Sunday, May 6, 2012

How does God engage with the world?

Terrance Tiessen in his book Providence & Prayer explores eleven theological models that discuss the relationship between God and humanity. Inevitably these models contain overlapping and interweaved concepts namely; creation, the nature of God, the powers and limitations of God, human will, freedom and predestination, the role of prayer and suffering. To answer the question ‘Hoe does God engage with the world?’ this essay will logically progress through these concepts highlighting particular models where relevant.

The first point is that God is the creator and thus is not bound by the limitations experienced by creation. As creator He is outside and beyond our concept of time (Tiessen, 2000, p. 190). Boethius puts this nicely “as the complete and perfect possession at once of an endless life” (Tiessen, 2000, p. 190.) As creator, he established a set order of natural law in which the world operates (Jeremiah 31:35-36). As creator He is attributed ownership and lordship of His creation (Psalm 24:1-2). The Bible establishes a paradigm where God is distinct from creation in substance, knowledge, time and power.

God’s nature outside of creation renders Him special knowledge. The various models differ in their descriptions and extent of this knowledge and link it inseparably to human freedom (Ariel, 2005). Process theology and the openness model would argue that God does not know with absolute certainly the future (Tiessen, 2000, pp. 32,362-363). The Semi-Deist position argues that God has established rules of order after which He does not further intervene (Tiessen, 2000, p. 32) and that we are agents of change (Tiessen, 2000, p. 38) Proponents of these models argue that although the past and present may be known the future acts of ‘libertarialy free people cannot be known until those people have decided on their action and done it’ (Tiessen, 2000, p. 74).
Barthian, Calvinist, and the Fatalist models are clear that God’s knowledge is complete and absolute. God has complete knowledge of the future as he is the only determining agent (Tiessen, 2000, p. 270). The position is also opposed by the Redemptive Intervention Model, which ‘Chafer argued that God could not look into the future and find out what people were going to do because that would make him dependent on the Creatures’ (Tissen, 2000, p. 141).
The Monolists Model proposes is an interesting middle ground in which God has three times of knowledge; the natural (for example the physics on which the world runs), free knowledge (specific information of his world including foreknowledge), and middle knowledge. Middle knowledge they define as the counter-factorials, or what would have happen given different circumstances (Tissen, 2000, pp. 158-159). Laing argues that in this model God would be bound of logical alternatives of human choice, whereas in ture compatibilism (of God’s control and human freedom) there should be no such limits (Laing, p. 457). This allows them creature in the present to choose a path freely but as God knows all paths He will know the future for that and any choice. They argue that this is logical in God planning and guiding the future (Tiessen, 2000, pp. 166,168).
Thomas Aquinas (the Thomist Model) puts the argument aside and reflects back on God’s position outside of creation. He puts forth that as ‘consequence of  God’s timelessness, he dose not strictly foreknow the future, he simply knows it.’ (Tissen, 2000, p. 191). He thus places God outside our temporal existence that from our perspective would appear as foreknowledge.

God’s nature outside of creation renders Him special power and control. The majority of models have some element that God is ongoing in guiding creation to his purposes and that that purpose is His Glory (Romans 11:26) (Tiessen, 2000, p. 139). This is analogous of a carpenter building a desk there is the master plan (the desk) and subordinate acts (hammering a nail) (Tiessen, 2000, pp. 36,37,79). At the extremes the Deism and the Semi-Deist would say that God has set the order and lets it run without further intervention (Tiessen, 2000, p. 35). Whereas, in Barthian theology God’s omniscience and omnipotence is inseparably linked such that His will, is the future (Tissen, 2000, p. 219). 

God as creator, has both knowledge of and power over creation. However, God is in relationship with creation and as such creation has influence over God.  The bible presents God’s as constant - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The bible also presents God can change particularly in relation to prayer. Examples include Moses negotiating the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrth (Exodus 32:10-14) and the extension of Hezekiah’s life (Isaiah 38:1-5). (At other times God appears to regret the choice he has made (Genesis 6:6, 1 Samuel 15:11.) )
Each of the models attempts to rationalize God’s knowledge, will and prayer. Process theology proposes the most interesting solution – that God is of two poles. That God’s essence is fix character but also His consequent can be effected by prayers of humans, thus leading to a process of influence and interaction (Tiessen, 2000, p. 52). Proponents of the Openness Model, argue that love, essential to God’s being could not be changed but that He could be changed and affected by His creation (Tiessen, 2000, p. 80.) At the extremes prayer serves other purposes than to petition God for change. For the semi deist prayer is a commitment to help or to change (Tiessen, 2000, p. 32). For the fatalist the events are already determined.
Augustine wrote of prayer – ‘God does not need to have our will made known to him –  he cannot but know it’ (Tiessen, 2000, p. 196). Included in His omniscience would be knowledge of our prayers as God experiences them outside of our temporal world.  God knows our prayers after, during and event before we pray them. Bruce Reichenbach (Redemptive Intervention Model) argues that God has already incorporated our prayers into His plan (Tiessen, 2000, pp. 133-134)

The responsibility of suffering lay with those making decision and evoking action. Unfortunately, Tiessen failed to engage fully with the issue of theodicy leaving only implied answers in presented models (Lemke). The Semi Diest model has a simple solution in attributing choice, action and responsibility to the creature. It can then explain away Hiroshima or Auschwitz (Tiessen, 2000, pp. 34,39). Likewise the openness model points to human responsibility (Tiessen, 2000, p. 113) with sin and Satan having a corrupting effect on creation (Tiessen, 2000, p. 141). However, in doing so they must deflate God of influence and control. Barth attributed good and evil to creaturely freedom and God’s permission, Calvin did not speak of permission (Tissen, 2000, p. 213). The Thomist model allows sin as God tolerates it for the greater good. Joseph and Lazarus are biblical examples of this.

The important premise of God interacting with the world is that God is that God is uniquely distinct from the world. As creator and Lord he is outside of the limitations of space and time. Although he usually works along the ordered science of our world (which he established) he is not bound by it. From this position he can have knowledge and power that interacts with contradiction human decision and free will. God interaction is motivated by love for His people and a desire for his own Glory.

Heavenly Father we give you great thanks that you invite and command us to pray to you. We give you thanks for Jesus’ life that makes us right before you. We give you thanks that you establish relationship with us and interact with us as our loving God.
We lift up to you Fred Henderson’s son who has been taken hostage while serving on the mission field. We give you thanks for his courage and obedience to risk his life for the advancement of the Gospel. We thank you for the lives he has positively impacted to date in service to you.
We have confidence that you are creator and Lord. We trust that you know every detail of his life as and before it happens. We know that you have established an ordered world and that you are not bound by it. From your position in heaven you have power to influence and change history as you seem fit. We acknowledge that regardless of how events appear to us; you always act in love.
We petition you know for the life of Fred Henderson’s Son. We ask of you to keep his faith strong and to keep his body from harm. We ask that you free him from his captives. We pray for many more years of life on the mission field and great testimony of your work through him. We pray that your may bring our brother’s son home. We know you are able, we give thanks that you listen, and we give you glory as our God.


·      Ariel. (2005, May 11th). Providence & Prayer by Terrance Tiessen, A (Book Review). Retrieved May 7th, 2012, from Bitter Sweet Life:
·      Hammond, T. C. (1968). In Understanding Be Men. (D. F. Wright, Ed.) Leicester: Intervarsity Press.
·      Laing, J. D. (n.d.). THE COMPATIBILITY OF CALVINISM AND MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE. Retrieved May 7th, 2012, from JETS:
·      Lemke, S. W. (n.d.). Providence and Prayer: An Evaluation of Tiessen’s Proposal. Retrieved May 7th, 2012, from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary:
·      Tissen, T. (2000). Providence & Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVasity Press.
·      Werther, D. (n.d.). Calvinism and Middle Knowledge. Retrieved May 7th, 2012, from Ars Disputandi: