Q: In Section 2.3 “God Not the Creator, or Not Benevolent?”, Southgate brings up Isaiah 45:7 which states, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (NIV) What do you make of this verse and Martin Luther’s statement that “God is not to be justified in the face of evil, for God is in fact responsible, making use of it through the opus alienum Dei [God’s alien work (of destruction)].” Are violence and destruction a part of God’s nature and therefore evolutionary creation is just a reflection of him revealing this aspect of himself? If so, then how can believers still claim that he is a loving and gracious God who is deserving of worship? Is God violent in that we are “to regard God as the ground of being, whose nature is glimpsable in the beauty but also in the violence of the cosmos”? Share your thoughts.
Violence is never he answer, except when it is. Few things are absolute. We can all agree that for the most part that bullies are bad, but there are times when they are useful. It’s nice for us to have highly skilled special forces who are experts on carrying out violence available to further American interests, such as killing a Bin Ladin or rescuing a hostage from terrorists. We all cheer when the good guy shoots the bad guy right before the innocent in the movies. On a more personal note, a more savvy geek friend of mine had no problems with bullies. It wasn’t because he was big and strong, he was friends with members of the football team and helped them with their homework.
Violence, like many aspects of God, can be abused by Man. Anger and fear is not the same for God and man. Jesus himself turned over the money changers’ tables, made a cord into a whip and used it. Yes, God is violent, but not like man, just as C.S. Lewis’s Aslan is a not a safe lion, but is good.
“Olethros” is Greek for Destruction, but it is also the word for change or renewal. Rarely are things in a vacuum, change comes with the potential for betterment. A violent thunderstorm can bring much needed water to a thirsty land.
Ancient mystics or saints sometimes prayed for suffering to come. Were they masochists? No, they didn’t enjoy suffering, but were wise enough to understand the benefits of suffering. They hated the suffering itself, but it did help push them outside their comfort zone to improve. Discomfort or suffering forces us to deal with a problem and potentially get stronger.
Q: What are Teilhard de Chardin’s main thoughts about God and his relation with evolution and with us as discussed in Section 2.5? What are some criticisms to his theology? Describe his thoughts about the “telos”. Is this view plausible and compatible with orthodox biblical teachings, or is it too radical to accept? Explain your thoughts.
His thought is that some form of “evolution” is the means by which God draws the world to consummation in Christ. The telos or goal of this evolutionary process is consciousness – developing from matter inanimate to animate to conscious integrating over the entire planet, and all creation converting onto the “Omega Point.”
One of the criticisms, from Peter Medawar, is the assumption that evolution equals inevitable progress. Another criticism, hinted at by Southgate himself, is that Teilhard’s scheme, by elevating the value of consciousness and “hominization,” makes all other (nonsentient) creatures’ existence merely means to an end and doesn’t value them intrinsically. And yet another criticism by Southgate is that Teilhard doesn’t involve the Cross of Christ in his theory of “evolutionary centration,” making it problematic for Christians.
I agree with Southgate that Teilhard’s theory is not compatible with orthodox biblical teachings. Christianity describes the Cross & Resurrection as “the hinge of history,” whereas with Teilhard’s theory needs no such hinge – the process is smooth and ongoing. Also, Christianity describes a future where creation shall be freed from its bondage, where the lion shall sit with the lamb – but the identity of these species shall remain, and not get wiped out as consciousness spreads (see below).
As for its plausibility, I’m a little skeptical. It seems to me that the theory predicts all creation- including tress, grasses, heck even bacteria- shall evolve consciousness and merge all together – that’s implausible to me. Unless the “collective unconscious” counts, but if so, who needs evolution and telos anyways?
In Section 2.3 “God Not the Creator, or Not Benevolent?”, Southgate brings up Isaiah 45:7 which states, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (NIV) What do you make of this verse and Martin Luther’s statement that “God is not to be justified in the face of evil, for God is in fact responsible, making use of it through the opus alienum Dei[God’s alien work (of destruction)].” Are violence and destruction a part of God’s nature and therefore evolutionary creation is just a reflection of him revealing this aspect of himself? If so, then how can believers still claim that he is a loving and gracious God who is deserving of worship? Is God violent in that we are “to regard God as the ground of being, whose nature is glimpsable in the beauty but also in the violence of the cosmos”? Share your thoughts.
The God of the OT is very much this God of Isaiah 45:7. Beyond the OT and based on universal human experience, God is capable of both light and darkness. It is impossible for an honest observer to consider the nature of creation and ignore the violence inherent to it, and if creation is made in the image of God, then violence has to be a character of it as well.
In addressing Martin Luther’s statement, the question becomes whether violence is the equivalent of evil. I would agree entirely with ML if he was simply addressing the destructive forces inherent in creation, but the notion of evil is not a neutral stance and I have to pause on it. I think the question is whether evil is its own force, or whether it is the absence of good. If it’s its own force, as related to the notion of a devil, it goes along with Western ecclesiastical Christian thought, for which ML is much responsible, and his call to not justify God in the face of evil–as its own separate entity in the world for which God is presumably also responsible, lacks courage (to be clear, I am not accusing ML of lacking courage; I am making what is probably a post-modern argument in which I can ask questions of God without the intermediary of the church). So, if this is true, can we hold God accountable for his creation of evil? If sin is being held to account in creation, then we can at least ask questions.
If evil is the absence of good, as I am more inclined to believe (until I think of specific pieces of history like genocides and such, which complicate the conclusion without entirely invalidating it, I don’t think) then evil is reduced to the human sphere (per our moral awareness) and the violence in creation doesn’t need to be justified—it is what it is.
Can a God, as creator of evil (not simply violence) be considered loving and be worshipped? Well, no. I pause again on that “no” because it’s difficult to leave in, but there is simply too much at stake to consider with God as the creator of evil. The NYT article that addresses suffering and the presence or the absence of God brings up some interesting questions regarding the nature of suffering and the process of discovering a highly complex, perhaps unpleasant God in the face of it. This has to do with human suffering, specifically, and it doesn’t even address the question of evil, but it does address the question of a distant God that allows bad things to happen. Contemporary Western thought allows inquiry and demands explanations. Simple acceptance without questioning is pretty much non-existent now. If we are to worship God, we can ask questions too.
Q: Summarize what the God of process theology is like according to A.N. Whitehead’s philosophy as mentioned in Section 2.4 “The God of Process Theology”. Explain what the term “dipolarity” means and how that applies to God. How does this God relate with suffering? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you buy into this model? Why or why not?
In 1927, English philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) published his Gifford Lectures titled Process and Reality. In this work, he laid out a model for God that challenged conventional Western philosophical understandings of God as being non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassable). It is often described as a genuine philosophical theology (called process theology) in that it is not based on claims of special (divine) revelation, but from philosophical reflection. It was based on Whitehead’s metaphysics called process philosophy, which was “based not on entities but on events – on an infinite series of ‘actual occasions’… [where the] emphasis is on becoming, on development in time, rather than on static being.” Rather than looking at the world as a “machine,” it sees the world as being like a living organism that undergoes constant change and is affected by the relations and interdependence of others.
In the final section of Process and Reality, Whitehead discusses his concept of “dipolar deity.” According to this concept, God is “Affected by the experience of all other entities” and is “constant in character as the ground both of order and of novelty.” These two qualities of God in this dipolarity creates a tension between responsiveness and constancy. God relates with and responds to his constantly changing and evolving creation, but remains God in being and character. God experiences the world’s pain and struggle and is “the great companion-fellow sufferer who understands” as Whitehead puts it. One of the main ways God interacts with the world is through persuasion instead of coercion. He persuades others to follow love, compassion, and sacrifice rather than succumb to their selfish and destructive proclivities. Rather than trying to constantly intervene and “fix” problems and conflicts that the world experiences daily, God tries to encourage entities “toward the optimal blend of harmony and intensity of experience.”
Some of the weaknesses Southgate highlights in this section in relation with process theology include questions about how God can experience the pains of every single living organism no matter how primitive and simple it may be (do they even experience pain?), how effective divine persuasion is overall in relating with the world, a neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity, and deficiencies related to integrating the Resurrection and the ultimate eschatological hope in the triumph of good over evil at the end. Despite these weaknesses, Southgate subscribes to several strengths of process theology and philosophy in reference to the “dynamic character of the cosmos” and “on divine responsiveness and co-suffering”; however, he takes issue with “the primacy of creativity and openness of process over even the will of God.”
For quite a while now, I have personally leaned more towards a process theological view of God over the years, with an emphasis that God is dynamic and is prone to change in response to and in relation with people and creation. I think this model of God is supported throughout the Bible where God is invested in people’s lives, suffers alongside his people, grieves over their rebellion and sin, and even on occasion changes his mind. I would even step a step a bit further in that God may possibly not even know the future or the outcome of specific events; he may know all the infinite possibilities of the outcomes of events or choices we make, but he doesn’t know until the event or choice becomes actualized in reality. This also entails that God may or can experience brand new events. If you believe that Jesus is the literal Son of God and or that God was Jesus’ father in every sense of the word, is the second person of the Trinity, etc., then it is quite possible, following the process theology model of God, that God the Father experienced something he had never experienced before when his Son died on the cross, and God grieved and had never experienced such a grief before to a point that he completely changed his relation with the world thereafter. I understand that this view may disturb some who hold to more orthodox and traditional (and Platonic) views of a static, unmoving, omniscient, and unchanging God. However, I find that if the world that we live in, with all its complexity, constant moving parts, and dynamism, its evolutionary processes, are in a way a reflection of God, then God’s being as becoming is an apt description of who he is and how he relates with us. All this begs the question: Does God adapt and evolve as well, just as creation does?