This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
God’s governance of the world includes both the spiritual and material realms, and the two involve/influence/affect each other. So much we saw in the last chapter. Here, Kuyper reminds us that while spiritual forces affect the world, common grace determines how–particularly how much or how little those forces interact. But! What we’re not given is specific detail in terms of manner/degree/etc. This is “shrouded in mystery for us.” (463) We acknowledge this truth every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer.
However, we must be careful in how we approach this relationship between the spiritual and material worlds. Scriptural examples of material/spiritual interactions mostly have to do with particular grace–though we may assume the same applies to common grace. Ultimately we are simply not told the details and must resist attempts to “abuse… Scripture” in searching for more detail:
“an abuse that consists in human attempts to identify in even greater detail and definition the various activities and influences from the spirit world, especially as they apply to our own internal and external life. This tendency, let it be said, is fully pagan and not Christian.” (463)
And if trying to figure it out is paganism, the more so are attempts to control these entities with trinkets and mantras and such. These activities ignore the common grace reality that these spirits are agents, not independent actors (maybe even agents without agency).
Besides these forces are usually not personal–they are generation notions/cultures/families/etc. Only occasionally are they tied up with individuals–usually those individuals who are culture-shapers, not those (most of us) who are shaped by culture. Most of us
“are not original but purely the product of their environment. They do not speak out of their own consciousness but merely as an echo of broader opinion. When the zeitgeist changes, they also change. If they are placed in a different intellectual atmosphere, their viewpoint also changes. But by and large their abiding wish is to be representative of their contemporaries, so that in any discussion of public opinion, the essence of their argument is that ‘everybody says this,’ or ‘this is how everybody sees it,’ or ‘it would be a miracle if everybody else were wrong and you were right.'” (465)
And this was written before social media existed!
Certainly there are many influences that go into this cultural formation. The “general orientation” of the times have many sources, though we don’t see them all because there is a grounding in the spiritual world upon which these forces move. And yet we know true things about this grounding, and do battle with it both as individuals and as communities–though we do not do battle with/against individuals. [This page is the most important cultural commentary I’ve read in Kuyper so far, and I think it stands a lot more working out.]
So we must remember both personally and socially that we are involved here. We must resist the nominalists who reduce all to the individual and end up as de-facto Pelagians. We hold that “the communal has priority, existing prior to the individual, who springs from the communal.” (466) This is the point of contact with the spiritual world.
All this to say that Satan doesn’t bother with most people–they just follow anyway. The individuals he targets are the leaders–Peter and Paul, not Nathaniel or Matthew.
So here we see common grace, and how spirits work–much in some places and little elsewhere. This is all God’s doing, exercising restraint where He will. This is not arbitrary, but rather His purpose. Common grace also works everywhere, ebbing and flowing as God wills. Only in hell does all common grace cease, as when the sun hides all life ceases. And unfortunately, in a chapter full of rich cultural reflection, here we get more of Kuyper’s Eurocentrism and judgment of the ‘quality’ of common grace in foreign (i.e. non-European) cultures. (469) It’s a short moment, and not as… judgmental… as some of his other writings. But still even in his time it wouldn’t have been the best thing for a thoughtful believer to have said.