early. I buried that little daughter on Christmas eve, in the rain, without my wife’s knowledge or presence because she was semi-conscious in the hospital.

      Despite my heartbreak, I accepted God’s providence and believed that somehow good could come despite the bad. Within a couple of years we adopted our one and only daughter, and if I could love her any more than I could a natural child; I’m not sure how that would be.

      So, Anniel, while you are trying to shame me for thanking God for his providence during a time that I saw as protection; I also thanked him (actually my prayer to Him was that I was not going to shake my fist in his face; but would trust His goodness) during the time in my life of my absolute worst grief.

      I’m not big on guilt trips and I’m not trying to put one on you. Please give me the same grace.

  5. Anniel says:

    Jerry, I was not trying to put a guilt trip on you. I have had enough of those put on me to last a lifetime. But too many people really do forget those around them who may not be so lucky or blessed. I think that none of us can be a judge of God’s providence. Faith is another matter entirely. At Ronald McDonald House I have seen both sides of this story, those who go home empty-armed having lost a child and still keeping God uppermost in their minds and hearts, and in gratitude returning to help others in their need. I am happy that you had good outcomes in both things you have described.

    Someday I shall have to write about a couple who came in with their only child suffering from a brain tumor. The father was plainly perplexed how such a thing had happened to them and told us what good people they were, and he actually said they were even vegetarians, I guess that made them even better. The wife was just angry, and part of that anger came across as resentment towards the rest of us who plainly deserved what was happening to us. But they were “better.”

    I know you well enough to know that’s not who you are. I was disturbed that others too often think they can judge what God is doing. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted what I was trying to convey.

  6. Jerry Richardson says:

    Anniel,

    I know you well enough to know that’s not who you are. I was disturbed that others too often think they can judge what God is doing. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted what I was trying to convey. —Anniel

    Anniel, I have great respect for you as a person, writer, commenter, and Christian sister. If I have offended you in anyway, I publically ask for your forgiveness. I value you and I value your friendship; I don’t want to lose that. I had no intention of being insensitive with my comments. I thought I was simply offering praise to God.

    I had a person who harshly judged me when I lost my last try as a natural child; A lady wrote me a harsh letter, which I still have somewhere, in which she said that she thought God was punishing me by taking away my child. The hurt of that remains to this day, approximately 30 years later. I sure don’t desire to be the instrument of that to anyone else.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is the basic problem of believing that God actively intervenes in the world, and thus that everything happens exactly has God wills. This is in fact the Muslim stance, and is one difficulty in establishing science there — everything happens because of the will of Allah, not natural factors. And meanwhile, this notion means everything bad happens because someone misbehaved. (One of the books we read in high school was Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which deals with this question.)

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Timothy,

        This is the basic problem of believing that God actively intervenes in the world, and thus that everything happens exactly as God wills.
        —Timothy Lane

        Exactly. That’s why I believe that many things happen in God’s Permissive Will (this must exist in order for there to be free will for humans), but not everything happens according to God’s Intentional will (his desires for the best for us). There is also God’s Ultimate Will (He works all things together for the good of those He called, who
        love Him [Rom. 8:28]. This means he can ultimately get His good in spite of man’s bad)

        These are important theological concepts, I think, for Christians to be acquainted with.

    • Anniel says:

      Jerry, May I say I love you and not get shot by Mrs. Jerry? Thank you for all of your research and efforts. Sometimes I feel like a piker in noble company.

      When God says He knows the end from the beginning I often ponder on what that actually means. I have to wonder if sometimes we even surprise Him, and do we make Him laugh with delight at some of our thoughts and stories? I’m sure there were times when your daughter made some innocent remark that left you gasping to recover your grown-up demeanor.

      Timothy mentions “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” which I agree addresses some of these questions very well.

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Anniel,

        Jerry, May I say I love you and not get shot by Mrs. Jerry? Thank you for all of your research and efforts. Sometimes I feel like a piker in noble company. —Anniel

        I’m humbled! My wife would love you. And you are NOT a piker.

        I have to wonder if sometimes we even surprise Him, and do we make Him laugh with delight at some of our thoughts and stories? —Anniel

        You can make book on it. Remember these verses:

        Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
        —Matthew 19:13-14 KJV

        And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 18:3-4 KJV

        Why would Jesus say those things?

        He loved children; and he loved their open, willing-to-learn spirit.

        I believe he loved all of their “why” questions. Can’t you just picture a group of children hammering the Creator of the Universe with all of their “why” questions?

        And can’t you just see the Creator of all the Universe occasionally having to hem-haw and stammer-out a maybe not-quite-so-understandable answer? After all, what is more profound than children’s questions?

        And can’t you just see the Creator of the Universe grinning as the children around him say and do things that made him laugh; just like we do. Jesus was not just God he was also a man. This is why he is such an enigma to us. Get over it. According to quantum physics an electron is a particle and a wave, at the same time.

        Remember, we don’t have a grumpy God; we have a God who invented humor. Why else would Simon Peter have been one of the foremost disciples? Can you read about Peter’s blunders without laughing at him and then crying with him? Peter is us.

        • Anniel says:

          Someday we should ask Bad to run an Art Linkletter “Kids say the Funniest Things” symposium. Just short and sweet. Like all of my older kids taking their less than 3 year old sister, Bronwyn, for a walk . They all came running in to tell me the dog down the street had been hit by a car and killed. Bronwyn ran in and said that the dog down the street had been “amputated.” David sighed and said, “Bronwyn, amputation means you cut part of something off.” She drew herself up and said, “well, David, they just amputated the whole dog.” I think even God laughed.

          • Jerry Richardson says:

            Anniel;

            Yes, I think a “kids say the funniest things” is a great idea. Write it up.

            I love the “amputated the whole dog” quote.

  7. Jerry Richardson says:

    Clint Eastwood’s character Josey Wales in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales pays tribute to the biblical concept of God’s providence as he buries his wife and child and in his grief he recites:

    Josey buries his wife and child, reciting “Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust, The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”.

    The first part of the quote “Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust” is not word for word in the Bible. Instead it is a composite statement presumably created from other verses, here are two possibilities:

    And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:
    —Genesis 18:27 KJV

    In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
    —Genesis 3:19 KJV

    The second part of Josie Wales statement, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” is taken directly from the verse Job 1:21. However, Josie Wales in his grief was unable or unwilling to finish the verse with the phrase “blessed be the name of the LORD”.

    And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
    —Job 1:21 KJV

    The book of Job is probably the principle book of the Bible to read concerning the question of God’s providence. The book of Job should verify for the reader that the workings of the providence of God is a mystery. However, the book definitely shows, I think, that Job believed in the final justice of God’s providence. Many readers have seen Job 19:25-27 as a statement that shows Job’s belief in the goodness of God’s providence that will be finally made-good in the resurrection:

    For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
    —Job 19:25-27 KJV

  8. M Farrell says:

    I have been coming to this sight for a while now, but finally had to comment on what a wonderful (serious/respectful) discussion this was to have during the week of Passover and Easter– Thanks to you all for the enjoyable reading– It is a relief to be able to read a non-hysterical dicussion by grown-ups–

    • Jerry Richardson says:

      M Farrell,

      Thank you for you thoughtful comments. And yes, what you have experienced is why I continue to read and write this website. Please make this one of your regular reading and commenting sites.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The timing is indeed interesting. At this very moment I’m watching the end of Killing Jesus on FNC. And earlier in the day, by normal rotation of MP3 images, I played Jesus Christ Superstar. Was someone sending a message (well, the first was deliberate), or was it just serendipity?

  9. This was an amazing discussion — thanks, Jerry, for getting it started. Even though I’m late to the party I want to say a couple of things. 1) We often forget that God, being outside of space and time could make providential provisions in eternity past — no last minute popping onto the stage to adjust the lighting. Our prayers are answered eons before we ever pray them. However, 2) That does not mean that God interferes with our free will. He let Jerry jump off that bank — what mechanism He used to keep him from total disaster was well-planned, and no doubt took the very physics He invented into account. There’s no magic here.

    And, I agree with Annie in that we shouldn’t make the assumption that all of God’s providential protections are what we would call “good.” My pastor talks of “providential preventative suffering,” a concept that deserves serious consideration. I have a grandson who is brilliant — not just grandson-brilliant, but off-most-charts smart, scary smart. When he was 2 he developed systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. He was in a great deal of pain. He has, over the years, grown out of it, and he has also grown up without the kind of arrogance that could have mushroomed up out of his high intelligence. I offer that account not as proof of my point, just illustrative of it.

  10. M Farrell says:

    Jerry–thank you for the kind invitation.
    Timothy–Our family tradition for Good Friday has always been all 3 VHS tapes of “Jesus of Nazareth”– Always rather a marathon.

    Deana– Thank you for some startling food for thought– I have a nephew comparable to your grandson. Super smart (BFA in applied violin/MBA in finance– odd double major) by age 20. (We have no idea where on earth it comes from). Although overall a dear young man, he possessed all the arrogance, swagger and immaturity that you might expect went with that kind of intelligence but still being a 20 year old male of the species. Shortly after graduation, he started experiencing blinding headaches, seizures, numbness in his hands and legs, and measuralble loss of motor function. Ultimately he needed rather complicated brain and spinal surgery that, as you might guess, scared both him and us to death. I reacted to it and God rather badly. First, how could God possibly let such potential go to waste?– then of course irrational anger with God– then trying to bargain with God (making promises you know you’ll never be able to keep if only He would allow things to turn out well)– not a lot of faith shown in any of this. In the end, things did turn out very well and of course I was very grateful– What I had never considered until I read your comment was the difference in my nephew after the 6 month ordeal– He was not the same immature, reckless youth anymore. Don’t get me wrong, his outrageous sense of humor is still there; he still does the Sunday afternoon football and beer, man cave, frat boy ritual with his buddies, but the recklessness is gone. There is a settled, contented stability about him that was missing before that I had not thought about–In short, the frenetic, arrogant “adrenaline junkie” is gone– Perhaps it was as you suggested “providential preventative suffering”, allowing (or causing/forcing) his maturity level to catch up a bit with his intelligence and thereby protecting him from much foolishness and self-inflicted harm. Perhaps (or most certainly) a lot more faith on my part was warranted– Again , thank you for the food for thought.

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