Re: What does the creation lack?

From: george murphy (
Date: Sun Oct 28 2001 - 14:51:39 EST

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    "Howard J. Van Till" wrote:

    > George, in response to Dave:
    > > Perhaps one thing you're missing is that use of the term "Providence"
    > > in describing Howard's view may be misleading. He has expressed some
    > > approval of the process theology views of Griffin, which differ significantly
    > > from traditional doctrines of providence in which God is omnipotent. In
    > > process thought God is "lures" the world toward the goals God intends, but
    > > one can't say that "all [is] within the will of the Almighty. Everything
    > > works, and works out, as God intends."
    > > But probably Howard will want to speak for himself on this.
    > Correct. From the process theology perspective, God is "supreme in power"
    > but not omnipotent. Not all that happens is within God's will. God's
    > persuasive action cannot override or supersede the action of creatures to
    > force a particular outcome.
    > That does not eliminate the idea of God's acting in a way that has the needs
    > of God's creatures in mind, but it does modify it. I'm still evaluating the
    > process theology perspective; it is strong on a concept of divine action
    > that does not entail the standard problems of theodicy but other features do
    > indeed need to be considered.

            Though it may seem irreverent, we might also approach this issue by asking
    "What does God lack?" That's by way of pointing out a basic difference between two
    ways of understanding a limitation of God to action through natural processes.
            In the approach of process theology (P), that limitation is due to the very
    nature of God and God's relationship with the world. A more traditional kenotic
    approach (K) sees God as indeed able to do all things, including miraculous
    intervention that violates the usual pattern of nature, but as voluntarily limiting
    divine action to what can be accomplished through natural processes. This is the
    scholastic distinction between God's "absolute power" and God's "ordinate power."
    The latter is limited while the former is not (except by the requirement of
    non-contradiction.) The process view, OTOH, amounts to the claim that even God's
    "absolute power" is limited.
            Both of these approaches are consistent with the ideas of creation's
    functional integrity and from the standpoint of the natural sciences may be
    indistinguishable. But there are some important theological differences. In K,
    God's not superseding natural laws is due to the fact that God does not choose to
    do so, while with P it's due to the fact that God can't do so. K is a view of
    divine action that is modelled on the Incarnation and cross, in which Christ
    "emptied" himself, while with P Incarnation and cross are examples of a general
    pattern: It's a difference in starting points.
            P does not have to answer the question "Why does God so limit divine
    action?" because he must in the nature of things. K can of course simply fall back
    on "Because he wants to," but can also argue that limitation of divine action to
    what is in accord with rational laws of nature makes it possible for creatures to
    understand & have some control over their world. It is seldom noted, OTOH, that P
    does not really explain why there is a rational pattern for what takes place in the
            It may seem that P has the edge when dealing with the theodicy question:
    To put it crudely, bad things happen to good people because God can't help it. God
    can't intervene miraculously to keep cancer cells from multiplying, &c. K, OTOH,
    has to say that God could intervene but chooses not to. That may not seem a very
    attractive answer. This impression may be mitigated, however, by (a) the argument
    that this is the price that has to be paid for a rational world and (b) the claim
    that not only creatures but also God pays this price on the cross.
            Finally, K is more open to the possibility of miraculous intervention than
    P. Howard speaks consistently of his view of creation as ruling out
    "form-conferring interventions" but what about other kinds (e.g., redemptive)
    interventions? I have said before that I don't think it's necessary to insist that
    any given action, up to & including the resurrection, must be of such a character.
    OTOH, I wonder if it's wise to adopt an approach in which such interventions not
    even possible.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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