Arminianism and Providence

One of the questions I’m asked most often is about God’s providence in Arminian theology. Most people know that Arminians do not believe that God micromanages history or human lives–especially not in terms of evil. That is, Arminians do not believe that God designs, foreordains or renders certain sinful acts. Sin and evil are included in God’s consequent will, not God’s antecedent will. God governs them but does not design, foreordain or render them certain. I have expressed my own overall view of God’s providence this way: “God is in charge but not in control.” However, some Arminians objected to that. I’m not going to repeat my explanation or defense of that here. My one concern here, right now, is to explain THAT being Arminian does not require one to believe that God NEVER interferes with free will.

The only category of creaturely decisions and actions where God NEVER interferes with free will IN THE SENSE OF rendering them certain is sin and evil. God permits them but does not design, foreordain or render them certain. One qualification is necessary even here. In relation to creaturely decisions and actions that are sinful, God never designs, foreordains or renders certain individuals’ evil decisions and actions that would cause their condemnation.

But my main concern here, now, is to say that God DOES interfere in free will in guiding and directing our lives as his people. He is not the author of our sins or failures, but he does direct our lives in terms of opening and closing doors.

My point is that for the Arminian God is not a “deist God”–uninvolved and only observing. God is intimately involved in the details of our lives–to the extent that we allow him to be. If we shut him out of our lives and tell him to leave us alone he will, saying, reluctantly, “Okay, thy will, not mine be done.” This, too, of course, is within his will–consequently but not antecedently.

This is how I understand God’s providence in my life when I sing, for example, hymns that talk about God “appointing my pathway, knowing just what is needful and best.” I never think such lyrics mean God designs , foreordains or renders certain my sins or failures. I take them to mean that God has a plan for my life and, insofar as I surrender to his will, whatever happens to me is “needful and best.”

Of course, God does not design, foreordain or render certain OTHERS’ sins that impact my life. In that case he permits me to be impacted by their sins and brings good for me out of them. But I have no problem believing that he foresees their sinful intentions and allows me to be in the path of their consequences insofar as that “needful and best” for me.

I do not think God is particularly concerned about my comfort. My life is what philosopher-theologian John Hick called a “vale of soul making”–a space for God to test me, strengthen me, prepare me, use me. Much of what I suffer may very well be his will. I do not expect God to be “fair” to me or keep me from harm (although I believe praying for him to preserve my life and help me in times of trial is always good).

People who think that the Arminian God must be thought of as remote, distant, uninvolved need to be corrected. I hope I have helped with that.


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