I have noticed a pattern regarding the combination of two complex doctrines: providence and predestination. The two are of course related, providence being the secret divine willing of all events and predestination the eternal election of who will be saved. It is precisely their close proximity that makes the pattern of popular belief so striking. So here's my desciption of how I have observed church folk approach these problems.
Neither Providence nor Predestination - A lot of folks either practically or theoretically reject the two doctrines. Certainly God is not behind everything. Certainly our free will is sufficiently powerful in both mundane and salvific matters. Certainly God's hands are tied by our decisions.
Both Providence and Predestination - Of course, you have the other extreme in what I call "street" calvinists, who piously affirm both the election to salvation and the ordination of all events. Thus you have the legend of the puritan woman who fell down the stars only to say "I'm glad I got that out of the way." There are surely more sophisticated ways of contruing the relationship between these two doctrines. But I am trying to describe common belief and practice here.
Providence without Predestination - Here's where it gets peculiar. The potential extremity of the above views is at least commended for its consistency. But the fact of the matter is a large segment of church folk affirm providence without predestination. So you have folks who firmly believe that God has a particular will for their life and they need to find it. They piously approach suffering and death as "God's will." Yet when it comes to salvation, they are extreme Arminians, proudly claiming free will and a full capacity to accept or reject salvation. They have somehow found a way to separate the pair in their minds, or at least in their lives.
Predestination without Providence - But it gets weirder. You have the opposite combination as well. There are many among us who will go the wall defending God's utter predestination of souls unto salvation, yet affirm complete autonomy in all other matters. These folks might even quote the famous line of Luther's from The Bondage of the Will, wherein he exclaims (in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner) that yes, humans have free will ... to hammer a nail, to go to the market, to get up from bed ... but in matters of salvation we are utterly dependent on God. This can be a very "respectable" position, because one affirms divine sovereignty where it counts for the traditional battle, but can take a world-affirming, humanist viewpoint on all other matters.
The funny thing about this pattern is that it displays our ability to sustain "happy inconsistencies." We have found a way to have our theological cake and eat it too. And maybe I shouldn't spoil the fun, because consistency isn't the only theological virtue. However, one wonders if we have any coherent sense of who God is if we think he works in two completely different ways depending on whether it is a matter of salvation or not. Is this really the God we serve?
Am I on to something here?
Is this pattern descriptively adequate?
Could you think of examples that fit nicely into this pattern?
What am I missing?
Which is the best approach?
Are we doomed to some 'happy inconsistencies' to avoid extremes?
Or is there a way to affirm both without becoming deterministic? If so, how?