Wesleyan Theology I - Lesson 13

Providence of God

There are orders of creation and preservation, like family and marriage, that can mediate the grace of God. God sustains creation, and also relates to people as persons. The three-fold circle of divine providence is the outer ring of the whole race of humans, the second smaller circle is all that are called believers and those who profess to be believers, the innermost circle only the true disciples of Jesus who worship God in Spirit and in truth. Wesley doesn’t deny that bad things happen to good people, both from other people and from events in nature. If God eliminated all evil, it would require eliminating freedom, which would also eliminate love. 

Kenneth J. Collins
Wesleyan Theology I
Lesson 13
Watching Now
Providence of God



A. Threefold circle of divine providence

B. Wesley defends the necessity of a particular providence

C. Wesley doesn't deny that bad things will happen to good people

D. Why God doesn't eliminate all evil from the world

E. Particular providence of God


  • For the first 5 centuries after Christ, the theology of the Christian Church was ecumenical. Since then, you have differences in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, and then the Reformation with different Protestant traditions. The Church has a history of promoting and preserving knowledge in all fields of study. Ideological secularization is characterizing theological ideas as irrelevant and not academic. Structural secularization is the process of marginalizing the subject of theology in the academy. Both revelation and reason are both important elements in the discussion of philosophical and theological subjects. God is transcendant, which means that he is distinct from everything that has been made. God is immanent, which means that the Spirit of God can be communicated in time and space through media, but is not the media itself. 

  • God can only be fully know by revelation. However, we can know some things about God by observation and reason. Thomas Aquinas gave 5 reasons that supports the idea of the existence of God. We can perceive motion and there must be something that caused the motion. Nothing can come from nothing, so something must exist at all times, which is God. Humans are contingent beings, but God’s essence is to exist. There are different degrees of goodness and complexity in organisms, so there must be a being of a highest form of good. Design and purpose must be at work because it’s not reasonable that the universe resulted from chance. Dembski also estimates that the mathematical odds for everything happening from a single cell at less than 1 in 10 to the 150th power. 

  • Humans are both material and spiritual and have the capacity to experience transcendence. Without God, you are describing a diminished view of humanity. John Calvin says that wisdom is the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. Revelation of God comes from Scripture (the most important), tradition, reason and experience. Theology should be participatory and result in transformation. …Wesley’s theology describe in two words would be, “holiness” and “grace.” Wesley’s theology is conjunctive. Holy love is a tension. Holiness results in separation and love results in community. Wesley’s view of grace includes both cooperant grace and free grace. 

  • Two sources for knowledge are revelation and reason. Empiricism teaches  that you get knowledge from your senses. Rationalism teaches that you get knowledge from the operation of your mind. Kant said that the mind makes a formal contribution to knowledge by organizing it.  All knowledge begins with experience but it does not all arise out of experience. Reason can only take us so far. Humans are the only species that worship God.

  • Scripture is unique, the word of God and inspired by God. Scripture is the source of truth and provides a norm for truth. Wesley gives four arguments for inspiration. They are miracles, prophecy, goodness of the doctrine and the moral character of the penmen. Characteristics of Scripture include the sufficiency, clarity and wholeness of Scripture. 

  • Univocal refers to a one-to-one correspondence between the language we use and the reality of God. Equivocal refers to the idea that human language does not correspond directly to describing God, so it acknowledges ambiguity and more than one interpretation. Analogical refers to language used to describe God using  analogy. “Via Negativa” is describing characteristics that God is “not.” “Via Positiva” is describing a characteristic that is true of God, using analogy. Aseity means that God’s essence  is to exist. Eternity means that God transcends the limitations of time-space. There is not a space where God is not. Omniscience of God means that God knows all things. Omnipotence of God means that God is all powerful. Once God creates, there is an order in creation, and God works within the framework he created.  Immutability means that God’s essence does not change. Leslie Weatherhead describes three aspects of the will of God as the intentional will of God, circumstantial will of God and the ultimate will of God. Wesley describes God’s holiness as purity and simplicity. The wrath of God can be described as God’s unending determined opposition to evil.

  • Triunity describe God’s nature. The concept of the Trinity was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and taught explicitly in the New Testament. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all active in creation, baptism of Jesus and resurrection of Jesus. The Trinity is three distinct persons with the same essence. The distinctiveness has to do, not with their nature or essence, but with the relations. Person is different than an individual. According to Wesley, the Trinity is an invitation to participate in the deeper life of God. The gospel is the universal love of God, manifested in the person of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Holiness apart from love can result in legalism. Love apart from holiness can result in sentimentality and wishful thinking. 

  • God created humans in his image so we have both a physical and spiritual nature. Sometimes biologists make statements about evolution that are outside of what can be examined and verified by science. According to young earth creationism, creation took place in 6, 24 hour days and the earth is about 6,000 years old. According to theistic evolution, once the process of evolution began, no special supernatural intervention was required for it to continue. The opposite of a naturalistic explanation for life is not supernatural, but intelligent causes. Intelligent design makes information theory and mathematical probability integral to its overall approach. Irreducible complexity argues against gradualism in the evolutionary process. 

  • God freely created the world and chooses to govern within the framework of the created order. The moral law is consistent with the character of God. God uses the moral law to convict the world of sin, bring us to Christ and keep us alive. Natural law is a body of moral principles that can be discerned by reason. Natural law is the will of God expressed in a created order. Deep conscience refers to the interior witness to the foundational principles of the moral law. Four characteristics of our moral design that are evident at the level of the species are interdependence, complementarity, spontaneous order and subsidiarity. 

  • Adam and Eve were created, not just as physical beings, but also spiritual beings. The image of God includes relationality as well as the capacity for rational thought. Wesley describes it as a natural image, political image and moral image. Wesley says that the natural image of God means that we have physical bodies and also a spiritual nature. Humanity is the conduit for God’s blessing of the rest of creation. 

  • The characteristics that give a human personhood belong to another order of explanation than that explored by biology. Sartre, who is an existentialist, says that existence precedes essence. In other words, each person determines their own nature by the choices they make. Others would say that your choices determine your character but that’s separate from your nature. Postmodernism teaches that the self is only a social and linguistic construct. Some scientists have argued that humans do not have a soul, but that cannot be proved or disproved by the scientific method. If God is dead, humanity is dead. Human beings are more than the social groups in which they participate. Humans are animals, but not merely animals.

  • Lucifer brought sin into the world with his sin of pride. The sin of Adam and Eve was unbelief. Wesley describes  unbelief as the perversion of the relationship between God and humanity, a lack of faith in God, resulting in alienation. He distinguishes three types of death as physical death, spiritual death and eternal death. Satan was self-tempted when he sinned. Adam and Eve were tempted by something external to them, Satan.  Wesley sees Adam as a representative of all humans, so all humans inherit Adam’s sin nature. 

  • There are orders of creation and preservation, like family and marriage, that can mediate the grace of God. God sustains creation, and also relates to people as persons. The three-fold circle of divine providence is the outer ring of the whole race of humans, the second smaller circle is all that are called believers and those who profess to be believers, the innermost circle only the true disciples of Jesus who worship God in Spirit and in truth. Wesley doesn’t deny that bad things happen to good people, both from other people and from events in nature. If God eliminated all evil, it would require eliminating freedom, which would also eliminate love. 

  • Wesley describes total depravity as "a want of original righteousness," and also in terms of a "natural propensity to sin.” Luther, Calvin and George Croft Cell agree. Eastern Orthodox teaches that Adam and Eve were not so fallen as to be unable to respond to any subsequent proffered grace. Wesley teaches the total depravity of humans and the sovereign act of God in salvation. He uses prevenient grace in two distinct ways. The “narrow” sense refers to all those degrees of grace that come before justifying and sanctifying grace. The “broad” use views all grace as prevenient and emphasizes the prior activity of God because he is always ahead of us and takes the initiative. Prevenient grace can be understood as both cooperant and free grace. 

  • God acts preveniently to give humans revelation by communicating his divine attributes. God places in humans a moral law that is expressive of the image of God. The Holy Spirit restored to all humans a certain measure of free-will. Original sin makes it impossible for people to respond to God on their own without God restoring their personhood, which they need to be able to respond to God’s grace. God doesn’t do it in a way that overruns a person’s personality.

  • The incarnation is a foundational teaching of the Christian faith. Since Jesus claimed to be God, it’s not an option that he could be just a good person. Paul teaches that Jesus has the same nature as God and that Jesus created all things. Ebionites rejected the divinity and virgin birth of Jesus. Adoptionism taught that Christ was a good man that was penetrated by God’s nature at his baptism and becomes divine, which treats divinity as an acquired attribute. Arias taught that Christ was not coeternal with the Father. He was more than mere man but he was created so he wasn’t equal with God. The first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 affirms the divinity of Christ in response to the teaching of Arias. Wesley affirmed that Jesus existed as one person with both a human and divine nature. To affirm the essential equality of Christ with God the Father, Wesley often used the terms, “the only-begotten Son of God,” and “the Word of God.” The Son of God is the creator and sustainer of all things and the redeemer of humanity. The difference in the Godhead is relations, not nature. 

  • 1 John 4:2 describes the incarnation as Jesus coming to earth in the flesh. Jesus is also referred to as the Son of David in the Gospels. Jesus was able to become the mediator between God and humanity because his divinity meant that he was not a part of the problem of sin and his humanity meant that he could fully identify with humans. This is a unique and distinct role that can only be accomplished by Jesus, the God-human. Jesus suffered physically and emotionally and then died and was resurrected to new life. This qualifies him to be priest, a mediator between man and God. The title, Son of Man also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. Apolliniarism taught that Jesus had a human body and soul, but a divine mind rather than a human mind. Docetism taught that Christ is pure spirit and only seemed to have a body. Gnostics view the body as lowly and the mind is considered higher. Monophysitism taught that the divine and human nature of Jesus was mixed into one nature. Nestorianism teaches that the divine and human natures of Jesus were sharply separated. Wesley viewed Jesus as the expression of the God of holy love, maintaining divinity while becoming human.

  • As a prophet, Jesus proclaimed the coming kingdom of God. Messiah in Hebrew has the same meaning as Christ in Greek. It means, “the anointed one.” The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of his public ministry.  When Satan tempted Jesus, the temptation was real because of the humanity of Jesus. It was necessary for Jesus to experience temptation. Jesus as a preacher, went from place to place, proclaiming the kingdom of God. As a teacher, Jesus taught in the synagogues and the listeners described him as teaching with authority. Christ as a lawgiver is seeking to communicate wisdom to humanity. This moral law is connected to God’s character. Jesus performed miracles to heal the sick, bring people back from the dead and demonstrate his power over nature. Christ as priest, became the mediator to bridge the gap between God and humanity. At the cross, what the holiness of God required, the love of God provided. Theories of the atonement are the best attempts of thinking about how to express the atoning work of Jesus. 

  • Penal substitution asserts that atonement primarily involves Jesus’ taking the sinner’s place (‘substitution’) in bearing the penalty (hence ‘penal’) for his or her sin. That penalty was no less than God’s wrath and the sinner’s death. God’s wrath is his unswerving opposition to evil. The moral influence theory teaches that without the fall, that amazing instance of the love of God to humanity would have never existed. Penal substitution and moral influence theory complement each other. In the governmental view, the death of Christ illustrates the punishment which sin may attract and therefore serves good government by acting as a deterrent. Jesus raised from the dead into an immortal body. Only life can give meaning to human existence. Death destroys all meaning. The first time Christ came as a redeemer. As king, Christ is coming again to rule . Three roles of king are giving laws, restoring people to the image of God and reigning in all believing hearts.

  • The personhood of the Holy Spirit is revealed by the roles of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples that he would send an advocate. The Holy Spirit is an advocate, teacher, proclaims truth, provides direction and assists in prayer. Four characteristics of the Holy Spirit that indicate his deity are eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. The Filioque controversy is a difference between how the Eastern Orthodox and Western Traditions describe the nature of the Holy Spirit.

  • At the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and brings understanding as people read it. The Holy Spirit makes effective the completed work of Christ and gives us the power to live out the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is personal, not an impersonal force. The believers received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Christ ascended to heaven. The gifts of the Spirit are for the common good of building up the body of Christ. We should be cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives and his influence should be evident in how we interact corporately.

 John Wesley's beliefs understood from an historical and theological perspective

Dr. Ken Collins

Wesleyan Theology I


Providence of God

Lesson Transcript


All right. We have been considering the topic of natural law. We've been filling that out. And our larger topic, of course, has been God as creator and governor. But we also need to be thinking about God as the preserver of creation. And John Wesley actually thought about this to a significant degree. He wrote an important sermon on this topic entitled On Divine Providence. And let me quote a section from that sermon. And as this all wise, all gracious, being created, all things. So he sustains all things. He is the preserver as well as the creator of everything that exists. He upholders of all things, by the word of his power, that is by his powerful word. Now, it must be that he knows everything he has made and everything he preserves from moment to moment. Otherwise, he could not preserve it and he could not continue to it. The going which he has given it. And so here we see a quote from Wesley, and he is affirming the role of God as a preserver so that God not only creates, but that God preserves a creation that God has made. Again, quoting from this sermon on divine providence. Quote, How shall not the eye of God see everything through the whole extent of creation, especially considering that nothing is distant from Him, in whom we all live and move and have our being? Okay. And so we're going to see, at least in the work of Wesley's theology, an emphasis on God as a preserver of what has been made. I must say that it seems that other theological traditions, like Roman Catholicism, like the Reformed, have actually developed this area of theology far more extensively because of consideration of God as a as preserver usually leads to a discussion of orders of creation and preservation.


And indeed, there are a couple of reform scholars, Daniel TREUER and Walter Elwell, who filled this out quite nicely. They write, quote, Much of traditional theological social ethics has been shaped by appeals to orders of creation or spheres or mandates. I believe Bonhoeffer uses the word mandates, the orders of what are these orders? The orders of family and marriage, politics and the state work and economics and sometimes others have been understood not only by reference to biblical revelation, but also by common sense reason and natural law. And so what Trier and Elwell are suggesting is that there are orders of creation and preservation, such things, as we've mentioned in terms of family, marriage, etc.. And these are larger structures, aggregates that can mediate the grace of God, that can mediate the grace of God in some sense. One would think, for example, of marriage and family and the state and work as things that can check evil actually, and that prevent the human community from descending into chaos. And so it has a very valuable function, unfortunately, and it is unfortunate the larger Wesleyan tradition has not developed this area to the extent that other theological traditions have. And as you might imagine, especially in this area, we talk about common sense reason and natural law. There should be a natural flow from Wesley's theology into this arena. Although Wesley himself did not develop this particular focus to any great degree, nor have, I should say, contemporary contemporary Wesley and theologians. And so we need to do some more work in this area related to this issue of ongoing preservation. Ongoing preservation is the question, of course, of Providence. Of Providence. And one can think of a general providence, which some reformed might see in terms of the manifestations of common grace.


But then we think. Of also a particular provenance that God knows our name, knows who we are. So not just a general provenance in that the sun shines, the grass grows, the the rains come and all of that. That those are wonderful things, to be sure, and good examples of General Providence. However, Wesley wanted to also highlight the importance of a particular provenance that God knows our name. And so Wesley writes in this area, quote, And is the creator and the preserver of the world unconcerned for what he sees therein? Does he look upon these things either with a malignant or heedless eye? Is he an epicurean god? Does he see that he is in the heaven without regarding the poor inhabitants of the earth? It cannot be. He has made us not we ourselves. And he cannot despise the work of his own hands. Yay! God will not forget us. He is loving to every man and his mercy is over all his works. Wesley writes. Consequently, he continues, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon the earth. End of quote. So here Wesley quite strongly is articulating a particular provenance. And notice that this particular provenance does not simply embrace those in the church, but relates to all people. Again, referring to Wesley's language. Every creature upon the earth. However, having said that and you you've just heard the quote from Wesley, he does argue that there is an increasing care and intensity of care that emerges as we get closer and closer to belief in Christ. And so Wesley here is affirming a full bodied doctrine of particular providence, and it pertains to all people. However, he does have a focus and it gets more and more intense, greater and greater concern as one approaches belief in Christ.


And the way Wesley handles that. He he writes about a three fold circle of divine providence. And so there's an outer ring, a middle ring, and then a close ring. And in terms of the outermost circle, that would include the whole race of mankind, Wesley writes, All the descendants of Adam, all the human creatures that are dispersed over the face of the earth, this comprises not only the Christian world, those that name the name of Christ, but Wesley Wright's, the Muhammad twins, also who considerably outnumber even the nominal Christians. Yay! And the heathens, likewise, who very far outnumber the Muhammad twins and Christians put together. So there's this first outer ring. And so God is providentially concerned with humanity in this outer ring. But then there is an inner ring, a second level, the second smaller circle. And this will include all that are called Christians, all that profess to believe in Christ. We may reasonably think Wesley writes that these in some degree honor him at least more than the heathens do. And so God has a nearer concern for them. By many instances, it appears that the prince of this world, Wesley writes, has not so full power over these as over the heathens. And so Wesley is suggesting a greater providential care on God's part in terms of this second circle. But then there is an innermost circle and who are contained therein. And here we see a distinction between the second circle and the third circle. The second circle included nominal Christians, those who go by the name of Christian. However, in terms of the innermost circle that contains only the real Christians, real true, proper scriptural Christians, Wesley Will Right. Those who worship God not in form only, but who worship God also in spirit and in truth here in or comprised all that love God or at least truly fear God and work righteousness all in whom is the mind which was in Christ and who walked as Christ walked? The words of our Lord above recited, particularly refer to these Wesley rites.


It is to these in particular that he says even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Okay. And so we see here, Wesley, articulating a general providence, first of all, now a particular. Provenance understood in a three fold way of increasing intensity. And the critics in the 18th century of Wesley's theology here would argue for a general providence, but they would reject they would reject a particular providence. And so when Wesley continues this argument, he's going to push back and argue for the necessity of a particular providence. And so this is what he writes as this is a point of the utmost importance. We may consider it a little farther. What do you mean by a general providence? Contra distinguished from a particular. Do you mean a providence which superintended only the larger part of the universe? Suppose the sun, the moon and the stars. Does it not regard the earth to you? Allow. It does, but does it not? Likewise regard the inhabitants of it. Else. What does the dust, the earth, an inanimate lump of matter signify is not one spirit, one air of immortality. Wesley continues of more value than all the earth. Yay, though you add to it the sun, the moon, the stars, nay, the whole inanimate creation. And so you see here, Wesley responding to some of his critics. And he had critics on this topic who argued simply for a general prominence. They said particular problems does not exist. And Wesley is arguing in a contrary way. What becomes, then, of your general Providence? Wesley asks, exclusive of a particular let it be forever rejected by all rational men as absurd and self-contradictory nonsense. End of quote. Rather strong, rather strong words coming from Wesley. But there is something that's precious here.


There is a precious truth, especially to be enjoyed by the saints, by real Christians, those who walk in faith. And that comes out as Wesley continues this theme in his sermon on Divine Providence. And he writes this in a sort of concluding way. What is there either in heaven or in earth that can harm you while you are under the care of the creator and governor of heaven and earth, like all the earth and all hell combine against you? Yeah, the whole animate and inanimate creation they cannot harm while God is on your side. His favorable kindness covers you as a shield. Well, you read those words from Wesley and you see immediately what great comfort they can bring to the church. People who believe in Jesus Christ that all the though all the world be against us if God before us kind of thing. And so Wesley is appealing to this ongoing, loving, particular providential care of God, especially to the Saints, and that we are to take comfort in this. We are to take comfort in this. Now, of course, Wesley is not denying that bad things will happen to good people. He doesn't deny that in his theology. Sinners are free to do evil and God will not immediately stop them from the doing of evil. But here, when we're thinking of particular providence, we're thinking of the larger picture. In other words, we were talking the other day about Leslie Weatherhead distinguishing the intentional will, circumstance of will and ultimate will in terms of the larger providence of God. God's will for the Saints will not be defeated, which is what Wesley's arguing here, even though even though the Saints are not exempt for from suffering the evil done to them by sinful others, by sinful others.


And so, you know, this immediately raises the question for us, beyond a consideration of Providence, a question of the Odyssey, a question of, you know, given the providence of God, there is yet evil in the world, how are we to understand that? How are we to bring these two together? And Wesley did reflect on this, as did subsequent Wesleyan theologians as well. Well, when we think of the problem of evil, it's helpful immediately to make a distinction between natural evil. On the one hand, you know, the evil of earthquakes and floods and fires and avalanches and tornadoes and hurricanes and volcanoes and whatnot, and then to make a distinction of moral evil, the kind of evil that human beings do to one another. You know, as as having the freedom to do evil, to do evil one to another. I know when I reflect upon natural evil and I you know, I look at some news reports every now and then and I see people who live on the Gulf Coast or who live in Charleston. And, you know, the hurricane comes through and, you know, they're cursing God. And I say to myself, I don't understand this. It makes no sense, because you surely must realize that if you live on the Gulf Coast or if you live in Charleston, South Carolina, that, you know, hurricane. Names do come through from time to time. You should know this before you buy your house. And so when the hurricane comes through, don't curse God. Don't curse God. Or the same way. If you live in California and you live on the San Andreas Fault and the big one comes and your house goes under, don't curse God. This is nature. And this is in accordance with the laws of nature.


And you as rational beings should know these things. And so I'm not, you know, saying that natural evil is not perplexing because it is it is perplexing. But I think it is less perplexing than some imagined because there's a kind of regularity in terms of nature. We have to take it into account. It's fattest city. We have to take it into account as we live our lives. Morally evil, of course, is far more troubling and perhaps constitutes the most evil that is done in the world. And I'm always disappointed when I hear God blames for the evil that human beings do one to another. You know, God being blamed, for example, for the Holocaust. God didn't do the Holocaust. Very evil people, you know, Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler did. You know, we can trace that. That's human beings who have free will to do evil, and they do evil to others. And so there are many examples of moral evil that we could lift up war and murder and theft and adultery and evil speaking and slander and libel and sexual abuse, all of this. And you're familiar with this language and it's sad. And this is humanity gone wrong. This is humanity rejecting the ways of God, rejecting holy love and treating other human beings in ways that God never willed, that God never willed for these things to happen. And so it is committed by people who have done otherwise. They're doing otherwise. Then then the will of God. And this is, of course, a serious consideration. Now, Wesley, when he thinks about moral evil, and he did think about it at great length, much more so than natural evil, although he did reckon with natural evil because there was a great earthquake in the 18th century in Lisbon, and lots of people in Europe were writing about it.


You know, how could a good and gracious God, you know, allow the destruction of all these people through this great earthquake that took place in Lisbon? And so, you know, both John and Charles thought through that, and I think Whitfield thought through it as well. If I if memory serves me well here. But in terms of moral evil, this is something that Wesley thought about at great length. And he's going to underscore grace, given liberty that human beings have, that context of liberty is going to be necessary, because this is a theology of holy love, and human beings are going to have to be free in some sense in order to participate in the goals that God is aiming at in creation. And that is the love of God to be enjoyed. And so Wesley writes this, quote, Only he that can do all things else cannot deny himself, God cannot contradict himself or oppose his own work. Were it not for this, he would destroy all sin with its attendant pain. In the moment he would abolish wickedness out of his whole creation and suffer no trace of it to remain. But if God did that, Wesley's reasoning here in so doing, he would counteract himself. He would altogether over turn his own work and undo all that he has been doing since he created Man upon the Earth. Wesley Right. For he created man in his own image, a spirit like himself. A spirit endowed with understanding well and liberty, and with various affections without which Without which. Wesley writes, Neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use. Neither would he have been capable, either of vice or virtue. And so, yes, Wesley sees the problem of the evil that human beings do one to another.


But he's affirming that. God will not intervene. God will not stop the evil. God will not eliminate human freedom. Make the evil do incapable of doing evil. Because if God were to do that, God would destroy the larger goal and purpose at which He's aiming. Which is Holy love, which is Holy love. Again, listen to Wesley here. Quote, Were human liberty taken away? Men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, with reverence, be it spoken. The Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself, Wesley reasons or undo what he has done. He cannot destroy out of the soul of man that image of himself wherein he made him. And without doing this, he cannot abolish sin and pain out of the world. And so, you know, some people were surely saying in the 18th century, as they say today, why can't God, you know, God the almighty, eliminate all evil, eliminate all moral evil? Well, think it through. Even C.S. Lewis in the 20th century thought this through and came up with a very similar answer that John Wesley came up with in the 18th century. C.S. Lewis stressed that if you eliminate freedom, then you eliminate love and you eliminate the very larger things that God is, God is aiming at. And so we have a complicated situation. On the one hand, Wesley is articulating not simply a general providence of God. There is general providence which all people enjoy. But beyond that, he's articulating a particular providence that those who have faith in Jesus Christ are cared for in a special way. God knows our names. God is intending our purpose to be worked out in our lives. So we have that one piece of the puzzle, so to speak.


But then we also have the full recognition, precisely because of the kinds of beings we are created in the Imago day with understanding will and liberty that human beings are able to do evil one to another. And good and bad things do happen to good people, and bad things do happen to the saints. And so you have to hold these both together simultaneously. And then you have a good understanding of Wesley's view, which I think is realistic. I think is realistic. Okay. Let me stop there and take a few questions that you might have in terms of this segment. A couple of questions. Going back to the issue of the three circles of Providence. Yes. I was trying to think of some specific examples. So on the outer circle, you have God causing the rain to fall on the Justin the unjust. I'm assuming that's the circle that would belong in the inner circle is pretty easy. It's God's providential care for his children. Nominal Christians, the middle circle. You believe the inner, inner. The inner circle. I'm sorry. Yes, sir. I'm trying to. Yeah. Okay. So it's the. It's the that middle circle. The one between one of the three that I was trying to give you an example of. Is this kind of where God exerts providential control, drawing people to himself of of giving them the, the, the ability to receive the message, the gospel. Or is it is that more general than that? Yeah. Wesley says two things, actually, in the material that that I quoted in terms of this this middle or this second rung that you're talking about. He does affirm that that God, even in terms of the nominal Christians, because that's who we're talking about. He has a near a concern for them.


But how does he express it in the next very next line? He says. He writes something interesting. It appears that the prince of this world evil has not so full power over these as over the heathens. And so it seems that this middle rung, if you will, they have received a measure of grace. They have received privilege and grace and perhaps also even convincing grace. They are convinced of their sins. They're not yet the children of God because they have not yet experienced or realized the justifying and regenerating graces. But they're on the way, so to speak. They may be in churches they may be seeking, but they are still under the guilt in power of sin. But God has a more special care for them. And the way I would understand that in light of what Wesley's writing here, is that they are on the way. They are getting closer and closer to what the will of God desires for them. And because they are moving closer to that, God has an increasing care in terms of them, because in a real sense, they are on the path of redemption. They are not redeemed, properly speaking, because they're not yet justified and born of God. They have the faith of a servant, not the faith of a child. So they have a measure of grace, a measure of faith, and they're on the way. So it makes sense that there would be a more particular care for them and they could be open to receiving, you know, justifying and regenerating graces in the way that the outer circle is not open to it. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So I was thinking about the verse I used from John, that these are the middle circle, the nominal Christians.


Yes. Is is it, is God drawing people to himself? But they have not yet come to him, so they don't look okay. Well, the question was on the theodicy. Yeah. I don't. I'm not aware of a lot of people. Blaming God for doing moral evil. The blade. I've read it. I've read it often. So they would say God caused the Holocaust. That that. How can a Holocaust? Here's how they frame it. How can the Holocaust exist in a world established by God, a God who is good and all powerful? Okay, how could God allow such things? How can God create a world in which a holocaust occurs? I've read that often. Yeah, I can see that. Yeah, it is. Is the allow was was the issue that most of my discussions with people are. How can got allow the Holocaust how can he allow a young child to die of a brain tumor this kind of stuff. Not that God causes a brain tumor, but he allows it to exist. I'm assuming in the Wesleyan framework the answer, and correct me or not, please, in the Wesleyan framework. It's God allows. Sometimes he steps in and he stops evil from happening. Sometimes he allows evil. But that's all part and parcel of what is required for holy Love. That you have to give the the people the freedom to sin, to receive, to be obedient if we're truly going to have holy loves. Is that how Wesley would handle? How does God allow evil or what he does he go a different direction? No, that that's very much at the heart of Wesley's response. In other words, he recognizes the seriousness of moral evil. And there were those even in the 18th century, who raised the question, Why doesn't God stop it? Why doesn't God prevent human beings from doing evil one to another? And Wesley thought that through what would be what would be required and what would be the consequence of such an action of God.


And the consequences are basically undermine what God is aiming at, which is holy love, which is going to require human beings in some sense, in some sense free, free to receive the gifts that God will give them. Yeah. When you talk about preservation. Yes. Does that mean that there is a role that individual believers and church communities should have in the culture? As part of the role of bringing God's holy love into cultural situations. Yes. My short answer is yes. I want to fill this out a bit. Just start with this, just for an example to talk about, you know, orders of preservation in terms of family, school, church, civil order, government governance of government over here. Okay. That these are a blessing for humanity. These are a blessing for humanity. In other words, the structure of the family is going to be like the signet that holds the jewel in place when we think of a diamond. That there are precious relationships between husband and wife and children, parent and child, and the institution of marriage, if you will, helps to hold those relationships in place. If you undermine the family, which there are strong cultural currents today that are undermining the family. You move into chaos, the evil of chaos. And in the same way with schooling, you know, you have children who are not yet formed, who lack experience, who lack good judgment. And schooling is going to be an order of preservation in that they will be guided, they will be given knowledge, they will be instructed, and their judgment will be able to be formed. Without that, again, you're moving into a kind of chaotic life for the child. And then the same way in terms of church and then civil order, civil order, you know, you think of the political use of the law.


We were talking about the moral law before. What does that do? It checks evil. It checks evil and it checks evil even in terms of people who care nothing about the church. And so you think of the laws that were on the books. We talked about human law before in terms of Aquinas. I mean, that's that's an order of preservation. In other words, human beings can't just act any way they want to with respect to other human beings. We're going to put limits on that. We're going to put checks on it and punishments if these things are violated. All these things are helpful or helpful in order that human communities can thrive and flourish, and that the individuals, the persons who are a part of these communities can thrive and flourish. Now to your question. Yes, I think the Christian community has to be involved at this level. I know in Western societies we've seen the undermining of the family in all sorts of ways. We've seen schools are basically taken over by the government. Certainly in this country they really are public schools, are government schools, and they immediately come in with a script of censorship. In other words, they say, oh, separation of church and state. This is a government school. You can only talk about certain things in the classroom. You can't talk about God. You can't talk about this. So they immediately come in with censorship. So that's a problem. And Christians need to critique that and criticize that, because that's not education. Censorship is not education. A classroom should be a free and open environment where there is mutual dialog and dialogical correction. And we don't need the censors coming in and telling us what we can and cannot say, because I think it is very damaging to young people's minds to be in an environment that has been sanitized of of of God and of the things of God.


It presents a distorted picture ongoing, less so, and therefore needs to be challenged. The church needs to be involved in this effort. How? Why so to it? Because it's an expression of the love of our neighbor. Because great harm is being done in the schools today. And then also the church. We have to be prophetic in terms of this as well. We have to engage in critical thinking, because what's happening in the church, the church, just as school and family has been undermined, the church is being undermined as well. It's being undermined because some in the church are pretending that a narrative that actually arose in the broader culture and I'm thinking once again of identity politics, for example, that's being brought into the church and it's being called the gospel, okay? It's not. And we need prophets in the church who can speak up, identify this and get back to our story. What's our story? It's the gospel. It's the greatest story that has ever been told or that could ever be told. There's not a greater story. And so accept no substitutes. And I see when I look out on the American environment right now, I see many churches being undermined. They're being co-opted by the culture. They're being co-opted by North American culture, and they have forsaken their first love. So therefore, you know, we in the church have to address that as well. So not only in terms of family and school and church, but also in terms of the civil order as well. We need to be involved at that level. Yeah. So I think once again. Hugh Best. Very good question.