Thomas Aquinas on theistic evolution

I came across an essay by a theistic evolutionist on the history of the understanding of nature. Dealing with Thomas Aquinas he said:

Moreover, nature’s autonomy allows for the accidental and random. “It would be contrary to the nature of providence and to the perfection of the world if nothing happened by chance,” he wrote (cited in Haught 41). Randomness, then, is an essential feature of God’s creation.

The use of citation rather than primary source is a bad sign. The autonomy mentioned referred to what we now call natural laws, God-given, rather than “freedom”, so that’s clear enough. But the bit on “chance” reminded me of all the articles on randomness on BioLogos, in which it’s never made quite clear whether it’s random to God as well as us. I’ve written here, and on BioLogos itself, about the apparent incoherence of TE statements that God uses laws and chance, under providence, through his sustaining power, to do his will. As regular readers will know, I’ve been frustrated because no one ever says whether God directs this chance, or simply makes do with whatever it happens to produce. The only reply I’ve ever really had is “It’s a mystery.”

So the reference to Aquinas made me wonder if, in fact, I’d missed the subtlety of TEs’ philosophy, and that in Aquinas’ thorough system might be the answer to how providence and chance fit together in their view. I found more than I expected. Now philosophy, especially the Thomistic kind, isn’t something I’ve studied deeply, and Thomist Ed Feser always says one needs to pick up Aquinas’ basic concepts and vocabulary before asking detailed questions. So I was a little fearful in turning to his stuff on “chance”, which is largely covered under the heading Providence in De Veritate. Of Providence he says:

We may compare the providence by which God rules the world, to the domestic foresight by which a man rules his family, or to the political foresight by which a ruler governs a city or a kingdom, and directs the acts of others to a definite end.

To my surprise  I found myself on familiar ground, for before dealing with chance he askes whether providence covers human free will, including the actions of sinners. His answers, I find, are so close to John Calvin’s that you could hardly get a cigarette paper between them. And I’ve read most of what Calvin wrote on it. Not surprising, I guess, since Calvin always claimed his teaching on free will to be drawn from Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Anselm and Augustine. There may be small differences, but in essence both say, on both philosophical and biblical principles, what people nowadays find so scandalous: that man’s decisions are truly free and accountable, and yet that God determines them by his providential will. Aquinas and Calvin have similar doctrines of predestination, too. To understand the arguments, read Aquinas – but disagreeing without following the logic won’t do. Though I can think of many nowadays for whom neither philosophy nor Scripture can outweigh “it stands to reason”.

But my point is this: when Aquinas then turns to chance, he follows similar principles to prove that, just as orderly events are due to secondary causes whose purpose can only be the outworking of God’s providential will, so chance too must infallibly work to the ends he has determined. Aquinas, of course, lived before the concept of natural law was established, and before chance was a matter of mathematical analysis: he thought only of the obvious patterns of nature, and the obvious rare events (for example, a man happening to meet his debtor at a fair). But that’s no matter, for he insists, on a number of grounds, that God disposes them both just as he disposes human will. In other words, for Aquinas chance is unequivocally not chance to God. He doesn’t admit any mystery or uncertainty on the matter.

Empedocles … asserted that it was by accident that the parts of animals came together in this way through friendship—and this was his explanation of an animal and of a frequent occurrence! This explanation, of course, is absurd, for those things that happen by chance, happen only rarely; we know from experience, however, that harmony and usefulness are found in nature either at all times or at least for the most part. This cannot be the result of mere chance; it must be because an end is intended… Consequently, since natural things have no knowledge, there must be some previously existing intelligence directing them to an end, like an archer who gives a definite motion to an arrow so that it will wing its way to a determined end. Now, the hit made by the arrow is said to be the work not of the arrow alone but also of the person who shot it. Similarly, philosophers call every work of nature the work of intelligence.

Well – either philosophy’s changed, or most people involved in evolutionary science aren’t philosophers. But to me the paragraph above would do as a summary of the design inference, with a philosophical rubber stamp of approval:

But contingency is not incompatible with providence, nor are chance or fortune or voluntary action, as we have shown. Therefore, nothing prohibits providence from also applying to these things, just as it does to incorruptible and universal things.

But how detailed is this providence of God? Is it consistent with the idea of God’s waiting until some kind of intelligent being evolved by chance, and then rejoicing in it? Aquinas talks about “singulars” as the detailed events at the end of any causal (or acausal, if one considers chance or free choice) chain:

[I]f God does not exercise providence over these singulars, this is either because He does not know them, or because He is not able to do so, or because He does not wish to take care of them.

That’s logical. But let me cite actual examples of each – in open theism and other “kenotic” theologies, God’s knowledge is limited. In much theistic evolution, God cannot or must not “interfere” with the Universe after setting it up. In much, too, nature’s “freedom” to create itself proves God does not wish to take care of details – it would be demeaning to him and “coercive” to nature. But to Aquinas God’s knowledge and power are infinite, and as for his wishes:

Nor, in fact, can it be said that God does not wish to govern them, since His will is universally concerned with every good thing, and the good of things that are governed lies chiefly in the order of governance. Therefore, it cannot be said that God takes no care of these singulars.

He butresses this in the next paragraph by the obvious truth that “causes that produce something take care of their products”. This detailed care even extends to what TEs are pleased to cause the errors in creation, that may not be attributed to God, they claim, without blasphemy:

A defective act which results occasionally in the generation of natural monstrosities is, of course, directed by God to some useful purpose; but to this defective act itself nothing else was directed. It happened merely on account of the failure of some cause. With regard to the first-named act of generation, the providence is one of approval; with regard to the second, it is one of permission.

I had an long and inconclusive argument on BioLogos trying to get agreement that providence is more than mere sustaining. Aquinas wouldn’t have procrastinated:

However, suppose someone says that God takes care of these singulars to the extent of preserving them in being, but not in regard to anything else; this is utterly impossible. In fact, all other events that occur in connection with singulars are related to their preservation or corruption. So, if God takes care of singulars as far as their preservation is concerned, He takes care of every contingent event connected with them.

Which as much as to say that if God didn’t watch the pennies, the pounds would soon disappear. He does indeed point out elsewhere in as many words that overall governance requires detailed governance. I must emphasise again that these are not just assertions, but founded on arguments for which, of course, I have no space here. But it’s nice to see that I wasn’t out on a limb in the conclusions I reached. As Aquinas says:

Hence it is said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing: and not one of them shall fall on the ground without My Father” (Matt. 10:29; see 6:26). And again: “She reaches from end to end mightily” (Wis. 8:1), that is, from the noblest creatures down to the lowest of them. So, also, we oppose the view of those who said: “The Lord has forsaken the earth, and the Lord does not see” (Ez. 9:9); and again: “He walks about the poles of heaven, and He does not consider our things” (Job 22:14).

By this conclusion we set aside the opinion of those who said that divine providence does not extend as far as these singular things.

Finally, Thomas even deals with the objection that’s always thrown at a traditional doctrine of Providence in creation: that God is not a micro-manager. Aquinas, does, of course, believe that God works through secondary causes, amongst which one could include physical laws, purposive organisms and even human (and angelic!) free will. He draws specific attention to human affairs, in which a governor doesn’t bother himself with the details, leaving them “to be planned by agents on a lower level”. But:

 

… as a matter of fact, this is so because of his own deficiency … Now, deficiencies of this kind are far removed from God, because He knows all singular things, and He does not make an effort to understand, or require any time for it; since, by understanding Himself He knows all other things, as we showed above. Therefore, He plans even the order for all singular things. So, His providence applies to all singulars immediately.

So I find that my original essayist’s  “Randomness is an essential feature of God’s creation” is an obfuscation, potentially if not actually, of how Aquinas actually views the role of God in nature. A better summary would be:

Therefore, God Himself is the disposer of all things immediately by His providence, and whatever beings are called agents of providence under Him are executors of His providence.

Theistic evolutionists, I think, need to do more to refute this than they have so far, if they choose to disagree. But then they’re often better at equivocating than disagreeing.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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11 Responses to Thomas Aquinas on theistic evolution

  1. GD GD says:

    Useful post Jon; the mystery to my mind is Theistic evolution and how its proponents argue (or fail to) their position.

    I take the view the major issue is how we as human beings come to the knowledge of God (in contrast with the strange proposition that we believe we know and decide what God may do, may be etc).

    Taking the risk that comes from making simple statements on complex topics; theologians have endeavoured to construct theology as a science that radically differed from the natural and the human sciences because its ultimate subject, God, was not accessible to empirical investigation. Aquinas included in his theological system five proofs for the existence of God. Barth considered God’s freedom and revelation (communication of himself), as providing the understanding of God. In this way Barth believes one may avoid the danger of approaching God as an object of empirical investigation.

    Even if it is agreed that we avoid considering God as an object for empirical investigation, we cannot reason that revelation may be within a range of phenomena that are human potentialities or of the human senses. We have ruled out objective-based activities such as found in the natural sciences, for this (thus Natural Theology is inadequate). Revelation cannot be defined in a way that philosophy or science may argue and consider within the ideas of reason.

    Those aspects of reason and knowledge that are intuitive (and indeed all knowledge), are usually subjected to tests of falsification and verification in the sciences and to criteria of reason in philosophical discussion. In this argument, reason needs to sustain the reasonableness of life, the goodness of life and the continuation of life. This is a matter for reason. It is not possible to reason goodness in life. It is possible for a person to consider the possibility of good in life, and this is usually through experience (à posteriori).

    For revelation to be valid, the person being revealed unto needs to be able to respond, to reason, and to consider the revelation within his (context of) life. The meaning of God provided by revelation needs to be completely comprehensible. Since I understand all human life and reason to be within the freedom of birth, freedom of life, and freedom of thought (intent), revelation is also understood within freedom. The unreasonable part of the human condition is lack of freedom that finds its ultimate unreasonable condition in death.

    These comments show that it may be useful, within the Science Faith discussion, to develop a clearer understanding of Law, laws of Nature, and human freedom. I say this with the understanding that the discussion accepts that God is God and He is not limited by our ignorance.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    There is a strange interrelationship between what is investigable in nature and what is revealed by God. God is unknowable except as he reveals himself – and that is primarily a personal and irreducible communication. Yet God also reveals propositional truth about himself (eg God hates robbery and iniquity), and about the world too (eg the investigable claim that the Lord lived and rose from the grave).

    One can err firstly be reducing revelation to the purely subjective (eg “the facts in the Bible don’t matter; just meet God in it”), or in the opposite direction by, as I think you’re implying, reducing God to a philosophical proposition.

    I’m tempted to think (as a Protestant!) that Aquinas goes too far in the latter direction, but from what I read for this piece he seems mainly to be following the implications of revelation with care and reverence. Whatever ones appoach (and whatever area one is concerned in, too, science/faith being just a small niche in the scheme of things) I think the controlling truth is that both revealed and observed truth is, in the end, one. Something is wrong if one’s faith and the rest of ones world don’t fit together. But something is more wrong if what is revealed is controlled by mere human knowldge.

  3. James Penman penman says:

    I agree with your critique of TE/EC writers who won’t allow divine providence to go beyond “sustaining” to “directing”. Certainly in traditional Protestant theology, providence is usually distinguished into the two elements of “preservation” & “government”.

    Only one caveat: in the thinking of Thomas, or at least of Thomists, the divine “direction” of creaturely acts is said to be by a “physical concursus”. The idea is roughly that God puts forth a sort of force or energy that immediately, irresistibly directs creaturely acts.

    Many Reformed theologians have rejected this view as smacking too much of a mechanistic determinism. See for example what Charles Hodge & Robert Dabney have to say about concursus. Reformed critics prefer to say that while God’s eternal decree governs all that happens (has happened, will happen), the mode whereby He executes that decree is not necessarily by a physical concursus, especially not in the case of human actions. Here Reformed thinkers like Dabney (with whom I’m most familiar) do indeed prefer to invoke the category of mystery. But they’re invoking it at a different point for a different purpose, I think, than the obfuscators you’re critiquing.

    I agree with Dabney; divine providence is not mere sustaining, it involves directing too, it operates at every level (micro-management), but the mode whereby it operates, at least respecting the human will, is unrevealed & mysterious.

    What think ye?

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Hi penman

    Yes, I’m sure there would be things I’d disagree with in Aquinas, had I read enough of him to be qualified so to do! Once one is dealing with such deep things, one is going to put one’s foot in it occasionally, or alternatively be misconstrued. For example, one contrast I read between Calvin and Aquinas on predestination during my preparation seemed to me to attribute a view to the former that I don’t find in him. Maybe Calvin at that point misunderstood Aquinas, or Scripture, or wrote carelessly, or was misunderstood himself.

    But as you say that is not the main point: fallible human philosophy comes in at the point one recognises that God’s providence does direct events, and tries to show how that doesn’t conflict with human freedom, or natural law, or chance etc. They’re valid attempts, though always subject to criticism, even the criticism that they mis-state paradox actually irreducible beyond what Scripture affirms.

    In the same way it’s reasonable for science to step in and say, “Here, maybe it could work this way”, as R J Russell’s hypothesis about quantum manipulation seeks to do. But that too is provisional and cannot decide any issues in the face of the clear testimony of Scripture.

  5. GD GD says:

    Jon,

    By and large, I agree with your general points, but as I said at the start, it is a complicated discussion. My main point is to ask how we come to the knowledge of God, since our answer will influence our attitude to other questions. When we discuss laws, we are more likely to consider nature’s regularities as understood by Science, and infer from this a comprehensible Universe as cause and effect. To illustrate, if I come to a knowledge of God as the force and power that sustains the Universe, the force or power (or all of these and intellect) that ensures the Universe follows a predetermined arrow or direction, this would dominate all other considerations and beliefs I would have of God, as human knowledge and beliefs are generally harmonised instead of being in perpetual conflict.

    Overall, there are a number of subjects that would complicate this discussion, which I suggest may be described as: (a) How does God act in His creation, (b) has He predetermined (predestined) all events, (c) is He acting in some manner, mechanically or via a force/quantum effects, to control and directing the Universe, and (d) that never ending source of fascination, free will and human agency.

    The difficulties may arise from how we identify the initial understanding of God. If it is via revelation, then we confine our attention to scripture and from this involve ourselves in a deeper appreciation of God as revealed by Christ, and from this focus on the central themes, which are Salvation, living life as Christ showed, and so on. On matters related to the creation, we would need to agree with Paul and John and Genesis in that God created everything. If we decide that the Universe and its activities are our primary interest and source of understanding God, our emphasis would change.

    On details of the Universe, I think understanding nature is a fine pursuit, but would this not be sufficiently underscored by developing the attribute of seeking what is true and comprehensible in Nature? What would scripture provide that would be necessary besides this attribute? Just how would Aquinas help scientists do good science (I do not mean if it is science or philosophy, but one of belief and understanding)?

    I think the issue regarding Science (or Nature, or any terms we wish to use) stems from a tension nowadays between activities of Nature as described by Science, and events in the Bible that are termed miracles, but are nowadays seen as defying nature and science. It is here that discussions should focus, ultimately on the death and resurrection of Christ. In this context, what is our source of knowledge and belief? If the Bible, do we trash Science? Or do we seek a quantum description of the resurrection, or any other miracle, and trash the Bible? I think if we overdo knowledge, so it becomes Natural Theology (or theistic evolution), we may be forced to do one or the other.

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    OK GD, I think I see where you’re coming from here.

    I believe there’s only one way of coming to know God, and that’s through revelation, since God is outside his creation and must reveal himself, particularly in the life and death of Christ.

    The Bible itself seems to confirm what I think you’re saying, ie that nature’s ability to teach us about God is severely limited. Romans 1 speaks to this: Paul summarises nature’s lessons as “God’s eternal power and divine nature”, but one might encompass in that things like the order and rationality of the Universe too – and possibly even the concept of providence, since before our age the justice of God (or gods) in history was widely acknowledged, as was the wisdom of the Creator in his works.

    But beyond those it cannot go – and it certainly cannot save us from what separated us from God in the first place – which is why I agree with those who see natural theology as an extremely limited venture.

    Theistic evolution I’d personally see differently, I suppose as a theology, and/or philosophy of nature: a way of bringing the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture together, which is an admirable aim of science. That can lead to a wider understanding inspiring greater worship.

    But I think we’d agree that it has been widely, and wrongly, used as a source of theology, rendering it what it ought not to be, ie natural theology in the sense I’ve used it.

    Examples would be using genetics to dispense with, or radically transform, the doctrine or original sin; believing one sees errors in creation and therefore abandoning the Scriptural claim that the Creation is good; using the regularity of science to discount the ongoing providence of God. In these matters revealed religion ought to guide our interpretation of science data, whilst giving due weight to the observations of our senses gained through science.

    That last point really needs someone to do a serious theological treatment. I believe accept an old earth on the scientific evidence, which leads me to reject a young earth chronology and the reading of Scripture that leads to it. Yet I find that doesn’t lessen my dependence on Scripture, but actually helps to deepen my understanding of even the historical and material aspects of the Bible. Evolution as a bare process can fit with that, but evolution as an undirected, purposeless mechanism never can.

  7. GD GD says:

    John

    “In these matters revealed religion ought to guide our interpretation of science data, whilst giving due weight to the observations of our senses gained through science.”

    You have made some good points and I am enjoying this discussion.

    I think we need to begin with the notion of activities in the world, how we human beings may conform to the Law of God while being part of the world known as physical activity (or phenomena). I have used ‘mind simulations’ where one may consider doing what scripture says (e.g. help your neigbour) yet while doing this, unforseen events are added that lead to harmful otcomes. We may argue that we ‘obey’ (for want of a better term for now) both the Biblical Law and scienific laws, yet the outcomes are different to our expectations. We may often decide that God has, or should have, acted in some way, or the outcomes were predetermined by God and/or natural law.

    I prefer to start with these somewhat paradoxical simulations or thought experiments before I try to come to grips with theistic evolution (as this encompasses the entire world and billions of years). The notion of chance and randomness appears to me as ‘too glib’ for something so complicated, if we take a serious approach to the matter. I guess non-scientists may think this is Theodicy, but I am taking a slightly different appraoch starting from human knowledge and of natural laws.

  8. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    I’d want to get picky at this point about what you mean by “Law”.

    Natural law, I maintain (as I did against Roger on BioLogos) is a human construct describing the way things happen uniformly. Scripture sometimes uses such terms loosely, eg the “ordinances” that determine how the stars will move, but understood in our modern sense they describe how God has set matter and energy up to run. Nobody and nothing (apart from God himself, maybe) disobeys: they actually declare God’s faithfulness, not matter’s obedience.

    Strictly the Law of God as such is the commands and principles he wants free agents like ourselves to follow. But Scripture uses that in several senses too:
    firstly and centrally the Law of Love (Love God, Love your neighbour) which reflects the character of God.
    Then the Decalogue which was the covenant code of Israel, also reflecting God’s moral character as he wished them to express it.
    Then the full OT Law, very specific regulations related to the moral law but also, and specifically, related to the covenant with Moses and their status as a separated people (thus purity laws etc).
    Then the concept of that Law as a means of salvation, which Paul inveighs against, though he supports its precepts, because the one way to become obedient to the Law is to confess ones inability to obey it, and trust in the gracious sacrifice of Christ. Which sense one is thinking of would seem to affect the scenario you describe.

    Let me play with your example: I love my needy neighbour, and give him money, but he spends it on heroin and dies. Clearly something went wrong with love.

    One aspect is that we are commanded to love, not to guarantee a result. If God permits harm to come from a good act, it wouldn’t be the first time: the widow puts her mite into the temple treasury, and the priests use it to pay Judas, maybe. And Judas’ betrayal itself is within God’s ultimate will, bringing good from evil.

    Another is that perfect love is also just and wise: if we knew our neighbour was a heroin addict, we’d have given him food, not money. But God is concerned most with our motives, not our accomplishments, and Christ covers the weakness of our love anyway. Indeed that last point might sometimes be the work of God – we give to our neighbour without much thought, but he sees Christ’s love in the act and moves towards salvation.

    But it seems to me natural law and God’s law should not be confused – unless you have other thoughts?

  9. GD GD says:

    Jon,

    This discussion is getting closer to the mark. Your comments deal with how we may understand the commandments in the Bible in everyday life. My respond to your points is indirect, but I am sure you will appreciate why this is. We tried to distinguish between nature’s laws and the divine command in BioLogos but I feel we did not get very far in that discussion.

    I take the view that we must distinguish between scientific articulations and divine commandments; it is how I try and deal with things like a pre-determined world before God, but a determining world before human-kind. So here goes (brief discussion?):

    Scientific law: This is generally understood as laws of nature and includes outcomes to the human senses (and to reason) from nature’s activities, or phenomena – these responses may be quantified by observation and hypothesis and tend to suggest an instrumentalist attribute of a human being in a world of objects. In this way, it is difficult to differentiate between activities of a human being and those of an object; all consist of activity of matter in time and space, (in motion or in a dynamic state) and thus considered explicable via the scientific method. It is thus erroneous to believe that we humans are able to bring a law into existence when providing a theory, a hypothesis, or a formulation. The difficulty faced by us is that of differentiating between ourselves as reasoning beings, and the objects of our inquiry – since both appear to be in the world. However, the subject-object or ‘both are in the world’, arises from a human being, not from the world. This actualises into language activity, which leads to a differentiation between the world of phenomenon/dynamics and that of human reality – although it may be reasoned that both are activities and thus explicable in time and space by the scientific method.

    If nature’s laws are known, a person’s actions and anticipated consequences should be explicable, but may not necessarily be changed simply through choice. The dynamics of any natural system would be the same whether these were, or were not, understood – even if one were to think to conform to such dynamics. Science attempts to provide explanations or descriptions believed to encompass the universe. A ‘law’ as something that may be considered as arising from reason applied to an object is unnecessary. It may appear, however, that ‘mega-knowledge’ is sought to enable a human being to attain to a complete understanding of the phenomena and its objects, and this may provide an intellectual perception, or inference, that objects behave according to some principle; or, objects are required to be as they are by a ‘something in their being-ness’. It is unnecessary to argue that a law is present (or it has been added by the human being to the universe) to ensure the universe is what it is. We may reason that the universe is ‘lawful’ because it continues to be what it is, and also we may conclude that there is a finality, or that we may ‘finally’ or ‘completely’ understand it; we may also seek comfort from an ideal, suggesting that the universe and our understanding of it may become one and the same, or everything will finally be totally reasonable.

    The law of God: Strictly speaking, the Law is not comprehensible within the term law as applied to laws by a community or those of science. Indeed it is extremely difficult to use the phrase in a concrete manner. Communities with a religious inclination and/or history may endeavour to encompass the law of God within legislative law. This usually arises because the community intends to base legislative law on what it thinks is the law of God. In the case of legislative law a person obeys or else is prosecuted. The law, as articulated by Moses in the ten commandments and accompanying statements, can only be understood as legislation if it is directed to human activity, such as ‘do not kill,’ ‘do not bear false witness.’ But the law in toto is understood as the expression of the revealed will of God through Christ, to humanity. The totality of God’s will includes a one-ness of, or completeness to, intent and act – that is, there cannot be any variation or error. If the law of God is comprehended as active concepts accepted by a human being, intention and act need to be considered. A separation of intent and act would introduce a possibility of an act actualising different to the intent. For the requirement of a one-ness of intent and act to be met, an additional attribute is required from a human; this attribute is that of being lawful. However, such an attribute would require an intrinsic aspect of lawfulness within a human being – i.e. the human being can only be as lawful as would any object in nature in that it be what-it-is. The Gospel teaches us that all have sinned and have come short of the Glory of God. This shows that even if we view the Law of God as intrinsic via a human attribute, in practice, human beings would comprehend the negation of an attribute (e.g. if a person committed murder, he would be understood as without a lawful attribute, i.e. a criminal). Such a negation may be understood within a judgement that intent, and act, were not realised in the oneness, and the result is comprehension of error; otherwise a judgement would be required on the falsehood of a stated intent; for example, the intent of such a person was to commit an act that harmed another person, and by denying that intent, such a human being would be considered to utter a falsehood, and so on, resulting in the attribute of a person as unlawful.

    It is in this, that of growth in an attribute of lawfulness and un-lawfulness that I locate the intrinsic aspect of God’s Law.

    By this reasoning, the attribute of a person who intended and acted correctly, would be considered a lawful attribute. This would require a judgement, and consequently, it is not possible to seek, or consider, an intrinsic aspect to a human. This attribute is based on the human characteristics of choice, intent, act, and judgment. Although these comments do not in themselves prove an intrinsic aspect to the human condition, they nonetheless show that human beings are characterised, or comprehended, through acts, and these may be judged within intent, actualisation of that intent, and the nature of the act.

  10. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    GD

    Your thought and writing are dense, but I think we’re largely agreed. “Law” in Scripture translates Hebrew “torah”, which is more “teaching”, and so encompasses your description : “But the law in toto is understood as the expression of the revealed will of God through Christ, to humanity.”

    Your concept of lawlessness (aka sin?) as a negation also matches Augustine’s thought. In a sense, he said, sin is “nothing” because it’s simply a negation of God’s will.

    One thought on law in the human situation: this of course is one area in which the platitude “Jesus is the answer” is actually true. In him we see that it is possible for a human to obey the law/follow God’s will perfectly. Primarily, to me, that leads me to see I need him as Saviour. But it also acts as a spur to realising that intending and acting within God’s will is not impossible because of some natural principle of physics, or biology etc. The problem is the spiritual one of rebellion, ignorance and captivity.

    But the captivity is real, and the liberation to the actual possibility of embodying God’s will can come only through grace … and grace depends on the reality of God’s sovereignty in human affairs (but that’s the subject of the next post!)

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