I 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.