The Spirit as Nonintervening and Noncoercive
The question of God’s intervention in the world persists in the science-and-religion conversation. An adequate theology of the Spirit active in creation must handle this issue with care.
What people mean by “intervention” is rarely clarified. The word, “intervene,” suggests coming into a situation from the outside. When used in reference to God, “divine intervention” suggests that God enters a situation from the outside, a situation previously devoid of God’s presence.
In my most recent blog essay on the Spirit active in creation, I claimed that God is always present to and always influencing all others. This claim implies that I reject divine intervention. That is, I reject the idea that God intervenes from the outside, because I believe God is directly present to all creatures, all the time.
Some people – often those scientists with an atheistic bent – believe the universe and its causes and effects are closed to God’s activity. They say the universe is causally closed and therefore persists without divine influence.
Christians who embrace interventionist language may be unwittingly reinforcing this notion of causal closure. Their insistence that God intervenes from the outside seems to assume that there is some truth in the notion that, most of the time, nature is causally closed and does not need God’s activity. Consequently, I think Christians should drop their claim that God “intervenes” in nature. God is always already present to all things!
Some people use “divine intervention” in a second way. This sense has more to do with God acting as sufficient cause, which is how philosophers talk about one thing totally controlling others.
Divine intervention in this second sense refers to God’s total control – ontological coercion – of some event. Those who affirm this idea believe God intervenes at least occassionally to determine unilaterally an outcome or entity. God totally controls others.
I also don’t like this second way of talking about intervention. I think God is best conceived as never controlling others totally. I don’t think God ever coerces, where “coerce” is defined in the ontological sense of unilateral determination or sufficient cause.
I do think God, as one always present to and always influencing others, acts as a necessary cause in the persistence of all things. Nothing can exist without God’s influence, because all things necessarily depend upon God for them even to be. But God never coerces creatures.
The Noncoercive God
One of my basic beliefs is that even the most basic entities of existence are not entirely determined by their surroundings. And there’s quite a bit of scientific theory and evidence to support this belief.
I also think complex creatures – people, dogs, dolphins, others – possess some measure of genuine freedom. The degree of freedom among less complex creatures — ants, worms, etc. — is difficult to gauge. But I do think less complex creatures possess agency that God provides but cannot entirely control.
In other published writings, I have provided extensive arguments for why I think we should think God incapable of coercion. My argument says that God’s essential nature is love, and God always acts lovingly.
I think the loving creative Spirit loves all creation, and God’s love involves granting freedom/agency to all others. In fact, because God’s nature is love, I think God cannot fail to grant, override, or withdraw this freedom/agency at any time. Giving freedom/agency to others is part of God’s essential nature of love.
The view I am advocating might best be called, “essential kenosis.” This view says God’s self-limitation derives from God’s self-giving nature.
Essential kenosis is different from what many in the science-and-religion discussion call “divine self-limitation.” Their view of divine limitation says God voluntarily adopts limitations when granting freedom or agency to others.
Essential kenosis, by contrast, affirms God’s involuntary self-limitation. Any constraints God possesses derive from God’s eternal nature. They are not imposed by external forces, and so they are rightly called self-limitations. My view expands what the Apostle Paul means when he says “God cannot deny himself.” 
One of the major advantages of essential kenosis is that it overcomes the central aspect of the problem of evil. This aspect plagues other theologies, even those theologies that embrace voluntary divine self-limitation. Essential kenosis says God isn’t culpable for failing to prevent evil, because God necessarily gives freedom and agency to others. And God cannot prevent others from using these gifts in evil ways.
Another advantage of essential kenosis is that it means a full explanation of any event in the world requires appealing to both God’s action and creaturely actions. We cannot fully describe an event by appealing to theology alone or science alone. Fully adequate explanations require both. If those in the science-and-religions conversation would recognize the importance of this view, the conversation would change in radical ways!
The implications of the thoughts above, I believe, are both far-reaching and revolutionary. They require further amplification, but a blog post is probably not the best place to pursue that task.
I have one more facet in this multi-blog essay argument for why it makes sense to say God as Spirit is active in the world. That facet has to do with the diverse ways God acts. I’ll address that issue soon.
 See, for instance, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010), The Nature of Love: A Theology (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice, 2010), “Testing Love and God’s Causal Role” in The Science and Theology of Godly Love, Matthew T. Lee & Amos Yong, eds. (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011), “Love as a Methodological and Metaphysical Source for Science and Theology,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45:1 (Spring 2010): 81-107.
 Although I do not have space to develop my thoughts here, I believe what we typically call “laws of nature” are compatible with the theological notion of divine providence. But my view says God does not act providentially or provide laws of nature on an entirely voluntary basis. Instead, I think God’s diverse providential workings and any such laws are an expression of God’s eternal nature of love. This is also part of my essential kenosis proposal.