By Aian Macpherson
If God does not end suffering because God has made a free gift of creation, then creation exists upon the basis of God’s Word, free from the fear of a lunatic, capricious, god of nonsense. Bluntly, God does not meddle! This is one reason, among others, that a loving God can permit suffering. Does this suggest the deist notion of the clockmaker who having put the wheels of the watch in motion discards the watch? No, because it affirms God’s love and continued activity alongside God’s unchanging faithfulness.
A better analogy for the Christian understanding of the creator and sustainer of the world, I suggest, is the gardener. A gardener may provide materials and structure; compost, paths, lawns, flowerbeds and fencing. This is the rule of the garden, the gardener herself keeps to it; she does not dump sand in the pond or dig holes in the lawn. That would be meddling. But the gardener does not leave the garden nor is the gardener disinterested. The lawn is edged and cut, the flower bed turned and the pond cleared of litter. The gardener’s faithfulness is seen in careful activity.
Likewise God’s un-tyrannical rule, in which suffering is a possibility, does not imply an absent or inactive god, but that the activity of God through the Word is what is sustaining the world. God is faithful through particular involvement, not by being hands off. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). This suggests to me not the unlikelihood of the miraculous but rather our reluctance to appreciate the miracle of creation itself, the providential good ordering of the multiverse. That the sun rises is a miracle of providence, that it takes place every day is no less miraculous.
I perceive that this, ancient, Judaeo Christian understanding of the world has far more resonance with current scientific theories like chaos theory than does the modernist deist philosophy which is purely mechanistic. Our current more complex analogy better fits a cosmos that is both mechanical and simple, but also complex in its interactions and thus unpredictable.
Whilst God is creator not creature, God is not supernatural. God acts according to the nature of God. (‘I am being what I am being’ is a good theological rendering of the special name God gives to Moses in Exodus Chapter 3.) A hungry goat does not supernaturally (acting against its nature) refuse a hand full of good hay. God does not supernaturally act like a fool, because God is wise. It is God’s very nature to be creator, faithful, loving, just, and angry at injustice. In this way God does not change.
However God also does not act in isolation but by free choice God is in communion with creation. (This brings us back to the comment about chaos theory!) The church is able to say both that God is simple and true to God’s own nature (does not change) and, at the same time, God in interacting with humanity and all creation is unpredictable, breaks our preconceptions and has on occasion repented (had a change of heart and mind).
If God is unchanging but also in faithfulness present and interacting with creation then miraculous activity, will never be meddling. God’s interactivity with creation being based on faithfulness (and an underlying logic) is also (as demonstrated by chaos theory) complex and unpredictable in its results. God is always true to God’s own nature, but by freely entering into communion with the creation is capable of (and at times from our perspective is even hallmarked by) an ability to surprise, to do something new, and even to have a change of heart/mind. The miraculous may be (by definition) out of the ordinary, but not impossible for the God of Jesus.