Bernhard Grom SJ
Deistically Believe in God?
Biblical Spirituality and Scientific Worldview
For several years sociologists have been thinking they can observe with young and old an increased tendency to a "deistic" understanding of God. The traditional "theistic" belief in a personal God was replaced by the idea of an abstract higher power. According to a survey conducted in December 2002 only 30 per cent of the Germans older than 16 years answer the statement "There is a personal God" in the affirmative (Catholics: 40 percent), but 40 per cent think "There is an supernatural power" (Catholics: 45 percent). Though they might regard the latter as not totally impersonal, since 51 per cent think that man had "to answer for his life to God", 60 per cent believe that "God was effective in every human life and could be experienced" and 48 per cent pray at least once or several times a month (Vogel 2003). According to another study on the Germans who are older than 18 years and believe in God only 32 per cent agree to the wording "God takes care of every individual," whereas 51 per cent think "God has created the world, but does not directly influence daily life." Also this preferences does, admittedly, not mean that a dialogic relationship with God in prayer is ruled out, because 65 per cent of those who believe in God answer the statement "God knows and protects me" in the affirmative (Der Spiegel, 15. 8. 2005). According to the Shell Study (2006) especially of the Germans between the ages of twelve and twenty five 30 per cent believe in a "personal God" and only 19 percent in an "impersonal higher power."
Michael Naumann assumes that the "religious original confidence indestructibly overwintered in a deistic minimal religion" (Die Zeit, 19.12. 2001). But the answers, which according to the target question greatly vary, perhaps need a precise and subtle interpretation. The trend towards a deistic view of God's nature and work could reflect a difficulty that has long since been characterizing the faith of many Christians. On the one hand surprisingly many people regard God as Creator to whom they are to "answer" for their life, who can be experienced in prayer, and who therefore personally "knows and protects" them"; on the other hand, however, it is difficult for them to imagine that this Creator "takes care of each individual" and "directly influences daily life". That's why they evasively characterize God as an "impersonal, universal force" or power, though they do not hold an unambiguous pantheistic world-view.
The thinking of many believers presumably moves to a great extent in two parallel worlds: When they are reflecting on issues of conscience or in prayer looking for strength that enables them to master the challenges they turn to the "personal" God of the Bible; but when they are reflecting on occupational work, technology, nature or social contexts they see the universe and their life as a closed system in which God does not occur. What in sermons is said about the God of creation and providence (provided that they still talk about of the latter) one tries to fit into the world of one's faith; what one learns from scientific information is stored in the world of one's knowledge.
God of the Bible or "Principle of a Closed Natural Causality"?
Here the world-view connected with the biblical belief in God comes into a relationship of tension to the conception of the world of the modern natural sciences. The biblical texts show the personality, omnipotence and providence of the living God on the one hand as a direct action for the salvation of people, on the other hand as an action that is mediated (Hossfeld 1988). They proclaim their belief in God within a conception of the world that has not yet a sharpened awareness of a closed natural causality working according to its own laws, as it in the wake of Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton became the basis of the modern understanding of nature. The Old Testament wants to announce that Yahweh is working everything; a fact that the monotheism of Deuteronomy and Deuterojesaja recognizes as omnipotence. It is to encourage the hope of God's goodness to Israel and all peoples (Ps 36, 6; 136; Is 49, 6). The New Testament too confesses God as creator, sustainer, director of history and judge and praises his deeds in Jesus' miracles and in the Acts of the Apostles, in order to establish the confidence that God is able to do everything and "has the power to do what he promised" (Rom 4, 21; 8, 18 ff; see Pröpper 2001).
The biblical testimonies do admittedly not think that God who is working everything [Allwirksamkeit] does it alone [Alleinwirksamkeit]. The author of the Deluge Tale for instance knows the regularity of natural processes when he lets God say, "As long as the earth exists sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease" (Gen 8, 22). Though for the Bible natural processes are so directly subject to the will of God that it does not - as today's readers - feel an extraordinary action of God for the salvation or punishment of the [chosen] people or for Jesus' announcement of the Kingdom of God to be the repeal of the universal laws of nature and causality; because these are still hardly known. The then witnesses and evangelists could not examine Jesus' miraculous cures with the help of modern standards and determine whether they can be "explained with scientific findings"
- as today in Lourdes healing reports are examined by doctors' commissions. The Bible simply praises exceptional events, which it sees in a religious context, as God's deeds and on such occasions it often portrays his omnipotence and providence as an isolated, direct intervention in nature and history: It is God who "smote the first-born of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures for ever ... , who smote great kings" (Ps 136).
In our divine services we praise God's loving attention in life, prayer and sacraments in the language and way of thinking of the biblical psalms and tales of miracles - and are so confronted with their undifferentiated belief that God is working everything [Allwirksamkeitsglauben]. Some people feel that way of talking about God to be not proved by their everyday experience, as the student at a vocational school who remarked:
"If you are to believe in the story from the Old Testament, you wonder how God was able to do so much good, and today we hardly dare on the street from 10 o'clock p.m." (Schuster 1984, 222).
Christians moulded by natural sciences experience a more fundamental conflict: Do we not explain health, disease, crops, natural disasters, accidents and technical achievements with "regularities in the behaviour of real systems" which are universally valid (Vollmer 2000, 206)? Certainly, one can philosophically regard laws of nature as "mere" hypothetical generalizations and also argue that at the micro-level processes take place in which the statistical probability plays a role (quantum physics), and that also at the macro level operations are so complex that they can no longer precisely, "deterministically" be predicted (chaos research). But all that is of no importance for our everyday world and technology.
The sowing of wheat will - if the necessary conditions are met - always lead to a wheat harvest, excessive speed with aquaplaning to a loss of control over the vehicle, and the law of gravity is also valid on Mars. Even if you acknowledge the free influence of our mind over the body and the physical nature and believe in the creation of the world by God, you follow with regard to everything else the "principle of a closed natural causality" according to which "natural processes are always caused by other natural processes, but not by reasons outside the context of natural causality" (Wundt 1907, 354). With this attitude one is looking for a scientific explanation of all natural processes and has a spontaneous tendency firstly either from a radically naturalistic viewpoint to regard God's working as superfluous or secondly deistically to restrict it to the beginning of creation. Or one follows thirdly the at least since Thomas Aquinas classic view of a restricted interventionism: the natural events happen according to laws which the Creator has implanted in them as second causes, but God sometimes intervenes in them by miracles.
Though in that attitude, which is more open for faith, natural causality easily appears as an obstacle to a committed action of God, and the spiritual attention is possibly one-sidedly directed towards exceptional cases or their absence.
It looks like an act of defiance against an atheistic naturalism, when Franz von Kutschera (2000, 222) says, "God's action in the world is not fundamentally more problematic than the free action of a human being." In that direction Arthur Peacock (1998) suggested to imagine God's action as a "from-top-to-down" causality in which he similarly influences the world as our mind influences our body, namely by informing the world about his goals and intentions through an transfer of information. But an answer to the question how this can happen is impossible (Becker 2005). The power of the human spirit over the body is admittedly rather limited, because it does often not follow our intentions. Also John Polkinghorne's assumption that the world was an open system which God controls through information transfer is problematic, as well as Wolfhart Pannenberg's attempt to imagine God's nature, i.e. His Spirit as a force field that notwithstanding its transcendence works in the physical universe:
"The situation results that theology is at present not able to offer a satisfactory successor model for the classical concept of a God who by means of a miracle intervenes ad hoc in history" (Becker 2005, 255).
God - Personal but not Anthropomorphic
Over the past 25 years detailed theological reflections on God's action in the world have been published (summarising: Schneider and Ullrich 1988; Bernhardt 1999; Becker 2005; von Stosch 2005; Kreiner 2006). With Ute Lockmann (2004) you can differentiate between a "causal model of action", which takes its starting-point from Thomas' differentiation between a first cause and second causes and a "personal model of action" revolving around the relation of divine and human freedom. The latter emphasizes that God wants to communicate himself as love to human beings and leaves them the freedom to respond in love to him - in a self-limitation and restraint up to the powerlessness of the Cross. But with regard to Jesus' resurrection you were able to be confident that this restraint would prove to be justified by the promised fulfilment with Christ's Second Coming (Pröpper 2001). The triune love was present in every creature and worked above all through the attraction of the good, without God putting straight "the things in nature or history in any way by force" (Kehl 2006, 255).
That view can admittedly impressively understand prayer as personal encounter but is has the disadvantage that it "neither deals with the questions resulting from the scientific world view nor is it able to say something about God's relation to nature created by him" (Lockmann 2004, 292). The following considerations want to complete this facet and show the way in which God can be understood as a personal partner even under the assumption of a closed natural causality, without clinging to anthropomorphic ideas.
Anthropomorphic tendencies immediately suggest themselves when we talk about God's personality and his actions; some cognitive psychological information might therefore make clear what habitual ways of thinking have to be overcome. In the attempt to understand religious matters not only children but also adults often resort to simple anthropomorphic patterns of thinking, even if they reject them when explicitly asked about them in a survey (Barrett 2001). At first we can easily spontaneously imagine an unknown cause as manlike and assimilate it to the experience of our own work; only later we will develop a more appropriate understanding by correcting information and reflection. Already children can e.g. simultaneously understand statements about God partly anthropomorphically and partly aware of their transcendental meaning.
With the biblical speech of the living God whom we can address as a person and a 'You' we at first connect the idea of a being that - like a human being - audibly and visibly meets us by his words, his behaviour and individual actions, expresses his kindness by reacting according to the situation and thus ad hoc to our requests, and thus proves to be self-aware, free, able to experience things and ready to enter into relationships. Some people therefore do not call God a person, because they feel this concept to be all too anthropomorphic. A nineteen-year-old for instance, who described God as "supreme being" and was asked whether it was a person, answered: "It is no person. If you imagine God as a person, then always the big old man with a beard appears" (Leyh 1994).
With it a first necessary correction (according to Jean Piaget "accommodation") with regard to God's personality is mentioned: God meets us and works with us in a totally different way as a human person does. Even through the Incarnation in Jesus he never becomes visible or audible per se; even visions can only symbolize him and auditions can only convey human words. His attitude towards us we must - apart from his self-revelation in salvation history - laboriously deduce from the creation. The experience of an unconditional 'you ought to' in our conscience admittedly lets us rather immediately guess his intentions, but only generally. The "dialogue" we are holding with him in prayer is "very unique and incomparable". In it not individual expressions of God but our relationship to his mystery is his most original word to us (Rahner 2006, 221).
To many Christians it still appears that the idea of the regularity of natural processes is a contradiction to a personal, living God; and those who speak of natural causality are easily reproached for "deism". Many feel a world ruled by laws of nature to be a rigid mechanism, which pushes between man and God and prevents his influence over our life. Is here no longer any action of God in the sense of a personal intervention? Is here only the course of events, the world machine and its distant designer? Those who want to present in preaching and spirituality a new, "theistic" view that is compatible with science have to concern themselves with obvious anthropomorphic tendencies, which all our life influence our conceptions of God as Creator, of his providence and omnipotence, and which are often even strengthened by the Bible's faith testimony that is undifferentiated in matters of natural science.
God's Work - Beyond Artificialistic Conceptions
The inclination for imagining God's work in the world - after the initial act of creation - as a sudden, momentary intervening and arranging is probably influenced by pre-scientific patterns of thinking which with children and adolescents are described as artificialism and finalism. Add to this the more or less strong inclination, which is also well proved with adults, to "believe in a just world". Artificialism (Latin for "artificium": artifice, work, craft) is the spontaneous tendency of children to regard things in nature (trees, mountains, sun) as artifacts, i.e. to attribute their origin to some human manufacturing (manual work, etc.). Connected with it is the finalistic inclination to transfer the patterns of human action which is led by an intention and oriented towards a goal (Latin for "finis") to nature and to see it as obliged to the principle: "Everything (is made) for the greater good of man" (Piaget 1978, 183); sun and moon are to shine, rain has to water our gardens, etc.
Adolescents who are brought up as Christians at first probably understand God's creation to a large extent artificialistically: at the beginning God has "made" all natural things with the intention to serve man, according to pre-conditions and in the way of a craftsman. When they more clearly recognize the intrinsic activities of plants and animals, they believe he had only made the first plants and animals, and then no longer played any creative role. As soon as young people because of the Big Bang theory and the evolutionary theory recognize that things develop by themselves, the artificialistic understanding of creation is either replaced by a complete rejection of the belief in creation or by an interpretation of creation that goes with natural science.
Young people who succeed in the latter now replace the idea of God as maker often by the idea of a "force" working in everything. But apparently even in the age of twenty many people have not yet reached that synthesis and have neither an idea of a creation out of nothing ("creatio ex nihilo") nor of the necessary maintenance of the world by God thanks to the "creatio continua" (Fetz, Reich, Valentin 2001). This probably explains the aforementioned thinking in two worlds.
The understanding of providence and omnipotence of children, adolescents and adults is admittedly not discovered in detail, but from the natural human tendency to artificialistic and finalistic explanations probably a tendency arises to imagine God's care for us as ad hoc arrangement and intervention according to the model of human arrangements and interventions. This is also influenced by a spontaneous "belief in a just world", which expects that in general everyone gets what he deserves because of his doings and his value (Grom, 2007, 75).
With increasing insight into the inherent laws of natural processes those conceptions of God's work enter a state of crisis. The approval of the sentence "God can intervene in the world" characteristically drops from 74 per cent with children of the age of ten and eleven to 31 per cent with people of the age of 18 and more (Bucher 1996). But the "anthropocentric finalism" (Jean Piaget), according to which everything is "made" for man, lets also adults expect that the almighty and kind Creator philanthropically furnishes the world like a prefabricated house and - in whatever way - directs and uses the forces of nature by quite precisely causing our welfare, hearing our pleas, resp. by fairly rewarding and punishing us ("relation of our doings and God's respective answer" ["TunErgehen-Zusammenhang"]). If we are to regard the creation as valuable as God did, who "saw that it was good" (Gen 1, 25), we must somehow "finalistically" relate it to our welfare. Though the current scientific world view also compels us to revise the technical, artificialistic features in our conception and to look for a spirituality that is more compatible with science.
Artificialistic thinking (and also Alfred North Whitehead's process theology) assumes that God had only been able, in the way of a demiurge, to form the existing basic structures of the universe, whereas the theistic conception of creation, which can also stand up to modern objections (Kreiner 2006, 257-298), understands the origin of the world with its laws of nature and causal connections [Wirkzusammenhängen] as a freely wanted creation out of nothing ("creatio ex nihilo"). Here the Two-Causes-Doctrine of Thomas Aquinas, which Karl Rahner SJ has transcendentally been extended, allows thinking together God and the universe without merging them: God as the transcendental first cause is the condition that makes possible and guarantees the continued existence of an intrinsic causality of the universe and of man as second causes. God is not the first link of a chain of causes, but is the basic cause behind them [Ur-Ursache]: he does not work from outside, as created beings interact with each other, but "the living, lasting, transcendental cause of the world's self-movement." (Rahner 1965, 714).
In this intertwining he is totally connected with us - more than any other being is able to be it: with the intention personally and permanently to communicate himself to us. For contrary to the latent deistic misunderstanding widely spread among Christians that God's act of creation applied only to the beginning, you have always to take into consideration that the universe with its causality is always kept in existence by him. Creation happens - as "creatio continua" - every moment, for the universe does not need to be thought [denknotwendig] and is not a matter of course; it is contingent and therefore needs a cause in its beginning as well as in its permanent existence, in order to be something and not rather nothing.
Laws of Nature and Evolution - Gifts to our Freedom
Such an understanding of creation must see the universe and man in the context of a comprehensive development of the cosmic and biological evolution, as it is held by most scientists despite unsolved issues. For "in biology nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Theodosius Dobzhansky). In this light a development appears from the initial concentration of energy ("Big Bang") over helium and hydrogen atoms to molecular systems with their own reproducible patterns of organization (organisms) over countless species up to the current highest degree of complexity throughout the universe know to us: the "Homo Sapiens" with a brain made of more than ten billion specialized and interlinked nerve cells. Basis of that development, however, were and are fundamental constants and laws of nature and causal connections which are always and everywhere the same. They form the framework for the self-organization and variation of organisms. In the view of the "creatio continua" and the two-causes-doctrine they are not to be understood deistically as cold mechanics, but truly theistically as a network of conditions which the creator constantly provides for the human beings and other animals - hence also as gifts to our freedom.
According to the "anthropic principle" in its generally accepted weak version an amazing fine tuning of weak and strong nuclear and electromagnetic power, gravity and other fundamental constants is the precondition for the development of life and the human brain structures which make possible consciousness, freedom, love and dignity. The fundamental constants and other laws are also the basis for a life with free decisions. For they give us the planning security without which we would neither be able to live on something nor to build a house or to keep up stable relationships.
That's why the biochemist and theologian Arthur Peacock once rewrote the biblical Creation story as follows:
"God was. And God was All-What-Was. God's love overflowed, and God said, 'Let something else be. And let laws be for what is and what can be - and let it explore its possibilities and potentials.' And there was something else, an energy field that in our time, ten or more billion years ago from one point exploded as universe ..." (quoted after Knight 2001, 11, resp. Kreiner 2006, 282).
When in retreats Ignatius of Loyola in his meditation "To Obtain Love" suggests that we should consider, "how God for my sake in all created things on the face of the earth ... behaves like one who laboriously works, for example on the celestial bodies, elements, plants, fruits, animals, etc., by giving and maintaining existence and sense-organs, etc." (Spiritual Exercises, No. 230-237), he cultivates a metaphysical attention that does not feel God to be "silent" and "far" but knows he is present in every breath. Such attention, such thinking natural causality and primal origin together, such co-experience of the non-contingent One in the contingent beings avoids both, a monistic fading out of a created intrinsic causality and a drifting to a deistic reserve. A culture like ours, however, which is specialized, sceptical about metaphysics and oriented toward efficiency, has admittedly little knowledge of that attitude, which has to be practised deliberately.
But a spirituality of that kind remains often also for that reason underdeveloped that we tend to regard the course of events in nature and life as a matter of course and without connection with God, as long as it follows well-known causal connections and appears verifiable or at least predictable. That's why we only take an action of God - as ad hoc intervention - in consideration when we get in situations which question our usual illusion of control. Who does really wonder that the gravitational constant is exactly so calculated that stars resp. Earth do not crumble, that our metabolism from a few elements over many intermediate stages synthesizes what our body needs, and that the melting point of metals in our installations, pieces of equipment and vehicles remains constant and does not suddenly assume that of ice-cream? Often we only thank for "acts of providence" in which we feel that they exceed our normal control and planning: for a happy birth or for the survival after a grave accident that "verged on a miracle". There we recognize God's reign, but usually we are not aware that he also enables the course of events obeying natural laws as well as all our purposeful actions and monitoring experiments, that the normal thing is the event and the usual thing a gift. God is actually more often regarded as the cause when believers reflect on an event that changed their life - e.g. a serious illness or an unexpected recovery (Löwenthal, Cornwall 1993; Lupfer, Tolliver, Jackson 1996), whereas they rather seldom attribute events that do not change their life to God: God only as a kind of emergency doctor.
Providence without "Belief in a Just World"
Only in events which are vital to life this widespread belief in Providence is aware of an action of God, but our attention ought to be directed towards the fact that God constantly makes possible the existence of world and man. Another anthropomorphic-personal feature too has to be corrected: the inclination simply to transfer the "belief in a just world", as we wish it in society, to God's providence. Absolutely nothing suggests that natural disasters, diseases, accidents and wars hit only the culprits and spare the just, and that everyone in his physical and social balance of life gets what he deserves. Not only atrocities caused by men, as e.g. oppression, torture, murder and war show that, but also natural disasters like the tsunami of December 2004 in Southeast Asia, which killed at least 220.000 people; or the fact that some parents early die and leave their children unprovided for, whereas mass murderers possibly enjoy the best of health until old age.
Taking one's starting-point from a concept of omnipotence according to which "God is able to do whatever he wants" (St Augustine, Ench. 96) one can, admittedly, abstractly postulate that God should be able to intervene in every individual situation. But is he then to act as a second cause? Are we able to tell in concrete terms how that is compatible with nature's intrinsic causality and how it can happen? Even the Anglo-American "Divine Action" debate led after 1970 could not show how God - beyond a general action - also specifically acts ad hoc or how he might have been able to create a better world. Could and should he repeal a law of nature or a causal connection for a particular case or, for example, with a tumour disease create out of nothing forces of resistance resp. annihilate cancerous cells? Could and should he stabilize the plate tectonics of the continental and oceanic earth's crust so that no longer earth and seaquakes arise, etc.? Could and should he divert bullets and rockets and defuse mines?
You can undoubtedly imagine a world without particular evils, but whether such a reduction of suffering is possible without a disruption of the entire system or whether even a universe without suffering is feasible cannot be proved and is rather unlikely (Kreiner 2005, 364-379). Perhaps it is just as impossible as a round triangle to realize a world with intrinsic causality and freedom but without suffering. We do not know which effect the just considered ad hoc interventions had on the entire causal system, how a "just world" for six billion people was to be guaranteed and how God as first cause can work in concrete terms beyond the "creatio continua". For from experience we know only our physical-instrumental, second-cause intervention in the natural causal system.
This influence of mental willpower on the physical level may as an analogy let guess the core of God's action as first cause, but it can neither explain in detail his absolute spiritual creation and maintenance of the world nor possible interventions in it. Even if you assume such an intervention by miracles or with the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances after Easter, you are to state that - despite surprising acts of providence - miracles hardly exist. In Lourdes, for instance, numerous improvements have admittedly been registered, but the scientific commissions did not recognize more healings as "with scientific findings not explainable" than spontaneous healings can be expected (Beck 2004). There are, however, reasons to be confident that God had certainly created a world without suffering or would liberate the existing world through his intervention from suffering, if that was possible in its present shape.
Such a belief in providence does not claim that God as "Lord of History" already in this life some time or other physically perceptibly brings everything to a happy conclusion. It rather acknowledges that "the sufferings of this time" limit and darken God's intention to communicate his goodness to us - and that we can fully recognize this intention only by his self-revelation in Jesus and the promise of His Kingdom. In this respect God is still also a "hidden God", but one who fights together with us against any degradation of man. So we are also to correct and restrict our spontaneous "finalistic" expectations: The constants and mechanisms of the universe make admittedly possible self-causality, life and freedom, but this "anthropic" profit is won at painful limitations, injustices and sacrifices. Genetic differences and defects cause gross disadvantages. As much as the evolution process resulted in an upward development to higher complexity and adaptability, according to neo-Darwinist conviction it nevertheless happened by trial and error, with detours and abortive developments; in the course of which the whole dynamics of mutation and selection requires the death of individuals: "Provided that behind that process a divine power emerges at all, it shows very different properties than in the context of the phenomenon of fine tuning" (Kreiner 2006, 301).
Man's adaptability to the living conditions on Earth is limited, as infections and other things show; while medicine is fighting against disease and relief organizations against hunger, an unmoved God seems to give free rein to everything. In addition, in about one billion years all life on Earth will be destroyed by heat. A belief in providence conscious of evolution will also hardly assume that our body and its brain was individually planned for everybody and intended for him personally. That we are meant personally and have a dignity "by the grace of God" we only fully grasp from the ethical insight into our intrinsic value as a person and from the biblical revelation; the theodicy issue is not answered through all these considerations, but only defused and freed from some anthropomorphic assumptions.
Are Prayers of Supplication Meaningless?
Such modifications of the belief in Creation and Providence may still seem "deistic" to a religious mind moulded by the Bible. But they are unavoidable, if you want to protect it from anthropomorphic naivety, sealing off from modern science and radical deism.
Are then prayers of supplication for the prevention of physical and social hardships still meaningful: prayer for peace, prayer before a serious operation, the blessing of houses and vehicles, intercessions? Prayers of supplication, which are anthropomorphic and in danger to be disappointed, are certainly problematic when they suggest you had to draw God's attention to a need or to win him round, and that he had visibly to intervene ad hoc. But in adolescence the expectation decreases that God directly materially intervened, and the majority of adult Christians tends towards a religious coping with burdens: it expects from God primarily spiritual help to self-help and does not passively expect material miracles (Grom, 2007, 81-87). The aforementioned survey result is also an indication for it: Of those who say that God knew and protected them almost every other person maintains that God did not directly exert influence on daily life.
Prayers of supplication which are formulated in that direction, i.e. in a communicative but not instrumental way, are extremely useful. In situations in which we become aware of the limitation of our possibilities of controlling life and our final dependence on God, and in which possibly also our consent to life and its Creators is questioned we communicate our fears and longings to him - without being in need to differentiate how he could or should "intervene", without making our relationship with him dependent on being physically heard. This way of religiously digesting burdens and yearnings makes it at least possible for God to work in and through us. For we experience that he encourages us and is near us. Such a conversation is deeply personal and prevents a paralyzing deism.