January 18, 2015
I recently listened to your Podcast from the Defenders class on God's concurrence (Defenders 2, Doctrine of Creation: Part 8). At the outset, you explained that God is the cause of everything because he concurs in it. As an attorney, this made an abundant amount of sense to me. In the law (particularly in tort), an omission (or failure to act) can be the cause of something in the same way that an affirmative act can. Of course, we would only impose liability where the omission is accompanied by some legal duty to act, but that inquiry is wholly separate from the causation inquiry.
Later in the class, a student asked about the problem of evil, and you responded that this issue exists whether or not we believe in God's concurrence, because it is similarly implicated by his failure to intervene. At this moment, I questioned my prior invocation of the act/omission distinction in understanding God's concurrence. By your response, I inferred that God's concurrence is not merely an omission, but better understood as an affirmative act.
1) Would you agree that God's concurrence is an affirmative act rather than an omission? Or, am I making an anthropomorphic distinction that is not applicable to God?
2) If there is no act/omission distinction between concurring and failing to intervene, why does the doctrine of concurrence even matter? What would be the difference between concurring and failing to intervene?
3) If it is applicable to God, could the act/omission distinction matter to theological questions such as the problem of evil, or do you see an affirmative act as morally equal in all circumstances to an omission?
Thank you for all you do for the Kingdom,
It’s evident to me from your letter, JP, that concurrence in the law is quite different from the theological notion of concurrence. Your letter suggests that concurrence in the legal sense amounts to nothing more than passive consent, letting an event happen. But in the theological sense divine concurrence is God’s active causal activity in producing everything that occurs. God does not simply let secondary causes in the world produce their effects. On the contrary, according to the doctrine of concurrence, unless God causally produces events in the world, the secondary causes would not produce their effects. One of the favorite illustrations of divine concurrence (or the lack thereof) used by the medieval theologians is the biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). When they remained unharmed in the flaming furnace, the reason was said to be, not that they had somehow become inflammable, but rather that God withdrew His concurrence from the activity of the flames, so that the fire no longer burned things.
According to Molina’s doctrine of simultaneous concurrence, God does not act on secondary causes to produce their effects but rather He acts with the secondary causes to produce their effects. If He fails to produce the effects, the secondary causes alone will not suffice to produce those effects. So you can see that divine concurrence, far from being passive acquiescence, involves active causation. I suppose that I should add that Molina holds that when God concurs to produce effects of sinful actions, He is not morally responsible because He does not directly will the person’s choice but merely goes along with it in order to guarantee the efficacy of creaturely free choices. This is something more like concurrence in the legal sense, but God is not implicated by allowing free creatures to sin because He does not move their wills to sin but merely gives them the freedom to sin, which is a great good. He has, as you say, no duty to prevent them from freely choosing to do evil.
So to answer your questions:
1) Would you agree that God's concurrence is an affirmative act rather than an omission? Yes, it is a positive act of causation.
2) If there is no act/omission distinction between concurring and failing to intervene, why does the doctrine of concurrence even matter? What would be the difference between concurring and failing to intervene? There is such a distinction. Concurrence does not involve intervening in the series of secondary causes; that would be miraculous activity. In that sense concurring with the secondary causes does imply failing to intervene. But it is much more than failing to intervene; it is causally producing the effects of the secondary causes.
3) If it is applicable to God, could the act/omission distinction matter to theological questions such as the problem of evil, or do you see an affirmative act as morally equal in all circumstances to an omission? Since concurrence involves God’s causal activity in producing the effects of sinful creaturely free choices, we do have the uncomfortable consequence that God causes, for example, the murderer’s knife to cut open the body of his victim. But I’m inclined to agree with Molina that since God does not will that the murderer do such a thing, He is not morally responsible for the action.