Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whatever
October 7, 2020
I have been busier than usual this past week with a couple of funerals, so I won’t keep you long today. I am continuing my talks about a theological system I was introduced to back in my school days called “Process Theology.”
It basically saved my faith because it appeals to my rational side. Things need to make sense to me or else I am prone to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s a deplorable image, is it not?
So far, I have talked about how, according to Process Theology, God has persuasive power rather than coercive power. Therefore, we can’t blame God for everything that happens, from human evil to natural evil. God just doesn’t have the kind of power that can stop something like a Holocaust or a pandemic.
And yet, everything that happens is contained in God. Here’s where it gets tricky. What that means is that the universe and God do not keep separate addresses. The universe receives its mail at God’s address, although, as we shall see, God isn’t confined to the universe’s address.
The book of Acts claims that in God we live and move and have our being. That’s very much a Process thought. Getting back to the baby analogy, think of a fetus that exists within a woman’s body. We, and the rest of Creation, are the fetus, that exists—lives, moves, and has our being—in God’s womb.
So, whatever happens to the fetus, in a sense, happens to the woman. (By the way, don’t read anything into that in terms of the abortion debate. I’m not going there!) To put a finer point on this: whatever happens to us, happens to God.
Are you beginning to see the relationship here between God and God’s creation? In traditional theism, or theology, God and the Creation are totally separate, which is why traditional theists talk a lot about inviting God (or Jesus) into their hearts, meaning their lives. If someone doesn’t share your address, then you have to invite them over, right?
The classic picture that illustrates this divine-human separation is Michelangelo’s fresco painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel called “The Creation of Adam.” In this painting, God reaches out to touch Adam, the first man, but doesn’t quite connect. There’s about a half-inch space between God and Adam’s fingers. We might call this the first act of “social distancing.”
I believe the point of the painting is that God is giving life to Adam, but do you remember what happened to Adam in that wild and crazy story from the book of Genesis? He and his better half, Eve, “sinned” against God.
Well, in traditional theology, “sin” separates us from God, so there is always this huge chasm between God and Creation, including humanity. In this theological scheme, Christ is sent to be a sacrifice for an angry deity that is thoroughly disgusted with our sinful nature. Now, at least, God can stomach us and we can invite him, through Jesus, into our hearts—our home address.
I’m sure I didn’t do this justice, nevertheless, the main point in traditional thinking is that there is separation between us and God. That’s all you need to remember.
In Process theology, however, this can never happen. Not only are we not, and can never be, separate from God—read Romans 8:39 where Paul claims that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, if we are not separate and we share the same address, then our experiences—good and bad alike—are God’s experiences.
Before you read too much into that, let me share with you another major point in Process theology, which is, “God contains the universe (which I’ve been saying), but is not identical with it. How do you like that for a theological curve ball? God contains the universe but is not identical with it. In other words, share the same address with God but God has other properties.
In the field of philosophy of religion, there are two similar, but different, theories about how God and the Creation are related. Both contrast with traditional theism, which states that God and creation are totally separate (again because of our sinful nature that was on full display in the Garden of Eden).
The two other theories in the field of philosophy of religion are “pantheism” and “panentheism.” Literally, the first one suggests everything is God—the chair you are sitting on, the air you breathe, the body you inhabit, etc. is God. I don’t know about you, but that just feels like hogwash, and most scholars, especially Western theologians, reject pantheism outright.
The other alternative is panentheism (as opposed to pantheism), and it literally means everything is in God. So, the chair you are sitting in, the air you breathe, and the body you inhabit are all in God. Thus, as I’ve been saying, our experiences are God’s experiences.
Like Bill Clinton, God feels our pain. This is what some scholars mean when they say God was crucified with Jesus. They are not necessarily saying that Jesus was or is God; they are saying that Jesus’ experience on the cross was God’s experience.
Everything is in God. God contains the universe, much like a pregnant mother contains a fetus.
But that’s not the end of the story. As I’ve been saying, the universe is not identical with God. We share the same address with God, but God has other zip codes beyond our experience. There is more to God than the mere universe and all its experience, which is quite mind-boggling, because the universe takes up more than a few acres.
Just like a pregnant woman that contains the fetus, but is much more than the fetus, God contains the universe, but is much more than the universe. Does that make sense? I hope so, because I’ve run out of analogies and metaphors.
Well, that’s all I need to throw at you today. If you don’t like everything I’ve said, please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Until we meet again in this forum, think about all the suffering in the world during this pandemic, other natural disasters, and the zillion human faux pas that we commit each and every day. Personally, I don’t think God gets paid enough for all that.