God's Providence and Human Will in Genesis

As I was doing some reading for my class on the Pentateuch, I came across this from Robert L. Cohn (not the Hemingway character, the Jewish studies scholar):

Put simply, Genesis depicts the evolution of the divine-human relationship from the never-never land of Eden to the real world of exile. In the last narrative God is present in the same manner in which he is most often present in the final authors world, not hurling floods, inducing conception in geriatrics, or communicating directly in dreams, but rather present silently within the events and so acclaimed by believers. But also, human character has developed almost analogously to biological development. At first like infants, the primeval figures need to be watched closely, slapped down immediately. Then, like a growing child, Abraham is led and guided with the vision of the future always before him. Jacob, like a man who has reached maturity, takes charge of his life and responsibility for his actions. Finally Joseph, like a person wise in years, acts determinedly, with faith in God, and thereby preserves his family.

In the view of Genesis, then, the operating relationship between God and humankind did not emerge full-blown. God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants to be the progenitors of the chosen people gave the human drama protagonists who gradually exercise greater human freedom in consonance with the divine will. The rebellious abuse of freedom in Eden gives way to the faith of Abraham, the boldness of Jacob, and the wisdom of Joseph. In scene, the divine director retreats from the stage permitting his actors to shape their own world. Finally, equilibrium is achieved as Joseph and his brothers, acting on their own initiative, unwittingly and ironically become the agents of providence.

There is something about this that I like.

It shows a God who has a Plan but not a Script. He is able to enter the Story as it is unfolding, correcting the characters, leading the characters, working against them at times, working through them at other times

It shows God as a good parent…which makes me wonder if seeing God’s interactions with humans in the context of parent-child relations may help us get out of the “doctrinal boxes” of “Calvinism” and “Arminianism”— or at least the caricatures of those views, which paint God either as puppet-master or passive bystander, respectively. 

Even as ones who have Christ—the full revelation of God—and the Holy Spirit– the empowering presence of God with us—we are still living, in a sense, in exile. So it is comforting to note that God is at work, even when we cannot see Him, to bring about His purposes through His people as they learn to make wise choices.

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Glenn Packiam
Glenn Packiam is one of the associate senior pastors at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church. Glenn earned a Doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Durham University in the UK. He also holds BA in Theological/Historical Studies and Masters in Management from Oral Roberts University, and a Graduate Certificate in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Glenn and his wife, Holly, have four children.