Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whatever September 30, 2020
Today I am continuing my series of talks on Process Theology. I hope some of you did some homework and read a little about it. Don’t beat yourself up if you are confused with what you read because this truly is a difficult topic to understand. Few people, myself excluded, have mastered it.
True story: The professor that taught the course I attended on Process Theology at Baylor University in the early 90s, Dr. Wally Christian, said that the most difficult book to read in the world—and the world is a fairly large place—is the book titled, Process and Reality, by the process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead.
(By the way, if, when you hear his name, you want to break out your Alfred Lord Tennyson books on poetry, or watch an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, you are not alone. It makes me want to know: Who is the world’s most famous “Alfred”? Is it Alfred the Great? Is it Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler? This is a question worth asking.)
Anyway, back to the book by Alfred North Whitehead. Occasionally, when my children were little, they would ask me to read to them a bedtime story. I had fun pulling out the book Process and Reality and begin reading to them from random pages. They were not amused.
Let me continue today from where I left off. Last week I introduced the notion that God is not omnipotent or all-powerful in the sense of coercive power. Instead, God is all-powerful in the sense of persuasive or influential power. By definition, of course, that doesn’t sound like omnipotence.
As someone once wrote, “God has all the power God can have,” which is a limiting statement.
This implies two things. First, as I noted last week, God is not responsible for everything that happens in the universe. If God can’t coercively control everything, then sure God can’t be held responsible for everything.
Second, God’s persuasive power implies that “free will,” especially human free will, is a very real thing. It’s not just the way we interpret reality. There really is free will—to an extent. Nature and nurture are always interfering in our free will like ants at a picnic.
If we agree, then, that there is at least a certain amount of free will in the universe, particularly in humanity, then we can conclude that the universe is characterized by process and change. Hence, the name “process theology.”
Do you see how I am connecting the dots here? The “process” is this: God uses the power of persuasion and influence on free will agents (mainly us) to help bring about change and growth. The universe, from top to bottom, macro to micro, is constantly in the process of change—for good or ill.
Do you see how this lines up with the theory of evolution? Process theology is, at its heart, an attempt to make theology and science sympatico.
Now, let me connect another dot. If God is busy persuading and influencing agents of free will, then what God is really offering you and me and all of creation at all times and in all places is possibilities. That’s it. Possibilities. Not absolutes. Possibilities. God is not controlling you and me; God is opening up possibilities for you and me. That’s what God does. That’s God’s job.
Some people might ask, “Well, doesn’t God have a will? And doesn’t God’s will supersede our will, even if our will is free and unfettered? The answer is, yes, God has a will—some would even call it God’s perfect will. And yet, because we have free will, to an extent, not everything that occurs is God’s will.
You and I have the power to ignore God’s will (if we even know what it might be). Therefore, even God’s will is subject to change. It is always in process, just like the universe. Every choice or decision we make, every action we take, every thought we think, etc., is either in line with God’s will or it isn’t.
If it is, then the possibilities that God has offered us (unbeknownst to us) continues. If it isn’t, however, then new possibilities are formed in God’s will, and the dance of the cosmos continues. Think of a powerful computer running possible scenarios simultaneously. That’s a simplistic analogy, but it is helpful to think about God in this way.
At this moment, you might have a thousand options for thinking and acting, and yet you will only choose one each moment. And so, at each moment God proposes more “possible scenarios” for the next moment—perhaps even your entire future. By the way, the word “potentialities” is also used in the lingo of Process theology.
Again, this is the process of the universe, made possible by a Creator God. It fits our perception of reality. It fits the notion of the contrast between human free will and God’s perfect will. It fits the scientific theory of evolution. The only thing we have to “give up” if we buy into Process theology is the notion of God’s omnipotence or all-powerfulness. But again, it does suggest that God has all the power God can have.
God might not be able to coerce us to do whatever God wants us to do. God may not be in complete control of everything that happens in the world. But God still has a pretty big gig, because, according to Process theology, God is still the One who creates all the possibilities or potentialities for God’s creation.
That’s a heck of a gig. Although, I have to admit, I wish God could control those writers who author books that are totally incomprehensible.