This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
As we’ve seen, technically “providence” is in the “implementation of the decree” of God–though providence is only part of said implementation. The whole is
3) eternal life
In a technical sense, providence does not extend into glory–though there too God will maintain and govern all things. Still, we limit the word subjectively to this life. We do this not least because maintenance and governing will look different when human conflict ceases. We see this even in our own lives, when providence seems greater in times of trouble.
There is also a boundary to providence “in the past”–that of creation (though again, this is only a subjective distinction). “Providence begins only where creation is completed.” (436) Though even this creation/providence distinction isn’t a clear one, since we’re not deists and don’t believe that God has created and then left.
“If God has created the world, it is not conceivable that there should be a single moment when the world would have an independent existence apart from him. The world is no t a mechanism that has been ‘put together’ in human terms; it is an organism that exists only through the powers that indwell and stand behind it. But those indwelling powers are not powers that the organism possesses in and of itself, nor are they powers arising outside of God. Rather, all the powers that are at work in this organism of the world and that cause this world to continue to exist are God’s powers… The whole world and all that it contains possesses nothing–neither within itself nor outside of itself–in terms of a fixed point on which it rests or a power through which it exists and operates apart from the power of God. Imagine that God the Lord, for a single indivisible moment, were to cease to work his divine power in all that exists. At that precise moment, everything would not only sink and perish, but would in fact suddenly and immediately cease to exist.” (436-437)
Creation, in other words, is an organism with no intrinsic power of its own and which relies exclusively on God for continued existence. This is contrary to the tenets of deism. For that matter, this doctrine is contrary to some forms of Christianity (specifically: Pelagianism and Arminianism), which tend to spread a version of the separation of God from creation in the name of human independence–itself the “root of all sin.” (438) However, we should be careful not to collapse the Creator/creation distinction and risk deifying ourselves or nature. False mysticism and pantheism lie in that direction. Instead, we must hold a proper, balanced, theology of creation.
In sum, creation brings things to existence “outside the being of God”, while providence makes these things “persist outside of God, albeit only through God and his power.” (440) Saying it differently: creation is tied only to God’s decree; providence “to the decree and also to creation.” (440-441) This is not exactly the occasionalism of someone like Jonathan Edwards; providence in Kuyper’s view is not ongoing re-creation. Further, providence does not add to or subtract from creation, since creation was complete (nor do miracles challenge this). The only option is re-creation or restoration, which is coming in the future. Even in death we see this truth as future generations exist in seed form.
The only possible exception to Kuyper’s creation/providence division is the human soul, about which the origin and generation we are mostly ignorant, aside from the fact that “we were already reckoned in Adam,” and so in some sense were also originally part of creation.
More in the next post.