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, 16 July 2010

Providence and the Messiah

Towards the end of Providence Made Flesh (p. 232), I write:

Furthermore, the role of Jesus in God’s providence points to a crucial question, perhaps the most crucial question that any theology of providence needs to address: What does it mean to say that it is a particular human being, indeed, a particular man, who exercises God’s sovereign providence over the whole of creation?

Sean McDonough’s Christ as Creator has given me a few more ideas about how this question could be answered. McDonough’s argument is that by reflecting on Jesus’ ministry, and by having experienced the risen Christ and his ongoing presence through the Spirit, the earliest Christians not only perceived God’s eschatological order breaking into the world, but that, as God’s Messiah, Jesus must have been the agent of protological order, too – that is, the world was made ‘through him’.

The striking thing here is that Jesus’ messianic rule is portrayed in terms of Israel’s cult. Through his miracles, healings, exorcisms and teachings, Jesus re-orders a world of chaos into a place fit for God’s ongoing presence in the world in relationship with God’s people. Not only does there seem to be here an interpretation of the Day of Atonement rituals (where all the rituals are designed to maintain divine presence in the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies and to remove Israel’s sins as far away as possible from this most sacred of places), but a recapitulation of the initial act of creation where God separates light from darkness, dry land from the seas, and so on. Is it possible that Jesus the Messiah exercises providence over all things through making distinctions and ordering in accordance with priestly rites and temple symbolism? How fruitful would it be to discuss providence from within a context of Jewish messianism, which in turn is shaped and informed by a wider framework of divine presence? Or should this be a discussion of providence from within a context of divine presence, shaped and informed by a wider framework of Jewish messianism – if the two can really be separated?

This leads to two further questions, prompted by some of the implications of McDonough’s study. What is the nature of Jesus’ messianic rule, given that he sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those who approach God through him? And where and in what ways does pneumatology impact Jesus’ messianic rule?

At the moment, I don’t have any answers to these questions. One of my long-term projects is to write more on what it means to say that Jesus exercises providence over all things, and I’m excited by the possibility that the concept of Jesus as Messiah takes us to the heart of these issues and consolidates my emphasis in Providence Made Flesh on the idea that divine providence and divine presence are inseparable. But more and more, I realise that the name for this blog – Christ Pantokrator – is entirely appropriate for a blog where most of the posts are on the topic of divine providence.


  1. Very interesting post, Terry. It makes me wonder about the link between the Day of Atonement symbolism and the idea that the entire world is, as the Psalmist might put it, God's temple.

  2. There's tons of literature on this, James. I can point you to some if you like.

  3. I'd heard someone talking about how, in the ancient world, when a temple to a god was built the last thing that was placed in the temple was the image of the god. The guy went on to make the link between the Creation narrative and the idea that the earth is God's temple. I'd be interested if there was something you could recommend.

  4. Margaret Barker's The Gate of Heaven or Temple Theology: An Introduction, G.K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission or J.R. Middleton's The Liberating Image are good reads. There's John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One, which I haven't read yet, but I bought on the basis that it's another study along these lines. Or (shameless plug) there's chapter five of my book, which basically builds on many of these works.

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