Divine action and the Eyes of Faith

There’s a running theme in the New Testament – that to perceive God or God’s action one must have the eyes of faith – that is, unless one by God’s grace has faith God’s action cannot be seen, at least as divine action.

To take a Barthian line: God’s revelation of Himself can only be seen by faith (no natural theology). In a sense God is hidden, even in His revelation – because His revelation isn’t something that becomes ‘available’ for us to see and study and analyze apart from faith. Even in God’s self-revelation in history in the person of Jesus Christ God is hidden except to those with grace-healed eyes. Revelation is not generally available as one more thing in the world – the same with God’s actions in history and in the world.

Barth, for those unaware, pretty much negated natural theology and the analogis entis, which is what makes a conception of natural theology possible. His famous reply to Brunner of ‘NO!’, sums up his position on natural theology. Nutshell: no natural theology because we cannot perceive God without faith – i.e. we cannot arrive at God from nature or reason alone.

However, I think that a position like, say, Aquinas’s is less offensive to Barth than would suppose:

‘Providence works at the level of what Aquinas would call primary causality: that is, it is so transcendent of the operation of secondary causes- which is to say, finite and contingent causes immanent to the real of created things – that it can at once create freedom and also assure tat no consequence of the misuse of that freedom will prevent him from accomplishing the good he intends in all things.’ (David Bentley Hart, ‘The Doors of the Sea’)

Barth, however, rejected the underlying metaphysics that led to conceiving of God in terms of causality – classical metaphysics. Classical metaphysics was one of the things Barth hated, because he thought it led to a picture of God that while philosophically consistent was not biblically accurate. While I don’t think that metaphysics as a whole needs to be thrown out, I do think that Barth was quite right in his ideas on revelation and divine action in the world. I don’t deny natural theology, so long as it’s properly qualified. T.F. Torrance really expounded the status of natural theology, which I’ll focus on next post.

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