An Analogy for God's Providence

Continuing the discussion from Rana on Covid and mRNA vaccines:

Here’s an analogy which may be helpful. Note that I present this analogy not to argue to you that it is true, but merely to try to impart an approximation of how Christians and many other religious people understand “how things are”. I just want to explain a vague idea of what we mean when we refer to God’s providence, even if that belief seems irrational.

Again, this is a thought experiment. As much as possible, I’m going to ignore any replies of “where is the evidence for this” or “this is unfalsifiable”. That would miss the point.

God sustains, powers, and runs the universe. If this universe is “the Matrix”, then God, the Creator, provides the power to uphold the simulation and sets the rules for how things work in it, including occasional interventions if needed.

Now let’s posit that the Creator doesn’t just run the Matrix for fun. He wants it to evolve towards a particular state of things. He sets certain limits and bounds on how it can evolve (e.g. gravity exists with a certain strength, biological evolution occurs according to certain principles, etc.). These are called the “rules” of the simulation. He can also intervene and momentarily suspend the regular rules if he wants.

Continuing this analogy, we humans are agents who are both part of the simulation and living in the world of the simulation. We have been given powers to be able to investigate and figure out some rules of the simulation, and take advantage of them for our own benefit. This is what we call “science”. However, because of our limited abilities, we do not know all the rules. Even if we can figure out most of the rules, we can’t predict when or if the Creator is going to suspend them. It might even be the case that once we figure out what the Creator is likely to do, he might change his mind, just to teach us not to do that. The point is that the Creator has both

  1. A much, much greater mind and imagination than any number of human beings
  2. A “God’s-eye view” of the situation where he is aware of all of the rules and all possible consequences of any hypothetical event occurring in the universe.

Therefore, we humans also cannot completely and accurately predict the final state of the universe. Given the rules that we already know, we can make some predictions. But these rules are merely a small subset of all the rules, and furthermore, the Creator might suddenly suspend the rules. For example, it could be that for t<20 the set of rules is S, but then at t =20 God suddenly changes S in a major way to S'. This makes any human prediction made during t<20 about the state of the universe at t> 20 (assuming S) grossly inaccurate.

Now, it is also the case that the Creator has dropped a message M in the universe about a certain coming cataclysmic event which will happen at a certain t=T. The message is not very informative, but what it says can be summarized into the following:

  1. Starting at t = T, the rules of the simulation will be changed from what they are now, S, to S', something very different.
  2. This will result in perfect bliss for humans who believe that 1) is going to happen and adjust their current lives according to a certain set of regulations R.
  3. The exact time T is not going to be revealed, but it is “close”. Any attempts to predict T will necessarily fail.
  4. Meanwhile, those who believe in this message and practice R will also receive some in-simulation benefits B even before t = T happens. While the full nature and extent of these benefits are unknown, one of them is a special link with the Creator himself, a glimpse of the bliss to come at t = T.

There is some evidence within the world of the simulation that the message M is genuine, true, and actually coming from the Creator. However, this evidence isn’t very conclusive, nor convincing to everyone. Furthermore, even those who believe in M can’t explain what exactly is the difference between S and S'. Nor can they exhaustively prove that B is real - their claimed “special link” to the Creator may turn out to be an illusion. As a result, many reject M and make fun of those who accept it. There is also much debate about what R is, as well people who endorse M' - a very different version of M.

Nevertheless, these believers both believe that M is true and that B really happens in their lives. They attribute special events and fortuitous coincidences happening in the world as part of B, because these things seem to lead them closer towards that aforementioned “perfect bliss”. These acts of attribution lead them to greater zeal in practicing R, further confirmation that M is true, and an impetus to persuade others of M. They call this signs of the “providence” of the Creator in preparing and moving the universe into the event at t = T.

However, because believers are still human, knowing neither the “full set of rules” nor the Creator’s future interventions, they also do not know exactly how “providence” works. Providence may consist of “special interventions” where the Creator suspends the rules of the simulations or it could be baked into the rules themselves. Or it could be both. The point is, “providence” is a personal expression of trust and belief that the message M is true, the Creator is working behind the scenes to make the great event at t = T happen, and that some events in the simulation seem to be especially indicative of M.


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There would be various ideas about how God’s providence could work in conjunction with free will. One interesting theory is Molinism

Molinists believe that God has knowledge not only of necessary truths and contingent truths, but also of counterfactuals. (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is often referred to as his middle knowledge , although technically that term is more broad than simply the knowledge of counterfactuals.) A counterfactual is a statement of the form “if it were the case that P, it would be the case that Q”. An example would be, “If Bob were in Tahiti he would freely choose to go swimming instead of sunbathing.” The Molinist claims that even if Bob is never in Tahiti, God can still know whether Bob would go swimming or sunbathing. The Molinist believes that God, using his middle knowledge and foreknowledge, surveyed all possible worlds and then actualized a particular one. God’s middle knowledge of counterfactuals would play an integral part in this “choosing” of a particular world.

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I don’t see how that’s compatible with free will, if God is the one making the choices. Also, what does “actualized” mean to a Molinist?

I do not profess to be an expert in Molinism. As I understand it, God knows what your choices would be in any situation, so God can set up the circumstances in your life to lead you to the final outcome God plans. So you are acting constantly using your free will, but God’s plan always works out in end.


That’s troubling in many ways. First, under that scenario your free will is futile, as you are manipulated into doing whatever God wants. Also, your free will is causal, since it’s determined solely by circumstance. Finally, it seems that God’s plan entails that most people end up going to hell, which doesn’t seem much like a loving deity.

And it still fails to explain what “actualized” means.

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It’s rather the opposite. God will not force anyone to go to heaven to be with Him who does not want to be with God.

But you said that everything is in accord with God’s plan and that he manipulates the environment to result in people making the choices he wants. Therefore he’s the one causing people not to want to be with him. You can’t avoid the necessary implications of your words.

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I would point out that there’s a substantial difference between not believing that God exists (or alternately believing that Allah or some other deity is the supreme or sole god), and not wanting to be with Him in heaven.

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That’s not what I said at all. God is letting people make their own choices. God knows who would want to spend eternity with Him and who would not. Based on that knowledge of what we would each decide, God works out the circumstances in the lives of those who would want to spend eternity with God such that they would start to grow to know Him in this current life

You may not think so, I’ll grant. But mixing free will with omniscience leads inevitably to contradiction. You said:

What did you mean by that? Do most people in fact choose eternal torment, and God is powerless to change their minds?

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To be clear, there are many different ways that people think about these things, I am only highlighting a couple that I have seen. None of us are God so we do not really know how it all fits together, but those of us who are Christian know that somehow God is both fully sovereign and that people also have free will. That certainly seems like a paradox, which we admit, but it is what we believe to be true based on what the Bible teaches and we are okay living with some mystery about how it all works, because we know that we are not smart enough to understand how God does everything.

I’m not smart enough to fully understand how evolution works either, but I believe the theory to be true based on the science that points to evolution

I personally do not know what hell would be like, but I do not think that it is fire and torment as portrayed in art. However, it would be eternal separation from God. With all of the problems in our current world, you could imagine that eternal life even here would be less desirable than eternal life in a heaven with a loving God and where people no longer sin. Those who choose heaven have thereby self-selected themselves to be those who desire to only do what is consistent without God’s good and perfect will. There would be no more selfish desires fulfilled that lead to harm, only good desires that fit with God’s perfect goodness and love

Then wouldn’t it be more efficient (and kinder to those who aren’t going to go to heaven) to simply create only those who will go to heaven?

Also, I find this explanation as less than credible, given the suspicious correlation between those who are born in Muslim, Hindu, Buddist, etc majority countries and those who don’t end up accepting God, and thus (it would seem by your logic) “[do] not want to be with God” in heaven.

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If God did that then we’d all be in heaven already. Clearly, we are not already in heaven, because there are so many things wrong with our current world. At least this way we will be able to appreciate the difference between what it is like to live fully according to God’s will (in heaven), versus what it is like to live when we are usually selfish (in our current life), so we’ll appreciate heaven more when we get there.

A few thoughts: many people born into those countries do become Christian in this life. For those who have never heard the gospel, there are many ways in which God would still allow them to choose Him without knowing about Jesus, per se. If someone were worshipful and desired to live in God’s will, for example, God would honor that. I also think that God could allow people a final choice as they are dying or immediately after death.

In the end, God does desire for everyone to go to heaven, but He also does not want to force anyone to join Him there against their will.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is
patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

9 posts were split to a new topic: Christians Don’t Like to Think?

Yes, so why aren’t we? It would seem to be a more omnibenevolent and more efficient way of working it out. And if God wanted us to have those memories, He could create us with them, on heaven’s doorstep. No need for anybody to go to hell because nobody who was destined for hell need exist.

But many many more do not. I was talking correlation, not certainty.

Is there any basis for this in the Bible? “No one comes to the Father except through me” would seem to be fairly unequivocal.

So why create those he knows will not make that choice?


I’m very much a Molinist and I think your posts provide a good start in introducing a very complex topic. Perhaps I can help elaborate on a few points—although not every Molinist would necessarily favor all of my descriptions:

I would agree but I tend to approach it from a “big picture” point of view: Based on his knowledge of all situations and choices which humans face, God has chosen one particular “reality-path” out of all possible reality-paths for his creation and all that is within it. [Reality-path is my own term. There are no doubt better alternatives in the technical literature but I think reality-path may be meaningful and helpful to the average person who hasn’t studied contrafactuals in theology or philosophy.] Based on what the Bible describes of God’s attributes (and describes in lesser detail his plans for the universe), we can assume that the particular reality-path God has chosen is in greatest possible conformity to his will. A Molinist assumes that that plan of God appropriately “maximizes” the outcomes of love, justice, and the glory to God—and various other things which humans may well be unaware. I am too finite to weigh and evaluate all of those things but Molinists as well as Christ-followers in general are confident that God is perfect and holy while weighing and evaluating ultimate outcomes.

Another way to describe it is that in the process of seeing to the fulfillment of his ultimate will in his creation, God is also setting up the circumstances in the lives of the elect so that Christ is glorified in them. We are all one “component” in that overall ultimate plan.

As to those who deny that God’s omniscience and chosen reality-path conflicts and contradicts human free will, Molinists generally agree that divine sovereignty and free will are in harmony—despite the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate which historically has tended to push many people to embrace one doctrine while denying the other. (For example, some hyper-Calvinists in essence deny that free-will is anything more than an illusion.)

Parents sometimes find themselves in an analogous role where they know in advance what a child will choose to do—and yet that does NOT mean that a parent is necessarily imposing his/her will on the child and making their choice for them. For example, a parent can know that a misbehaving toddler is going to steal a cookie from the bowl if he thinks nobody is watching—but that doesn’t mean that the child has no free will to make that choice. (And if finite parents can know what their child is prone to do, how much does God know how his creation and creatures operate.) Even if the parent deliberately choses to place the bowl in a particular place where it will be noticed by the child, that does not negate the child’s free will nor absolve him or her of guilt if told not to steal a cookie from the bowl.

In discussions of Molinism I also tend to emphasize that time itself is an attribute of the created universe and NOT something within which God as creator is confined. Thus, although we have little choice but to think of the reality-path of the universe as a unrelenting march forward on a timeline—experienced second-by-second along the way—God is omnipresent in time just as he is omnipresent in space. That is, at this human-experienced single moment of time, God is observing this and every other moment of time which has and will ever exist. They are all just as real as our “this moment.” We don’t have adequate human language for this in terms of God’s perspective (and have no reason to because we are finite) so all of our descriptions have serious limitations. Even so, we might express it as “God simultaneously, continually, and inevitably observes all moments of the entire span of time.” So all past, present, and future events are equally real to God and he has no need to “wait” for them to happen. He is not a time-bound creature. Obviously, this has major implications for Molinism because what humans may distinguish in the subjunctive and indicative verbal moods, God ONLY knows in the indicative mood (and the imperative!)

I embrace Molinism in part because I was for years frustrated by the tensions and internal contradictions and scripture-cherry-picking of both Calvinists and Arminians.


But why aren’t you frustrated by the same thing inherent in Molinism?

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Its true that the child is guilty if it steals the cookie, but the parent is complicit too for intentionally making that possible. We can imagine our hypothetical child is enamored by his parent’s pistol and the parent knows that if left alone, the child will pick it up to satisfy it’s curiosity. If the parent eventually leaves the child alone, and as expected, the child picks up the pistol and hurts himself, certainly the parent will be partly to blame for the child’s accident.

He could do all this, but couldn’t stop Adam and Eve. Was the fall of Adam and Eve his “particular reality-path” with the “greatest possible conformity to his will.”?

Same reason I am agnostic. Just replace “Molinism” with “Agnosticism” and “of both Calvinists and Arminians” with “among Christian denominations”


Probably, but it would have kept them safe. Imagine you left a live wire exposed in your living room and you sternly warned your toddler to avoid it, telling him about the danger of death via electrocution. You leave the child alone in the living room, and go to the camera room to see what action your child would take. Let’s say your toddler approaches the exposed live wire, reaching out to grab hold of it, will you sit there and let your child experience the consequence of disobeying you or you quickly dash to the living room to save your toddler from impending death?

If he knew this, then what was the point of creating everything good. You make God seem like a psychopath. That’s terrible parenthood.

That was a crappy solution since it would not benefit all of mankind (although it could). The best solutions would have been not to place the tree of good and evil in the garden (at least early on in their lives) or punish Adam and Eve but spare their descendants.