Would God have been the same without us?


Dwight P. of the blog Versus Populum critiques the following quote from Rowan Williams:

A word of caution here: some modern thinkers have been very tempted by language that seems to suggest that God is in some way in need of having something else around in order to become more fully himself. … But I think we have to face a challenge here; we must get to grips with the idea that we don’t ‘contribute’ anything to God, that God would have been the same God if we had never been created. (Italics added.)
I could not disagree more with Rowan Williams. I have to wonder why anyone would want to worship a God who was so unaffected by the world. As I wrote in a comment to that blog posting,
If God is unaffected by what we do, then what kind of God is that? Why did God even create (or evoke the creation of) the world anyway, if nothing that happens in creation matters to God or affects him/her in any way? Rowan Williams's conception of God ultimately leads to a view of God who is impassive and not sympathetic to the human condition.
One of the contributions of process theology to this matter is its understanding that God has both a "primordial" nature--which is God's timeless, unchanging, perfect character in the abstract--and a "consequent" nature--God's sympathetic responsiveness to the world. Unless you take the view that God is indifferent to the world, then God must necessarily have a consequent nature. That means that God responds to the world as it unfolds.

Many people seem to confuse this point by assuming that if God were perfect, then God could not be affected by the world, under the assumption that once something is perfect it cannot change and still retain its perfection. This seems to be the mistake that Rowan Williams is making (at least, I infer this based on the quote above.) The problem with this notion of God as an abstractly perfect being is that it results in a God who is totally divorced from the world. It is a bit of a conundrum, because a God who was not perfectly sympathetic with the world would not be perfect, but a God who responds to the world must necessarily change!

The solution is really quite simple. One need only recognize that there are different aspects to God's perfection. In the abstract, God has a timeless, unchanging perfection of character. But God also responds perfectly with unlimited love and sympathetic response to the world, and the nature of this responsiveness depends on what happens in the world. These are simply two different ways that God's perfection manifests itself. The idea that Rowan Williams propounds really seems to come from an inability to understand this point.

So when Williams says that "God would have been the same God if we had never been created," he is both right and wrong. It is true that God would have had the same primordial nature if we had never been created; but God's consequent nature would have been different.

In the case of process theology, this consequent nature is realized through God's incorporation of the world into his/her own essence. That means that God fully experiences what we experience, and all our experiences thus enhance God's own existence.


OneSmallStep said...

** "God would have been the same God if we had never been created," he is both right and wrong.**

There seem to be problems with this statement as soon as the word 'created' is applied. If being a Creator is an intimate part of God's nature, then God would not be the same if we had never been created ... for in creating us, God is demonstrating part of His nature and character.

Mystical Seeker said...

That's a good point, One Small Step. If it didn't matter to God whether we existed or not, then why did God even bother to create us in first place?

Cynthia said...

It also interferes with the need for the Incarnation. If God is so unaffected, why bother?

This whole discussion calls to mind a quote from Mr. Spock: "Logic is a bouquet of flowers...that smells bad."