The Process of offering ourselves

  Reading chapter 14

What are we doing when we pray?

Wherever human beings are found, we find someone praying. Through words, meditation, movement, offerings, renunciations, charity, good deeds, protest, dance, incense, and a host of other practices, people from remote antiquity to the present day have cried out to the Oneness, the Cosmos, the Divine, the Mystery – always seeking connection to something all-embracing.

Even in these days of skepticism and unbelief, we still cry out, we plead, we negotiate.  Of course, after the moment has passed, the cry released, the thanks expressed, we are left to wonder: What was I doing?

Our ideas about prayer can complicate our acts of prayer.

We pray better than we theologize.

Most praying people hope that their prayers make a difference.  They want to believe that God desires prayers, and that praying contributes to a different (and better) outcome.

But most people have also been taught to think of God as unchanging, all-knowing, and in complete control.  If this is what we think about prayer, our acts of prayer will be affected:

If God is unchanging, that means God is unaffected by our prayers. So why pray?

If God is all-knowing, then God knows what we’re going to say before we say it, knows the situation we feel impelled to pray about, and knows the future before it becomes real in the present.  So why pray?

If God is in complete control, then whatever will be will be, and God already knows whatever will be, whether or not we pray.  So why pray?

But, even with their old theology, when real people pray they feel that God actually cares about them.  Their hearts already intuit what their old theology obscures.

Perhaps the problem, then, is not with our practice, but with our theology.


What are we doing when we pray?

Prayer is recentering ourselves, with God at our core.

Process Theology looks at God and prayer through a different lens than traditional theology.  Process Theology offers a new understanding of God:

Relationships: God is the One who makes all relationships possible.

The future: God is the One who generates all the options the future offers.

Our choices: God is the One who empowers each and every one of us (just as we are, wherever we are), to make the best choice for the future.

Our reality:  At every instant God knows us (and every event in creation) not theoretically, but as we actually are – each of us, all of us.

God’s invitations – God’s lures – will always be tailored to our reality – to our current context and our distinctive individuality.

Through God’s lures, God empowers us – and all creation – to reach for the optimal next step available. That means that in every moment God gives us the opportunity to make the best choice; it also means that we are always free to embrace God’s offer or reject it.

Because God works with the world as it is, when we transform ourselves we are also transforming the world by precisely that amount, giving God another opening to work with us, through us, and for us.

Process Theology teaches that God is persistently, tirelessly luring creation toward greater love, greater justice, greater engagement.   As Marjorie Suchocki says, “God works with the world as it is in order to bring it to where it can be.” (See “In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer”.)

So what are we doing when we pray?  At the simplest level, we are re-centering ourselves with God at our core.  A magnet attracts the iron filings in the earth, and those filings align themselves with the magnet as it passes by them; with God as our magnet, prayer allows us to orient ourselves around the core of Love, Justice, and Compassion.

Prayer as reminder, prayer as script

The only prayer many people encounter is through liturgical reading from a book:

“Please rise. Please be seated.  Please rise. Please be seated…”

Often the book is very old.  Wouldn’t we make a better connection with God better if we prayed spontaneously and from the heart?

There is much to be said for the spontaneous outpouring of the heart, which is honored in the Biblical tradition. For instance,

The distraught mother Hagar, seeing her infant Ishmael about to die in the desert, cries out to God – and God answers her not with a supernatural intervention but by helping her see water that was there all along.  In good Process form, God’s lure gives Hagar the choice to move from where she is to where she is capable of going.  With no breaking of natural law, God offers a life-affirming choice. (Genesis 21:8-21)

But our choice isn’t limited to spontaneous outpouring or scripted liturgy.  In fact, we are best prepared for spontaneous prayer if we also engage in regularly scheduled prayer.

Liturgical prayer in community is like reading a script shared by a group of actors.  But the script now in our hands has been passed on to us by the generations who prayed before us.  The best of actors throw themselves completely into their roles, putting hearts and souls into the script, and into their own words and actions.

And just so, when we come together in liturgical prayer we actually become the questing souls portrayed in the prayer book.  We are turning ourselves into vessels – to be filled with the values, aspirations, and memories provided by the prayer book.

Process Theology and prayer of the possible

When we pray for someone else, what are we doing?   (Especially since we’re abandoning the notion of God as magician – and prayer as insurance policy.)

Process Theology teaches us that we live in interdependent relationship with each other, and with the world around us.  We may look (and sometimes feel) as if we are solitary and independent, but we are actually relating patterns of energy, and we are always inter-weaving our lives with others. Our interactions with others become woven into the very fabric of our becoming – making us dynamic composites of everyone we’ve known, every place we’ve been, in expanding circles of family, community, species, and planet.

We feel the need to do something, to speak hope and determination in the face of our own and others’ suffering.  We want to strengthen our connections with others and with God.  And Process Theology tells us that God is working in, with and through us.  As we lift up others in our prayers, as we focus our attention and energy on them, we are offering God (and the world around us) our own new level of focus, to be used as a tool for renewed connection and integration.


Davar: What we’re doing when we pray

The Hebrew word davar means both ‘deed’ and ‘word’, and the davar of prayer is a worded action and a doing speech.   This kind of prayer offers God the gifts of our intentions, our energies, and our hopes – to be used in creating deeper belonging, greater engagement, and richer connection.

Our prayers for healing take us to depths where we become more conscious of God, others, and the world around us.  So in our acts/words/davar of prayer we are affirming

that God knows each of us as we are;

that we can meet each other in God,

that we can strengthen the links connecting us to loved ones and to those far away.

Prayer makes it possible for us to meet people in God, and mobilize untapped resources on their behalf – connecting them to our resources, to their own resources, and to the resources of the God of Becoming and Relationship.


The Praying Community

 

Torah Wisdom through Process


Process guidelines for reading Scripture

1.   The Torah we read today is the result of a historical process.  Most Jewish and Christian scholars now believe the Torah had four independent sources (see the illustration, below).  As  Artson comments, “ It is at least as conceivable to perceive God giving the Torah through generations of Israelite sages as to portray God as dictating a book on top of a mountain.”   (God of Becoming, p. 49) 

2.  The giving of the Torah on Sinai is a symbol for an ongoing process without end,  not just a particular moment at a particular mountain.  Giving and receiving Torah is a series of events, from the first telling of stories to the final writings now found in the Torah.   Artson comments, “While some of the old stories and several of the laws strike us as horrific today, the very values that have emerged from the Bible sensitize us to hear those tales and practices with heightened awareness and new interpretations.“

3.  Faithfulness to the Torah calls us to enter into relationship with its stories, not believe them literally. This brings us to the process of interpretation: nowhere in the Bible does the text insist that we must believe the stories literally. Our obligation is to re-tell the stories, to affirm their significance, and to weave them into our lives and our generations.

4.  The Torah is meant to be the first word, not the last. In good Process fashion, the Rabbis of old speak of the Torah as an etz hayyim, a living tree or tree of life.  Just as a tree sinks its roots deep into the soil to provide stability and water to its leaves, just as it continues to add to its trunk and expand its foliage, so too does Torah grow and blossom in each age.

5.   Ethics takes precedence in the Torah. Understanding revelation through the perspective of Process Thought restores an ancient priority, often diminished in modern times – the priority of the ethical over ritual in Jewish tradition.  For instance, on Yom Kippur, the most ritually punctilious day of the year, the Rabbis selected Isaiah 58:1-12, in which the prophet berates his contemporaries for oppressing the weak and the poor while thinking that their precise performance of sacrifices somehow makes them right with God.

6.  A Process understanding of revelation accounts for the robust diversity in Jewish life and practice, across time and in different geographic locations. God meets individuals in the specificity of their own uniqueness at each particular moment; for each person, for every created event, there is a distinctive and unique lure, bearing new fruits on the Tree of Life.

Rabbi Artson ends his chapter on revelation in this way:

… Our task as seeking, questing people, every day of our lives, is to live in the presence of God and to mediate that presence to the larger world….

Halakhah – how we walk with God in this world  – is a process through which we can wrestle each other to achieve some measure of consensus. In good dipolar fashion halakhah is also how we can celebrate diversity while setting the limits necessary for our brit, our covenant, to thrive into the future.

….As with the Torah, it is impossible to say where the human element in halakhah stops and where the divine begins.  Rather, we can say that halakhah is the shared effort of the Jewish people and God to make the light of goodness, justice, compassion, and love visible in the world.  Just as light can only be seen when it bounces off a physical object, so too holiness can only be shared and encountered when it is embodied in social and communal structures.  (p. 55-56)

 

 

 

 

The Process of Revelation

  Reading chapter 6

What is revelation?

In theological language, the word “Revelation” conveys the sense that God communicates – with humans and with the whole creation.

But if we define God as outside and separate from our world, we are forced into an unhelpful dualism: God is out there, and we are here.   This dualism raises the question: How does God communicate with us?  Is divine revelation even possible?

A Process perspective frees us from this dualism, allowing us to encounter the fullness of life, a fullness that includes the Presence of God around, within, and among us at all times.

Revelation as timeless truth, or ongoing process?

If we view revelation as the written historical record of timeless truths, its stories of individual people and actual events will recede into the background, and timeless principles (and rules) will become primary.

But if we view revelation as an ongoing process – if we reject the primacy of being over becoming (that is, reject the idea that abstract and timeless truths are superior to actual lives and real experience), Process thought can liberate us to live our lives with stronger relationships and greater justice.

Process theology and universal revelation

In theological language, “universal revelation” refers to the understanding and insight available to all through nature, intuition, and reason.

If we understand that God permeates creation and works within it, then we no longer have to ask, “Does God communicate with us?”  Instead, we understand that divine-creaturely communication happens all the time, and everywhere.

Process Thought affirms that we live in a uni-verse – a single integrated reality.  God is not timeless and separate from creation, but is working in and through all of creation, at every level.   Therefore, God is not a radically different visitor or intruder from another order of being, but the soulful presence permeating all.

The Divine Presence is a gift God offers to all seekers, to all creation.  Everyone and every thing is linked in living fellowship to its One Creator and to the rest of creation itself.

So God’s Presence is not contained in any distinct set of words. It is not borne by particular cultural symbols, distinct human languages, memories, or festivals. Scripture itself affirms that all humanity can access to the Divine through the creation.  (see Psalm 19:4-5) 

And so revelation is not restricted to a particular book or a particular tradition.  There is no interaction lacking in God’s gift of insight, purpose, and direction; there is no occasion that does not invite our choosing the optimal response unique to us.  (These insights permit us to bypass much of what religions argue about – and sometimes kill over).

Universal revelation extends God’s lures to every part of the creation. Through these lures, God is inviting all of us into maximal relationship, engagement, love, compassion and justice.  (However, only those events that optimize love, justice, compassion, and relationship offer revelatory possibilities.)

Process theology and special revelation

In theological language, “special revelation” refers to the understanding and insight available to us through sacred writings and tradition.

Consider Moses in the wilderness: he pleads with God: “Let me behold your presence!”  (Exodus 33:7f).  When God responds by passing by Moses, God is  revealing a relationship deeper than any words. God’s revelation is also deeper than sight – Moses cannot see God, but he knows God.   (Exodus 33:20-23)

What Moses can understand about God is all about relationship, interaction, and empathy; Moses knows he is in an enduring relationship with God.

What Moses cannot understand is the nature of God’s being.  That’s not because God’s  Being is a mystery always hidden from us, but because God is never a Being in the first place; instead, God is always Becoming. (see p. 44)

Scripture and revelation

In Exodus Moses asks for the (nonverbal) gift of connection and relationship.  But the experience swiftly transitions into a special revelation: God speaks directly to Moses (and ultimately through Moses to Israel).

The relationship between God, and Moses, and Israel, is now expressed through a specific language and culture; and Moses’ experience of God on that day (Moses’ memory of what happened and the words which were spoken) would eventually become a foundational passage in the Torah:

The Holy One passed before Moses and proclaimed:  “The Holy One!  The Holy One!  A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness… “ (Exodus 34:6)  

Note that in the Torah’s text, we find a mix of universal and special revelation: God’s Presence and relationship, and also the words God speaks to Moses.

Note also that God’s presence is manifest in God’s ways.   In this story from Exodus (as in many other texts) the universal cloaks itself in the particular.  This this implies that every path of wisdom is “a garment for the Holy One”.  Not just Judaism, not just Western faiths, but all wisdom traditions offer a particular take on something beyond the mundane.  (And the diversity of the garb is essential; otherwise, universalism is merely the polite face of smothering conformity.)

Interpreting Scripture: rising to our responsibility

In Process Theology, God’s Presence and God’s Word are not distinct modes of God’s Revelation, but complementary facets of an embracing whole.

In Scripture,  Process Theologians see the Divine manifesting through the creation.  This means, in Artson’s words, that “the text is 100% from God and 100% from human beings” – two different perspectives working in the same texts.

If the Torah is always a mix of divine and human thought, we readers must rise to the challenge – and the responsibility – of interpreting each text in such a way that God’s love, justice, compassion, and connection always become more apparent, always shine more clearly through the text.

This Process – our wrestling with the text, our struggle to interpret the meaning of a text – is part of the ongoing Process of revelation.


Text study: Exodus

To prepare for Thursday’s discussion, read (and re-read) Exodus 34:6-7.
How do you interpret this passage – both verses?

Death and afterlife

  Reading chapter 7

As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.

In chapter 4, “Continuous Creation”,  we looked at two plausible scientific/mythic explanations for the existence of our cosmos:  the Big Bang and eternal inflation.

Now, in “Death and Afterlife”, we seek yet again to peek behind the curtain.   Process Theology joins Jewish tradition in offering two plausible paradigms.

Death and patterns of energy

A Process perspective on death and afterlife affirms the same speculative metaphysics as all Process insight: we generally think of ourselves as substances, but we are actually organized patterns of energy.

A Process perspective also allows us to formulate a plausible understanding of life in the coming world: we are not substances now in life, and we will not be substances after life ends.  We are patterns of energy now, and it is reasonable to believe that we will continue as patterns of energy in God’s eternity.

Afterlife and the many possibilities

Judaism posits belief in eternal life; but, beyond affirming faith in some form of continuing existence, Jewish wisdom is remarkably open.  Judaism has used terms such as Garden of Eden, Paradise, Hell – as well as olam ha-ba ( the coming world), resurrection, reincarnation, end of days – but has never defined these terms with precision.

From a Process perspective, once our lives are finished and done we will continue to exist – as we have lived – on multiple levels.

One possibility is that death will mark the end of our individual consciousness. Our energy patterns will continue unabated, but there will  be no governing central organization, no self-reflective awareness that continues beyond death.  We may go to sleep as discreet individuals and awaken as the totality of the cosmos.

A second possibility builds on the first, adding the plausible hope that our consciousness and identity will continue unimpaired.  As God is process, and as God is the One who is supremely connected to everything, supremely related, and forgetting nothing, we may remain eternally alive in God’s memory, in God’s thought – which, it turns out, is what we have been all along.  (p. 58-59)

 

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/


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:
http://www.nhs-cba.org/RabbiArtsonPDFs/Vibrating%20Over%20The%20Deep.pdf)

       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.

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.”

 

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?

 

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)  

 

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)