An interventionist God?

I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling that you do sings atheist/deist/doubter Nick Cave before he proceeds via song to seek divine intervention. [1]  How much does God intervene in the world?  What modern believers – of all creative stripes – fail to recognise is how far apart all of us are in our assumptions/expectation of divine intervention from people in Bible times.  This should give all of us pause.  While no-one would debate God CAN intervene in anything as He needs, few (if any) believers would literally accept God feeds the animals every day, or dictates the positioning of clouds.  The Bible describes as direct divine intervention things we moderns understand as the outcome of natural (created) systems.  Why?  Because science has changed what used to be perceived as the daily actions of God into (almost) predictable systems.  Literal creationists read down God’s intervention in daily life – understanding them as just processes, yet they adopt a different approach in Genesis 1-3.

We find repeated instances in the Bible where God directly, continuously intervenes in creation to ‘keep it running’:

  • Psalm 104:20 “You make it dark and night comes, during which all the beasts of the forest prowl around. 21 The lions roar for prey, seeking their food from God”
  • Psa 104:27 “All of your creatures wait for you to provide them with food on a regular basis. 28 You give food to them and they receive it; you open your hand and they are filled with food. 29 When you ignore them, they panic. When you take away their life’s breath, they die and return to dust. 30 When you send your life-giving breath, they are created, and you replenish the surface of the ground”
  • Psalm 145:15-16 “Everything looks to you in anticipation, and you provide them with food on a regular basis.  You open your hand, and fill every living thing with the food they desire”
  • Psa 147:9  “He gives food to the animals, and to the young ravens when they chirp.”
  • Matt 6:26  “Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them”

God is involved in feeding each and every living creature continually.  This is not the creation of self sustaining systems, but a deeply interventionist God on which life continuously depends.  God even sends the darkness of night for the predators and provides their food.

More than providing directly, daily, for animals – God also manages the minutia of the daily weather:

  • Gen 9:13-15 “I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you…
  • Job 38:22 8 He covers the sky with clouds, provides the earth with rain, and causes grass to grow on the hillsides. ..16 He sends the snow that is white like wool; he spreads the frost that is white like ashes. 17 He throws his hailstones like crumbs. Who can withstand the cold wind he sends? 18 He then orders it all to melt; he breathes on it, and the water flows.
  • Psa 147:8 “He covers the sky with clouds, provides the earth with rain, and causes grass to grow on the hillsides”
  • Jer 10:13  “When his voice thunders, the heavenly ocean roars.  He makes the clouds rise from the far-off horizons.  He makes the lightning flash out in the midst of the rain. He unleashes the wind from the places where he stores it”  
  • See also Jer 51:16 and Psa 135:7
  • Matt 5:45  “so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”

Scripture has God as the direct mover of weather phenomena.  This is not just the occasional intervention in an otherwise divinely established but largely self-managing system.  We understand weather is a complex system operates according to identifiable – though very very complex rules.  Hence we have long range weather forecasts – although the complexity of the divine arrangements still causes regular inaccuracies!  This is not the way the first audience of the Bible understood things.  God drove each weather event – and not just for acts of judgement (in which we would all see God’s hand) – every event significant or not.  Clouds don’t just move around based on the complex operation of physics – God brings them together and occasionally places His rainbow in them.

rainbow formation

According to Genesis 9, God brings clouds together which then form rainbows. Cloud formations then are not an inevitable mathematical outcome from the complex weather system but a direct/specific act of God – Biblically speaking.

As a further example again, in Job 38:32 God asks Job whether he can “lead out the constellations in their seasons the clear implication is that God does micro manage the change in alignment of the earth and star constellations…

This is not to say the Bible doesn’t mention randomness.  Clearly Eccl 9:11 declares the reality of “time and chance“.  However against this background of random events in human lives must be set the clear expectation of direct and  absolute intervention of God in directing lots as per Proverbs 16:33 –

The dice are thrown into the lap, but their every decision is from the LORD

Note this is not Urim and Thummin, ie some inaccessible special cultic equipment, but readily available lots (or dice in the modern equivalent).  While some might believe God occasionally intervenes in the outcome of throwing lots, the Proverb is not saying occasionally.  The Proverb reflects a very directly intervening God.

Conclusion

Modern believers hold varying opinions about the extent of God’s intervention today.  Almost none believe the literal micro engagement as described in the Bible.  Instead we understand that God sustains grass, animals and weather events via the systems He designed.  This is not the Biblical description.  Scripture provides supernatural explanations for things we understand are mechanistic.  The Bible talks in the culture and understanding of the day.  Back then essentially all phenomena were assumed to be dependent on God for daily operation.

We often unconsciously reinterpret the literal meaning of passages to fit our modern understanding of God’s created systems.  We unknowingly read the Bible adjusting for these cultural factors.  Bible readers today accept the gathering of clouds and nutritional intake of birds are described as direct divine activities but are not.  Rather His systems produce these results – as He intended.  The mechanistic outcomes of His design is described as though it were His daily deliberate actions.

Despite accepting this, when it comes to Genesis 1-3 literalists insist the text be understood 100% literally.  Literal creations don’t accept that a divinely created system could produce results which are described as the result of direct simple interventions.  This is simply inconsistent.

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[1] For discussion about Nick Cave’s complicated and seemingly vacillating views see this link here if you are for some reason curious.

1 thought on “An interventionist God?

  1. Roger Goodman

    I sort of agree, but I also think that ancient peoples saw a degree of metaphor on the Biblical language too. Did they imagine God micro-managing the feeding of every animal? I mean, they surely didn’t think that God had millions of hands for the daily feeding of billions of insects? I don’t think so.

    Since people then had the same brain capacity as we have they could have reasoned out that *in some sense* God fed the animals, and they would have known the difference between metaphor and concrete language. Sure, they didn’t understand the complexities of atmospheric science as we do, but they understood that *somehow* God was making everything happen, and they should have understood that metaphor was the only practical way to express this.

    Let’s not forget that these people were closer to Nature than we are. They had the time and opportunity to observe God’s intervention (or otherwise) to a level that we can’t. I do understand the point you are making though, that if we accept modern science as opposed to divine intervention in natural processes then we have to also accept modern science in relation to the Creation process. Cheers.

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