IN THE PRE-MODERN WORLD most people assumed that things were influenced or governed by beings outside of themselves. That could be angels, demons, gods or God. And so placating or trusting in that being became an important part of life. For Christians, as an example, it was important not to sin or you would be disciplined by God. It was important to pray because God might well intervene in response.
The people we live and work with in the modern world, however, do not see the world as a structured cosmos governed by beings (or God) but as a universe governed by natural law. What becomes increasingly distasteful in the modern world is the notion of God’s agency. The idea that God intervenes in history strikes people as naïve or gullible. He might be the original architect but he is not the author of myriad particular acts and interventions.
Unfortunately, Christians swim in this water and often evidence it in the way they practice faith. Deism is the religious expression of modernity. This is the theory that God, having designed and created the world, wound it up like a clock to run on its own. He does not intervene in its daily operation, rather, it is governed by impersonal laws. Many Christians do not expect that personal sins or the practice of holiness will receive any real response from God. The Bible, they feel, can give us some good guidelines but life is what you make of it. Prayer might have therapeutic value but the need of prayer for God’s intervention is not really believed. They’ve lost the wonder of God being in their every moment.
What the Bible presents, however, is that God is very active in the world working “out everything in accordance with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Even the crime of Christ’s crucifixion, for example, was determined by God (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). In fact, not even a bird can fall to the ground outside God’s care” (Matthew 10:29). Right minded Christians still believe that we “live, move and have our being in God” (Acts 17:28). They pray as if everything depends on him. And they live as if God is always interacting with them in their lives. This brings a sense of wonder and hope to all of life. With God, anything can happen and everything is going to be okay in the end.