Not a sparrow falls: Divine providence and human suffering
The central question of this dissertation is: how can the Christian doctrine of providence be reconciled with the evil and destructive suffering caused by free creatures? Chapter two argues that such a theoretical reconciliation is both possible and warranted. The theoretical argument attempting to reconcile divine providence and human suffering centers on the eternal plan of providence and the execution of this plan. In terms of the eternal plan of providence, in trying to preserve the divine goodness, the question becomes could God have created a universe of free creatures without the possibility of evil and destructive suffering? A form of this question has been debated extensively for the past forty years in the philosophy of religion. Chapter three critically examines the central figures in this debate; namely, John Mackie, Antony Flew, and Alvin Plantinga. Chapter four argues, drawing upon principles in existential Thomism, that God could not have created a universe of free creatures without the possibility of destructive suffering that is the result of error, moral imperfection, and moral evil.
In light of this capacity of free creatures to fail in their freedom, how are we to understand the eternal plan of providence and the execution of this plan? The work of John H. Wright is employed to treat these questions. Wright shows that scripture does not have a view of God in which God simply executes a plan decided upon in advance; rather, God is an almighty improviser adapting to the actions of creatures such that nothing ultimately obstructs the establishment of the kingdom of God. God can cause the free action of the creature in and through the creature without determining the free creature to one because the creature in her activity is the intentional medium through which the divine will is united to the divine intellect. Through causing the free choice of the creature, God knows the creature's choice and by knowing it God can order it toward the fulfillment of His plan.