Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Openness of God

On December 6, at 3pm the Pacific Northwest Adventist Forum presents Richard Rice, Ph.D. Professor of Theology, Philosophy, and Religion Loma Linda University presentation entitled "The Openness of God- Then and Now" The location is:
North Hill Adventist Fellowship 10106 36th Street East Edgewood, WA 98371

I was given a couple of books by a friend on the subject. This blog will be based upon Richard Rice's chapter in the book The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God

Much of his chapter deals with refuting the idea that God is personally involved with humanity, which I think is probably an argument against a minority opinion treated like it is the majority opinion. Rice writes on page 12:

According to this influential view, God dwells in perfect bliss outside the sphere of time and space. From his lofty vantage point, he apprehends the whole of created reality in one timeless perception: past, present and future alike appear before him. But though he fully knows and cares for the created world, he remains essentially unaffected by creaturely events and experiences. He is untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or suffering of his creatures. Just as his sovereign will brooks no opposition, his serene tranquility knows no interruption.

In contrast to this view which as I said probably few Christians maintain Rice gives the open view as:

The Open View of God
The view of God and his relation to the world presented in this book provides a striking alternative to the concept just described. It expresses two basic convictions: love is the most important quality we attribute to God, and love is more than care and commitment; it involves being sensitive and responsive as well. These convictions lead the contributors to this book to think of God's relation to the world in dynamic rather than static terms. This conclusion has important consequences. For one thing, it means that God interacts with his creatures. Not only does he influence them, but they also exert an influence on him. As a result, the course of history is not the product of divine action alone. God's will is not the ultimate explanation for everything that happens; human decisions and actions make an important contribution too. Thus history is the combined result of what God and his creatures decide to do. (page 15-16)

Well we are not going to find a whole lot of argument with that, whether a person is traditional or not. He goes on to show the love of God and that God is involved with humanity. As such there is little there to disagree with. His next paragraph reveals where the difference really lies:

Another consequence of this conviction concerns God's knowledge. As an aspect of his experience, God's knowledge of the world is also dynamic rather than static. Instead of perceiving the entire course of human existence in one timeless moment, God comes to know events as they take place. He learns something from what transpires. We call this position the "open view of God" because it regards God as receptive to new experiences and as flexible in the way he works toward his objectives in the world. Since it sees God as dependent on the world in certain respects, the open view of God differs from much conventional theology. Yet we believe that this dependence does not detract from God's greatness, it only enhances it.

Here we see the idea that God is continually learning and this is where the problems really begin because it puts God the experiential learner as opposed to the almighty God. His new experiences determine his objectives. While he may feel it enhances God it raises more problems then it solves. For instance progressive Christian view's realize that the writers to a large extent place their ideas of what God thinks into their stories. As in the flood story God is sorry that He made man in the first place or in the story of Moses where God repents of the evil of starting a new nation out of Moses because Moses talks God out of it since it would have actually make God look bad. The problem here is that God would have to be behaving in ways that are far from God like. At least far from the God like attributes we think of today, almighty and knowledgeable. He behaves far more like the gods of the nations around Israel at the time. Arbitrary and less then logical...way less. In the open view God learns from the conversation with Moses and changes His mind...He has grown from the experience, in the flood story He gets mad and kills everything except for what gets put in the boat. Not really killed in any god like way but through a tremendous disaster that destroys plants and animals alike rather then addressing the strictly human problem.

To explain this change in God Rice writes:

But a significant feature of this passage does not permit this construction. The fact is that God relents in direct response to Moses' plea, not as a consequence of the people's repentance of their apostasy. The repentance mentioned in this case clearly applies to a change that took place in God, not in his people. Of course, God's essential nature and his ultimate purpose did not change—Moses' appeal presupposes this. But this hardly means that nothing in God really changed. To the contrary, his ultimate objectives required him to change his immediate intentions.

God was about to behave pretty irrationally and Moses talked Him out of His irrational idea by explaining why God should not destroy Israel.

My greatest problem with the open view is that it establishes God in behavior particularly in the Old Testament which is likely based more upon the writers concept of God then God's ultimate character. They were beginners just learning about God and dealing with the relation of God to man which we clearly see progressing through the Old Testament. As the writers progressed from blind obedience to a reasoned faith not based upon the rituals and sacrifices but upon living lives of justice, mercy and caring for other people. In which case it is not because God is changing but because people are changing, they are growing in understanding and knowledge, God is the one leading in a step by step process slow as it may be it is the only way people can learn. No doubt and even slower process when you consider that the other people of the world were just as primitive and the violence of the time made justice and mercy difficult. Thus the wars with other nations and the rules to kill Sabbath breakers and adulterers and rebellious children.

To me it seems the open view of God is based upon some faulty assumptions. But then that is another problem that has plagued mankind since the beginning and why we still see through the glass darkly.

1 comment:

Herb Douglass said...

Ron: You have nailed the issues with "the openness of God" as clearly as anyone else has done. Rick is a sensitive, honest thinker but I, too, sense that he is pushing a notion over "a bridge too far." He and I discussed this in open forum about 25 years ago. He is a gracious friend but on this topic we agree to disagree. Cheers, Herb