Friday, July 08, 2005

Open Theism

I don't mean to be snotty and/or patronizing but I wonder about these theological systems that need to make God's consciousness similar to human consciouness.

What do you think of this?

It's "open theism;" the idea that the future is not determined by God.

I first heard about this this morning from my most recent issue of The Christian Century, in an article called "What God Knows: The Debate On Open Theism" by James K.A. Smith.

I'm reading this thing over toast with cream cheese, lox and capers and puzzling. Furrowed brow.

From the article:

"If God knows that suffering will occur, the open theist reasons, then there must be some sense in which God is responsible for evil -- which would compromise God's goodness. Since such a conclusion would be clearly contrary to scripture and Christian tradition, the open theist offers another account: God didn't know."

Um. Okay.
Well, I appreciate these open theists' sincere desire to deal with theodicy. That's cool. Thanks, fellas.
But on another level it seems kind of sweet and dear, like I want to pat them on the head and say "There, there, it's okay if you don't understand why your omniscient God permits evil. It's okay if you don't know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It's okay if you aren't capable of comprehending the ineffable mystery of a mostly benevolent Deity and a sacred creation that still contains BTK killers and genocides and bombs on the London tube, and cancer and tsunamis and the recent Britney Spears-Kevin Federline reality show. You don't have to develop a whole new systematics of the mind of God to help you manage the anxiety of that unknowing. But I mean, knock yourself out."

Also, since when does scripture not include a concept of God's (for lack of a better word) Badness?

Well, it all makes my head ache. It seems sad, futile, unnecessarily irreverent and worst of all, we're back in that anthropomorphized God concept again.

Have at it, PeaceBangers.
Or have another iced coffee. It is summer, after all.

(P.S. Sorry for technical difficulties experienced by T-Man and Dave. Wish I could help, dudes, but I am Unfrozen Caveman Blogger. Your modern technological ways confuse and confound me!)


Blogger fausto said...

"Open theism", as articulated by Clark Pinnock and others, might be seen as the evangelicals' version of the process theology of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne (a UU, thank you very much), and John Cobb.

To oversimplify, the primary difference is that where the God of process theology may not be omnipotent, the God of open theology remains omnipotent but voluntarily limits his power. For reasons that are beyond my ability to appreciate, this subtle distinction permits a higher view of Scriptural authority than "standard" process theology does, and therefore presents less of a problem to the Bible-is-inspired-and-infallible crowd.

For more, click here and here.

Blogger greenseagirl said...

It all makes a lot more sense if you let go of the idea that God must be omnipotent in the sense of "every string of words I can produce describes something that could be if I put the words 'God can' in front of them." "With God all things are possible," but not the logical contradiction of having free will without any possibility for badness (I feel like that's similar to having two bodies occupying the same point in space simultaneously. If an apple is sitting at x,y, on the table, an orange cannot simultaneously be sitting on the table at x,y.) All things are possible... but not nonsense.
I'm basing all of the above on my memory of C.S. Lewis's "The Problem of Pain" which I thought was a fine treatment of the subject.

Another point that Lewis brings up is, what if God knows everything (is omniscent) not because God can predict everything perfectly, but because God, being in eternity, simultaneously beholds everything happening in time? Therefore God can only know what does happen-- the example Lewis and St.Augustine use is that God could not have known that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice Isaac unless at some point in time, that was demonstrated.

Also, the whole flood thing in Genesis-- my translation says that "And Yahweh regretted having made man on the face of the earth, and his heart grieved." So, that part of the text, at least, would suggest that God could do something and later regret it, which kind of makes the whole omniscent thing sort of questionable. That idea is something I remember from Leon Kass's book "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis."

I hope to one day have an original thought of my very own.
But I doubt I could ever come up with anything finer than these authors.

Blogger greenseagirl said...

But does the way one reconciles (even if only by the negative capability of carrying on with some things unresolved) an idea of God and an idea of evil matter so much as how one responds to evil, or chooses to live?

Such puzzles are worth thinking about, especially if it matters deeply to a person, but I don't think knowing this (or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin) is necessary to live a good life.

Blogger Chalicechick said...


I once witnessed a really bitchin' argument between a mathematician and an athropologist over whether we could concieve of the way chimpanzees think.

If I try to concieve of it, the best I can do is a really simple and task-focussed version of the way I think.

I concieve of God thinking more or less like I do, but a lot better at seeing the big picture.

I think it's sort of natural to see things in human terms when we try to put ourselves in God's head. I'm aware of this limitation, but I keep doing it from time to time.

I think a big reason for this is that I *want* God to see things the way I do. For example, I *want* God to see all the people who die by his hands in the old testament as people, I want God to see that their deaths are a tragedy.

Maybe that God doesn't and they had to die as a step in God's strategic plan that we can't concieve of IS the answer.

But it's a really scary answer.


Blogger boyinthebands said...

Uh, PB quoted CARM. They give me such a rash.

But -- call it perversity -- in their zeal to denounce Universalism, they talk about it in great detail. Great useful detail which is helpful in seeing where the weak spots are.

Blogger Jaume said...

This discussion on God voluntarily giving up Its ability to see the future has a belief nested in it: that God has a will. So, question the idea that God has an individual (personal if you like) will to make decisions about things, and the whole theological construction falls apart.

Blogger fausto said...

Jaume is right about will. Open theology preserves God's will, whereas the question of will may be an open (no pun intended) issue in process theology.

Incidentally, the "Young, growing God" verse in hymn #23 ("Bring Many Names") in our grey hymnal is a deliberate rewrite of the original words. As rewritten, it is a concise statement of the kernel of process theology.

(Unlike many of the other emendations in the grey hymnal, I like this one, because was done with a specific theological purpose, which it successfully achieves. Too many of the other rewrites corrupt careful Scriptural citations or poetic expressions in the original text for no reason beyond overly PC hypersensitivity. One of my favorite examples of this is in "The Spacious Firmament on High", where the original poetic conventions of a masculie sun and a feminine moon are neutered in the UU version.)

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Ya'll are so smart. Does this remind you at all of the Jewish idea of God withdrawing Godself voluntarily from the world/Creation? I'm not remembering the details of this theological development but I believe it has been highlighted in the 20th century as a response to theodicy concerns. Maybe "withdraw" isn't the right word (too Deist) -- I mean "withdraw" more in the sense of "making room for" (and in this case, I believe that God is making more room for human free will).

Anyone? Anyone?

Blogger Oversoul said...

I’ve wrestled with theodicy a lot-and I’m sure that I’m far from done with it.

The idea that God is not necessarily omni-whatever, is one I came to myself after much reflection and reading. I can buy omnipotent, but not omniscient.

I believe very much in free will-and in a universe which is, to quote Thomas Berry, a “…single gorgeous celebratory event.” With an emphasis on “event.” A real happenin’, (man).

The universe, as I understand it, is in play. God is a part of the event, and its originator, but is not pulling all the strings every single second; we (and other elements in the universe) have a part to play too. It is dynamic, and exciting; it pulses with the possibilities that God planted in it, but I don’t believe in a guaranteed outcome. Maybe God gives a nudge every now and then, but no micromanaging.

Whenever I think to God “why not stop the bombers in [London, New York, place of your choice]” the “response” I get back is “I’ve given you conscience, reason, love, remorse, the ideal of peace and free will. What you do with it is your job.” A tights-wearing caped God who descends from on high to save us from the villains in the nick of time is one who will have wasted making us with the parts that make humans worthwhile in the first place-including many of the gifts I just noted. I think there’s just too much value to God in the power and potential of humanity to choose good, love and peace.

Those of you who are all well-read and theologically sophisticated may not care for it, but I like this comic strip’s take (I don’t recall which part in the series, but it’s a quick read) on the issue:

Interview with God


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