First off, a quick overview of deism and theism.
Deism is the view that God is not active in history, that he set the world in motion and then stepped back and watches it go. On the rare occasions when he steps in, we know it as a miracle, unless we’re hardcore deist, which rejects them altogether. Deists are usually Unitarian, as they deny the Trinity. They believe that the existence of God can be proven by human reason alone. Your eternal fate is determined alone by the choices you make in life, and God has no say over where you end up.
The most common description of the deist god is the Watchmaker God. This gives rise, especially in most Christian science, to the view of natural law: rules of the universe set down by God that the whole world follows.
At first glance, the concept of natural law doesn’t seem all that wrong. Of course we would affirm that God is a Trinity, etc., but natural law sounds fine to many of us before we take a good look at it. And that’s what we’ll do now.
Theism has a God who is active in history. He is intimately involved with his creation from creating individual beings to orchestrating the rise and fall of nations, empires, stars, and galaxies. This view is central to Calvinism and the doctrine of predestination.
We cannot say that God only interferes at points through history to accomplish his purposes. We know he has predestined all things that come to pass. But we also know he takes an intimate interest in his creation. He doesn’t just wind up the world and make it run.
For You formed my inward parts
You covered me in my mother’s womb
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well
My frame was not hidden from You
When I was made in secret
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed
And in Your book they all were written
The days fashioned for me
When as yet there were none of them.
So what does this mean for natural law?
Well, it means that everything that happens is something that God does. Every time an electron spins around an atom, every time a child is conceived, every time a star is born, God is working in it. He did it. He didn’t set up a system and let it do its work. He did it himself.
It’s not entirely out of the question, and in fact seems reasonable, that either God or his angels (likely, as his messengers) are responsible for what we term “natural phenomena,” like gravity and electricity. When you drop a book, angels are pulling it down. When you stay on the ground instead of flying into space, God is making sure of that.
Many people have expressed indignation at this theory (yes, Christians and even Calvinists). It seems ridiculous. The idea that God has that much control is, to say the least, a bit scary. They call it criticism of science, a refusal to accept scientific facts, facts that obviously work.
I didn’t say science was wrong. I said the presuppositions behind it are wrong. God in his mercy works pretty much the same way every time. That’s how electricity, gravity, magnetism, biology, etc., all work and it’s how we are able to utilize them.
But what if he works a different way? Well that’s fine too. Sometimes he’ll stop moving the universe for a while and make the sun stand still for a day, or go backwards. Sometimes he’ll stop pulling an axehead down through the water and make it float. It’s not like he can break a natural law because he IS the only law that matters.
Some people act like Joshua didn’t really see the sun stop. That would destroy the earth at the very least and throw the entire solar system into mayhem for millions of years to come. That assumes that there’s a law that God accidentally broke. This is false. There was no law to break. Since God’s the one making gravity work in the first place, why would he keep all those physical forces going, knowing there would be disaster?
In summary, we have to that theism, predestination, Calvinism, covenant theology, etc., to their logical conclusions: God is in absolute control of every single physical, emotional, and spiritual process that has ever occurred, is occurring, or will continue to occur. And he is not just in control in the way that a foreman is in control of a worksite. He is in control as a potter that makes a vessel, as Paul tells us.
If we forget God’s absolute sovereignty and the inerrancy of his revealed Word, how can we be surprised when the wicked mock?