Huckabee and Divine Providence

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I've been in news isolation for the last week or so due to a huge stack of grading that's still almost half as big as it was a week ago. But apparently there's been a furor over a remark by Mike Huckabee that his recent upturn in the polls is (among other explanations) a result of divine providence. I haven't been able to find exact quotes, but from this post it seems as if Huckabee said two things.

1. He has offered several reasons for his rise in the polls, and one of them is divine providence. That means that he isn't ruling out perfectly natural explanations, but he has a strong enough view of divine providence that he's willing to say that his rise in the polls is in  God's ultimate plan (whether that means God's plan includes him becoming president is another matter that he doesn't seem to have commented on at all).

2. He's surprised enough that he's willing to speak of his rise in the polls in miraculous terms. The reason this can't be taken too far is that he has provided other explanations besides providence. So he must simply be expressing the unlikeliness of this in attributing it to divine providence in this sense, even if there are perfectly natural descriptions of the means God has used to bring this about.

Now I'm trying to think of what's remotely objectionable about any of this. I've turned up nothing. With any robust view of divine sovereignty, anything that happens is at least foreknown and allowed by God, and this doesn't happen unless God has specific reasons for allowing it or causing it. That doesn't mean the reasons are the ones we expect, but Huckabee seems careful as far as I can tell not to say that God has caused this surge in order to win him the nomination, never mind any claims about God wanting him to be president. All he's said is that God is behind the surge in the polls, which any Christian with a robust view of divine sovereignty should say, even if the person saying it is one of the other candidates or someone who very much doesn't want Huckabee to be president. If it happens, then it's in God's will in at least some sense, and that's what it means for something to happen by providence.

I see nothing in Huckabee's comments at this point that mean any more than what most Christians throughout history have believed about every event that ever occurs. That makes me think those making a fuss about this must be taking him to say something very different from what he's actually said. Either that or they think our political discourse (or, more precisely, our meta-political discourse) should include debates about the traditional Christian picture of divine sovereignty. I'm a bit skeptical that that's the place to debate theology.

9 Comments

I agree with the poster in your link when he says "he’s planting the seeds for that type of (God wants him) inference."... I don't find it objectionable yet, but it makes me wary because I think Huckabee is the kind of candidate that would claim divine providence at the right time in order rally his base and squeeze out a little extra support. I think its right to scrutinize him regarding these comments and get direct clarification. Politicians love loosely interpretable comments, but this one has potential to cross the line.

Huckabee is the kind of candidate that would claim divine providence at the right time in order rally his base and squeeze out a little extra support.

What evidence is there to support that? All I see is someone grateful for all of a sudden having a lot of support. Gratefulness and excitement about where things are headed is a lot different from merely pulling out language when you don't mean it just to try to get more support.

It's fine to ask him clarifying questions, but that's not what I'm seeing. I'm seeing people assume that he means something he didn't say, without acknowledging that the most likely meaning of what he said is simply what evangelicals always mean when they say things like this.

Disclaimer: I am a Huckabee supporter -- and part of why is that he is a person of real faith.


One thing I find very interesting in this campaign is that this year, the Republicans are very eager to apologize for and distance themselves from the Christians. Christians were fine, I guess, as long as it was a token belief. From someone who actually means it, the Republicans are worried.

At the same time that Republicans are up in arms about Lowe's calling their trees "family trees," they are up in arms that someone actually believes in God's sovereignty.

They're up in arms demanding that we leave "In God We Trust" on our money, but they're upset that Gov. Huckabee actually trusts in God.

You don't seem to distinguish between something being "foreknown and allowed by God" and God "causing it." Those are not the same for me, and I see no reason to believe that they are the same for Huckabee.

Certainly God allowed the surge. However, I would not equate that phrase with "God is behind the surge in the polls" and "this divine providence" and a reference to the miracle of the loaves and fishes anymore than I would tell my friend with cancer that God is behind her cancer and caused it. When an infant is brutally beaten to death, as happened near here recently, obviously God allowed it, but is that the same thing as declaring that God was behind that event and caused it so the terrible suffering and death are a matter of divine providence?

I believe that God sustains and allows the universe, but surely people are not always within God's will in their behavior. Perhaps the surge in the polls represents a defiance of God by people who are doing something God does not want them to do.

I would be more inclined to believe that Huckabee means nothing unusual or different about this event than "what most Christians throughout history have believed about every event that ever occurs" had he declared earlier that his low spot in the polls was a result of divine providence. Perhaps he'll yet drop in the polls again, or lose a key race, then make a public declaration that his lack of success if divine providence, caused by God, and somehow reminiscent of a Biblical miracle; and then I'll be proven wrong.

At any rate, regardless of what he, in his private mind meant, it certainly sounds to many of us like a claim that God has in some special and unusual fashion singled him out and caused people to choose him rather than leaving people to choose out of free will. That will cost him some votes, I think. It certainly cost him mine.

Julia, I did distinguish exactly between those two things when I said "With any robust view of divine sovereignty, anything that happens is at least foreknown and allowed by God, and this doesn't happen unless God has specific reasons for allowing it or causing it." God's allowing something means that the thing he allows is part of his providential plan.

I wouldn't say that God is behind someone's cancer in the same sense that God is behind multiplying the loaves and fishes, but I would insist very strongly that it's part of God's plan, and I would say that any view weaker than that is sub-biblical.

It's fully consistent that the people polling for Huckabee are doing something immoral in their support of him and yet nonetheless fulfilling God's will by leading to a result that God wants to achieve. Just look at the prophets' condemnation of the Babylonian and Assyrian kings while almost in the same breath calling them agents of God's will in judging his people.

I'm not sure why you're assuming that God's causing people to choose him means they didn't choose him out of free will. That assumption is false and contrary to how the Bible speaks (see Isaiah 10, for a clear example). But even so, Huckabee didn't use causal language. He simply attributed the result to God, which is consistent with God's allowing it and thus intending it but not causing it (which is why I deliberately made the distinction that you told me I didn't make).

I am quite confident that if Huckabee does not get the nomination he'll happily admit that it wasn't God's will for him to get the nomination. I'm also sure that he thinks it was God's will for him to get less support before doing so well. I don't see any reason to doubt that he'd say such things. All he's said is that he's excited to have received some prominence after the prayers of many people, and God has put him in a position where he is at this point (without saying a thing about where he will end up or whether God wants him to remain at such a level). The standard evangelical view, especially among Baptists, implies exactly that. So I consider it highly irrational to deny him a vote for something like this. It's uncharitable in the extreme and out of step with how the Bible regularly speaks of such matters.

I appreciate your clarifications. I see much better now along what lines you are thinking.

As for myself, I do not vote for someone out of charity. Nor did my decision not to vote for Huckabee result from a fit of bad temper or other uncharitable thoughts. I vote for the person that prayer and reason suggest to me will do the best job of running the country.

Huckabee's comments made clear to me that he does not have the ability to take a position where even his casual comments can create serious national or international problems.

You say that you are sure Huckabee would have said that it was God's will for him to be low in the standings earlier. But whatever either of us may privately be sure of, the fact is that he did not make any such public statement, nor has he made any public speech likening any poor showing of his to the workings of a special interventionist miracle. (If he has, please correct me.)

No, it is not unreasonable to doubt the world-class leadership ability of a man who fails to attribute publically his personal failures to divine providence on the scale of a special intervening miracle by God, and yet so attributes his personal success.

Though it appears that we must continue to disagree, I do think I understand better your own position now, and I thank you for your explanation.

I don't want to get too much into the metaphysics, but I don't think you need to see the loaves and fish as interventionist (there might have been more fundamental laws of nature that explain why the laws we seem to have discovered didn't apply in that instance). Also, I don't see why his good showing needs to have been interventionist to be likened to an interventionist miracle. What's at issue is God's intent, not the means. Third, I don't see why his bad showing needs to be likened to interventionist miracles to be intended by God.

The fundamental issue is whether God intended it, and I don't see how he couldn't think that of the lower showing at first. There's no way to see the sudden increase as divinely-intended unless the lower showing was also divinely-intended. Otherwise it would have been a slower increase or an earlier increase. The fact that it's a sudden increase is what the big deal is about, and to show a sudden increase you need to have a low point beforehand. So it seems impossible to me that he couldn't see it is divinely-intended.

As far as I know, he's only publicly made a statement like this once, so it's hard to make any generalizations about it as if he always attributes his successes to God but never his failures. A sample of one tells you very little.

Friday, December 14, 2007
Huckabee not like Reagan

I was 100% behind Huckabee, even though I disagreed with his immigration statements, but after this article I am done. No more support for Huckabee and I want off his mailing list. What is he thinking?

Mike Huckabee Criticizes Bush Administration for 'Bunker Mentality' on Iraq
Friday, December 14, 2007 -- Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. —
Mike Huckabee, who has joked about his lack of foreign policy experience, is criticizing the Bush administration's efforts, denouncing a go-it-alone "arrogant bunker mentality" and questioning decisions on Iraq.

Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor now running for the Republican presidential nomination, lays out a policy plan that is long on optimism but short on details in the January-February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations. A copy of his article was released Friday.

"American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out," Huckabee said. "The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists."

In one specific criticism, Huckabee said Bush did not send enough troops to invade Iraq. And he accused the president of marginalizing Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, who said at the outset of the war that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion. "I would have met with Shinseki privately and carefully weighed his advice," Huckabee said. He said this year's troop increase under Bush has resulted in significant but tenuous gains, and he said — much as Bush has — that he would not withdraw troops from Iraq any faster than Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, recommends. The military has now slowly begun to reverse the troop increase.

Huckabee has previously joked about his lack of experience in international affairs. "I may not be the expert as some people on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night," he said earlier this month. While the Foreign Affairs article is missing the one-liners he is known for, it does have a few folksy comparisons to illustrate his points. On Iran, for example, he makes a case for diplomacy by saying, "Before we put boots on the ground elsewhere, we had better have wingtips there first."

He adds that the U.S. can exploit the Iranian government's hunger for regional clout, saying, "We cannot live with al-Qaida, but we might be able to live with a contained Iran." Last week, Huckabee missed a report the White House released saying Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program; one day later, the candidate said he was unaware of the report and had been campaigning
too hard to read the newspaper or be briefed. The Foreign Affairs article seems to have been written before the report was released, citing "urgent concerns about Iran's development of nuclear weapons."

In his article, Huckabee also thumped Bush for failing to pursue al-Qaida in Pakistan, noting recent terrorism plans, since thwarted, that were planned there: "Whereas our failure to tackle Iran seems to be leading inexorably to our attacking it, our failure to tackle al-Qaida in Pakistan seems to be leading inexorably to its attacking us again."

Posted by Keith at 6:25 PM

Most of that is stuff that Giuliani, Romney, and McCain have been saying the whole campaign. I'm not sure why it's problematic for Huckabee and not for them. You're not going to find a Republican this time around who's all that friendly to Bush on these issues, even if all of them besides Ron Paul are basically advocating a Bush-like approach from here on out.

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