Divine Intervention or Collaboration?

“We can’t do it without God, and God won’t do it without us.” John Dominic Crossan

Divine Intervention According to Humans 

 In her book, A Case for God, Karen Armstrong claims that “The desire to cultivate a sense of the transcendent may be the defining human characteristic.” Humans quickly discovered that they were not able to control the world around them. Thunder, lightning, gusts of wind, torrential rain, floods, disease and much more seemed like some power was in control and was angry  for something that humans, did or didn’t do.

From ancient Israel:When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Ex 20:18-19

From ancient Greece:The Erysichthon myth was known for the disrespect for the gods, as it was mentioned by Callimachus in one of his hymns that was later published by Ovidius. It is said that one day Erysichthon and some of his slaves went to a grove dedicated to the goddess Demeter to cut down all trees for the construction of a palace. Despite the persuasion of the goddess herself, the mortal did not agree and caused her wrath. His punishment was unbearable hunger, which was only satisfied when he devoured his own body.

Ever since anthropologists and historians began uncovering human activity, culture, and societies, they discovered that humans believed in a world controlled by a greater power. Each culture, society, or empire worshiped numerous gods who, while performing similar functions, were given different names. List of Gods and Goddesses From Antiquity

Some time after 12th century BCE, the Israelites and their culture branched out of the Canaanite peoples and their cultures through the development of a distinct monolatristic (many gods with one deity above all)—and later monotheistic—religion centered on the national god Yahweh.  By the 6th century BC, the five books of the Pentateuch, the first five books of what we call the bible, were written with  the first book being Genesis in which  they coveted a belief  that their god, Yahweh,  was above all other gods because Yahweh created the world.

      “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;” fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Gen 1:27-28

Divine and Human  Freedom and Responsibility 

Since humans believed that they were created in the image and likeness of the Creator, it only stood to reason that God had  human-like qualities but resided somewhere beyond this world.

Since they understood  that they also had responsibilities and the freedom to make choices, which no other creature had, they believed that God also had a responsibility to protect and take care of them. 

Psalm 47 proclaims that  “He (God) subdued nations under us and brought people under our feet.” 

Psalm 37, “The Lord looks after the lives of the upright, and their heritage will last forever.

They  also blamed God for their troubles: 

Psalm 74 “Why, O God have you cast us off forever? Why does your anger blaze forth against the sheep of your pasture? 

Psalm 106”Then The anger of the Lord flared up against his people… their enemies oppressed them.”

Nonetheless, humans were responsible for their own behavior. Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.”  St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4, 4, 3: PG 7/1, 983.

Humans were free to do as they wished but so was God.“When, in the beginning, the Lord created human beings, he left them free to do as they wished.You have a choice between life and death; you will get whichever you choose.” SIr 15:14

Free-will gave humans an advantage over the other creatures of the earth, but it came with a liability: That liability was and still is how to determine what is good and what is not good. That requires  “knowledge” that only the gods or Yahweh could  disclose to them. The other creatures came with “instinct” which freed them from the responsibility of making choices. 

Given our history as humans on this planet, we could say that it wasn’t a good idea to give humans the freedom of choice. Hence the need for an intervention, like handing Moses the ten commandments. “Moses summoned all Israel and said:Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I  declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.”  Deuteronomy 5:1-2

Yet, we might ask, are we really free to choose? Aren’t we driven to procreate, isn’t that an “instinct”.  What about the attraction to one sex or another?  What about the impulse to acquire power, fame, and fortune? 

We could say that we’re like a Dr.Jeckel and Mr. Hyde.

Most medical and biological scientists claim that  hormones, which are regulatory substances produced in an organism, are transported in tissue fluids such as blood, stimulate specific cells or tissues into action without our knowledge or choice.

Scientists report that brain chemicals  “called neurotransmitters and hormones help your brain understand, evaluate and communicate what you’re experiencing. These various neurotransmitters and hormones have specific jobs — each being activated in a certain way, signaling certain emotions and stimulating certain areas of your brain that control our actions like ”fight or flight.” For more detailed information go to: Brain Chemistry & Your Mood: 4 Hormones That Promote Happiness | Houston Methodist On Health and  Dopamine vs. serotonin: Similarities, differences, and relationship

The strange bedfellows of freedom, (free will) and instinct (hormones and chemicals) are often the subject of many a conversation.

For instance, John Milton, the devil in the movie, The Devil’s Advocate, says, “Well, I tell ya, let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, “free will” and then what does He do? I swear, for His own amusement, His own private cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow. Aha ha ha. And while you’re jumpin’ from one foot to the next, what is He doin’? He’s laughin’ His sick, f*ckin’ *ss off. He’s a tight-*ss. He’s a sadist. He’s an absentee landlord.”

Human and Divine Choices

The Catholic Church, like many other Christian denominations, is very proficient at telling us, on God’s behalf, which choices are good and which are not! On top of that they put the fear of God in us (Satan and Hell) which leads many offenders to experience fear, guilt, shame, and the need to beg for mercy. 

Worshiping Catholics cry out “Lord have mercy” three times before forgiveness is assured by the priest.

I have always wondered why God would “choose” to create a creature with “free will”, knowing (God is Omniscient) that the creature would possibly be subject to certain strong temptations to do what is “wrong”. God, knowing that, still gave humans a huge responsibility!  “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  An intervention like this can be rather risky!

Did God ever think that we would wreak havoc upon this once pristine planet and fill it with concrete buildings and asphalt roads and spew gasoline, oil, and coal fumes all over the planet, pollute the oceans and destroy the natural habitats of so many species of birds, animals, and fish. What parent would allow their children to ruin their home???

We can also ask:

Why did the Creator construct a universe or a planet where asteroids, comets, earthquakes, volcanos, and tornados would destroy hundreds if not millions of people? Many people still believe these are punishment for individual and collective behavior.

Why does this providential God intervene in some human affairs,and not in others. Some  prayerful petitions are rewarded while others are not.

Why does this creator God expect to be praised and worshiped  yet allows those who praise and worship to become victims of crime, war and other atrocities? Interventions seem to be very precarious at times.

Why does a benevolent, providential, Creator indicate that certain people are a “chosen people” yet allows those people to be held captive by several different empires as punishment for not honoring the divine commands. Why didn’t such an auspicious  God not intervene to protect the 6 million “chosen people” from extermination by a “Christian/Catholic nation’s leaders?

(These are a few of the several unanswered questions that lead numerous people to doubt the existence of such a providential God.)

Not long after the world was created, did God intervene again.

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Gen 6: 6-8

Here’s a another scenario in 1 Sam 15:1-35  that captures a more profound example of God’s intervention which must be carried out exactly as commanded.

Samuel, a prophet, and one of the “sons of God”, also favored, said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. God “favors” Saul and wants him to punish the Amalekites for what they did to the Israelites. “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy  all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Saul’s army didn’t do all that God wanted him to do. They did kill the men, women and children but for some reason they wanted to save the King of the Amalekites  and even spare the “good”  lot of the animals which were to be killed. They brought the king and the animals home with him.  “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel:  “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.”

Then Samuel went to Saul and told him how disappointed God was that he, Saul, did not do exactly what God desired.  Saul said to Samuel, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”  Samuel cried out, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”. 

And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” And Samuel said, Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Did God want to test Saul to see if he would obey this intervention in the affairs of the “chosen people”?  After All they were created with “free will” which meant that they were free to make a choice to obey or not. They were free to decide that maybe God was being a bit too harsh. (They decided what was good and what wasn’t).

Nevertheless, this benevolent Creator has “found favor” (been gracious toward) certain humans.

Jeremiah was told: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 1:5

Isaiah says: “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you people from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.” 49:1

Paul displays a bit of theological  wisdom when he concludes that his special relationship with God is conveyed by what he calls grace:”But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.” (charis= graciousness)  Gal 1:15

Divine Collaboration with Humans

The Biblical meaning of Grace.

“The word “grace” in biblical parlance can, like forgiveness, repentance, regeneration, and salvation, mean something as broad as describing the whole of God’s activity toward man or as narrow as describing one segment of that activity. An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man. In the Old Testament, the term that most often is translated “grace, ” is hen which can mean “favor” or “acceptance”; in the New Testament, it is charis which means good will, loving-kindness, or  favor.” Andrew H. Trotter, Jr

“The term “hen” occurs most often and assumes the notion of God as a watchful master or king, who finds favor with a servant, or perhaps a soldier.The concept first occurs in Genesis 6:8. when Noah finds “favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  Among the Old Testament passages on the unmerited favor of God is the conversation between Moses and God recorded in Exodus 33.”  Andrew H. Trotter, Jr

“Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Ex 30: 12-14

Is this how God collaborates (from Latin collaboratio, from collaborare ‘work together)  with humans?

Grace in the New Testament is largely encompassed by the use of the word charis. Jesus is never quoted as using the word charis , but his teaching is full of the unmerited favor or graciousness of God. (Collaboration?)

 Perhaps the parable of the prodigal son is the most obvious example. In that parable graciousness  is extended to one who has no basis upon which to be shown such “favor” or “grace”, other than the fact that he has asked in humility and repentance to be shown it.” Andrew H. Trotter, Jr

“The concept of grace is most prominently found in the New Testament in the epistles of Paul. The standard greeting in the Greek ancient world generally involved the verb charein. Paul’s greeting, however, was unique, combining the Hebrew greeting, shalom (eirene in Greek) with the word charis]. This in itself is enough to note that Paul is thinking and not simply reacting as he writes his greeting. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” 1 Cor 16:23    Andrew H. Trotter, Jr  

For a more thorough explanation go to: What is Grace? Bible Meaning and Definition

“In “Nature and Grace,” Karl Rahner, argues that “uncreated grace” is “the very essence of grace.” Rahner reaches this conclusion through the following inference: If  grace and glory are two stages of the one process of divinization, and . . in glory God communicates himself to the supernaturally elevated created spirit in a communication which is not the efficient causal creation of a creaturely quality or entity distinct from God, but the quasi-formal causal communication of God himself, then this can also be applied to grace much more explicitly than it commonly has been in theology up till now” Elliot Polsky Thomas Aquinas on Grace as a Mysterious Kind of Creature

What that says, to me, is that there is some kind of Divine communication (grace) which actually becomes manifest in the human as an actual presence (glory) not some kind of entity or spiritual quality. (Grace isn’t like fairy dust that’s sprinkled upon a person and influences their behavior.)

 Could it be that Jesus- a human person- becomes conscious of the fact that his freely chosen, loving behavior, which is manifest in compassion, mercy, forgiveness and inclusion, is really an expression of the presence of the Divinity (favor,grace) in his life. 

Jesus does say,  “The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me”, “I and the Father are one” and that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.: Jn 10:21,  29, 30 

Thomas Aquinas puts it another way. Rather than a “presence” Aquinas claims that grace is an entity, something in the soul, which is God’s love effecting new goodness in the soul of the creature. Grace can mean three things, anyone’s love (e.g. the “good graces” of someone), any gift freely bestowed (i.e. given gratis) (e.g. someone’s “act of grace”), a grateful recompense of a gift given gratis (someone’s gratitude)

“God’s common love causes the good of any creature’s existence and “natural being,” but God’s special love “draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation (a collaboration) of the Divine good” and “it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature” This sounds like collaboration, which requires a conscious recognition of the presence of Divinity, to which one should respond.

(I-II.110.1 Summa Theologica: “Of the Grace of God As Regards Its Essence.”)

In other words, could it be that humans have become more consciously aware of God’s presence in their life. Amrstrong concludes that “revelation was not an event that had happened once in the distant past but was an ongoing, creative process that required human ingenuity.”  The Case for God, p.324

Humans  gradually develop an understanding that God no longer intervenes in their affairs but God collaborates with humans. Human consciousness develops from a simple to a more complex form of understanding of how divine power is more than merely intervening but rather cooperating with a human’s free will to make decisions. In other words,  human consciousness evolves from a simple awareness of intervention to a  more intense and deeper understanding of collaborating with divinity.

“One of several fruitful scientific approaches to understanding consciousness is to study its evolutionary origins. Once we shed all magical thinking about the nature of consciousness and try to understand it as a biological phenomenon, it immediately becomes apparent that like all other biological phenomena and like life itself, it must have evolved in gradations.” For more go to: What Actually Is Consciousness, and How Did It Evolve? | Psychology Today

If “God created mankind in his own image”, then is it possible that human consciousness finds its beginning in the divine consciousness?

Can we also conclude that human consciousness will eventually unite with divine consciousness? Is this what occurred in the life of Jesus? “I and the Father are one” becomes the ultimate awareness of the human goal in life: to become, like Jesus, united with the Divine Creator.

Therefore we can  conclude  that grace or “favor” is the collaboration of God and humans, the former communicating via a spiritual presence ( traditionally called the Holy Spirit)  which is freely offered and the latter becoming conscious of that presence. It is then that we can echo the same words as Jesus did, “Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.” John 12:44

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” 1 John 5:1

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-18

As his disciples, we not only follow Him but we “become him” You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

“We can’t do it without God, and God won’t do it without us.” 

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
This entry was posted in Newest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s