A moment of awe can become a lifetime of wonder - Anonymous
The Case Study
On the evening that Fred Henderson received the news about his son Richard's abduction, he shared the situation with others at his church prayer meeting, among whom was Millie Dennis. People in Fred's church often used to say that they could not understand why Millie Dennis went to prayer meeting at all, Apparently she did not believe that praying for things actually brings about any changes in the concrete situation. She came to this conviction out of a deep concern to protect God's goodness in the face of suffering and evil in the world. It bothered her profoundly when people attributed to God the deliverance of one individual from a dangerous situation when others in the same situation were not delivered. It seemed to her that this made God accountable for the tragedy that occurred to the others. If God could rescue one person, as many of her fellow Christians thought he had, why did he not rescue them all? Millie believed sincerely in God, but she believed that God had created an orderly universe, placed people in it and then allowed them to exercise their God-given freedom in morally responsible ways. He had given them the intelligence they needed to gain an understanding of the physical and moral order that God established and he expected them to act wisely in harmony with those "laws" of nature.
In spite of the puzzlement experienced by her fellow church members, Millie attended prayer meeting regularly because she enjoyed getting together with fellow Christians, and besides, she found that praying about things helped to strengthen her resolution to be an agent for change in the world. She was well known by members of the congregation for her strong confidence in the significance of human action. She believed that God sustained the existence of everything in the world and maintained the laws according to which those things operated. Consequently, she felt a keen responsibility to be active in working toward the good of everyone through wise cooperation with the natural order. As Millie heard Fred describe the predicament of Richard and his colleagues, she did not expect God to intervene on Richard's behalf. She did not even expect God to make a special effort to encourage and strengthen Richard or to comfort Fred and others who were distressed about the abduction of the missionaries. It was clear to Millie that the need facing this congregation was to assess the situation clearly, to gather all relevant information about the factors surrounding the abduction and to discover what avenues of communication and influence existed by which the abductors might be convinced to release the missionaries. One way of getting the group focused on this task was to pray together about it, thereby committing themselves corporately to get involved in action to free Richard and his friends.
Millie was the first to pray. "Dear God, you are the Creator of this world and all who are in it. We acknowledge your wisdom and love in constituting things as they are, given the limitations that you have placed upon yourself by generously creating human beings and giving us freedom to act wthin your master act. We ourselves desire to act in ways that are consistent with your own good purposes, but this is not true of everyone, and it is certainly not true of these who have abducted Richard and his two fellow missionaries. We express our confidence that in the end of all things, your purposes will be accomplished, but we do not know when that will be true. In the meantime we know that Richard and his colleagues are committed to serving you. and we too shall do what we can to bring good out of this evil and to further your benevolent purposes for the world. In the name of Jesus, whose life so well modeled what you wish us to be, Amen”
The Case Study
At the seminary in town, a few years ago a guest lecturer had done a series on process theology. A number of people went to hear it. They found it fairly heavy going because it was a very different way of thinking about reality, but Mark Peterson had latched on to the position with great enthusiasm. At first it seemed terribly philosophical, but it did answer same of his serious questions about why there was so much evil and suffering in the world, so he decided that the lecturer was right: this was a metaphysic that provided a helpful framework for the biblical narrative about God. He liked the vision of God patiently persuading all aspects of creation toward their own fulfilmeni in spite of the fact that there was often resistance to his influence.
When Mark heard Fred's account of the abduction, he was immediately comforted to know that Richard and the others were not alone in that jungle with their captors. God was very much at work there as he was everywhere. Mark knew that God was not happy with what had occurred. God would have been making persuasive efforts in the consciousness of the guerrillas, trying to deter them from their plans to kidnap the missionaries as he saw this intention develop. God would also have been at work on the political leaders in the situation. He knew that the rebels were not evil at the core of their being. They were responsible members in their families and leaders in the tribal structure. But all their peaceful efforts to obtain justice from the government had been unsuccessful, and they had gradually moved on to increasingly aggressive forms of protest, which had culminated in armed rebellion. The missionaries actually had sympathy for the cause of these tribal people among whom they worked, but they strove to maintain political distance and to locus on their work of evangelism and church development. The rebels had no animosity toward the missionaries themselves, but they hoped that abducting these foreigners would gain international attention to their cause. Obviously the leaders of the government had been decidedly resistant to God's loving persuasion and the frustrated rebels had also not responded to efforts that God made to lead them to nonviolent means of protest.
As Mark contemplated the situation, he assumed that God was cognizant of all of the details and that God was already at work to bring good out of the evil that had developed. He could even see prospects for God's program to be advanced by the presence of the missionary captives in the camp of the guerrillas, and he hoped that the rebels would succeed in generating international pressure upon the government to institute a more just situation for the tribal people. He could see ways in which the whole situation could prove to be beneficial to the work of the missionaries and the church. Mark believed that God did not need to be invited into the situation by the believers gathered in prayer. He was there, and he was already doing his utmost, in the circumstances, to bnng about the greatest good for ill concerned, without having any foreknowledge of how well his efforts would succeed. On the other hand, Mark did believe that prayer was a meaningful and helpful ministry on their part. It would open them up personally to God's persuasion in their own lives, thus making them more useful to God for whatever action he might wish to have them do toward a remedy of the complex evil in the situation. This expression of reliance upon God and of desire for good in the particular context provided God with an additional “occasion" that he could receive into his own ongoing development, consider in his own decision-making and use in the next moves that he would make in the world. Prayer was not the only thing that these Christians could do. but it was one valuable way that they could seek to discover and to cooperate with God in his purposes for the world.
Mark prayed: “Loving God, we know that you have good purposes for all of your creauon. as you draw us toward the full realization of what is good for us. We are deeply comforted in the knowledge that you are active in, with and through all occasions in this world. Consequently we know that you are present with Richard Henderson and his colleagues just as you are here with us. We pray that Richard and his friends may experience peace and confidence in their own knowledge that you are active in their situation. We ask that their own responsiveness to your loving influence in their lives may itself be a means by which your love may affect those who have abducted them.
“We know, dear God, that you are also active in the lives of those who captured Richard. They are obviously men who have been rejecting the influences by which you have been ceaselessly luring them toward fuller personhood. They are not living according to your will, but we are not without hope in this situation. On many occasions your love has effectively transformed the evil intent of rebellious human hearts, and we have experienced that tender work in our own lives. It is now our prayer that your love will continue to tug at the hearts of these men even in their current rejection of it, and that they might be led to act justly and compassionately in this situation and indeed to turn themselves toward you for the future of their lives. We believe that our own prayers and that of Richard and his fellow missionaries will open a way for your love to work, bringing good out of this evil, including the establishment of greater justice for the people. In that hope, we make ourselves available to you as instrument of your purpose to achieve the good of all your creatures. In the name of Jesus, whose own life inspires us to costly obedience, Amen.”
The Case Study
A young university student often came to prayer meeting. Oliver Dueck had been a cause of concern to the youth leaders during his last years in high school. Jerry Walls, his Sunday school teacher, had been particularly anxious as Oliver had so many questions about God and his ways of working in the world. Mr Walls was a Calvinist, and he was troubled when Oliver described God as just a puppet master, pulling the strings so that everyone in the world did what he wanted them to. But that was how the teacher's perspective sounded to Oliver. So Mr Walls was much relieved when Oliver came home for Christmas after his first semester at university and reported that be had become involved in a Christian student group and made friends with strong believers. On the other hand, Oliver had encountered and accepted some ideas that still made his teacher rather nervous. Oliver no longer challenged God’s control because he had come to understand God’s relationship to people quite differently. "God is responsive, he said. “He doesn't control everything that happens because he has given people freedom to make decisions. He doesn't always know what they will decide ahead of time, either. But he is powerful, and he is able to adapt to each new situation and keep working for good.” It sounded rather strange to Mr Walls, but at least Oliver seemed firm in his trust in God.
Within the congregation Olivier had occasionally been involved in discussion with both Millie (semi-deist) and Mark (process). He agreed with Millie that there was a serious problem if God was so completely in control in the world that his will was always done, as Mr. Walls believed. Terrible tragedies occurred every day, and if these were God’s will, then God himself is guilty of evil, and this could not be the case. But in addressing this problem, Millie had made God much too distant and uninvolved to fit with Oliver's reading of the Bible. Oliver had become increasingly aware of God as a personal being who had created other personal beings because he wanted to have a relationship with them. But relationships involve give and take; they require interaction and a measure of interdependence. If God always gets his own way in the relationship and we simply do his will, then it is really not a very satisfying relationship for either God or for us. Millie's God seemed to have no relationship at all, and the God of Mr. Walls is a dictator, not one with whom we can have intimate fellowship. Not that God and his creatures are on exactly the same level. Being God, he is sovereign, and he could have done anything he wanted. He could have made creatures who always do his will if he had wanted to, but Scripture indicates that he did not do that. He wanted his creatures to love him voluntarily and to obey him when they were free not to do so if they chose.
In personal relationships like this, of course, there is a risk, and on this point Oliver was agreed with Millie and Mark. Having given his creatures the freedom to disobey, God had given up his ability to have everything happen just the way he wanted it to. By contrast with Millie, it seemed to Oliver that Mark’s God was at least continuously involved in the world. Mark's God was certainly vulnerable, as the God of the biblical narrative seemed to Oliver to be. But the process model portrayed God as too dependent on the creatures to satisfy Oliver. God himself was as much in process as we are, and he too is becoming. Not that his becomingness was completely open; there was an antecedent or primordial aspect of God’s being that included his moral nature so that there was no risk that God might become evil in the process of interaction with his creatures. But from Oliver’s perspective the process model that Mark worked with was too dependent on Whitehead’s  philosophy and not sufficiently based in the biblical narrative.
Oliver did like the way Mark perceived of God’s effort to achieve his good purposes in the world through persuasion but not coercion. The Calvinist view of God’s control seemed so coercive, and human freedom looked to be an illusion. Oliver was convinced that real freedom means that we have at least two choices in most situations, and there is nothing, either inside of us or outside of us, which predetermines which of those choices we will make. It is precisely at that moment of deciding that we are free.
Oliver was aware that the aspect of his current theological understanding that gave Mr. Walls most concern was Oliver’s belief that God did not know the future in all its details. But this was not a limitation on the knowledge of God, whom Oliver believed to be omniscient. It was just that neither God nor anyone else could know what decision a person would make until that person had made the decision. The decision did not exist until that time and so was not “there" to be known. Oliver had encountered the response that God can know these decisions that are future to us because they are not future to him, since he does not experience time as we do. That seemed to work for many theologians through the centuries but Oliver now believed that it was a concept based more on Greek philosophical ideas than on the biblical narrative. It was all part of a package in which God is unchanging and without emotions, but this seemed so alien to the picture of God that Oliver got from the Bible. There he met a God who gets angry, who repents, who changes his mind because people ask him to, who rejoices and who is genuinely involved in reciprocal relationships with the creatures he made for fellowship with himself. Conquently, Oliver had concluded that God must experience events in sequence and be able to respond and change his own decisions while always remaining faithful to his moral character as God.
Thinking about Richard Henderson and his fellow missionaries, Oliver knew that God would not be happy with the way the guerrillas had abducted them and that God would want to bring good out of this for everyone involved. Although God knew the guerrillas better than anyone else could, perhaps including themselves, he could not have known that they were going to abduct the missionaries until they actually did so. However, this would not have caught God by surprise because he knew the immense range of things that could possibly happen, and he knew of things that could be done in all of those possible scenarios. What he did not know was which of those particular possibilities would be actualized yesterday. Nor could God predict just how it was all going to turn out because many of the variables were not in his control. There were so many people involved who could affect the outcome -- the guerrillas, the missionaries, the politicians, other members of the tribe and so on. Each of these people was free to make choices, and the complex combination of these human decisions and of God's influence or direct action would ultimately determine the future.
Oliver did not believe, however, that God was powerless in the situation. God could intervene dramatically with an angel, as he had done with the apostle Peter, or with an earthquake as he did for Paul and Silas. But Oliver rather doubted that these were likely options in the current situation. God's normal way of working in the world was less dramatic. Given that God had not intervened in a spectacular way to prevent the Holocaust, or to protect the many Christians experiencing serious persecution around the world even at that time, it seemed unlikely that he would now do so for the sake of three missionaries and their circle of family and friends. God usually chose to work within the structures of the physical universe as he had set them up and to influence people through the persuasions of his Spirit. Of course, these persuasions could be resisted, and so God could not guarantee the outcome without taking back the freedom he had given, and this he would not do.
Oliver did believe that he and his friends gathered in church that evening could make a difference and that prayer was one way of doing this. Because of the special relationship that exists between God and his followers, God was deeply interested in their concerns and in their requests. He might even take a different direction than he had at first intended, simply because of the earnest entreaties of his children. So for Oliver this was not simply an exercise in submission to the will of God or a form of therapy to make them all feel better. The future was still not determined, God could act in noncoercive ways to influence that future, and he would be responsive to the prayers of his people in making his own decision about what he would do to bring good out of evil.
Oliver stood up and prayed. “Loving Father, we know that you are a powerful God but that even you are not able to do everything that you would like to do because you have chosen to involve us in significant ways in the world. You want us to love you and to serve you willingly. We are frightened right now because we realize that Richard and his friends are in grave danger. The men who have taken them don’t care about their lives; they only want to get the benefits they need for their own cause. We have no guarantees that things will turn out well for Richard. They did not turn out perfectly for your own Son when he was nailed to a cross as an innocent man, although you made that great evil the means of immense good. Things have not turned out well for many of your children, On the other hand, we can also think of times when those who followed you have been in danger and have come through it. We know that evil wins sometimes, Lord, even though you do not want it to. You can bring good out of evil, in the long fun, but that does not negate the seriousness of the evil itself. On the other hand, we believe that it makes a difference when we pray, that there are ways in which you will work because we have prayed, which you would not otherwise have worked. And so we are serious now about our request that you act in this situation.
“We are assuming, Lord, that the best thing for the missionaries would be to escape unharmed, and so we are praying that you will do what you can to bring that about. We don’t fully understand the ways in which you work. We know that you can dramatically change the hearts and minds of their captors. We also know that you can give Richard and the other missionaries a keen eye for ways in which they can convince the men to let them go or even to escape. We know that you could even do something supernaturally miraculous, but we know that doesn't happen often, and we aren't sure what the limits are in that regard. However you choose to do it, Father, we are asking you to protect them and to rescue them.
“In all of this, Lord, we realize that what is most important is the relationship that Richard and his friends, and also their abductors, have with you. I ask that the missionaries will be very conscious of your presence with them and that their captors will experience in them a strength and peace and love that is unusual but attractive. It would be wonderful if this troubling experience could be a means by which your Spirit could work in grace in the lives of those who are currently living in ignorance or rebellion against you. Help us too, Father, to think of things we could be doing to help in this situation. We ask these things because you have invited us to bring our requests to you, and we give you praise for your own love and goodness even when things go differently than you want them to. In Jesus' name, Amen.”
 Process theology is a type of theology developed from Alfred North Whitehead's (1861–1947) process philosophy, most notably by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000), John B. Cobb (b. 1925) and Eugene H. Peters (1929-1983). Process theology and process philosophy are collectively referred to as "process thought".
For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes, contrary to the forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal (will never die), immutable (in the sense that God is unchangingly good), and impassible (in the sense that God's eternal aspect is unaffected by actuality), but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.
The Case Study
When people in Fred Henderson's congregation had a need for which they wanted prayer, Sandra Buxton was usually the first person they called. A couple of years before this time she had been confined to bed with illness for a few weeks. One day during that time she had been watching television when a man spoke about prayer and described how God was training the church to rule in his kingdom by means of a program of prayer: God had chosen not to act in the world unless the church asked him to do so. It sounded strange to Sandra, but a book was offered to listeners who would write in and so she did. The book convinced her that there was truth in this teaching, and she soon developed a reputation as someone who was keenly interested in praying for things that she discerned to be important in the overcoming of evil in the world. She had enlisted some other women who gathered with her for prayer in her home on a regular basis.
As Sandra listened to Fred describing what had happened to Richard that day, she was intent on discerning what God could be wanting in the situation. She was keenly aware that Satan would want to disrupt the work of the missionaries, but she was puzzled that God had not protected them, given the regular prayer for their safety and their ministry that she and others in their church had offered. It occurred to her that God might actually have a good purpose for the abduction of the missionaries. However, since she did not know specifically that this was so, she assumed that God wanted the missionaries free. But God could not simply do what he wanted in this situation, not because of any intrinsic lack of ability but because he had chosen to give dominion of the earth to human beings.
Sandra believed that in the garden of Eden Adam and Eve had surrendered their dominion to Satan, and it was he who now ruled as the prince of this world. However, God had sent the Son to break the legal claim of Satan to dominion and to reestablish the rightful human rule in the church that Christ established as his own body and bride. Ultimately, it was God’s intention that his people, the church, should rule once more over a pristine creation. To prepare them for that reign he had chosen to limit his special operation in the world to the things for which the church prayed. Prayer was the training ground for the church’s rule, and God was willing to reveal to his people what he wanted to do in the world. However, he had committed himself to act only when they asked him to do what he willed. The vice-regency that God had entrusted to his redeemed people was so extensive that he was even prepared to take a different course of action than he would otherwise have chosen, if they fervently asked him to do so, provided that it was consistent with his overall purposes for the good of creation.
Sandra was firmly convinced that the believers gathered together that evening could affect the situation where Richard was being held captive. God was powerful in his ability to move people and change circumstances. He was simply waiting to be asked by his children who understood his purposes in the world and who wanted to see those purposes achieved. With this in mind, Sandra prayed.
“Dear Father, the sad story that Fred has told us reminds us once more that we are involved in a fierce spiritual struggle. The missionaries have been trying to bring the good news concerning Jesus to people who are in bondage to sin and Satan. Satan is doing all that he can to keep that deliverance from taking place. Now he has acted boldly through these men who have taken the missionaries captive. As we are gathered together this evening, dear Lord, we have a strong confidence that you are going to deliver Richard and his colleagues and bring good things for your kingdom out of this event. I am sure of this because I sense that there is so strong a spirit of prayerful concern in this meeting tonight. We are strongly united in our belief that it is your will that Satan should not triumph in his attempts to hinder the spread of the gospel. We know, O Lord, that you are powerful. There are ways in which you could act in this situation that we cannot even imagine. So we will not tell you what should be done. We simply ask you to act, to respond to our fervent prayers, and to show yourself mighty in this visible spiritual conflict. We will keep praying until we have overcome the evil one in prayer, and we give you glory that he is already conclusively defeated by Jesus at the cross and that you are simply delaying his ultimate destruction in order to involve us in your training program to exercise dominion in your name. We pray these requests in the powerful name of Jesus and look forward to giving you the glory for the victory won. Amen.”
Tom Stransky had not grown up in the church but had become a Christian while he was a university student. He found the situation rather confusing at first as he came to realize that there was considerable diversity of opinion regarding the nature of God's action in the world and the role of prayer. He had been introduced to Christ by a campus minister who believed that everything that happened had all been included in God's plan, which was made before the world began. Tom had a tough time figuring out why there was any point in praying if this were true, even though the people who believed it were committed to the importance of prayer. When a friend loaned him a book about the "openness of God," he was attracted to parts of it, but he had a difficult time believing that God did not know the future. Eventually he found a position that seemed to offer the best of both worlds. It depicted a God who was sovereign and who knew the future but who did not purpose or cause everything that happened because he left many things to come about as free human agents decided them. Sometimes God would intervene but only when it was necessary to the accomplishment of his grand purpose for salvation in the world.
Tom and Oliver (openness model) shared a great deal in their perspective on God's action in the world as it applied to the situation of Richard Henderson and the abducted missionaries. They both believed that God has limited his range of control within the world because he wants to give humans and spirit beings a significant degree of freedom. Both of them believed that this meant libertarian freedom, the ability to choose to do at least one thing other than what a person does choose in a given situation. Neither of them were comfortable, however, with the positions taken by either Millie (semi-deism) or Mark (process). In Millie’s position God was far too uninvolved, and in Mark’s understanding God was, in a sense, too thoroughly involved, so that he was a being still growing and becoming just as we are, although in a much more influential position.
The key difference between the models of Tom (redemptive intervention) and Oliver (openness) was that Tom believed that God knew the actual future, whereas Oliver did not think it was possible for God to know things that had yet to be made reality by the unpredictable decisions of free creatures, human and spiritual. Tom thought that the Bible was very clear in its statement that God knows the future, but he also differed from Oliver in his understanding of God’s relationship to time. Oliver believed that God personally experiences events in sequence (the duration of time) so that his knowledge of events that are future to us is also a knowledge of events future to him, at the time of his knowing them. But Tom believed that God does not experience time at all, and so his knowledge of what is future in our experience is simultaneous with those events in God’s own experience. While Tom believed that God knew the actual future (from our perspective), he agreed with Oliver that God did not know possible futures, things that would have happened if particular circumstances had been different.
As Tom thought about the situation of the captured missionaries, it gave him comfort to know that this was not a surprise to God. He had foreseen that the guerrillas would abduct the missionaries, hold them hostage and seek political concessions as a condition for their release. There were things that God could have done to protect them. He could have used angels as he had done with Elijah. He could have inspired fear in the hearts of the abductors or prompted the missionaries to act in a way that would have put them out of danger. However, these special interventions of God in the unfolding human history were generally reserved for times when the overall program of God for his creation required it. Tom was prepared to admit that he was not always able to discern when a seemingly minor incident had great significance in the large picture. But in this particular situation he considered it unlikely that the deliverance of three missionaries was critical to the accomplishment of God’s larger purpose. Many other Christians had been martyred in the past without divine intervention. Tom was confident, however, that even if God did not intervene to save the captives, there were ways in which he could bring good out of their situation, even if it included their death at the hands of their abductors. On previous occasions the story of missionary martyrs had stirred the hearts of many other Christians to get involved in God’s program of world evangelism and had even resulted in significant conversion to Christian faith among the people responsible for the missionaries’ death.
Tom had always appreciated the strong confidence with which Sandra (church dominion) prayed. She seemed so sure that we can get God to do things in the world simply because we ask him to. In fact, she believed that God has limited his own working in the world not primarily out of respect for the freedom he has given us but because he intends humans to have dominion in the world. She felt God is training us for that goal by giving us the power to determine what he does in the establishment of his own rule by the range of our petition, provided that we are praying for things consistent with his purpose. Much as Tom coveted Sandra’s confidence of success in prayer, he had a more limited view of the church’s ability to elicit God’s intervention in the world. For Tom, it was important to accept the limitation God has placed upon himself in creating free beings and giving them significant freedom. On the other hand, God’s knowledge of the future has enabled him to maintain significant overall control of the progress of human history. Furthermore, if Tom prays tonight for God to act in the needy missionary situation, God will have known ahead of time that he would do so. Tom does not now have to change God’s mind about what he is going to do (as Sandra thinks we can) because God has decided in his eternal now what he is going to do, having taken into account Tom’s prayer. This does not mean that Tom’s prayer is useless because it does not change what God was going to do or cause him to act in a different way. It means that Tom’s prayer is an important part of what God took into account in his own decisions regarding his action in Richard Henderson’s situation.
Tom prayed, “Gracious Father, nothing that has happened today has taken you by surprise. You knew that these men were going to abduct Richard and his colleagues, and you could have prevented it from happening, if you had chosen to. This does not mean that you wanted it to happen or that you purposed it, but at least we are confident that things are not out of your control. Lord, we believe that what we pray is important because you do hear and respond to our request, having known those requests in your timeless eternity. Tonight we are agreed together that we would like to see these three missionaries released. We would also love to see some good come out of all this. It would be wonderful if the contact with these captors should lead to an opportunity to share with them the good news concerning Jesus. Please give them sensitive hearts, Lord, and open up their spiritual eyes to see the truth. I pray also for Fred that you will comfort him now and encourage him with the knowledge that you are sovereign in this situation and that you are able to protect Richard and to bring good out of this evil. We ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
The Case Study
Andrew Martin is a person who likes to understand how things work, and he is frustrated when he cannot figure out how particular facts relate to one another. It seemed obvious to him that people are free in a libertarian way: they have genuine choices and are not simply acting in ways that are pre-determined. He had engaged in long discussions with Oliver (openness model) about human freedom because Oliver contended that if things were known ahead of time, then they were certain and hence determined: if God knew what we were going to do before we do it, then we are not really free to choose to do otherwise. Andrew's problem was that it seemed so clear to him from Scripture that God does know the future and is able to predict it; indeed God had done so through his prophets. Andrew struggled with these two "facts," that we are libertarianly free but that God knows and even seems to have decided the future. Things finally came together for him when he came across a book on "middle knowledge." The author argued that God not only knows the actual future but also all possibilities. From all the possible worlds that could have been, God has chosen to actualize this particular one. In this world people act freely (in a libertarian or indeterministic sense), but the world as a whole is the one that God chose, and so he knows all about it. This brought things together in a way that made sense to Andrew.
Andrew believed that God was not taken by surprise when the missionaries were abducted. Not only had God known that this was going to happen, he had chosen to actualize the world in which it does happen. Obviously a great deal of history lay behind the day that the guerrillas decided to use the three missionaries as a political bargaining chip. But even given the complex of events that had already occurred, and given the factors at work that day, there was still a range of possible future outcomes. Things could happen in the guerrilla camp, in the missionary homes and elsewhere that would bring about a situation in which the missionaries would not be kidnapped. In addition to the many human or natural variables, God himself had a number of possibilities from which he could choose his own course of action. In fact, God could have acted differently than he had done, months or years prior to the day of the abduction and thereby have brought about a situation very different than the one that had now occurred.
There was no doubt in Andrew's mind that Richard Henderson and his colleagues were in a situation that was part of the world that God had intentionally chosen to actualize. God had not brought the situation about single-handedly. Most of the circumstances that existed were the result of human actions, and many of those actions had been sinful and hence contrary to God's moral will for his creatures. Nonetheless, God could have chosen to actualize a different world than this one, a world in which the abduction had not taken place. It comforted Andrew to know that things were in God's control, as far as the large picture was concerned. He believed that God had a good plan toward which all of this was working, even though individual events along the way were tragic and were brought about through evil and sin. Andrew was also convinced that God wanted the Christian friends of Fred Henderson to get involved in bringing good out of this situation. There were some things that they could do personally, but many things were outside of their power and could only be done by God. So petitionary prayer was one of the most important things that the believers in that congregation could do.
Andrew had discussed the matter of prayer with Oliver (openness model) and Tom (redemptive intervention model) on a number of occasions. All three of them believed that God had given humans libertarian freedom, and this meant that much of what happens in the world depends on what people decide and what they do. But the three of them disagreed about how much room God had left himself to accomplish what he wants in the world, and they had discovered that the critical factor in this regard was the extent of God's knowledge of the future. Oliver believed that God could not know the future actions of libertarianly free creatures and so he had to act and react when the creatures decided what they would do and did it. Of course, God knew what would be best, and he was continually trying to move his creatures and all of his creation toward that goal, but the creatures often chose to disregard God's persuasion and even to disobey his specific commands. Tom, on the other hand, believed that God did know the actual future but that he did not know possible futures, which could have been realized in different circumstances. Both Andrew and Oliver argued against Tom that God's simple knowledge of the future did him no good. There was nothing he could do about the actual future that he foresaw. Tom never conceded that point, but Andrew believed that this was a critical difference between his own understanding and Tom's. By having middle knowledge God had an opportunity to decide what his action would be in a particular situation and then to foresee how the situation would develop when his own action was inserted into the complex of causative factors. In Andrew's model of providence, God's decision concerning his own action was not on an ad hoc basis (as Oliver proposed), it was made ahead of time when God chose the particular world that he actualized.
As Andrew prayed, he believed that God had known that he would pray this prayer. Andrew's free act of praying had been part of the world that God chose to actualize. Because of this, God had already decided on the course of action that he would take in response to Andrew's prayer. In fact, it would not matter if an effective answer to Andrew's prayer required God to have begun acting some time ago in order for the deliverance of the missionaries to be brought about now. God had foreseen Andrew's prayer, and he could already have begun to answer it even before it is spoken.
Thus Andrew believed that his prayer for Richard and the others could bring about a change in their current situation and that it could bring about a different future than the one that would occur if he did not pray. This was not because he had the power to change the future but because he had the power to bring about a particular future through his involvement in the events leading up to it and particularly through the activity of God, who hears and responds to the prayers of his people.
Andrew prayed: "Dear Lord, I certainly agree with Tom that you have not been taken by surprise in the incident that has taken place. I am also deeply conscious, however, that your knowledge of what has happened does not constitute approval. It is within your goodness and wisdom that evils like this occur, but they are no less evil by virtue of the fact that you have permitted them. We know that the future is already certain, but we are confident that it is not fixed apart from what we and others do. We are actively a part of determining the future, and you have invited us to ask you to act in ways that appear to us to be for the good of your creation and for your glory. It is with that assurance, Lord, that I add my request to those that have already been offered. I too want to see the lives of these three missionaries spared, the lives of their abductors positively directed and good come out of this situation which has such potential for suffering and evil. Dear Father, please hear our prayers and act now to bring deliverance to your children. We pray also that you will give wisdom to those who are in direct contact with the situation, that they may act in ways you know will be productive of the best outcomes. In Jesus' name, we make these requests. Amen."
The Case Study
Maria Sanchez had grown up in the Philippines, where she had been educated in a Roman Catholic school run by the Dominican Order. The friars who taught the classes in Christian doctrine convinced her of the great wisdom of Thomas Aquinas and had impressed upon her a devotion to God as the one in whose control all the details of our lives lie. She believed that everything takes place within God's providence, either by his intention or by his permission. This gave her a serenity in facing the difficulties of life that did not keep her from active resistance to the evil that is contrary to God's commandments. She had a particularly strong sense that what really matters is what moves us forward in achieving the goals of God for human salvation, but she still felt free to pray for solutions to the problems of daily life, large and small.
As Maria listened to her friends praying for the situation described by Fred Henderson, she found herself in agreement with all of them on one major item. Like those who had already prayed, Maria believed that human beings are libertarianly free. She concluded that the abduction of Richard Henderson and his two colleagues had occurred by the action of people who had the ability to act differently than they had done in the situation that existed. Maria considered the future open in the sense that everyone involved (the guerrillas, the missionaries, the local and foreign diplomats, the Christians gathered in her church for prayer) had the power to contribute to the final outcome. This gave her a sense of power. The future was not determined in such a way that nothing they did could have a significant effect on how it unfolded. Even their decision to intercede for God's help was not determined. They were free to pray or not to pray, and this would impact the outcome.
Unlike Oliver (openness model), Maria believed that God knew the future. Oliver had complained to her on other occasions that this made it impossible for people to be libertarianly free. If God already knew what the guerrillas, the missionaries and everyone else involved were going to do tomorrow, there was no point in praying about it today. Tomorrow and all of the future was fixed and certain since God knew it certainly, and the most we could do would be to express our submission to his comprehensive will. Maria rejected Oliver's argument because of her belief in God's timelessness. Whereas Oliver believed that God experiences events in sequence, Maria thought that God experienced everything—past, present and future—"now." God could tell the difference between events that are past and those that are future (to us), but he did not personally experience them that way. For us, tomorrow is future, but for God it is as present as is today, and God knows tomorrow as accurately as he knows yesterday and today.
Andrew (Molinist model) shared Maria's conviction that God knows the future as well as her belief that we are libertarianly free to act in the present and thereby to bring about a different future than would come to be if we acted differently. For Andrew, however, God's comprehensive knowledge of the future and libertarian human freedom were both possible because the future brought about by free creatures is the one that God has chosen from among all the possible futures. God knows today what the guerrillas and the missionaries will do tomorrow because he had chosen this particular history, in which all of these people act in the way that they freely choose to act. As Andrew understood things, God acts in history by intervening to bring about the particular future that is realized. He can do that because he knows (through his "middle knowledge") how every one would act in every possible situation. Even though the future is certain, God had been able to plan how he would act in the case of the abducted missionaries because he knew how all of the people involved would respond to particular influences of his own or to factors surrounding them.
In Maria's understanding of God, by contrast with Andrew's, God does not know the counterfactuals (things that "would happen if . . ") he simply knows the future, although for him this is not foreknowledge. Through his knowledge of the "future," God is timelessly, eternally aware of what Maria prays now and was therefore able to act in such a way that her request would be answered. Unlike all of those who had prayed before her, Maria believed that God was completely in control in the situation. This gave her great comfort. God had not been taken by surprise, nor did he "foresee" an evil he could not prevent. For reasons that Maria might never understand until she reaches heaven, God had permitted the abduction of Richard and his colleagues. This was not just a general permission, brought about by God's decision to give his creatures libertarian freedom; this was a specific permission with regard to the evil act committed by the guerrillas. God was at work in the world for good, in particular for the salvation of all his creatures, and in his inscrutable wisdom he had decided that this wrong deed should occur for the overall good. As with all of God's action in the world, his work at the moment of the abduction and his work throughout the events yet to unfold would be concurrent with the agency of the people involved. God would not work in advance of the human action, thereby determining how the creature acts for that would make him culpable for the wrong done by those creatures. God would enable the people to act as they freely chose, and yet his own concurrent activity would bring about the result that God willed.
Maria had occasionally discussed the matter of God's "will" with her friends at church. As she contemplated Richard's condition, she believed that it was and it was not according to God's will, in different senses. It was God's antecedent will that people respect one another's persons and property. For the guerrillas to abduct the missionaries from their families was contrary to the antecedent will of God and therefore was sin against the moral will of God. In another sense, however, everything that happened was according to God's will, spoken of as his "consequent" will. God had decided that, in this particular case, he would not prevent the guerrillas from their wicked deed. The abduction succeeded because God sustained the wills of the guerrillas and cooperated with them in their action, though not in a way that would involve him morally. Maria was now confident that, in this sense, the difficult situation had come about by God's will. She did not have a sense of personal helplessness, nor a sense that God had been "defeated" in a struggle with evil.
The primary question for Maria now was: `What does God want me to do to bring about good out of this evil?" She was open to suggestions of ways in which they could get involved in efforts to have the missionaries released. But she knew one thing for sure, God wanted her to intercede in prayer, asking him to bring about good for everyone in the situation. She knew from experience that it would make her feel better when she had acknowledged God's sovereignty and called upon him to act. But, she also believed that good things would happen precisely because she and other believers asked God to bring them about.
With this assurance Maria prayed, "Loving heavenly Father, we approach you as your children, confident that you love us and that you know our every need. We believe that you are active in all that happens and that nothing takes place outside of your control. At the same time, we know that you do not directly will evil acts, and so we do not consider the abduction of Richard and his friends to be something that you have wished to come about although you have permitted it for good reasons that we do not yet understand. I agree with others who have requested that you would bring about the release of these missionaries and that you would advance the cause of the gospel through this event. It is the latter that I seek most; the lives of the three men are valuable, and we believe that it would be a good thing for them to have many more years to serve you. Given our best wisdom at this time, we ask for that. In the meantime, we pray that you would give them grace to remain faithful to you during these trials.
“We know that you desire the salvation of those who have taken the missionaries captive, and we pray that you will work graciously in their lives, drawing them to yourself and making good use of their contact with Richard and the others. Above all, we seek what will be the greatest good in light of your plans for bringing all people (both the missionaries and their captors) to the great blessing of communion with you. We ask, Lord, that even while we pray together, you will strengthen each of us and prepare us to receive joyfully what you wisely bring to pass from this situation. Even now, we praise you for working wisely and lovingly in this and all circumstances of our lives. For Jesus' sake, Amen."
The Case Study
Helmut Spiegel had come to faith late in life but had quickly become an avid student of Scripture and a reader of many kinds of theological works. However, his favorite was Karl Barth because he found in Barth's theology not only a strong affirmation of the traditional faith of the Christian church, particularly as it had been formulated within the Reformed tradition, but an approach to all aspects of truth and life that started from the gracious purposes of God in Christ. It was from that perspective that Helmut offered his own petition.
Helmut shared with Maria Sanchez (Thomist model) a strong confidence that God was comprehensively in control of everything in the world. Furthermore, God knows what is future to us in all its details because he knows his own will, not because he foresees our own decisions and actions. Helmut also agreed with Maria and her Thomist teachers that when God makes his decisions concerning the world he brings about he does not utilize a knowledge of what people would do in particular circumstances. Helmut saw this Molinist proposal as an inversion of the proper order between God and his creatures. They work together but only in the sense that God works with the creature. Their relationship is not one of mutual dependence. Helmut was concerned that an affirmation of middle knowledge would be a way of making God dependent to some extent upon the creatures and their own self-determination. Although Helmut was generally appreciative of Reformed theology, on this particular question he believed that the Thomists had understood the dangers in Molinism much more clearly than many of the Reformed theologians had done. Where Helmut disagreed with Maria was in regard to the freedom of creatures within God's sovereignty, but Maria was not always clear where the difference between them lay. Helmut was less anxious to insist on the freedom of the creature than Maria was, but he certainly did not deny that creatures act voluntarily within God's overall sovereignty and that they do so by virtue of God's gracious gift.
So Helmut believed that the abduction of the missionaries was neither a surprise to God nor was it something that he had been unable to prevent. In this regard, Helmut and Maria sounded much alike. But Helmut emphasized more strongly than anyone else in his prayer group the centrality of Christ in all of God’s action in the world of his creation. Christ is the quintessential human being, but he is also the one in whom we know God. We must not only think about salvation in terms of Christ but also of all of God's working in the world in the broader areas of the general history of the world and its peoples. Since Christ is the one in whom God has spoken both his word of condemnation and of salvation, our contemplation of all things in Christ is a focus on the grace of God at work in his creation. In fact, we know God only in Christ, not first in nature (as Maria proposed) and not in the Bible, as so many others in the church assumed. We come to know God and his work in the world through the testimony of Scripture, but this is because the Bible testifies to Christ, not because it has an intrinsic divine authority. Nevertheless, because the Bible is unique in its testimony to Christ, Helmut studied and quoted it in ways that often made him undistinguishable from the others who believed the Bible itself to be God’s Word.
As Helmut contemplated the situation that Fred Henderson had reported, he tried to envision what was going on in terms of the purposes of God in the world as he knew them through the revelation of God in Christ. First and foremost, Helmut was convinced of God’s purpose of grace. He considered not only the missionaries but also the guerrillas as elect in Christ, as people whose condemnation had been borne by Christ and whom God was graciously drawing to himself. On the other hand, Helmut did not therefore minimize the wrongness of the rebels’ actions nor the fact that they were not living in an acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship. But, in considering God's purpose and action in the situation, Helmut was confident that God was working for the good of everyone in the situation.
Helmut believed that he could have a significant part in the accomplishment of God's purpose through prayer. This was not on the assumption that his prayer would affect God’s own decision and change the direction of God’s action, but it was because God had purposed to work in the world through those who acknowledged his Lordship and to do much of his work of grace in response to their prayers. Helmut experienced comfort from his conviction that Christ was himself interceding in regard to this situation. Helmut's goal was, therefore, not to change God's mind but to discern his will and to join Christ in prayer that would be offered through Christ himself, the Mediator.
Helmut prayed, 'Gracious God, we come to you in the joy of knowing that your purposes for the world are gracious in Jesus Christ. You have chosen humankind in the Word, and you are now working toward the summing up of all things in him. It is from this perspective that we approach the abduction of Richard and his fellow missionaries. We see evil at work in this situation, but we know that it is not evil that is outside of your control. You have invited us to participate with you in your gracious rule of the world through our requests, and so we ask you now thal your grace might triumph in this difficult situation. We pray that Richard and his friends might be conscious of your love and care and may seek to be faithful ambassadors for you in their time of trouble. We pray that your own gracious work toward their captors will be evident to them in the behavior of the missionaries, and we ask that their lives may be positively affected through this encounter. Father, what all of those people need, captives and captors alike, is the personal knowledge of your Son, and we pray that this incident may further that purpose. There is no one else to whom we can turn, and so we now turn to you, humbly but expectantly, in the desire that your will may be done there, at this time, as it is always done in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The Case Study
Peter Vandervelde had been reared in a Presbyterian home where he had been taught the Scriptures in the way that is most commonly associated with the name of John Calvin. Early in his life he had developed the conviction that God rules in the world in such a way that nothing occurs except by God's direct action in and through others, or by his express permission of the actions of his creatures. In his understanding of God's work in the world Peter had much in common with Maria (Thomist model) and Helmut (Barthian model). All three of them shared the belief in God's meticulous providence, his determining of all that occurs in the world. But how this came about with regard to the free agency of God's creatures was somewhat differently perceived by Peter than by Maria. She wanted to assert libertarian freedom as well as God's comprehensive determining of outcomes, and Peter found that incoherent. They both believed that God is time-free, experiencing everything that occurs within human history within his timeless present. But even so Peter doubted that this would allow for libertarian human freedom. It seemed clear to Peter that if everything that happens is determined by God, either effectuated or deliberately permitted, then people and angelic beings can be free only in the sense that they do what they want to do. God does not force people to do things that they do not want to do, but he understands them so thoroughly (their motives, their habits, their desires, their genetic strengths and weaknesses, their fears and hopes, etc.), and he works so continuously in the physical world, that God is able to achieve in each moment what he wills. Thus nothing surprises God, and nothing happens that he did not at least will to permit. He could have prevented it, had he chosen to.
Oliver (openness model) often told Peter that if God was so completely in control in every specific event, then he was morally responsible for the evil that people do. But Peter denied this and frequently referred to the experience of Joseph and to the crucifixion of Jesus as illustrations of the way in which God's intentions are fulfilled through evil human intentions, but the humans are morally accountable for their evil intentions, and God is guilt free because his own intentions are good. God did not inspire Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery nor the religious leaders of Jerusalem to put Jesus to death. They wanted to do that. On the other hand, God could have prevented both of those situations. On previous occasions when people had murderous intent toward Jesus, he avoided death. There was a sense in which God "wanted" Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt and "wanted" Jesus put to death despite his innocence. God's secret will, the will of his eternal purpose, was accomplished even though his moral will was disobeyed.
Tom (redemptive intervention model) had a larger place for God's control than Oliver did and believed that this was specifically enabled by God's knowledge of the future. But even so, Tom did not accept Peter's understanding (or that of Maria and Helmut either) of the extent to which God's will was done in every event. Tom argued that the biblical cases of Joseph and Jesus were special. In order to achieve his redemptive purposes in the world, these things needed to happen. In Tom's view, Peter Vandervelde's error was that he generalized from specific biblical incidents in a way that Scripture does not warrant.
Peter Vandervelde knew that his understanding of the missionary abduction set him apart significantly from Oliver and Tom (as well as a number of others in the group) because of his strong conviction that this event was a part of the decree or eternal purpose of God. This was an event no different than the one that occurred to Joseph in patriarchal times. Peter believed that he could say exactly the same thing about Richard Henderson as Moses recorded from the mouth of Joseph. God was intentionally involved in the abduction, but his intention was different from that of the guerrillas. Actually, it occurred to Peter that there may have been significant overlap in the divine and human intentions in this instance. The guerrillas were seeking political justice, which had been persistently denied to their tribe. Given God's deep concern for justice, Peter thought it just possible that God had a very good reason for permitting this abduction. Granted, it was hard on the missionaries and their families, but it could result in significant gains both for the gospel and for the cause of civil justice. Of course, without a divinely revealed interpretation of the missionary crisis, Peter could not know God's intention. Nevertheless, Peter was confident that things were under God's control and that he planned good things, particularly for those who loved him, but not necessarily for them alone. He reminded himself, however, that God's intention for the guerrillas might be judgmental rather than merciful. It could just be that God had let these guerrillas go to this extreme as a way of bringing down upon them the punishment that their rebellion deserved.
Contemplating the situation of the missionaries, Peter was again aware that there were a variety of possible intentions on God's part. Peter did not doubt that God had intentionally permitted the abduction to occur, but he could not know for certain why. Perhaps this was an opportunity for the missionaries to spend otherwise boring days in a guerrilla camp talking about Jesus. Or maybe the missionaries had gotten rather lax in their dependence on God. Missionary work, like other kinds of work, can be done in purely human strength and can become a thoroughly autonomous venture. Peter didn't know Richard Henderson or the other missionaries intimately, but it did occur to him that they might have needed to be put into a situation where they were no longer in control, where they were desperately dependent on God. This was an opportunity to test their faith as God had tested Job's faith and Abraham's faith. Job's experience demonstrated that Satan might have destructive intentions for the missionaries, but God could still allow him to move against the missionaries because God intended to use the experience for their spiritual growth. The complexity of God's work in the world was immense, but at least Peter could trust the good and holy God to do his whole project wisely and well.
There was one good in the situation that Peter saw immediately. It had already occurred. God loves for his children to acknowledge their dependence upon him. He loves to have them pray and then to give them the joy of answered prayer, eliciting praise and thanksgiving. The very fact that this group of believers was now so earnestly engaged in prayer was obviously part of what God wanted. The fact that they had such different conceptions of God's role in the situation was, in the final analysis, not the most important thing. The good thing was that, for slightly different reasons, they were all united in prayer that God's good purposes for the world would be achieved at this time. Even Millie (semi-deist model) wanted that to hap-pen, although she did not expect God to intervene at all. She still found it meaningful to acknowledge God in the situation and to commit herself to be an agent of the good that God wished for his creation. Crises had this positive outcome when people truly believed in God.
Working from within the openness model, Oliver could never quite figure out why Peter thought that his prayer would actually affect the situation. If every little event in the whole of human history had already been determined by God in his eternal purpose, then the outcome of the abduction situation was already settled. What was going to happen to both the guerrillas and the missionaries was already certain within God's plan. So, Oliver sometimes asked, why did Peter bother to ask God to do anything? Why didn't Peter just submit to God's eternal will and acknowledge that nothing he did could make any difference? Sandra (church dominion model) agreed with Oliver and called Peter a fatalist. But Peter would have none of that. A fatalist, he explained, is someone who believes that the outcome or end of everything is absolutely fixed, but who gives no room for the part that actions along the way play in achieving that end. Peter called that "hyper-Calvinism" and insisted that what sets true Calvinism apart from hyper-Calvinist fatalism is the conviction that God ordains means as well as ends. Peter knew that the outcome of this abduction was already settled in God's eternal plan, but he also believed that there are many things that God has ordained to accomplish in response to the prayers of his people. Peter knew that he could not change the future, but he did believe that his prayer now could have a significant part in bringing about the future that God had planned. If he failed to pray when he should, God would hold him responsible for that failure and for the less beneficial outcome that might result if God had decided that he would not do some particular good unless he were asked to do so.
Peter now prayed. "Gracious Father, there are many occasions when we do not understand why you allow evils to come upon your children, and this is one of those times. On the other hand, we are not shaken in our confidence that you are in control and that you have good purposes for what you have permitted to happen to Richard and his colleagues. You could have protected them, or warned them, or delivered them. That you did not do so indicates to us that you have reasons for allowing this difficult set of events to come about. Now that it has happened, however, we are also confident that you want us to be involved in prayer and perhaps in other ways that you may show us as we make ourselves available to you for the accomplishment of your will.
"Lord, we pray for Richard and his friends that you will keep them safe and bring them out of their captivity unharmed. We ask that you will comfort and strengthen them and cause their lives to be a powerful witness of their faith in you. We know that you may have allowed them to come into contact with their abductors because of good that you wish to come to these men, even though their own intentions are evil. We ask that you would be gracious to them and bring good out of this for them as well as for the missionaries. Father, please encourage Fred and the family members of the other missionaries, assuring them that you are in control and that they need not be fearful. It is not that you have given us any guarantee of your children's physical safety, but you have promised us that you will always be with us and that you will work everything together for the good that is our conformity to Jesus Christ. Please help all of those who are at work on the situation, give them wisdom and courage and faith in your care. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen."
The Case Study
One of the newest additions to Fred Henderson's congregation was Ahmed Kalil, a young man who had very recently come to faith in Christ, having grown up in a Muslim home. He was an earnest believer but one who was still learning to think about things in a distinctively Christian way. By the time of the prayer meeting, Ahmed thought of God as the almighty One whose will was absolutely sovereign in the world. Indeed, so complete was God's control that there were not really any other genuine agents in the world. Ahmed felt most at home talking about God and his work in the world when he was in conversation with Peter Vandervelde (Calvinist model). In Peter he found a reverence for God and a submissiveness to the all-powerful will of God, which was similar to his own religious sense. Ahmed was still trying to figure out why Peter was unsatisfied with Ahmed's own conception of God and with his manner of praying. Others in the church indicated that Peter and Ahmed believed pretty much the same thing, but this upset Peter, who insisted that God's comprehensive control within his creation was not exercised apart from the genuine agency of his creatures. Peter insisted that what we do is meaningful and that it has an effect on the outcome. How this could be was hard for Ahmed to see, but he was eagerly reading both the Bible and books that he borrowed from the church library in order to grow in his Christian understanding.
In conversations about God's providence, as the others called it in religious language that Ahmed was still learning, he was shocked at the conceptions voiced by most of the group. The common view of a God who had given up his own ability to guarantee that his will was done at every moment scarcely seemed like a description of God at all. In a peculiar way, Ahmed felt an affinity with Millie (semi-deist model). She had the least sense of God's involvement in the world of anyone in the group, and that should have made Ahmed most uncomfortable. But when Millie prayed, Ahmed found himself fairly comfortable with the general tenor of her request or, more accurately, the absence of any requests. In Millie's understanding, God had acted to create a good world and had built into it the dynamics capable of achieving his purposes for it, but beyond that he was not continually involved. The good thing about this, from Ahmed's perspective, was that when Millie prayed, she didn't act as though her praying was going to bring about changes in the world. In particular, she did not assume, as Oliver did (openness model), that she could actually contribute to God's decision-making process about what he was going to do next and even change God's mind about what he was planning to do.
In Ahmed's view of the situation reported by Fred, the abduction of the missionaries had obviously happened within God's will as everything does. It was not their prerogative to understand the will of the Almighty and certainly not to influence or change it. God does in his world what God wants to do, and we simply submit and acknowledge his greatness and his right to do this because he is God. Whatever God would do in Richard Henderson's case was up to God. It was not Ahmed's place to instruct God, to reason with God or to plead with him about the need of Richard, the needs of the guerrillas, the troubles of the related families or anything else. The attitude of prayer is an attitude of humble submission to God and whatever he wills.
Ahmed knelt on the floor and bowed his head low as he prayed, "Almighty God, your power is complete and all things are in your hands so that your will is always done. It is according to your plan that Richard and his friends have been taken captive, and we do not yet understand your will in this matter, but we accept it as good and wise. We submit to it, and we look forward to the time when we will comprehend what you are doing. Accept our praise for your goodness in all things, and make us and all who acknowledge your name to be obedient servants. Amen,"
11a. A Middle Knowledge Calvinist Model of Providence
The Case Study
Having grown up in a Presbyterian home, Gail Wellwood learned her catechism faithfully as a young girl. During her early adult years she struggled particularly with the existence of evil in the world as it had been explained to her by her parents and teachers. "If everything that happens is part of God's decree or eternal purpose, then didn't that make God responsible for sin?" she wondered aloud. Millie Dennis (semi-deist model) assured her that it does indeed, and both Mark Peterson (process model) and Oliver Dueck (openness model) agreed with Millie. During that time of theological unsettledness, Gail discussed the matter frequently with them. But as time went on, the alternatives to the position that she had been taught became more clear but also less plausible. She never did think that Millie's position was a possibility; it viewed God as too uninvolved to fit with the story of God's working in the world that she found in the Bible. Mark's position was fascinating, but in the end it also looked too far from the biblical material to work for Carol. She did not initially object to the strong use of Whitehead's philosophy that the model used. She realized that everyone's theological construction uses philosophy, and so we must make a judgment about which understanding of the basic nature of reality (meta-physics) and of truth (epistemology) best enables us to make sense of the biblical narrative. Whitehead certainly had a fascinating proposal, but when God was included in the framework, Gail felt very uncomfortable with the outcome. It was impossible for her to view God as so intricately involved in the world that he himself was affected in his own personal development.
It was Oliver's way of explaining the situation that seemed to Gail to be the most likely alternative to the position she had accepted up to that point. By asserting that God had willingly limited himself by giving his creatures libertarian freedom, Oliver greatly reduced the likelihood that people would hold God responsible when evil occurs. Not everything that happens is part of God's eternal purpose, either effectively brought about or permitted by him. In a very general sense, God permitted evil in the world by giving creatures libertarian freedom, but he did not permit specific evils. These things happened because creatures (human and angelic) opposed God and did what he did not want, in spite of all his gracious efforts to prevent them from doing something destructive, not only to others but also to themselves.
So Gail could see an advantage in moving toward Oliver's position, but would the biblical account allow her to do this? As time went by and Gail tried Oliver's model on for size, she concluded that even Oliver's position did not give God the kind of control that she believed the Scripture gave to him. It might be helpful in getting God off the hook for the Holocaust, but there were too many occasions in the Old Testament where God had clearly drawn the line regarding what happened to Israel. He said when the oppression in Egypt was enough, he delivered Jerusalem from Sennacherib's army, even though it meant drastic intervention through an act of the Angel of the Lord that killed 185,000 soldiers in one night. Yet when the Babylonians eventually came back, God informed Jeremiah that he was not going to deliver them this time. He told Habakkuk that he was "rousing the Chaldeans" (Hab 1:6) against Judah as an instrument of his judgment. But God clearly did not condone the Chaldean's violence, and he later brought judgment upon them too. Having seen the way God placed boundaries on the development of nations and used them for his purposes, without condoning their willful sin, Gail did not see how she could leave God out of the tragedy that was perpetrated by the Holocaust.
It was at that point that Tom Stransky's contribution (redemptive intervention model) had to be considered. Tom argued that the spectacular interventions of God to which Gail was referring were related to his special purpose of redemption and that Gail should not extrapolate from those events that God is always involved in the same intentional way in all historical incidents. Gail liked to cite Joseph's words about God's intention, which was different from that of Joseph's brothers, and she believed that it provided a paradigm for interpreting all human happenings. Where evil occurs, it comes about through the wicked desires and intentions of disobedient creatures. God permits them to fulfill their desires on many occasions, but he does so with good intentions frequently hidden from us. But Tom insisted we cannot make a general principle from specific biblical incidents like Joseph's life, which were so obviously important to God's plan for the establishment of his covenant people as a nation.
Tom's view initially seemed a bit more palatable to Gail than Oliver's, particularly since Tom believed that God knows the future completely. Gail remembers being a bit shocked when Oliver first made the statement that God did not know exactly what she or anyone else was going to do tomorrow. But when he explained that this was a natural consequence of the libertarian freedom that God had given to these people, it was a bit less startling. Oliver argued that until Gail had decided what she was going to do tomorrow, her own future was open. Obviously her choices were fairly limited, but they were not completely fixed. Until she chose and acted, there was nothing there to be known, and so it was no aspersion on God's omniscience to recognize that he did not know what could not be known. That point brought Andrew Martin (Molinist model) into the conversation. Like the others who were in conversation with Gail until then, Andrew believed that people are libertarianly free, but he also believed that God knew what they would do even though they had not yet made their free decision about it. When they did decide and act, their action would give truth value to a statement about their action. Since God knows all truth. he knows the truth value of all statements, and so he knows what Gail will do tomorrow as a true proposition. Furthermore, Andrew said, God not only knows what Gail will do tomorrow, he knows what she would do in an infinite variety of circumstances. He had that knowledge (what Andrew called "middle knowledge") before he created the world, and so he chose to create this particular world, knowing full well what every creature in it would do of their own libertarianly free choice. The Holocaust came about through the free choices of evil people, but God had chosen the world in which he knew those choices would be made, and he was at work to bring good out of it all.
Gail was definitely interested in maintaining her belief in God's comprehensive foreknowledge, and so she had pretty much given up on Oliver's proposal. Maria Sanchez (Thomist model) seemed to be holding together the features that Gail considered nonnegotiable: God's foreknowledge (although she said it was not technically beforehand, for God), God's complete control and a strong view of human freedom. However, it was both Oliver and Andrew who convinced Gail that Maria's position wouldn't work. For one thing, the concept of God as absolutely timeless sounded a bit unlikely, but, more significantly, Oliver pointed out that simply knowing the future ahead of time would do God no good. By the time God knew what Gail was going to do tomorrow, it was already a truth, and there was nothing that God could do about it. That was going to be a problem with Tom's (redemptive intervention) model as well. So Andrew's idea of middle knowledge was beginning to sound really good. It was a way in which God could use his knowledge of future possibilities before they became actual truths, in order to decide how he would act in particular situations and bring about the outcomes he wanted. But Oliver pricked that balloon too. Even if Andrew was correct about God's knowledge of the actual future as a knowledge of all true propositions, his proposal about God's knowledge of counterfactuals of libertarian human freedom was not going to work. Unlike the statements about actual future events, the counterfactuals do not have truth value. Their truth value is established only when the free creatures make the decision. If Gail is libertarianly free, as Andrew believes, then even God cannot know what she would do tomorrow in circumstances that never actually exist.
Oliver's objection to middle knowledge, in the way that Andrew used it, made good sense to Gail, and it was seriously narrowing her options. It looked as though Oliver's openness model was the only one that would work if she wanted to assert that humans are libertarianly free. But for reasons that she had stated to Oliver previously, there was too much in Oliver's construction that did not square with her reading of the Bible. God does know the actual future, and he predicts it through his prophets, on occasion. God is completely in control, and he has planned how he will act in history to bring about the outcome that he wills. This meant that her parents had been right all along about the nature of human freedom. People are not libertarianly free, but they are genuinely free in the sense that they act according to their own desires. God knows how they will act because he has determined what he will permit in his eternal purpose and has also determined how he will act to bring things about, on occasion, that would not occur if creatures were left to themselves. It looked as though Gail and Peter (Calvinist model) were going to come out on pretty much the same page. But Gail could see that Peter's position suffered from the same problem that Oliver and Andrew had pointed out in connection with Maria's view: simple foreknowledge was not going to enable God to plan how he would respond to possible situations that he foresaw. Middle knowledge was going to be necessary. She agreed with Oliver that Andrew's way of incorporating middle knowledge into the mix was not going to work because libertarian freedom made it impossible. Since she had backed away from libertarian freedom, that problem no longer existed for her.
Gail was now at peace and convinced that she had the best of all possible constructions. God was completely in control, but his morally responsible creatures are genuinely free. God knows not only the actual future but also all possible futures, and it is precisely his knowledge of what people would do in given circumstances that enables him to plan how to respond and to act in ways that move history toward the achievement of his own goals for his creation. There were still moments at which the awful tragedies of life gave Gail pause, but she was convinced now that, although God had allowed these events to happen, he was not personally evil in doing so. Only from the end, looking back on human history from glory and with God's explanation, would the workings of God in and through it all make complete sense. But, as Helmut Spiegel (Barthian model) often insisted, it is in Jesus Christ that we have to contemplate God and his ways. Nowhere was the power of double intention more clear to Gail than in the crucifixion of Jesus. Surely no greater human evil could have been committed, and it was clearly a work in which the devil was very active, and yet through it God had accomplished the defeat of Satan and the liberation of a great host of those whom Satan held captive.
By the time Gail heard Fred Henderson's prayer request, she had settled on her theological model, and it gave her a framework within which to understand what was going on. She could see that the act of the guerrillas was evil, in and of itself, but she was confident that God had permitted it with a deliberate and good intention. He had not only foreknown that the abduction would take place, he had included it in his eternal purpose as something that he would permit. Furthermore, he had been aware of other possibilities that could have been brought about through changes in the circumstances. Having considered the full range of possible outcomes, God had decided that he would permit this particular one, but he was not passive in doing so. He was continually at work in the situation, moving toward purposes of his own.
The Case Study
Gail Wellwood was the last to pray that evening when the major focus of the group's prayer at Fred Henderson's church had been the abduction of Richard and the other missionaries. As Gail prepared her thoughts, she recalled that, in planning the history of the world, God foreknew the circumstances that would have developed on the day that the missionaries were abducted if all factors prior to that point had been as they were. In that plan God had options. He could have influenced situations prior to that day to bring about a different set of circumstances. That approach would have required the least "intervention" at the moment of the crisis. Or God could have let the situation develop but then acted to keep the mis-sionaries safe. This could have been done in many ways. God could have warned the missionaries of the danger so that they could escape (as he did Joseph and Mary when the life of Jesus was in danger from Herod). He could have prevented the guerrillas from accomplishing their intended abduction by causing things in the natural world that would foil their plans, or he could suggest to their minds ideas that would deter them from their plan. In short, God's control was not curtailed significantly, even though his creatures were morally responsible agents with wills of their own.
Given all these factors in the situation of God's providence, Gail was confident that the abduction had taken place within God's purpose, although she could not know what it was, specifically, that God was intending to do. Because Gail had no revelation to the contrary, she assumed that God willed the physical safety and the spiritual growth of the missionaries and that he desired the salvation of the abductors, that he wanted the church to grow and desired peace and justice to prevail in the society. Gail realized that God might not be graciously inclined toward the guerrillas at this time. He might just be allowing their own wickedness to bring upon them the consequences of their wrong decisions. God might even have some disciplinary purpose in mind for the missionaries. But while these were possibilities, Gail did not know this to be the case, and so she assumed that God's intention was gracious.
Gail was also confident that God was able to do what would most result in his own glorification and that what he actually did would be good and wise. She could pray with the firm conviction that her prayers mattered and that they would be effective instruments in the spiritual struggle that is going on in the world and in the ultimate achievement of God's wise purposes for the history of the world. She wanted to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit as she prayed, but she was careful not to speak as though she understood what God was about when this had not been made plain to them.
When Gail had talked about God's providence with the others in her church, they had sometimes suggested that there was really no point in Gail making requests of God. If everything had already been planned by God and the future was already fixed in God's foreknowledge, then what was the point of asking God to do something now, except that the exercise made her feel better. Sandra Buxton (church dominion model), in particu-lar, had made this point to Gail. Sandra believed that God had committed himself not to do many things that he could do unless he was asked to do them by his church. so that the church could develop in its exercise of the dominion that God had given to humankind when he created them in his image. Gail respected Sandra and appreciated her fervency in intercession, but she rejected the proposal that her own model of providence made petitionary prayer meaningless.
Gail was aware that, if they had been able to talk about the situation for which they were praying, Olive (openness model) would tell her that her prayer could not change things for Richard Henderson. Oliver knew that Gail believed that all of the details of history were already fixed in God's eternal plan. So it looked to Oliver as though nothing Gail prayed or did not pray could make any difference to the situation of the abducted missionaries. God didn't only know what was going to happen, as Tom (redemptive intervention model) believed, he had actually decided what would happen. If God's mind was made up and the outcome was already fixed, there did not seem to Oliver to be any point in asking God to do things now. But Gail contended that this complaint about the lack of a significant place for prayer made sense in regard to Ahmed Kalil's understanding of providence (fatalistic model) but not to her own. She argued that God had not only decided what would happen but how it would come about. Included among the factors contributing to the occurrence of events in the world was petitionary prayer and God's action in response to it.
It was here that Gail believed her model to be more helpful than Peter Vandervelde's (Calvinist model) because God's middle knowledge gave God the opportunity to foresee what prayer would arise from the complexity of people's personal being, in particular situations, and then to decide how he would respond to those prayers. In this way God could genuinely respond to prayer. If God only had simple foreknowledge, response would be impossible, but with middle knowledge God could know what prayers would be offered by people and could determine how he would respond to them. Of course, his control of the situation was secured by the fact that it was God who determined which of all those possible situations would come about through the actions and interactions of both physical entities and spontaneously free moral creatures.
So Gail approached her prayer for the missionaries in need with a confidence that her prayer would make a difference in the situation. It would not change God's mind or prompt him to do something that he would not otherwise have done, but it was a potentially significant part of the whole complex event that also included God's action. Gail believed that God had already decided what he was going to do but that he had factored into that decision her own prayer. Consequently, she had a sense of being heard by God, and she anticipated the time when they would be able to look back on the event and thank God for what he had done, including his answer to their prayers. Gail knew that God could do what he wanted without their prayer, but he had chosen not to. He had chosen to involve them in his ministry in this way and determined that there were some things he would not do without their prayer. Gail realized that she would never be able to say that something would not have happened if she had not prayed (as Sandra believes), but she did have a keen sense that whether or not she prayed had significance to the final outcome.
Gail was the last to pray that evening: "Dear Father, each of us has brought to you our concern for Richard and his two colleagues and for all the people who are affected by this terrible thing that has happened to them. We thank you for inviting us to pray and promising to hear and answer the cries of your children. We don't all agree about what you are able to do in this situation or how our prayer will affect the outcome, but you know the desires of our hearts and you work through us, even with our limited understanding. I thank you, Lord, for being the almighty God whose will is done in all the earth. But this does not mean that everything you permit is good, although you have the power to bring good out of it, particularly for those who love you and whom you have called according to your gracious purpose.
"From our perspective, what has happened is both wrong and dangerous, but at least it has not taken you by surprise. You knew what the guerrillas were planning, and you knew what it would take to change their plans or to prevent them from realizing their intentions. So we accept your wisdom in having allowed this particular situation to develop. We pray for the guerrillas, that you will restrain their evil intentions and use this time with the missionaries as a means of softening their abductors' hearts toward you. We do want to see justice done for the tribal people, and although we do not approve of their methods, we ask that you will work in the situation for good in this regard. Father, please strengthen and encourage Richard and his friends. Give them a sense of your nearness and a confidence in your control of the situation. Give them wisdom in dealing with their captors. Lord, please comfort their families and give them peace. Help those who are involved in negotiation with the guerrillas. Please give them wisdom and open the hearts of the guerrilla leaders to a peaceful solution. Their hearts are in your hand, as are the hearts of all human authorities, so please do your persuasive work in their minds. You know how they would respond to particular initiatives, and so we ask you to direct the thoughts and efforts of those who are seeking resolution.
"Father, we know that the adversary is constantly at work, trying to hinder the spread of the gospel and to frustrate your rule in the world. Please foil his evil efforts in this situation. Your ways are frequently hidden from us, Lord, but we want to be sensitive to your Spirit and discerning of your will. If there are things that we should be doing, please prompt us to do them. Thank you for promising that you would hear and answer our prayers when we ask according to your will. We are not entirely sure what you want in this situation, but I am assuming that the things for which have prayed are in accordance with your gracious purposes. Thank you for the peace that comes when we commit ourselves and this situation into your care and submit to your perfect will. May your name be magnified through this event and may it contribute to the advancement of your kingdom on earth. In Jesus' name we ask. Amen."