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, 18 July 2014

Reinhold Bernhardt on Perceiving God's Action

The division of divine action into either subjective or objective needs to be overcome: It is indeed objective, and yet at the same time can be perceived only in the perspective of faith, and as such lies beyond the scope of empirical scientific investigation. This epistemological and hermeneutical consciousness should constitute the framework of any reflection upon God’s action as well as upon God’s eternity.

God’s activity is not evident in a third-person perspective but only in the faith-perspective of the first person – in the mode of ‘Credo’: ‘I am certain.’ However, this should by no means be used as a justification for dismissing it as a ‘projection’. Why should the faith-perspective of the first person be any less capable of recognizing this kind of truth than is the general and supposedly objective third-person perspective?

Reinhold Bernhardt, ‘Timeless Action? Temporality and/or Eternity in God’s Being and Acting’, in Christian Tapp and Edmund Runggaldier (eds.), God, Eternity, and Time (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), pp. 140–41, emphasis original


  1. I'm a bit confused, Terry. This all sounds to me somewhat triumphalistic and naive at the same time. I agree that divine action is objective, but I would make sure to underline that while it may be identifiable when taking a first-person perspective, it is by no means easily, uncontroversially identifiable. And the 'I am certain' statement signals for me all sorts of political trouble considering the history of claiming providence on 'our side' in various watershed moments of history. You know what Fergusson has to say about this. And he isn't alone. Think of how the religious right in America interpret the Palestinian conflict. 'We are certain God is objectively active in the conflict, helping the Israelis fight the nasty Palestinian terrorists'. Are they right? I very much doubt it. For me affirming divine activity as objective is a matter of faith, yes, but does not take me to statements of certainty, but to more tentative interpretations of what I take to be an objective divine action. Maybe I'm not getting him, or maybe you haven't pasted enough context. Don't know. But this is an important conversation.

  2. I see why you'd be cautious, and given what you say, I'd be cautious, too! But I don't think Bernhardt's essay is the product of some kind of latent triumphalism. It seems to me that his main point in this quotation (and which attracted me to it) is that although divine action can't be empirically verified, neither does it mean that a faith-perspective or an affirmation of divine action by faith is wrong. So while you're right to be concerned if Bernhardt's point is taken in the way of, say, American exceptionalism, I don't think Bernhardt himself would make that point himself.

    As a whole, the essay's probably worth reading, but it's a bit hit 'n' miss. Bernhardt's talks about the need for pneumatology to affect our formulations of divine action, but then reframes pneumatology in terms of the analogy of a spiritual force-field. I'm not convinced.