Who should read this book?


from the Introduction to God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

I wrote this book for you if you want to be able to locate your life in a single, encompassing story, one that includes everything from the first moment the universe began until yesterday, a narrative that embraces deepest personal meaning, a yearning to love and be loved, a quest for social justice and compassion.

I wrote this book for you if you feel wounded by conventional religion, with its domineering God and not infrequent assaults on common sense, scientific method, and human dignity, or if you feel wounded by combative secularism and its not infrequent assaults on any real sense of purpose, transcendence, or belonging.

I wrote this book for Jews who are seeking a way to integrate their admiration for Jewish values and ethics with a spirituality that cannot put on blinders and forget what their minds learned in science labs and history classes.

I also wrote this book for non-Jews who are interested in what wisdom Judaism might contribute to their lives but cannot endure yet another system of counterintuitive faith and mandated obedience. And I wrote this book for all of us, beyond labels, seeking a way to celebrate the dynamism and unity of this marvelous, mysterious, awe-filled world.

Finally, I wrote this book for myself, so I could continue to hold onto Torah as a way of life without abandoning or betraying my best values and the people I love most.

Rabbi Artson begins the book…..

I live in west Los Angeles in a home that was built in the 1950s. Our dining room has wood paneling along its four walls. When we first bought the house a decade ago, the room was painted a sickly green, presumably in the late ’70s during the high-water mark of the aesthetics of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The actual wood grain and tone were covered; I think in that era people thought such a look was cutting-edge. With that greenish coat of paint, the walls looked fake and cheap. When we finally got around to repainting the upstairs of the house, we asked our painter if he could just coat the paneling a simple white because the green was hideous. He pondered for a moment, then took his thumbnail and scratched on the paneling. The paint peeled away, and he said, “You know, I think that under this green there is actual wood.” His team spent three days sandblasting and varnishing. At the end of the week our dining room was transformed! The wood appears rich and the patterns in the grain are magnificent; it is now my favorite room in the house. I had thought, erroneously, that the wall itself was that sickly green when, in fact, that trashy look was just the coating that someone had painted over the shimmering wood.

Modern Westerners often approach religion as I did the paneling: they assume that the only way to be religious is to accept the sickly green overlay of Greek philosophy. They take neo-Platonized Aristotelian scholastic presuppositions and filter religion through those ideas. Then, because they have insurmountable problems with those assertions, they assume that the quandary involves religion itself, or the Bible, or the Talmud, or observance, or God. What Process Theology offers is the opportunity to sandblast the philosophical over lay of Hellenistic Greece and medieval Europe off the rich, burnished grain of Bible, Rabbinics, and Kabbalah so that we can savor the actual patterns in the living wood of religion, the etz hayyim, and appreciate Judaism for what it was intended to be and truly is.

Much like what the sandblasting did for our perspective on our dining room, this book offers the tools to relate to the world anew: not as the bumping together of solid substances in absolute space and time, but as a world of shimmering particles of energy that interact constantly and eternally. Every creature is a resilient pattern of interlocking energy, each in a developing process of becoming. Because becoming is concrete and real, and being is only a logical abstraction, the distillation of becoming in pure thought, Process Thought focuses on becoming as the central mode of every creature, of all creation, and indeed of the Creator as well. The universe is recognized as a series of interacting, recurrent energy patterns, but not one that endlessly loops in the same repetitive patterns. Instead, the surprising miracle of our universe is that it seems to generate novelty with each new moment of continuing creation. New stars, new galaxies, and new elements combine and create new possibilities. At least once, a galaxy with sufficient stability and diversity produced at least one solar system with at least one planet on which the slow and gradual evolution of self-conscious life could – and did – emerge.

In such a worldview, God is not outside the system as some unchanging, eternal abstraction. Rather, God permeates every aspect of becoming, indeed grounds all becoming by inviting us and every level of reality to fulfill our own optimal possibilities. The future remains open, through God’s lure, to our own decisions of how or what we will choose next. God, then, uses a persistent, persuasive power, working in each of us (and all creation at every level) to nudge us toward the best possible outcome. But God’s power is not coercive and not all-powerful. God cannot break the rules or unilaterally dictate our choices. Having created and then partnered with this particular cosmos, God is vulnerable to the choices that each of us makes freely as co-creators.


A RABBI LOOKS AT GOD:  God of Becoming and Relationship
by Rabbi Bradley Artson

Meeting on January 12, 19, 26 and February 2
10-11:30 am at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church
(Los Osos Valley and Clark Valley Roads, Los Osos)

PURCHASE God of Becoming and Relationship at your local bookstore or go to:  




Introducing Process Theology

Rabbi Bradley Artson
God of Becoming and Relationship

A summary of Artson’s introduction, pp. xv – xvi: 

Process Philosophy is a  systematic approach to making sense of the world –
not just one aspect of it, but the world as a whole.

Process Theology integrates religion and science in a way that respects both disciplines as valid ways to relate to the world – and to each other.

Process methodology is based on the following convictions:

about the world: 

The world and God are expressions of continuous change, which is dynamic and relational.

We and the world are not solid substances, but recurrent patterns of energy; we change continually, but also maintain continuity from moment to moment.

To exist in this world is to be self-determining, interconnected, and creative to some degree.

*  We relate to each and all creation instantaneously and intuitively, responding  to the decisions of others – and to the events of the world around us – even as we ourselves are re-created in each instant.

*  We are interconnected, each to each and each to all.  Therefore, all creation has value and dignity.

about God:

* God is the One who makes all relationships possible.  God creates the openness of a future of real novelty and the variety of its possibilities, and God relates to each of us in our particular individuality.

*  God’s communication with human beings is a living, growing process. Therefore, God’s revelation is relational, ongoing, and continuous.

*  God’s revelation calls us to make decisions which will maximize justice, compassion, and love.

* God’s primary mode of power is persuasive, not coercive.  Therefore, we too are called to be persuasive, not coercive.

* God is the One who invites us – and empowers us – to make the best decisions for our personal flourishing and for our mutual flourishing.

* God invites us – and everything in the cosmos – to be co-creators in fashioning the present, out of the possibilities offered by the future, and out of the constraints imposed by the past.

About faith:

*  Commitment to this creative process requires faithfulness, which rises above any faith (doctrine or creed).




Some notes on Process Philosophy

This introduction to Process Theology was written by Dr. John Horsley


Process theology derives from process philosophy.

Process theology derives in particular from the philosophy of Harvard professor Alfred North Whitehead.  Whitehead asked, “What is reality made up of?”    The standard answer is things – chairs, tables, books, living things – plants, animals, people.  What are these things made up of –  substances (stuff).  This stuff can change into other kinds of stuff but endures through time.

Whitehead says, in contrast to this picture, that everything is made of experience – in fact single moments of experience (drops of experience) that succeed one another.

For Whitehead, all kinds of experience must be taken into account: experience anxious and carefree, experience happy and grieving, experience emotional and experience intellectual, experience normal and abnormal, experience asleep and experience awake.….  (see Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, a short course on process thought, lesson 4) *  

What is a moment of experience?   It’s an event – something that happens.  This is reality – events.   The universe consists of  events  which come into existence, last for a moment, and then pass out of existence.……..becoming.

Process theology is thoroughly relational.

Whitehead believed that many of the great conundrums of modern philosophy and science could only be solved if one accepts the belief that all existing things are internally related.

If you draw two dots on a piece of graph paper, they are externally related; their relationship is relative to the piece of paper on which they are both located.

By contrast, each child is internally related to her or his mother. Not only was she once a part of her mother’s body, but she has internalized many features of her mother’s personality, her mother’s beliefs, and her mother’s reactions to the world. Our mother is a different person from ourselves (though it often takes many years to realize this!), but key features of who she was have now become a part of who we are.

It may be that our relationship with our mother is a paradigm case of internal relatedness. But Whitehead suggested that all existing things are internally related to all other existing things. All person‐to‐person relationships are of this nature. There is some sense in which I understand you from the inside, and I hope there are some ways in which you understand this presentation from a space internal to you. All living things are internally related to all other living things in certain senses.  (See Philip Clayton, God Beyond Orthodoxy: Process Theology for the 21st  Century) *

So, according to process thought, you are an unending process of becoming, internally related to all things, one member in a cosmic community of becoming.  And thus in Life Abundant, Sally McFague writes,

Each stage of the universe’s evolution has come about through greater and greater differentiation: individuality (not individualism) is built into the nature of things. All of these individuals are internally, intrinsically, related to one another…  Nothing can be itself (in all its wonderful, radical particularity) except by means of the whole. Everything is an individual but depends on others to be this individual. (See Life Abundant, p.101) *

What is the role of God in all of this?

In Whitehead’s philosophy God has two aspects: a non-coercive but guiding aspect which is home to all the potentialities which the universe can actualize, and which is within each experiencing subject as its own innermost lure toward full aliveness; and a receptive side which shares in the experiences of all living beings, anywhere and everywhere, and is affected by all that is felt. (See Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, lesson 19) *

At every moment of your becoming, God prehends (that is, takes in) your valuations and your most intimate responses – shares in your experiences. God takes them up into the divine life.  And God becomes different as a result. At the next moment of your becoming, God offers back to you those valuations, experiences, and the experiences of all other living things, but now valued and interpreted from the divine perspective. The becoming God becomes a part of the becoming you.  Then, in the next moment, you contribute your response to this becoming back, in an unending process of divine‐human (and divine‐nonhuman) dialogue.”  (See Philip Clayton, God Beyond Orthodoxy: Process Theology for the 21st Century). *

Whitehead proposes that, at every moment of our lives, we are improvising responses to given situations, adding our own voice to the very history of the universe. Other creatures are doing this, too. We live in an improvisational universe, in which indeterminacy is as real, and as important, as determinacy.

Thus, for Whitehead, the future is always open, and the future is never entirely pre-determined by the past or the present. This is the case even for God, who knows what is possible in the future, but not what is actual until it becomes actual.” (See Jesus Jazz and Buddhism, lesson 13) *

And thus as Sallie McFague concludes chapter 6 of Life Abundant, she writes:

“Reality is good” if we can help it to become so.  This is an acknowledgement that God is not the supernatural being who can control what happens either at a natural or personal level, but rather is the direction of flourishing for all creatures. (See Life Abundant, p. 154) *

I would add guide to this description of God, so the sentence would read:

God is the guide and direction of flourishing for all creatures.

John Horsley

* To learn more about process thought, go to


Glossary of Hebrew terms




Faith, faithfulness. Related to the word Amen.

Etz Hayyim
Tree of Life, another name for the Torah

Law and observances for the whole legal system of Judaism.  Derived from the Hebrew word halach  – to walk – so it really means how we walk in this world.

Ha-kadosh Baruch Hu
“Holy Blessed One”

Ha-tov v’ha-meitiv:
God’s omnibenevolence: The One who is good and causes good. (“God’s omnibenevolence shines strong: Ha-tov v’ha-meitiv in all frames of reference.”
(See Artson, p. 157)

Kol d’mamah dakah
Still, small voice – we think of this as your inner voice, your soul/God speaking.

Doorpost, or a case containing Scripture affixed to a doorpost as a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:9.

Prayer assembly, or the quorum required for prayer.

A homiletical interpretation of – or a commentary on – a Torah text, sometimes in the form of a more detailed Rabbinic story about a story in the Torah.  The word derives from the verb darash, when means “seek” or “inquire”.  Collections of midrash often give varied – and sometimes conflicting – interpretations and present them side by side, inviting the reader to derive meaning from all.

The written summary of the oral Torah, i.e. the orally transmitted laws and ethics based on Scripture, c. 200 CE.  The Mishnah makes up one strand of the Talmud.

God’s commandments, spiritual obligations

Soul, living being

Joyous celebration

The collected legal and ethical discussions of the rabbis, edited c. 500 C.E.                 Includes the Mishnah and Gemarrah (commentary) on the Mishnah.  (Mishnah+Gemarrah=Talmud)

Prayer boxes worn during weekday morning prayers by those who observe this practice. These are worn by all denominations of Jews, if that is their practice, including women. The practice is based on a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy.

Fringes on prayer shawl   (Numbers 15:40)

The Five Books of Moses, God’s law as revealed to Moses.  (Or, more narrowly, the scroll containing this text; more broadly, the interpretations of the five books (or even all Jewish teaching.)

The Hebrew Bible – Torah, Prophets, Writings.
Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Neviim (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings),
which is the order the Hebrew Bible follows.

Justice, righteousness

Tohu va-vohu
Absence, potentiality, no-thing; “cosmic chaos.”  The state of things before creation. (Genesis 1:2)

Self-contraction; God contracted the Divine self to make room for creation.

The Holy Name, as revealed to Moses  (Exodus 3:13-15)
This is how God’s name is written throughout the Torah: Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay.
This is the unpronounceable, unknowable Name of God.  It may be based on the verb “to be”, combining past, present and future.

Names for God
Describing, or naming God is beyond our  abilities, so we use words that describe different aspects of God, including aspects that are thought of as feminine:

Rachamana – The Compassionate One.  (Rachamin is the word for compassion,  which comes from the word rechem – which means womb.)
–   The Indwelling One. (From the word shachan which means to dwell.   Often thought of as a feminine aspect of God.)
Shaddai – another name for God which is associated with a feminine quality, God as nurturer.  (Shadda-im are breasts in Hebrew.)
Eloha – seemingly feminine word for God, rarely used.  Instead, Jewish tradition tends to use Elohim, a male plural form of the same word.  Rabbi Artson describes a modern playful combination of this word with the word for “mommy” – Ema – Elohema. 

Aspects of God:  In Kabbalistic thought (Jewish Mysticism) there are ten sephirot  aspects of the Divine.  Hokhmah means wisdom; Binah means discernment or insight.

Many thanks to Elaine Goodman (member of St. Benedict’s), and to Rabbis Linda Bertenthal (of Congregation Beth David) and Janice Mehring (of Congregation Ohr Tzafon) for compiling this glossary of Hebrew words. 


The living, luring God

artson-coverReading chapter 1

Classical Western theology has held that God is “simple, eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent”.    But, as Artson writes, “This understanding of God has certain intolerable consequences.”

God’s omnipotence means that God is all-powerful.  For God to be omnipotent implies there is no power that is not God’s – that means everything that happens is God’s responsibility.  With this understanding of God,  victims can feel they are sinful, abandoned, or punished; and, Artson writes, “a God who could have stopped “X” – but didn’t – is a God most of us want nothing to do with.” (see God of Becoming, p. 4) 

God’s omniscience assumes that God knows everything, including the future as well as present and past.  But for God to be all-knowing makes real freedom impossible; if God know the future absolutely, then there is no real freedom for God or for  humans and other creatures.

God’s perfection means that God is eternally unchanging.  But for God to be perfect and unchanging, God has to be beyond time and outside of space, untouched by events in creation, or affected by the choices we make.

Torah scroll
Text study: Genesis

In Chapter 1 Artson writes, “Torah and Midrashim portray a God who gets angry, who loves, who  grieves, who gets frustrated and surprised, and who repents….”

“When the blessed Holy One recalls God’s children, who are plunged in suffering among the nations of the world, God lets fall two tears into the ocean, and the sound is heard from one end of the world to the other… (Berakhot 59a)

“This engaged, relating, interacting God is no surprise to Process thinkers (or to traditionally observant Jews,  most of whom place religious practice – including text study – above more abstract theological reflection.”   (God of Becoming, p. 6-7) 

Text Study:  If you re-read the book of Genesis now (after reading Artson),  what kind of God would you find?

Reflecting with the Rabbis:

What do you think?  Harold Kushner writes, “A God of power extorts obedience, but cannot command love.  A God who could spare the life of a dying child, who could prevent the earthquake but chooses not to, may inspire our fear and our calculated obedience, but does not deserve our love.” (God of Becoming, p. 167)

What do you think?  Artson writes, “Some theologians would rather deny their moral compass than change their theology.  When confronted by moral outrage, they too often hide behind the term mystery.  Or they assert that God’s definition of good and evil is different from ours.  Rather than clinging to this outmoded (and unbiblical) idea of God and power, Process Thinking offers a way to understand God, world, and covenant in a way that can be integrated with contemporary scientific knowledge of cosmos and life.”  (God of Becoming, p. 7)


Reality and relationship

artson-coverReading chapter 2

In Process theology God is dynamic, creation is continuing, reality is relational. 

Although the world may seem to be filled with independent substances, the whole cosmos is actually interacting, always dynamic, constantly in process.  In Process theology God is not distant from this process, watching from afar, but intimately involved, connected, and relating.

Torah scroll
Text study: Genesis

The Hebrew word for that dynamic relating is brit, “covenant” – always interactive, always connective, always relational. (God of Becoming, p. 9)

Then God said to Noah…”As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you….” (see Genesis 9:8-17f)

Text study:  What has “covenant” always meant to you?  Has your understanding expanded through this discussion?

Through our choices, we are always becoming.  

In every moment, we are coming into being again and again; we’re always facing possibilities, from which we have to choose.  We make our choices from our particular context (which is the sum total of our previous choices, and the sum total of the world’s previous choices).  Yet the future remains open to decisions we have yet to make – which means that freedom is an inherent quality of the world.

The cosmos is a partner with God in its own becoming.  In every moment, God is offering us choices; after we make a choice, our decision not only affects us, but affects God and God’s consequent nature.  Then God holds out another choice to us, which we are free to take or free to reject – and then God meets us in the next choice with the next possibility. Because the future is still open, God doesn’t and can’t know the future.

The dipolarity of God

Monopolarity:  Nevertheless, dominant Western theology has taught that God is monopolar  (if  God is simple, then God cannot be complex; if God is eternal, then God cannot be dynamic; if God is perfect, then God cannot be changed by relationships with creation).

Dipolarity:   In order to understand reality – to comprehend the fullness of what is in front of us – we need to grasp all polaritiesBoth A and B can be true if they refer to distinct facets of a phenomenon; for  instance, a man can be both father and son at the same time. (p. 12)

Torah scroll
Text study: The Prophets

In chapter 2 Artson writes, “God is the source of the creative, responsive love that pervades the world….Process thinkers apply the notion of dipolarity to God and to God’s creation…”   (p. 12-13)   

Jeremiah 23:23:  Am I only a God near at hand – says the Holy One – and not a God far away?  If a person enters a hiding place, do I not see him? – says the Holy One.  For I fill both heaven and earth – declares the Holy One.

Isaiah 57:15:  For thus says the high and lofty one, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

What kind of God do you find here?

Reflecting with the Rabbis:

 What do you think?  Artson writes, “Torah offers examples of God’s dipolarity through different titles for God:  Elohim and Adonai –  Elohim for God’s absolute eternity and limitlessness,  Adonai  for the God who enters into time and relationship with all creation.  Thus God is eternal in some respects, and yet dynamic in other respects.”  (p. 13)  And …. “Process theology sees God’s dipolarity in a cosmos established through fixed, changeless propensities – yet still evolving, still generating novelty all the time.” (p. 15)

What do you think?  Scripture portrays a God who dwells within the world, who meets people in relationship, and who expresses emotion.  (The rabbis write, “From the first day of creation, the blessed Holy One longed to enter into partnership with the terrestrial world, to dwell with God’s creatures within the terrestrial world.  (p. 15)  


Change, choice and gift

artson-coverReading chapter 3

In Process theology,  God’s power is persuasive, not coercive.  This means that God does not break the rules to force a desired outcome, but works in, with and through us.

God and law:   Whenever we talk about God’s might, we must also celebrate God’s willingness to live within law.  God does not break the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, or morality.  God establishes these laws and works within their limits.

The lure and choice:  God also works at every moment for the best possible next step, through the lure that invites our next choice.  We have the opportunity and freedom to decide whether to take that step or not.

How do we perceive the lure?  “We know what the initial aim is because we prehend it, Whitehead’s term for immediate, internal intuition.  We do not have to be told; we are each connected to all and to the creative-responsive love that God offers.  So we intuit the lure from the inside…” (see God of Becoming, p. 18 )

Thus God’s power is unique, and qualitatively superior to human power.  God does not use power in the way that humans think of power. In Scripture we meet a dynamic, relating God who suffers, who becomes vulnerable in having created us.  The best way to describe God as a covenant partner is in the language of love and law; and so in the Torah, the interconnection between God, humanity, and all creation is expressed in brit – the dynamic covenant between God, humanity, and all creation.  (p. 19)

Torah scroll
Text study: Hosea

In chapter 3 Artson writes,  “Scripture shows God suffering and rejoicing in the world and with the world (see Isaiah 63:9 and 91:15).  Hosea’s story shows us that to love someone is to become vulnerable.  Just as we can be hurt by rejection of bad choices, God is hurt – and even diminished – by our wrongful choices.  (p. 19-20)

Hosea 2:14-23:  On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Master.”  ….  And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.  (For Hosea’s full story, read chapters 1 –  14)

 What kind of God do you find here?


Interpreting Scripture with PaRDeS

PaRDeS, an acronym formed from the first letters of the four levels of Torah interpretation, means ‘orchard’ in Hebrew.  (The English word Paradise (PaRaDiSe) is derived from the same Persian root).

  Peshat:  the intended, explicit meaning.  

Within the p’shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical.   The following generic guidelines can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its p’shat:

When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative.  For example, Isaiah 5:7 – For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry…

When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative.  For example, Zechariah 5:1-3 – Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll….

When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. For example, Psalm 17:8 – Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings….

  Remez:  the implied meaning.

 Remez in modern Hebrew means “hint”:  the text may have another, deeper meaning.

There may still be a p’shat meaning, as any verse can have multiple levels of meaning.  An example of implied remez from Proverbs 20:10:   Different weights, and different measures, both of them are alike an abomination to the Lord. The p’shat would be concerned with a merchant using the same scale to weigh goods for all of his customers. The remez implies that this goes beyond this into aspects of fairness and honesty in anyone’s life.

Derash:  the interpretative meaning. 

The drash is an interpretation that not explicit in the text.  (The word midrash is from the same root.) This is a teaching or exposition or application of the p’shat and/or remez.  (In some cases this could be considered comparable to a sermon.) For instance, Biblical writers may take two or more unrelated verses and combine them to create a verse(s) with a third meaning.  There are three rules to consider when utilizing the d’rash interpretation of a text:

A drash understanding cannot be used to strip a passage of its p’shat meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict the p’shat  meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states, “No passage loses its p’shat.”

Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory.

The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.

Sod:  the mystical or esoteric meaning.

Sud  is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. An example most people are familiar with is Revelation 13:18, regarding the “beast” and the number “666.”


Continuous creation

  Reading chapter 4

The scientific limits of human understanding

When contemplating the possible origins of the universe, Process theologians offer explanations based on science and human reason.  But neither theologians nor scientists can step outside the cosmos to prove or disprove theories about creation.

We humans have an intuitive sense of reality, but that sense is limited: human intuition and logic are not reliable for size ranges vastly larger or smaller than our own.  For such sizes and durations,  the only effective system of human relation and expression (constrained by our scientific knowledge) is the five Ms:

            Math…  Meditation… Metaphor…  Music…  Myth…

Each of these “five Ms” uses a language that attempts to link human consciousness and existence to realms of reality vastly larger or smaller than we are, vastly shorter or longer than the time frames we are evolved to recognize and intuit.   (God of Becoming, p. 22)

Refusing to ignore the unformed darkness

Instead of thinking of creation as ex nihilo – out of nothing – most  Process theologians understand God as the organizing force of an eternally existing reality.

Text study: Genesis

When God began to create heaven and earth…. the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”;  and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)

Artson writes,  If we approach this text through the dominant understanding of God – God as omnipotent, eternal, and impassive – we are forced to think of the Beginning as an effortless, spontaneous moment that produced everything that exists today.  But when we go back to the text, it shows us the unformed and void darkness (tohu va-vohu) that already existed when God began creating.  God’s creating is a process of mobilizing continuous self-creativity from within, and that bubbling, irrepressible depth remains the source of self-creativity, potentialities, and resistance to all imposed power.

(Note how Rabbi Artson uses the “5 Ms” in the following article:

       Do you use the “5 Ms” to find meaning in life? In Scripture?

The divine lure and our partnership with God

In Process thought, every moment is a moment of creation. This richer view of continuous creation… is also reflected in Jewish sources.  Genesis begins with the word breishit: “When God began to create heaven and earth…”  When God begins to create, chaos is already there; then God begins to speak the chaos into increasing order and diversity.  By the end of the first chapter of Genesis, God has spoken creation into a symphony of diverse becoming.

The lure:  At each stage of the process, God turns to creation itself and issues an invitation, a lure, saying:  “Let there be…”   Here God is inviting creation to be a co-partner in the process of creating – summoning, inviting the sun, stars, and planetary objects into becoming.  Creation, then, is the process of God luring emergent being into order, abundance, diversity and goodness.

Understanding creation: two options

Individual scientists have strong preferences, but science as a whole does not definitely weigh in on this issue.

The eternal inflation theory asserts that our space-time bubble is located in a cosmic “sea” – sometimes called the superuniverse, the multiverse, or the meta-universe.  Within the eternal inflation, only quantum rules govern, although on rare occasions due to long-shot quantum odds, exceptional space-time bubbles emerge into being.  Within each bubble there is a coherent space-time, and we live in one such bubble….

The big bang theory starts with the instant in which space-time exploded into existence.  The Big Bang itself is held to be inexplicable; the regularities of physics fail as we move back in time to the singular moment itself.

These theories may be disturbing to people who have read the Bible exclusively through dominant theological lenses, but Jewish traditional voices provide the resources to accommodate both.

Process Theology saves us from having to weigh in beyond what we can know.

God may be the One who creates everything out of nothing, or God may be the One who creates order out of eternity and infinity.  We can indulge in a little bipolarity here, rather than asserting a false certainty.   Instead of creating a false dichotomy between the two plausibilities, we can embrace both understandings as useful metaphors to orient and motivate ourselves within the cosmos.

Life and the experience of evil

  Reading chapter 5

What is evil?

In Process Thought, much of what we understand to be evil is seen as the very source of dynamism and life: events that are disasters for some are sources of emerging novelty and development for others.

So the process of evolution is driven precisely by a tension between limits, on the one hand, and possibilities, on the other.  We cannot have one without the other.

Process theology offers two possible understandings of evil; both face the tragic nature of evil directly and affirm the innocence of those who suffer.

One Process approach addresses suffering and evil as that aspect of reality not yet touched by God’s lure, or that part of creation that ignores God’s lure.

Another Process approach acknowledges that much of what we term evil or suffering is a matter of perspective.  And so the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides writes,

“Every ignoramus….imagines that all that is exists with a view to his individual sake; it is as if there were nothing that exists except him.  And if something happens to him that is contrary to what he wishes, he makes the trenchant judgment that all that exists is an evil. (Guide of the Perplexed, see p. 169)

Most human suffering is not divine punishment or test, but the result of three broad realities of life

The nature of being human:  It is the nature of material reality to come into being, to grow and flourish for a time, and to then fall apart prior to going out of existence.  The only alternative, a world of static eternity, is one that few of us would choose.  (More importantly, we don’t have that choice.) Dynamism, hence suffering and death, is built into the very nature and logic of materiality. Thus Maimonides says:

“The first type of evil is that which befalls people because of the nature of coming-to-be and passing-away.”

Tyrannical domination: It is also possible to understand large swaths of suffering and evil as the result of the abuse of power. And so Maimonides says:

“The evils of the second kind are those that people inflict upon one another, such as tyrannical domination of some over others.”

We suffer the consequences of our own behavior: Our freedom to make poor choices also means that we inflict harm on ourselves whenever we can’t (or don’t) heed the divine lure.  Maimonides again:

 “The evils of the third kind are those that are inflicted upon any individual among us by his own action.”

Process Theology opens our eyes to a view of God as relational and loving. 

The dynamic, ephemeral nature of becoming, the competing lures that tempt us and distract us from God’s lure, and the consequences of our choices on others and ourselves – these are all sources of suffering and evil.  Process Theology allows us to recognize their sources within the natural world, and not as the judgment or punishment of the Divine.   In turn, this realization allows us to continue to perceive God as our ally and source of strength in times of tribulation.

Text study: the Prophets

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God… (Isaiah 43:1-3f)                   

“I am with you, declares the Holy One” (Haggai 1:13)

Artson writes,  God is our ally and source of strength in times of tribulation…. God is relational and loving, working in, with, and through us to bring order to the chaos of our lives and societies, giving us the strength and insight to know how to struggle for health, connection, and justice.  (p. 33)

When you have you found God to be your source of strength?
What favorite texts help you in times of tribulation? 

Moving beyond thinking to action

Understanding God as the pervasive creativity and novelty that permeates all-becoming invites us to stop thinking about the status of evil and to focus instead on how we work  for justice, well-being, and compassion.

Evil and suffering are not intriguing theological puzzles but existential goads, calling us to repair the world.  This shift from intellectual justification to action has ancient precedent.  The Rabbis perceive God as preferring righteous behavior to correct belief.  …. If we are part of creation, and if we also have the ability to align ourselves with the divine lure, then evil is a summons for us to implement justice, which is resolute love.  (see p. 34)

What is “tikkun olam”?

Tikkun olam (Hebrew for “world repair”) has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice.

To learn more, go to http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/