Freedom and Persuasive Love


Majorie Suchocki's essay, "What is Process Theology", available on the Process and Faith web site, includes this commentary on God's persuasive role and the freedom that exists in the universe:

In the relational categories of process thought, God creates with the world. We actually think this is a much stronger way to express God’s power. A children’s fable once told about a rivalry between the wind and the sun. Which one would be able to remove the coat of that man down there on the road? The wind thought that it could, and so it blew and blew and blew with great force. Unfortunately, the strength of the wind was such that the man just drew his coat more firmly around himself. Then it was the sun’s turn. The sun just beamed its rays down upon the man until finally he grew quite warm—and removed his coat. In process terms, the wind worked coercively, trying to force its will upon the man, but the sun worked persuasively, luring the man’s cooperative action. To be able to elicit the willing cooperation of another is a far greater power than simply to force the other to do as one wishes.

God creates through persuasive power. Don’t we experience it that way? We don’t see God yanking things and people around as if they were puppets! The tradition accounts for this by saying that God gave people freedom. Process people think that freedom isn’t an occasional thing limited to just some aspects of creation, but that something like freedom pervades all existence. Every part of God’s creation has some element of freedom. What we call “freedom” ranges from very low levels of indeterminately random events to very high levels of conscious decision-making. And there are many grades in between. God works with each element in existence, in every time and place, offering possibilities for achieving the good. Finally, the world determines what it does with God’s possibilities in every moment. Freedom means the ability to participate at some level in what one becomes.

If we take freedom seriously, then we must talk about three powers of creation. There is the power of the past, which simply means that where we are and when we are makes a difference to who we can become. We must take account of these past influences, because we simply do not exist in a vacuum. We exist relationally. In a sense, we take the creative influences of the past into ourselves in every moment.

But we also take the creative power of God into ourselves at every moment. In this second creative power, God offers us a future, a way of becoming oneself that is not quite like any other way ever achieved before. God’s creativity is the power of transformation, of hope, of a new future. God’s influence toward the future takes account of the past that affects us, offering a way of dealing with that past.

And the third creative power, of course, is ourselves. Finally, we decide what we will become. We are responsible for dealing with the actual past received from the world and the possible future received from God. The world as we know it is, in every moment, the end result of this creative process: the power of the past, which is the power of the world; the power of the future, which is the power of God, and the power of the present, which is our own power to integrate these influences into who we are becoming in every moment. Our freedom is to take these three creative powers and to use them. The choice of how we use them is ours.

So yes, God is by all means Creator, calling the world into existence in every moment. But God creates with the world, not independently of the world. The world enters into something like a creative dance with God, emerging anew in every moment as it takes its past and God’s future into its becoming self.