Lewis: “All events are equally providential”

July 30, 2015

lewisI wanted to provide an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s Miracles (actually, from Appendix B of that book) as a follow-up to yesterday’s post about prayer and God’s foreknowledge—and I will, perhaps tomorrow.

But first this: I re-read Appendix B just now, and I’m reminded how these few pages dramatically changed my thinking about the doctrines of Providence and God’s sovereignty. In a way, I’m hardly exaggerating when I say that these words changed my life. What I mean is, Lewis’s crystal-clear reflection on how God normally works in the world—providentially, through the (somewhat) predictable course of physical history—enabled me to affirm an idea that my half-baked, vaguely Wesleyan seminary education caused me to resist up to that point: that God, indeed, is in control—of everything. Indeed, that everything happens for a reason.

Let me qualify this immediately: I’m not a determinist. God can be in control without directly controlling everything—without necessarily determining the behavior or overriding the free will of free creatures. But since God foreknows what these free creatures will do under any circumstance—and even what they would do under other circumstances—God can create the world he needs to create in order to get the outcome that he desires: in this case, nothing less than the redemption of the world and the salvation of as many as will place their faith in his Son Jesus.

Granted, we finite human creatures struggle to understand how this is possible. But with God all things are possible.

On this blog I’ve often defended the aphorism, “Everything happens for a reason.” (See this recent post as one example.) I’m reminded that my logic comes directly from Lewis, who begins Appendix B, “On ‘Special Providence,'” talking about two, and only two, kinds of events in the universe: miraculous events and providential events.

But you might object: “To say something is ‘providential’ is to imply that God’s hand is at work in it—for example, when an event is in answer to prayer. I don’t deny that. But what about that third class of events: those things that happen in the ‘normal’ course of physical history, when God simply lets nature run its course? Sure these are neither miraculous nor providential. They’re just normal events.”

No, Lewis says, there are no normal events that aren’t also providential:

Unless we are to abandon the conception of Providence altogether, and with it the belief in efficacious prayer, it follows that all events are equally providential. If God directs the course of events at all then he directs the movement of every atom at every moment; ‘not one sparrow falls to the ground’ without that direction. The ‘naturalness’ of natural events does not consist in being somehow outside God’s providence. It consists in their being interlocked with one another inside a common space-time in accordance with the fixed pattern of the ‘laws’.[†]

Are you still not convinced? Go back and read the post that I mentioned above: everything hinges on what Lewis calls “the belief in efficacious prayer.” If we believe God answers prayer even sometimes, then we are compelled by logic and our firm belief in God’s goodness to also believe, as Lewis says, that “if God directs the course of events at all then he directs the movement of every atom at every moment.”

The upshot of Lewis’s ruminations on Providence and answered prayer was my realization—better late than never—that God, more than merely being with us, is always and everywhere at work in every part of our lives; through every circumstance—even through our suffering; even through our sin. It’s not that our sins are somehow good—perish the thought! It’s that God has the power to redeem them and use them for good. The universe is alive with God’s grace at every moment if we have the faith to comprehend it.

Without this understanding, how else can we say, alongside St. Paul, “give thanks in all circumstances” and “rejoice in the Lord always”?

And just think: I got all that from reading six pages!

C.S. Lewis, “Miracles” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 456-7.

7 Responses to “Lewis: “All events are equally providential””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    AMEN!!

    “….that God, more than merely being with us, is always and everywhere at work in every part of our lives; through every circumstance—even through our suffering; even through our sin.”

    The thought of God leaving me for one nano-second, would be a fearsome thing.

  2. bobbob Says:

    here’s a good place to put my analogy: God views His creation (not limited to observable universe) as we view an aquarium. He sees it all, all at once, can see how the fish (us) interact with others, can influence that interaction, and does from time to time (our time not His). He sees the beginning and end of time with equal clarity (all parts of the aquarium). and when He influences the fish, it is for their good within His glory.

    it’s not a perfect picture but it helps me.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree mostly but I’m not sure it is quite correct to say that God is “active” equally in all situations. The reason we pray is so God will “act” in an “active” fashion–i.e., “change” events from the direction they otherwise seem to be going. My daughter appears to be going astray–I want God to “change” that; hence, I pray for that. My firm announces they will discontinue employee health insurance–I pray and enlist others to pray they will “change” their minds (in that real life instance, they did on Monday after the Friday announcement after I asked family and church friends to so pray over the weekend). It may be that God already had “steps in motion” to answer the prayer–that does not change the fact that he set those “steps in motion” in “response” to prayer–he knew that prayer would come and set those events in course differently from how he otherwise would have had he not “foreknown” that prayer would come. Thus, God “changed his mind” about wiping out the Israelites after Moses implored him to do so. My point being, our prayers make a difference in how things go. So I think we should emphasize that while God directs all of history, he “providentially” acts differently in response to prayers (and perhaps other things) (even if the “response” came in advance–but we don’t know how God will act so it behooves us to pray, and obey, and love our wives so our prayers won’t be hindered, etc.).

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree with everything you say here. I think Lewis’s point is that God is going to accomplish his will with us or without us. But if we pray, we get the blessing of God’s blessing us with answered prayers along the way.

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I don’t pray like that anymore. I don’t ask God to intercede. I pray that whatever his will is, that he help me to understand, accept and obey. I ask that he give comfort to those that I am praying for and to draw them to him (I guess that might be a kind of intercession). In the Lord’s Prayer, it says “Thy will be done”, and I take that seriously. It’s sort of an old fashioned “Father knows Best”. 🙂

    • brentwhite Says:

      I would say that part of God’s will for us, however, is that we offer to God our petitions. This corresponds with Jesus’ parables of the friend at midnight and the persistent widow. He also teaches us that our Father wants to give us what we ask for. Going back to the Lord’s Prayer, I would say that petitionary prayer is also affirmed by our Lord when he tells us to pray for our daily bread. But by all means, another important part of prayer is learning to accept God’s will, too.

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    I don’t mean for it to sound like I think that’s the only way to pray. It’s just the way that brings me the most peace at this point in my life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s