About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Christmas is Coming

It’s appropriate to begin a blog on divine providence at this time of year. In the weeks leading to Advent, Common Worship makes provision for celebrating and reflecting on ‘the reign of Christ in earth and in heaven.’ (Common Worship: Daily Prayer, p. xx) In my view, the doctrine of providence must make explicit the christological dimensions of God’s provision for all things and rule over all things, lest the Church proclaims a despotic, demonic deity who does all things solely for its own glory, with no provision that truly considers the needs of the world. But why is it necessary for the doctrine of providence to have such a christological dimension?

Let me quote from Rowan Williams’s short essay on icons of Christ Pantocrator:

What we see is Jesus of Nazareth, a human figure in modest, not royal or priestly, clothing; a recognizably human face and figure. Yet of this face and figure we say, ‘This is truth, this is reality’; what is alive in Jesus is life itself, the very act of being which is God. Although this human being, like any human being, is vulnerable to what happens in history (and the cross in the halo reminds us of just what that means), this human being is in every moment, even in the deepest vulnerability, acting out the act of God. Divine action appears to us in all the human detail of this life, not as an extra to it, not as a mysterious something or other floating above the surface of history, but embodied in it.
Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003), pp. 69–71, emphasis original
The man Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God; God incarnate, acting in the world; God’s providence made flesh. But shameless plugs aside, note particularly Williams’s point that in Jesus, God is shown to be vulnerable. Divine action, divine sovereignty, divine lordship: all these things that more often than not connote images of God ruling all things as though a master military tactician are subverted by the fact that in Christ, God works in space, in time, within the creaturely limitations that these impose. But such circumscriptions do not imprison; they are the glory of the creature, for they allow each particular creature to be what it is and not another. And in the same way, God in Christ defines the particular kind of deity that God is: a God who rules through love, who provides through faithfulness, whose primary goal is to bless all that is not God by gathering those things into God, and by bathing those things with the presence of God. The heart of the doctrine of providence is God’s provision of God to the world in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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