providence of God

providence of God
   In Protestant theology, the providence of God refers to God's work as the preserver of creation, his continual interaction with created beings, and his direction of the universe to its predetermined end. While affirmed in Lutheran confessions, it has been more prominent in the Reformed tradition. All the early Reformed confessions include a separate paragraph on the subject. For example, the Belgic Confession asserted, "We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement."
   Though the doctrine holds that God continues to direct the creation, that direction may be accomplished through a variety of means, such as natural law or the actions of humans. The doctrine was directed against the opinion, credited to the Epicureans, that chance rules the universe; it suggests instead that all things are working for the good. Refinements of the doctrine clarify that God is not the author of sin; sin and evil in God's good creation is the product of fallen humanity
   Protestant theology thus affirms the imminence of God in sustaining and directing creation along with his transcendence in creation and rulership. In making both affirmations it denies deism, which affirms God's creation but not his continued rule, and pantheism, which denies God's separateness and lordship over the created world.
   The major difficulty within this doctrine for the Christian is the problem of evil. How can a good and powerful deity allow the amount of pain and suffering that is in the world? Numerous attempts have been pursued to answer the problem of evil. Traditionally, Christians have affirmed that evil must exist for freedom to be real, that is, if humans can love God, they must also be able to hate their creator. If they can do good, such actions would be meaningless if they were not also able to do evil. Christians also note the parallel with the natural world: when humans go against that law or ignore the world, disasters occur.
   In the 20th century, Protestant theology has had its most severe crisis in affirming God's providence in the face of the Jewish Holocaust and Christian complicity in the death of so many under such senseless circumstances. The murder of 6 million Jews was compounded by the knowledge of other horrors: the murder of millions of others by the Nazis and the Communists, and other incidents of genocide from the massacres of the Armenians (1915-16) to more recent examples in Rwanda and Cambodia. For many people, these events made traditional solutions to the problem of evil untenable.
   One reaction to the Holocaust was the so-called Death of God movement among theologians. These theologians were united more by the label than by any common theory, but they tended to agree with Baptist theologian William Hamilton (b. 1924) that the experience of God as transcendent reality had been lost over the last two centuries. Going even further, Episcopalian Paul Van Buren (1924-1998) suggested that traditional theism was intellectually untenable; in fact, it was meaningless.
   The Death of God came and went quickly, but there were other theologies that challenged traditional language about God. In particular, liberation theology attacked what it called God-talk as a European elitist male enterprise.
   In reaction to these radical formulations, most Evangelical theologians have reasserted a more traditional response to the problem of evil, while still wrestling with modern challenges. A good example is the Openness of God theology of Clark Pinnock (b. 1937). Meanwhile, even liberal Protestant theologians have been more cautious in their discussions of God's providence in the postHolocaust world.
   See also predestination.
   Further reading:
   ■ Thomas Altizer and William Hamilton, eds., Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966)
   ■ G. C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1952)
   ■ Paul Helm, The Providence of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994)
   ■ Douglas s. Huffman et. al. God under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002)
   ■ Clark H. Pinnock, Richard Rice, John sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1994)
   ■ John sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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