Is God Involved in the World?

So is God involved in the world or not?

Deism is the belief that God created the world, and then stepped back and is not involved. He wound the world up like a clock and now just watches everything run down. clockworksIn this worldview God doesn’t concern himself with day to day activities and miracles cannot occur. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. He famously cut out of the Bible all the miracles of Jesus.

Many people have a difficult time believing in miracles. They are outside our normal range of experience. We like seeing stories about them in the movies, but tell someone that Mary was a virgin and got pregnant by the Holy Spirit without sexual relations, and they’ll just smile and shake their heads.

The problem behind disbelief in miracles is a view of God who’s too small. We are human and finite. We simply can’t conceive of and get our heads around the power and abilities of a Being who could create the universe in a single instant, who’s infinite, eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent.

Ronald Nash gives an illustration that helps us understand the difference between a naturalist (also atheist) worldview and the Christian worldview. Imagine the universe is a box. For the atheist, the box is all there is. Somehow it just popped into existence. No one created it because it’s always been there. Inside the box we find all the stars, galaxies, planets, and this little green place called earth. Outside the box there’s simply nothing. Zip. Nada. Nyet. And everything inside runs according to a finely tuned set of rules—but let’s not talk about who created the rules. Inside the box no one can break the rules. Thus, miracles are impossible.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, says that God created the box. open-boxNot only that, he created the rules that govern what happens inside the box, rules such as gravity, the speed of light, laws for momentum, etc… And because God created the box and the rules that govern it, he has the ability to reach inside once in a while, and temporarily change things for his own purposes. Thus are miracles possible.

Science, via the Theory of Relativity, supports the view that the universe had a beginning and was created. (By the way this is the most tested and verified theory in physics. Scientists are finding new proofs for it all the time.) Logic dictates that whatever had a beginning must have a cause. And God is the name we give to the Being who was the First Cause of the universe.

Think about it. If God could create the universe, including time, space, matter, energy, and the laws of physics, then surely he can temporarily tweak his creation for his own purposes. Thus can miracles occur.

The question for our next post is why. Why would God want to create miracles?

Miracles Versus God’s Providence

What follows is a tale about the providence of God, summarized from The American Covenant, by Marshall Foster and Mary-Elaine Swanson. Sorry for the length, but I think you’ll find this untold story fascinating.

In 1746 the American colonists lived in fear that the French would colonize their region. Why? Because wherever the French went, they allowed only the Roman Catholic religion. As long as the Catholic Stuarts ruled England, there was peace with France. But then William of Orange, a Protestant, ascended the English crown, and the French began savagely attacking the colonists. With the aid of a British squadron, the Americans captured Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. Throughout the expedition, they had perfect weather. Said one colonist, “The English appear to have enlisted Heaven in their interest.”

The French were incensed. They made plans for a devastating response and on June 20, 1746, the Duc d’Anville sailed toward America with seventy ships, about half the French navy. Its purpose was “to lay waste the whole seacoast from Nova Scotia to Georgia.” The fleet evaded a British squadron charged with guarding the French shores. If they reached America, they would crush the fledgling colonies.

Just as the fleet set sail, a prolonged calm delayed them. Then some storms and lightning disabled several ships. Next pestilence broke out on board and many seamen died. As if this wasn’t enough, a new round of storms hit that were so intense, “[the ships] were…so dispersed in the midst of the Ocean that by Aug. 26, they had left but twelve Ships of the Line and forty-one others.” ship-in-stormThen on Sept. 2 another violent storm destroyed even more vessels. Finally, Duc d’Anville’s battered fleet sailed into Halifax harbor. There they were to rendezvous with still more French ships from the West Indies. But the West Indian fleet had long ago arrived, waited, and, discouraged by the long wait, gave up and returned south.

Meanwhile, when the colonists saw the French fleet off their shores, the people were “filled with consternation. The streets filled with men, marching for the defence of the seaports, and the distresses of women and children, trembling for the event, made…deep impressions upon the minds of those who remember these scenes. But never did the religion, for which the country was settled, appear more important, nor prayer more prevalent, than on this occasion. A prayer-hearing God stretched forth the arm of His power, and destroyed that mighty Armament, in a manner almost as extraordinary as the drowning of the Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.”

What happened after the colonists prayed? The Duc d’Anville waited while more ships limped into port. Then the realization hit him. His men were ill, too many had died at sea, and their supplies were almost gone. The commander “finding his few Ships so shattered, so many Men dead, so many sickly, and no more of his Fleet come in; he sunk into discouragement, and Sept. 15 died; but in such a Condition…it was generally tho’t he poysoned himself, and was buried without Ceremony.”

A second commander took over. Days later, he too committed suicide by falling on his sword. Then a third officer, La Jonquiere, assumed command. He ordered men ashore to recruit French and Indians to attack nearby Annapolis. But before they left Halifax, 2,000 to 3,000 died of pestilence. Then on October 13, La Jonquiere ordered the fleet to sail for Annapolis to lay waste to that town.

Unknown to the French commander, the colonists had set aside October 16 as a day of fasting and prayer for their deliverance. What happened next? From the Rev. French: “On this great emergency and day of darkness and doubtful expectation, the 16th of October was observed as a day of Fasting and Prayer throughout the Province. And, wonderful to relate, that very night God sent upon them a more dreadful storm than either of the former, and completed their destruction. Some overset, some foundered, and a remnant only of this miserable fleet returned to France to carry the news. Thus New England Stood Still, and Saw the Salvation of God.”

Surely this is an amazing, untold story. The storms, the disease, the departure of the rendezvous fleet, the suicides of two captains—all of it was so unusual and timed so perfectly, how could we call it coincidence? No, these events seemed to have been planned, ordered, and set into motion for a reason. To answer prayer and to save the colonies. We must therefore conclude that the salvation of the American colonies from a devastating French attack was an act of God.

By themselves, storms and pestilence are regular, expected phenomena, not miracles. But they occurred at such a precise moment that they saved the colonies. So instead of calling it a miracle, we call it providence. A subtle difference, I grant you. Often we simply call both kinds of events a miracle.

In any event, both miracles and providence are acts of God. But when some people hear that, they reject the notion that God is involved in the world. So my next post will address the question: Is God involved in the world?

What Are Miracles?

Do you know people who never show up for anything on time? Lonely Man at Restaurant Waiting for the GirlfriendIt doesn’t matter when you tell them you’ll meet. If you say, “Come to my house at 1:00,” they’ll show up at 1:30, maybe even 1:45. They seem genetically incapable of arriving on time. Then one day you’re sitting in a restaurant. Your name is on the list for a table. You told your friend to meet you there at 6:30. But of course long before your friend arrives, you fully expect the twenty minute wait to have passed. Before they show up, you’ll be seated, possibly ordering something to drink. Then the door opens, and—what’s this? Your friend walks through and it’s—what? It’s only 6:29! Yep, it’s a miracle.

Or is it?

The great theologian Norman Geisler defines a miracle as “a special act of God that interrupts the normal course of events.” Former atheist Anthony Flew says: “A miracle is something which would never have happened had nature, as it were, been left to its own devices.”

A miracle is rare and unique. It’s a bit more unusual than our chronically late friend showing up on time. A miracle might break what we know as the laws of physics. It might be foreknowledge of future events. It might also be some kind of instantaneous healing that should never have happened. Some skeptics point precisely to this characteristic—the rarity and uniqueness of miracles—as a reason why we can’t believe in them. But this is like saying we can’t believe the universe was created because it happened only once. It was a unique event. So why should we believe it occurred? Yet it did.

So a miracle is an “act of God”. It’s not an autonomous event without cause or purpose. Behind a miracle is intelligence, purpose, and a plan.

But what about a natural event, like a storm, that comes at exactly the right moment? And what if that storm causes a specific outcome that God desires? What do we call that?

In my next post I’ll describe the difference between God’s providence and miracles. I’ll tell an untold tale of how the American colonies were saved from devastation by one act of God after another.