God never gives up


The process theologian John Cobb answers a question on the Process and Faith web site about how easy it is to integrate the ideas of process theology with those of Paul Tillich. He writes respectfully about Tillich and says that he is about 95% in agreement with Tillich's ideas. Yet within that other 5%, he finds several important differences, including this one with respect to the nature of Divine love:

The straightforward meaning is that God acts specifically for the good of creatures and that what happens to creatures makes a difference to God. A Tillichian may say that God gives the creatures their being, but cannot say in any straightforward way that what happens to the creatures makes a difference to God. A Whiteheadian believes that not only do we owe our existence to God but we also receive a call to actualize ourselves in that way that realizes most value in ourselves and in others. A Whiteheadian also believes that everything about our experience makes an everlasting difference in the divine experience. Thus we attribute to God, quite straightforwardly, both agape and compassion. (Emphasis added).
This paragraph highlights the two points that I find particularly appealing about process theology. One is that God's compassion entails constant activity on our behalf, and the other is that what we do matters to God. These are, I think, interwoven, because when we respond to God's call, we not only do it for ourselves, but we also do it for God.

Like Cobb, I think that Tillich's theology has much going for it, and I freely borrow from some of Tillich's ideas, but I cannot embrace it completely. Perhaps this illustrates the problem that I have with Spong, who claims Tillich as a significant influence; as much as I admire much of Spong's work, I also find him frustrating at times as he proclaims the death of "theism" without really clarifying what it is he offers in its place.

What process theology offers, to me anyway, is the notion s that God never gives up on us, and that by the same token we should never give up on God. If God is always calling out to us, then we have a responsibility to listen, to make the world work the best it can. Through my own interpretive lens, as I see it, to the extent that we struggle to overturn the evils of the world--war, sexism, racism, economic oppression--we are listening to God's constant call. Every single one of these "isms" that we struggle with are roadblocks to the full actualization of human beings that God desires. We thus carry out God's will when we expand human justice. And with God calling us forward to the future, there is always hope that we can make a better world, even if we seem to do a fantastic job of mucking it up so much of the time.

But it isn't just on a global sense that what we do matters to God. What we do at each moment matters as well. The little things matter just as much as the big ones. We can't be saving the world 24 hours a day; ever time we give up a seat to an elderly person on a crowded subway train, for example, we are also enhancing someone else's life and thus doing God's will.

The idea that what I do makes a difference to God is for me a comforting response in the light of my own agnosticism (if not outright skepticism) about the existence of an afterlife. Even if I don't continue on in some form after I die, I can still take comfort in the belief that every second of my life enhances the Divine experience, and that every act of love that I commit and which enhances someone else's life also enhances the Divine experience.


Luke said...

great post! i really do like Process Theology... but like most systems, can't embrace it 100%. The idea of a responsive God and one that does not WILL everything into place is refreshing and freeing... but dying and being added to the continual loop of God's memory is not too promising.. but all the more to focus on the here and now that Process offers!


Mystical Seeker said...

Luke, I think there might be some process theologians who do believe in an afterlife. Hartshorne definitely did not, but I'm not sure that this is the case with Cobb, for example.