Tuesday, July 28, 2009

God's Good Pleasure, Part I

My sleeplessness got the best of me again…and this morning, I found myself awake three and a half hours after I headed to bed. So, I got up and did what I always do in such circumstances—I grabbed a book and started reading. I read the last fifteen pages of “The Only Wise God,” a book by William Lane Craig on the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom. Upon finishing that, I turned to a book I hadn’t picked up in a while—called “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition” by authors John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin. While reading through chapter four, titled “A Theology of Nature,” I noticed that the authors attempted to do away with freewill theism:

“Many theologians and philosophers of religion have proposed a ‘free-will defense’ of God’s goodness. The central claim made is that moral evil (which as an evil intention is itself evil, and which in its consequences is the cause of most of the suffering in our world) occurs, because God—even though he is all-good and all-powerful----OUT OF GOODNESS DECIDED TO GIVE FREEDOM TO HUMAN BEINGS. The rationale is that, since freedom is such a great good, God voluntarily gave up all controlling power, in order to allow us to have genuine freedom and the other values that presuppose it. But there is a serious objection to this theodicy. It takes the form of doubt that freedom is really such an INHERENTLY GREAT THING that it is worth running the risk of having creatures such as Hitler” (Cobb & Griffin, “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition.” Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, page 74).

Why is it that, whenever someone seeks to attack the free will argument, he or she ALWAYS has to aim for the worst? I don’t know why those who oppose the argument do so, but I do know one thing: that every attack against the free will argument has to do with the problem of evil.

Here, authors John Cobb and David Griffin question the inherently good nature of free will because of those who abuse it, like Hitler; however, the abuse of free will does not make it a bad thing.

I could use Cobb’s and Griffin’s argument against free will for a number of things, like marriage. I could say, “Marriage is a horrible thing.” And why? “Because, look at all the marriages today that end in divorce.” But because half of all marriages end up in divorce court doesn’t mean that marriage is a bad thing. In fact, Scripture tells us that marriage is a wonderful thing:

4 Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers. (Hebrews 13:4, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The “immoral people and adulterers” are those who ABUSE the sanctity of marriage—but marriage IS an inherently good thing.

The Apostle Paul heard of a situation in the church at Ephesus that caused him to have to defend the inherently good nature of the Law:

3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, (F) remain in Ephesus (G) so that you may command certain people (H) not to teach other doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths (I) and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God's plan, (J) which operates by faith. 5 Now the goal of our instruction is love (K) from a pure heart, (L) a good conscience, (M) and a sincere faith. (N) 6 Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don't understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on. 8 Now we know that the law is good, (O) provided one uses it legitimately. (1 Timothy 1:1-8, HCSB)

There were those in the church at Ephesus who desired to be teachers of the law, but they didn’t know how to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Although they were abusing the Law, Paul argued that the Law was still good: “Now we know that THE LAW IS GOOD, PROVIDED one uses it legitimately.” The Law, in and of itself, was a good thing; but the believers at the church at Ephesus were using the Law in a terrible manner. Thank God their abuse of the Law didn’t change the nature of the Law itself!

These are just two examples of abuses to show that abuses DO NOT make or break the nature of something. And Hitler is no different. Hitler’s choice to exterminate some 6 million Jews did not make free will a bad thing—it just made free will bad BECAUSE IT WAS IN THE HANDS OF ADOLPH HITLER!

The question becomes, then, if free will could be abused, why did the Lord choose to give it? According to authors John Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin,

“God did not bring about creatures such as us, with our great capacity for discordant self-determination and destructive instrumental value, SIMPLY BECAUSE FREEDOM IS IN ITSELF A GREAT VALUE, but BECAUSE BEINGS CAPABLE OF THE VALUES WE ENJOY MUST NECESSARILY HAVE THESE OTHER CAPACITIES” (74-75).

The answer, however, is found in Genesis 1:26-28—

26 Then God said, "Let Us (P) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (Q) They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, [f] and the creatures that crawl [g] on the earth." (R)
27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (S) 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, (T) and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls [h] on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28, HCSB)

When God said, “LET US,” God was actually saying, “It’s up to US whether or not man receives our image and some power or not. We desire to give man dominion over the earth.” God chose to do this of His own accord: there was no one who COERCED Him or MADE Him do it.

I will continue my discussion of God's Good Pleasure in my next post.


Wyatt Preul said...

I encourage you to read more on process thought and try to understand whiteheads metaphysics before dismissing it. One of the problems with process theology is that it is easy to get the gist of it, but it takes much more time to fully understand it. You really need to go back to whitehead and hartshorne then move on to measle, cobb, and griffin.

In Genesis, what was God doing before God enabled us to be in God's Image? Wasn't God creating things... a sign of what God's image may look like. Creating, being creative, being a steward to the earth. Process Theology embraces God's creative power fully.

In regards to your sleeping problem. A tip I read recently is to spend 10 or so minutes before sleep, sitting in a chair, thinking about anything on your mind, going over your day. Now go lay in bed, and focus on your breathing.

I think that Cobb and Griffin chose Hitler as an example because he is a common evil figure. They could have cited Voltaire's Candide, but most people wouldn't understand what that means. Perhaps a better example would have been the Roman's practice of crucifixion.

You should ask yourself if this is the best of all possible worlds. If you think it is, then read the Candide. If you don't think it is then ask why God doesn't step in and fix things. If you are a logical person and value reason over mal-informed belief, ponder the wonderful implications of a God that is not omnipotent.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks for posting a response here.

A few things: first, I have been reading through some process theology. I may not post much on it here, but I am constantly reading through it and trying to understand it. Before a few months ago, I had no idea what process theology was; so I've come a long way, despite the fact that I still have a ways to go...

I never had a problem regarding God's creative power. We are made in the image and likeness of God. However, I have a problem with a God who could make me in His image, and yet, He NOT be all-powerful and all-knowing. If He made us in His image, and He isn't the maximum greatness and goodness and power, then what am I? I have nothing. In fact, if God is not really all-powerful, then my will means nothing: for I can't make anything happen because my power (lack thereof) comes from a source (God) who doesn't have ALL POWER HIMSELF!

I'm gonna ask you to ponder the implications of the claim you're making. Cobb and Griffin claim that we NEEDED free will; but that's not the Biblical account. God said "LET US make man in our image, after our likeness; and LET THEM have dominion..." When someone says, "Let's go to the park," for example, they are not saying, "We MUST go to the park," but rather, "It's a good suggestion to go to the park." God Himself decided to give man free will. He was not under necessity to do so.

However, in your system of belief (process theology), God was bound to do certain things. I would submit to you that the only things God is bound to are those HE BINDS HIMSELF TO! And that is why He is all-powerful: because He gave man the will to walk away from God even though He knew He could clearly have made us automatons and forced us to do His bidding. Such is the work of an ALL-POWERFUL GOD!

I suggest that you spend more time examining what your theology says about God instead of diving into process theology. I appreciate personal study of theology myself; but, no matter how fancy the theology, or how eloquent it is, a theology that will strip My God of His awesomeness, His power, and His knowledge is no sufficient theology at all...