Sunday, March 21, 2010

The God in Process

What can I do?
Miracles are too flashy… I don't do them.
I can't understand.
Where were you when I needed you?

The lines above, believe it or not, are words I heard spoken by God. My perception could not deceive me as I myself heard George Burns, aka God, in the film "O God" effectively delivered those lines.

We saw the film last semester in our Theodicy class. We were asked to take note in the movie some behaviors and even expressions of God which were deemed—ungodly.

This may be strange, but I did enjoy looking for deeds and words that are blasphemous in god, ungodly characteristics that are bound to challenge my traditional notions of God.

I found the lines above remarkably funny because they made me see God in an entirely different context. I realized that my religion has made me recognize a God that is filled with unlimited possibilities, complete perfection, and absolutely remarkable beauty as attested by the works of His hands.

This is all the more nourished in me by Theodicy.

Watching the movie with that frame of mind made me consider how the production staff made a mockery of God.

But then again, the story was outrageously hilarious that the god portrayed in the movie couldn't fit in a bit with whatever Divine essence I have in my mind.

And hardly I had any idea that the God presented in that film—an image of a God who asks, who needs, who is confused, who is imperfect—has been given much serious thought in philosophy.

In fact, Charles Hartshorne, one of the biggest names behind the movement who advocated of such an ungodly God stance, was not laughing when he proposed an alternative way of seeing God in order to put a harmony between the god prayed to in religion with the god abstracted in philosophy.

Hartshorne clarified that there is nothing wrong in the God worshipped by the classical theists, the thing is, the concept of a God who is not capable of receiving from His creatures seems problematic.

He explained that Divine Perfection entails divine receptivity or divine passivity more than immutability and is defined in the absolute concepts as omnipotence, omniscience and immutability,

Having been acquainted with the firm belief of the classical theists, I found this strange and I found myself asking this question: How could God benefit something from us?

God is absolutely perfect. Hence, His infinite perfection would be put in question if ever we welcome even the smallest possibility that He has the capacity to receive anything from us.

After all, I find it quite logical that an absolutely perfect being must not lose or add any of its characteristics in so far as yielding or gaining any of its properties signify potency. But potency implies imperfection. Hence, it follows that we cannot find any potency in an infinitely perfect being.

But Hartshorne was quick to clarify that it is indeed true that God is immutable when we consider His real nature. His real nature, however, is neither omnipotence, omniscience and not even immutability.

For Hartshorne, God's real essence is love.

Hartshorne noted that the root problem of classical theism is that it has discounted the idea of perfection of love. For Him, "The perfection of God is the perfection of love." He underscored the point that love and perfection in God are never meant to be disjoined.

He further argues that "would it not rather be very strange if God, who loves us, gained no new joy from our achievement and growth?"

Thus, the unmistakable Process position:

"God is perfect in love, but never completed, ever growing in the joy, the richness of his life, and this without end through all the infinite future."

Simply put, if God indeed loves, or better yet, if God truly is, love, He must then be affected by the dispositions of His beloved. His joy must increase if they do something good, and conversely, He must experience sorrow, even utter pain, if they displease Him.

Here, we see that the doctrine of Divine Relativity brings to fore a concept of a personal God who has social relations, and thus, very much within a context of a dynamic relationship with mankind. Because He is in entangled in a relationship, He cannot but be affected.

Love, being His essence, ushers in a lot of repercussions as regards our human way of knowing Him.

For one, He loses his absolute omnipotence for He proves to be powerless when it involves the exercise of human freedom. With this is the principle of causal indeterminacy, which Hartshorne proposes, making creativity and decision-making not an exclusive property of God. In our right, we share this special power with God. We ourselves are creators.

This explains why evil triumphs at many times in the history of mankind in spite of the existence of a Supreme Being whose essence is love.

With love as God's nature, His omniscience is put to a question.

God, being involved in a relationship with rational beings, is involved in an ongoing process of learning and of responding to humanity. He cannot foretell the future as it has not come yet.

And so, the classical theistic concept of Divine Providence, which orders all things towards an end, is thus reformulated in the realm of Process Theology. God shares with His rational creatures the creative powers in determining the particular details of the world. His providence does not interfere, it merely intervenes.

My position

Having presented the arguments advanced by Hartshorne as regards his alternative view of looking into the essence of God—I am inclined to judge it as a philosophy grounded in reason.

Assessing his theistic philosophy, using my spectacle as a student of philosophy and as a budding Christian minister, I believe that his exposition of an alternative Christian God does not only stand to reason, but it also offers a more effective way to bridge the lacuna which distinguishes the God of philosophy from the God of religion.

Hence, as I see it, this philosophy is geared towards a better appreciation of God in the eyes of His believers.

If religion is established to sustain the faith of the people which they received through revelation, then, it should follow that religion must in a way present God who is not just somebody they should believe in and worthy of their honor and praise. But above all, He ought to be somebody whom they will never stop falling in love with.

Such a God is only possible if he is social and personal. That in spite of His might, He also has vulnerability because He loves.

I found myself instantly agreeing with Hartshorne when he put forward that notion of God.

Because God loves, he does not only feel for and empathize with His beloved creatures. He has also the capacity to be moved, to be hurt, to feel joy, to be affected by them.

In essence, Hartshorne's philosophy trumpets the presence of a loving God in the lives of the human beings; He neither watches from a distance nor He's a mere fence sitter. Instead, He's intensely involved in the affairs of the creatures whom He values the most.

God is love

I agree with Hartshorne's view that indeed, God's nature is love—and as such, he acts following such nature.

One of the most mysterious questions we tried to unlock in Theodicy was the immutability of God in the person of Jesus Christ in the event of incarnation.

Did God risk sacrificing His immutability for the sake of mankind?

We found ourselves defending the doctrine of the classical theists, trumpeting stubbornly His immutability, which eventually put us at odds with the sublime truth of Sacred Revelation, which clearly and univocally exalts how God indeed became man in order to save humankind.

God becoming man only directs us to the profound reality that God is mutable. Not because He does not have any choice nor His powers are finite. He is mutable because He chose to be one in order to be one with the human person.

Again, I agree with Hartshorne in this: an authentic lover cannot but remain unaffected to the affairs of his/her beloved. And God is not merely a lover. He is the fullness of love. He is, simply, love.

A God who is willing, and in fact, sacrificed, his mutability can only be a God Who is desperately in love with mankind.

God in His many forms

As a student of philosophy for the past four semesters, I wrestled with certain philosophical nomenclatures which challenged my mental capacity to commit them to memory. Some philosophical terms did not give me a difficult time nailing them down in my head, while some terms tediously challenged me.

Some of these terms embraced God.

Philosophy introduced me to the other names of God: the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause, the necessary being, the most perfect being, the most intelligent being, the pure act, and the list goes on.

These names may succinctly bear the philosophical ideals which best represent God to those who wish to rationally explain His essence, but I agree with Hartshorne that they simply lack the concreteness of a God who is intimately linked with His creation.

True, I myself found it both enriching, yet at first uncomforting, that God is conveyed with human forms. However, I believe that this is necessary in order to make it convenient to embrace a God who shares with us some forms which properly belongs to us. A God whom we pray to is neither a foreigner nor an alien. But He's very much like us.

Spirituality and Ecclesiology

Recently, I got across one study on Youth Spirituality. The paper examined "the conflicts apparent between young people and church as a means of expression of their spirituality" despite the fact that experts in the field "point to a remarkable level of spirituality amongst youth."

One of the factors which contributed into this phenomenon is that: "Many of the concepts of the traditional, transcendent theology are unintelligible to young people… There is [also] the divorce between the experience of the spiritual and the language with which it is expressed."

If philosophy helps us to theologize, to rationally explain the existence of God, then, I believe, that it needs to provide more compelling reasons which will further our stance to glorify him. But Hartshorne rightly put it: He may be intellectually awesome, but He's not genuinely worshipful.

Having tasted to the philosophy Scholastic theism did not completely accomplish its duty.

The Hartshornean Project: "The idea of deity can be so formulated as to preserve perhaps even increase its religious value"

I commenced this paper quoting "God." Let me end with a few lines from the Vicar of Christ, implicitly bearing the strands of wisdom of Hartshorne: "Christ is very much thirsting for our love."

Paul McQuillan "The Journal of Youth and Theology", November 2004.