How does God relate to his world?
VIEW 1: In the West, we often say God is far away from us, cut off from the world, in a different place. For him to step in takes a miracle.
God does not seem to be a regular player in the events of everyday life.
VIEW 2: In the East, religions often say the world is all part of God. There is no difference between the world and the deity. The world has no separate existence of its own. Every rock, every tree is divine, for the world is flooded with divinity.
VIEW 3: The Reformed Protestant view is a little more complex. God and the world are different, each has its own existence. But they are in close relationship. The world exists outside God, but it is ‘stuck’ to him: it cannot act or function independently of God. It can only move in tandem with him.
Thus everything that happens, necessarily happens according to God’s will, nothing against it. Conditions in the world are thus always an expression of God’s mind, no one and nothing can escape it. And so that mind can be read off the face of worldly conditions. What is God’s will? Whatever happens: (as I understand it, Islam also holds this view)
VIEW 4: There is another Christian view. It is more complex still. It involves an understanding of God as Trinity. It also allows for the possibility of a threat to God’s sovereignty or rule.
In this view, the world has existence distinct from God, and also has space to act distinctly. It is possible for the creation to resist God’s will.
How is this view different from the Western view, VIEW 1? Because there is no ontological barrier between God and us. God is free to act in his world, not as a strange intruder, but as a rightful presence. He acts in the world through his Son and his Spirit, what Irenaeus called God’s ‘two hands’.
Through his ‘two hands’, God can be present and act ‘down here’ without sacrificing the distance between him and us. Thus he avoids either
- overwhelming the world with divinity by his presence, so it loses its space for distinct existence (as in VIEW 2)
- overwhelming the world with his will, cancelling the world’s freedom of action (as in VIEW 3)
Things, on this view, may go badly wrong in the world. The world may fall into evil and insanity, far from God’s will. Worldly conditions are thus no reliable index of the mind or character of God.
God may even have to fight for his place as sovereign ruler of creation. In other words, there may be events in God’s relationship to his world. It all gets a bit complicated and messy. There may be a story to be told about it all.
People who hold this view tend to say that there is a story, and they call that story the gospel.