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, 29 July 2011

Is Providence Beautiful?

My friend Tim sent me a text today. It reads:

Beauty is a fundamental for theological thought because it’s virtually pointless. The opposite balance, I suppose, to ‘purpose-driven’.

Beauty is pointless, and I suppose that’s why, very often, beauty, like so many things, including purpose, is in the eye of the beholder. But if the category of beauty truly applies to theology, then there is a sense in which all of our doctrines should aim to be beautiful (whatever that means in practice). Now I would suggest that if a doctrine of providence is to be regarded as beautiful; and if Tim is correct to suggest that because the beauty of a doctrine lies in its pointlessness, its gratuity, it opposes or contradicts the concept of purpose; then it could be argued that a doctrine of providence has no place for teleology.

If all this is so, then there are important ramifications for the way we picture God’s relation to events, especially those events that cause harm and suffering to people and other living creatures. It suggests that evil and suffering aren’t specifically determined by God to happen; or, less strongly, there is no purpose behind or divinely-ordained significance to their occurrence. Thus the absence of a notion of teleology instead makes it possible to emphasize the presence of God alongside all that happens rather than as the cause or orchestrator of all that happens. True, God is guiding all things to the end God purposes for the world, but this is eschatology, not teleology. Teleology is the bedfellow of progress, not of eschatological perfection.

So if the doctrine of providence disregards any concept of teleology, any notion of the purpose-driven, does it find room to testify to the beauty of God’s presence with us throughout all events? Is the doctrine of providence a beautiful doctrine?

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