Providential Implications for Natural Law

All right, following yesterday's meditations on section 56.1 of the Church Dogmatics, linked in the title, I have some meditations on the implications for natural law. (At least in part because I've been reading Biggar's Behaving in Public, and as a result of the recent Barth-Aquinas conversations at PTS.)

So, implications of "the unique opportunity" (and my following thereupon) for natural law:

A) The world is fallen, not just human being.
B) The orders of all things in the world are dis-ordered from the creation-ordering, as the scriptural views of the mountain of the Lord as the peaceable kingdom suggest. (Even if it is simply an attempt at answering the theodicy question.)
C) Providence remains.
D) But providence is not a created remnant of order -- it is a function of God's own ongoing creative and redemptive salvific work. Salvation as salvage.
E) The order in which we find the world is not "natural" as though we meant by that "original to the act of creation." [As my wife asked, yes, even trees are fallen. I don't mind Lewis on this point.] The parts are natural; the order is not.
F) No components of the world are by nature evil or false or wrong. All things in the ongoing creation are essentially good, if existentially disordered.

[For (F), See Sartre's concept of mauvaise foi, in terms of essence/existence conflict. I deny that one's freedom to choose is capable of attaining alignment of existence and essence because of the fundamental disordering effect of sin, and that only the command of God -- as perpetually given and never possessed -- is capable of overcoming this situation. But otherwise, he describes the situation remarkably well. Rather than abnegation, redemption and reconciliation are the solution to existential nausea, the way out of the impossibility of independent self-responsibility, let alone such independent self-responsibility standing before God.]

The problem with natural law is that it presupposes that some remnant of divinely original external order remains in creation, however corrupted by its percolation into the world. As in the case of horoscopes, "reading the book of nature" tells us how things are in a relative sense, but not how they should be -- and contradicting what we see does not get us any closer, as though the disorder were in some simple way oppositional. The world is not opposed to God; it is disordered in separation from God. And so the question is not so simple as virtues and vices, goods and their privations.

That disorder may become evil in any number of ways, and yet the creature remains God's creation. God remains Lord of creation, no matter how miraculous his intervention may have to become in order to achieve recognition in the radically disordered creature.

And yet we never declare that "the condition in which you were called" is evil, or that the call of God contradicts your placement in life. The new orientation, disposition and direction of that life may -- indeed, probably will -- move you in new directions, to places you would not have otherwise gone by deeds you would otherwise not have done. This is your being as new creation -- as renewed creation. The command of God the creator, however miraculous or mundane its form, is also providence, and embraces and extends the providence by which you have been placed within limitations and come to be in the place where you are. The place of your call is never necessarily discontinuous with the place where you are, though your momentum may well be discontinuous with the direction to which you are called from there. It does not violate your being, even as the command of God the creator completely and properly re-orders it.

And so I have come into a doctrine of providence, which I didn't expect to have. And just like I take Barth's solution to the doctrine of election to be justification looked at sideways, I take providence likewise. In these things, we speak of God's necessary action for the creature, the sine qua non of free ethical being in the world. We speak of situated grace, considered in the ways in which God's action flows through the historic creation.

We may, on these terms, speak of created being as essentially good, without meaning by that any sort of reference to the capability of the creature for absolute good. The creature is essentially good, which is to say simply that it is God's creation; and existentially, it is radically subordinated to sin. Root to leaf, including the fruit. The will is capable, which is to say that it is also therefore capable of negation. It is capable of das Nichtige, of evil. But we must therefore speak of created being as essentially good, as God's creation, because we cannot assert that Nothing is stronger than God -- who speaks what is from what is not. What is, is nothing other than creation because we do not assert any other beside God. As Vitor asserts, evil has no ontological existence. God does not create evil.

And so sin and evil, in this scheme, wind up being accounted as disorder relative to God's order, though in no particular given direction. (Or, in every possible particular given direction!) They are artifacts of independence and capability, of the freedom necessary to ethical agency, in its state divorced from and irresponsible to the active agency of God.

Does this work, or are there holes in it that I'm missing? So far, my wife doesn't think I'm insane, which is a good first step.


  1. Holes? That would assume, I think, that you've said something particularly radical here. Evil may not have any ontological existence (it may, however, just not an existence co-equal with God -- there was a time when evil wasn't), but it possesses a great deal of power, and while that power has been defeated by the Grace of God in Christ Jesus, it still has great power to beguile the created things.

  2. It need not be particularly radical -- even though I feel odd about it, having basically just acquired a doctrine of providence from Barth and not out of everything else in my head. But the question of holes is whether the logic coheres. Look at Rob Bell -- even the mundane has holes in it.

  3. What bothers me about having a doctrine of providence is the notion that I keep working it away from, which is that creation is a single action at the beginning of time, and that providence therefore winds up being remnant or programmed in. I have to take the creatio continua very seriously, to keep even God's creative action integrated across the whole space and time of created history.

    And then also the idea of general providence as opposed to special providence. The whole conflict here between providence and natural law is an attempt to break the idea that God supports the orders of the world as they stand. General providence is natural law. It tends to condition the actions of God in terms of the way the world works, which begins with God's active approval and perpetuation of the way the world works. Miracles become interventions -- violations of the order God otherwise supports, to achieve some special purpose. I'm too basically apocalyptic for that.


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