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.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Natural Laws of the Age to Come

Amos Yong’s The Spirit of Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011) is proving a stimulating read. He draws from the thought of C. S. Peirce to suggest that the laws of nature are effectively habits, and that the Spirit-filled life of Jesus and pentecostal-charismatic phenomena such as speaking in tongues are the action of the eschatological Spirit breaking into the present in order to kick-start the habits of the new creation. Yong writes,

I suggest that the charismatic gifts and miracles as recorded in the New Testament and witnessed to by pentecostal piety and practice are proleptic signs of the world to come.… More to the point, Christian life in the Spirit suggests our capacity in this world to walk according to the “laws” of the coming kingdom. The current “laws of nature” can now be understood as habitual, dynamic, and general but nevertheless real tendencies through which the Holy Spirit invites and empowers free creatures to inhabit the eschatological presence of God.… In this view, charismatic manifestations in general and authentic miracles in particular are interruptions of habitual events that in turn open up the possibility of the emergence of new habits precisely because their full meaning can only be proleptically discerned in the light of the coming kingdom. (pp. 128, 129)

Thus the laws of nature aren’t fixed and new laws could develop. I find this interesting because it seems that, along with the phenomena of the age to come, the Spirit is also responsible for showing us something of the laws of nature in the age to come. Is this, or something like this, what we see in Jesus’s resurrection, especially his apparently instantaneous coming and going, walking through walls, and so on? Or is this too literalistic a reading of John’s Gospel?

In holding all this, Yong avoids the idea that the laws of nature are prescriptive and shows the eschatological orientation of so-called miracles. Arguably, the traditional concept of miracles assumes that the laws of nature are fixed or prescriptive and that any action on God’s part involves breaking into or suspending this fixed order. But Yong avoids the idea that the laws of nature are prescriptive and in doing so, shows the eschatological orientation of miracles. Miracles are not God’s magic tricks to show the divine might; they are signs of the end of the age and, indeed, evidence that the God who acts is faithful to keep God’s promises for a better future.


  1. If miracles are signs of the "end of the age," does that also extend to miracles done throughout the OT? If so, then the entire concept of the "end" loses all potency.

    One must also ask what the "end of the age" is. The end of *what* age? In what two (at least) ages did the Second Temple Jews believe?

  2. Hi, Mike. Sorry - I should have written 'the age to come' rather than 'end of the age'. That's my error, not Yong's.