Posts tagged ‘comfort’

August 12th, 2011

Is a Molinist Concept of Providence Discomforting?

by Max Andrews

Not too long ago I was reflecting on my recent wedding and I realized something I found hard to deal with.  Five years ago my brother was in Iraq, and his pregnant wife died (for reasons and causes still unknown to us).  I was talking about the wedding with my mother and we both made the same observation.  We thought that there should have been a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I should have had a five-year old niece dolled up in a cute dress and playing with the other children.  What was difficult for me, upon further reflection, was that God thought and willed that there should not be a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I was at a clash with God’s will.  I thought that things should have been different.  Apparently, God disagreed and willed the course of history to be different.  As a Molinist, I found this very discomforting at first.  Let me explain the details.

The Molinist concept of providence understands God as controlling everything that happens throughout the course of history.  Everything that happens is a result of God’s will.  God both strongly and weakly actualizes everything.  Strong actualization is where God directly causes or acts in the world, which directly produces the effect.  God weakly actualizes S if and only if there is an S* such that God strongly actualizes [direct causation] S* and S* → S, where → is “counterfactual implication” (Let S be a state of affairs).  Or, in other words, weak actualization is the means of actualization where God uses free agents to bring about his will (an indirect means).  So, if all that comes to pass in the course of history is the result of God’s will, how should I deal with this (or how should anyone deal with these types of situations)?

This problem is very closely related to the problem of evil.  Now, my first reaction was very discomforting knowing that everything that happens occurs because God willed it to happen.  My discomfort soon turned to comfort.  When I thought about this the more I realized my finitude.  God knew that taking my niece and sister-in-law home was the best course of action for him to take.  I’m in no spatiotemporal position to evaluate the effects their death produce.  I know that they have had tremendous influences and effects in my life since their passing, and I trust much more will come.  I don’t have to be able to explain why God chose the course of history that he chose, I just have to demonstrate that how he does it is the most coherent, biblical, and sound model.  Who am I to judge God in his providential course of action? I do not have the cognitive scope or holy intentions that he has.

Let’s consider a non-Molinist perspective.  If God causes all things (no weak actualizations) then there are tremendous problems with the problem of evil.  I’ve discusses this issue in previous posts so I’m not going to elaborate too much here.  Suppose the Molinist concept of providence is true and that God has every detailed moment and aspect of your life planned.  What about those who don’t have a “good life”?  What about the unemployed, starving, diseased, and homeless?  Is it God’s will for them to be like this?  Surely, God’s providential means is not that of the Molinist’s concept right?  This may sound harsh but I do believe it is the will of God for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased and the homeless to be homeless.  Let me qualify this.  There are different orders to God’s will.  It is not God’s will, antecedently, for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased, and the homeless to be homeless.  It is, however, God’s will, consequently, because of the decisions made by free agents, the good that will come of it, the factor it plays into the grand scheme of things (or the counterfactual role it plays in the feasible world God chose to actualize).  Now consider that this is not true, that God doesn’t will every detail in history.  Does God directly cause all these things to come to pass? If that’s the case then God antecedently wills the starving to starve and the diseased to be diseased.  The Molinist denies that, it is consequently (because of factor X, Y, and/or Z) that God wills circumstances like those mentioned.

Perhaps it is the case that God cannot prevent such circumstances?  If that’s the case then why should we trust God?  God has made so many promises to us in Scripture, what guarantee can I have that he will fulfill these promises if he cannot prevent other circumstances?  Another hidden premise I would have to reject in this discomforting aspect or rejection of the Molinist paradigm is that God wants us to be happy, healthy, and for us to have “good lives”.  It’s primarily and antecedently God’s will for us to know him and to love him.  Our measure of a “good life” is nowhere near God’s primary will for our lives.  We need to void our ideology that God just wants us to be happy and healthy all the time with a good job, spouse, and nice dinners at night.  God may provide what is necessary for us to live but he desires us to know him and to seek first his Kingdom (see Matthew 6).

My knee-jerk reaction upon this reflection was to feel a sense of discomfort.  When I really analyzed and thought through everything I found this to be quite comforting and the best model of divine providence.  I do understand that it may be a hard pill to swallow at times.  When I say that it is God’s will for me to struggle with my own disease, to be hospitalized over and over, to be in pain for extended periods of time, for me to say that this is the will of God is certainly difficult.  However, I’m not going to deny that it is because I trust God will make good of it and that he wants me to know him, love him, and seek his Kingdom above all else.  This certainly wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, just my initial thoughts and meanderings… To God be the glory in all things.