Divine Suffering in an Openness Perspective

Draft version: not for citation or quotation. Published version: “Divine Suffering in Open Theism” in D. Steven Long ed., The Sovereignty of God Debate (Wipf and Stock, 2008), 111-138.

Introduction

Pope Celestine I (422-432 C.E.) is reputed to have said “lex orandi est lex credendi” (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief ). The idea is that our worship and piety shapes what we believe about God. This came home to me when I was a student in Bible College. My experience of prayer in church had led me to believe that our prayers of petition could influence what God decided to do. Not that God has to do what we ask, but that God graciously decides to take our concerns into account in formulating his responses (just as he did with Moses and others). However, in theology class we read some standard evangelical systematic theology books as well as J. I. Packer’s classic best seller Knowing God. These books described the nature of God as atemporal (does not experience one thing after another), strongly immutable (could not change in any respect) and impassible (could not be affected by creatures in any way). The authors of these books acknowledged that there are many biblical texts that depict God as being grieved by human sin and as sometimes changing his mind in response to prayers, but, they claimed, these are accommodations to human understanding because God is not really like that at all. My spiritual life was thrown into a quandary: either I had been incorrectly taught that my prayers could affect God or the theology books were wrong on these points. The search for a theology of prayer led me to study other areas of providence in light of scripture, tradition, philosophy and spirituality. In the end, I concluded that the “rule of prayer” in my church was correct and that a theology that supported this piety was needed.[1] This was part of the motivation which led me to participate in the development of the model of God known as open theism or the openness of God.

Summary of the Openness of God Model

According to openness theology, the triune God of love has freely created all that is. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have eternally loved one another—love has always been an aspect of reality. The intra trinitarian love manifests openness in the very godhead for God is no solitary monad. In deciding to create, the divine love opens itself to others. In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love and it was God’s desire for us to enter into reciprocal relations of love with God as well as with our fellow creatures. The divine intention was that we would come to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own and freely come to collaborate with God towards the achievement of his goals.

We believe God is almighty in that he has all the power necessary to deliver and care for us. However, God has chosen to not override our freewill and make us love (which would not be love anyway). Instead, God restrains the full use of his power. God has not given up or lost power, he simply chooses not to always exercise it to its fullest extent. It was God’s decision to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions. God has chosen to elicit our free collaboration in his plans. Hence, God can be influenced by what we do and God truly responds to what we do. God genuinely interacts and enters into dynamic relationships with us in which God gives and also recieves. That God changes in some respects implies that God has a history. God works with us through time and so God, at least since creation, experiences temporal duration.[2]

God is love (I Jn. 4:8) and love does not force its way (1 Cor. 13:4-7). This is why it was possible for humans to misuse our freedom and commit sin. Though human mistrust brought grief to God (Gen. 6:6), God did not throw in the towel, but, instead, chose to endure our lack of love. Forbearance implies that divine love is not blind to the evil infecting us. God knows what we are like but loves us in spite of this and seeks to transform us. This is not easy yet God’s wisdom is adept at overcoming obstacles that hinder the fulfillment of the divine undertaking. God is competent and resourceful in working with recalcitrant sinners. Despite the fact that humanity failed to love God and others, God remains faithful to his intentions by enacting a plan of redemption.

This approach entails that God chose to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. God has chosen not to control every detail that happens in our lives (meticulous providence) but, rather, institutes what may be called the overarching “rules of the game” or structures whereby creation operates. Though we are limited as finite beings, God grants a great deal of freedom to human and non human creatures. Because we do that which God does not want us to do, God employs flexible strategies instead of a blueprint in his work of redemption. Though the divine nature does not change, God reacts to contingencies, even adjusting his plans, if necessary, to take into account the decisions of his free creatures. God is endlessly resourceful and wise in working towards the fulfillment of his ultimate goals. Sometimes God unilaterally decides how to accomplish these goals but he usually elicits human cooperation such that it is both God and humanity who decide what the future shall be. God’s plan is not a detailed script or blueprint, but a broad intention that allows for a variety of options regarding precisely how his goals may be reached. What God and people do in history matters. If the Hebrew midwives had feared Pharaoh rather than God and killed the baby boys, then God would have responded accordingly and a different story would have emerged. What people do and whether they come to trust God makes a difference concerning what God does—God does not fake the story of human history.

Finally, because God works with us in time and enters into reciprocal give-and-take relations with creatures, God has, what I call, “dynamic omniscience.” God is omniscient in that God knows all that is logically possible to know and his omniscience is dynamic in that it is changing in relation to history. God knows what we may possibly do and what we are likely to do in the future but God does not have certain (definite) knowledge of what creatures freely do until they do it. God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of what God has decided to bring about unilaterally (that which is definite), knowledge of possibilities (that which is indefinite) and those events that are determined to occur (e. g. an asteroid hitting a planet). Hence, the future is partly open or indefinite and partly closed or definite. This does not mean that God is caught off-guard since he has foresight, anticipating what we will do. Also, it is not the case that just anything may happen, for God has acted in history to bring about events in order to achieve his unchanging purpose. This approach to divine omniscience emphasizes, as do the biblical authors, divine wisdom rather than sheer quantity of knowledge. God must exercise wisdom as he works with us to bring the open part of the future into being.

We call this the “openness of God” because God is “open” to what creatures decide to do and because God has left most of history open to multiple possible futures instead of just one definite future.

With that brief overview of open theism before us, I now want to tackle the three questions which the Forum organizers asked the presenters to address. (1) How is God Sovereign over creation? (2) Does creation affect God? Does God suffer or change? (3) How does your view relate to Christology?

  1. How is God Sovereign Over Creation?

It has already been stated that God has chosen to create a world over which he exercises general rather than meticulous control. Just as Christians disagree about the meaning of baptism or election so they disagree about the meaning of divine sovereignty. In the Bible God is portrayed as a king, husband and father but the biblical writers are careful to interpret these metaphors in ways that do not attribute negative aspects of human kings, husbands and fathers.[3]  Jesus said that true “lordship” is serving others, not “lording” one’s status over them (Jn. 13:13-14). The divine son manifests humility and vulnerability (Phil. 2:5-8) by loving those he cannot trust. Jesus seems to teach that true sovereignty is love, not the exercise of raw power. Divine love is best understood not in the form of a Middle Eastern potentate but in Paul’s great description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not insist on its own way and does not brood on a wrong suffered. Rather, it seeks the good of the other and hopes that love will win the wrongdoer over. God’s love is patient and God hopes for the transformation of his fallen creation.

In the Bible God is portrayed in the culturally powerful images of king, husband and father. However, these images of “being in charge” are tempered by the fact that things often do not go as God desired. As king, his subjects repeatedly rebel, as husband, his beloved goes after other lovers (Hosea), and as father, his children turn against him (Lk. 15). God is said to be a potter (Jer. 18) fashioning a people and just as we expect a master potter to mold the clay into precisely what she wants, we expect a divine potter to do no less. Proponents of meticulous providence, in fact, do believe that God gets what he wants in each and every situation. Jeremiah, however, says that the pottery is not what God intended to produce. This might lead us to conclude that God is an incompetent potter were it not for the fact that the biblical writers are selective about which aspects of a metaphor they apply to God and which aspects they reject.[4] God is like a potter, king, and husband in some respects but not all respects. God is like a potter in that he works to shape us into a people who love one another but God is not like a potter in the sense that the clay does exactly what he wants it to do and the reason for this is because humans are not completely like inanimate clay.

There are two basic models of divine providence with a watershed divide between them. Which side of the divide one falls on is decided by whether or not one affirms that God is ever affected by and responds to what we do. Does God tightly control everything such that what God wants is never thwarted in the least detail? Does God ever take risks? Is God ever affected by what we do or does everything work out precisely as God eternally foreordained? Freewill theists such as John Wesley and C. S. Lewis are on one side of this divide and theological determinists such as John Calvin and John Piper are on the other.

Theological determinists believe that God exercises meticulous providence, controlling everything that happens down to the smallest detail. There is no possible respect in which God would desire the history of the world to be any different than it is. Consequently, the divine initiatives in every instance are always fulfilled—God never takes risks. Humans have what is called “compatibilistic freedom” (divine determinism is compatible with human responsibility). In this view humans are free so long as they act on their strongest desires. In order for God to guarantee that humans do precisely what he wants done he simply brings it about that each of us always has the particular desire God wants us to have at any moment. Though our desires are determined and we act on these desires, it the humans doing the acting which is why, it is claimed, they are morally responsible. Those theological determinists who care about logical consistency hold that God is strongly immutable (never changes in any respect such as in emotions) and strongly impassible (never affected by us).[5]

On the other side of the divide are freewill theists who affirm that God decided not to tightly control human affairs. Instead, God exercises general providence, granting us “libertarian” or “incompatibilistic” freedom (divine determinism is incompatible with human responsibility). In this view humans are free in those situations in which they had it within their power to act otherwise than they did (e. g. I helped my daughter clean her room but I could have refrained from helping). If humans have libertarian freedom then God cannot determine what they do and this means that God took the risk that history would not go exactly as he desires. God did not intend for sin to come about. Creation has miscarried. Humans can rebel or become collaborators with God by either accepting or rejecting divine initiatives. Given the type of world God decided to create, he cannot guarantee that everything will go precisely the way he would like. For freewill theists God is weakly immutable in that the character of God does not change, but God can have changing plans, thoughts and emotions. God is also weakly impassible because God is affected by and responds to our prayers and actions though he is not overwhelmed by emotions as we are apt to be.[6]

Open theism is a form of freewill theism. Freewill theism was the dominant view of the church fathers prior to Augustine and has remained a vital model of providence among the Eastern Orthodox, Anabaptists, Arminians, Wesleyans and Pentecostals. The Christian freewill family share the same general views regarding, for example, conditional election, prevenient grace, and impetratory prayer (God responds to our prayers).  In fact, open theists have nothing to add to the vast majority of theological stances and biblical interpretations propounded by their freewill theistic forebears.[7]

Within the freewill family there are disagreements about the best way to affirm the core beliefs and values in the family heritage. Open theists think that two beliefs, customarily affirmed by freewill theists, need to be changed in order to better carry on the family line. The first concerns God’s relationship to time. The majority view among freewill theists has been that God is timelessly eternal, that God either does not experience time at all (timeless) or that God experiences all time at once (simultaneity). A minority of freewill theists have said God experiences temporal succession: God is everlasting in that he always was, is, and will be. Open theists side with this minority view within the freewill family.

The second disagreement is about whether God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge of future contingent events. Though all freewill theists affirm divine omniscience (God knows all truths) they disagree about what constitutes truths. Specifically, they differ over foreknowledge, not omniscience. Most freewill theists affirm what is known as “simple foreknowledge” by which God so-to-speak “looks ahead” and “sees” in exhaustive detail exactly what we are going to do in the future. Open theists affirm dynamic omniscience in which God also “observes” what we do but does so temporally rather than atemporally. Both views agree that whatever is knowable, God knows it. They disagree as to what is knowable. Both views agree that God does not determine, or write the script of the future. Rather, they both hold that God “sees” or “observes” what free creatures do. It is fundamental to freewill theism that God not determine our free actions. Though the simple foreknowledge view agrees with theological determinism that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge the mechanism by which God comes to possess such knowledge is different in each case.[8] In simple foreknowledge God “observes” what we will actually do without determining what we do. However, in theological determinism God does not passively observe what will happen. Rather, God foreordains or determines what we will do and that is why he knows what will happen. The radical difference between the means by which God has foreknowledge in these two views is related to the watershed divide between freewill theism and theological determinism regarding evil, salvation, and prayer. The dynamic omniscience and simple foreknowledge perspectives share the same views on evil, salvation and prayer in opposition to theological determinism.

Most evangelical Christians believe that our lives make a difference to God, that our prayers and actions can affect God. Also, everyone agrees that our actions affect our fellow creatures. God has created a highly relational and interdependent world. Open theism highlights the reciprocal give-and-take relations between God and creatures as well as the interdependent relations between creatures. God decided to place great responsibility upon humans to care for creation and for one another. History does not develop solely on the basis of what God decides; rather, God has given us a “say-so” in what transpires. God alone decided that it was “good” to make much of what happens in history dependent upon us when he delegated a significant part of the caretaking to us (Gen. 1:26-28). Since God will hold us accountable in our role as his appointed caretakers (Matt. 25:14-30) the followers of Jesus are called upon to collaborate with God to overcome evil powers, to make God’s gift of reconciliation a reality among the nations, and to reclaim aspects of creation defiled by our sin (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

For these reasons, the openness of God model emphasizes human responsibility. God has chosen to rely on us in many areas of life. Because the future is not wholly fixed or determined, the story of God and humanity is more like a “create your own adventure book” than a completed novel. Moreover, the story is not authored by a single individual but by hosts of individuals in relation to one another. It is a group project. To change metaphors, life with God is more like playing jazz than a symphony. Though jazz has structure there is a great deal of improvisation within it because the players have to respond to one another. Jazz requires careful listening between the players in order to collaborate towards the production of the song. The members take turns between playing the solo lines and playing backup. In a band there might be one famous musician who gets the headlines. Yet, he does not produce the music he does without the other members. We might picture God as the band member with the “name recognition” who has chosen not to play without our participation.

These ideas will now be teased out by examining some of the specific topics usually discussed under the heading of providence.

Prayer

There are many different types of prayer but I wish to examine only prayers of petition since they highlight the issue of divine response. The book of James says that we “have not because we ask not” (James 4:2). A widely accepted understanding of this is that God might not give us some good thing because we fail to ask for them.[9] God will only bring some things about if we ask him because he desires an interdependent world and prayer is one means of fostering such an environment. Dallas Willard writes: “God’s response to our prayers is not a charade. He does not pretend he is answering our prayers when he is only doing what he was going to do anyway. Our requests really do make a difference in what God does or does not do.”[10]

This does not mean, however, that we get whatever we request. Though we may prevail upon God, God can also prevail with us, getting us to change our minds. For example, in Exodus 32 and 33 Moses implored God to change his mind on a couple of decisions God had made and God did as Moses requested. However, God refused to grant Moses everything he requested. Prayer is a dialogue, opening windows of opportunity for the Spirit to work in our lives. Our failure to pray means that particular desires of God may not be realized because we fail to ask. If God’s bringing about a certain state of affairs is contingent upon our prayer and our prayer is the result of our freewill, then God is taking a risk that some particular good may not come about.

Prayer for one another is an important factor in the way God has chosen to build Christian community. Some of the things God wants to do for others depend upon my prayers. This is no different from God wanting to feed the poor through me. If God has chosen to depend upon me to feed them or me to pray for others, then it is irresponsible of me to claim that it is God’s fault for the state they are in. Certainly, God can act unilaterally, but he has ordained that the structures of the world that he established at creation continue to operate and so God continues to place great responsibility on us to be our brother’s keeper. Though God does not need input from us to enlighten him about a situation, in grace, God desires our input.

If the future is open because some of God’s decisions are dependent upon our prayers and some of God’s plans can change, then the sort of prayer described here makes sense and it lends urgency to our prayers for one another. The situation is much different, however, in theological determinism where God is never affected by what we do. If we do not pray for someone it is because God never decreed that we would pray for them. God does not truly respond to our prayers according to this view. Rather, as Jonathan Edwards put it: “speaking after the manner of men, God is sometimes represented as if he were moved and persuaded by the prayers of his people; yet it is not to be thought that God is properly moved or made willing by our prayers. . . . he is self-moved. . . . God has been pleased to constitute prayer to be antecedent to the bestowment of mercy; and he is pleased to bestow mercy in consequence of prayer, as though he were prevailed upon by prayer.”[11] That is, God decreed that someone would pray at a particular time and that this prayer would be followed by the divinely foreordained act. Hence, God does one thing after another but God does not act in response to, or because of, the prayer.  Theological determinism rejects the common belief that our prayers affect God. Instead, our prayers are the eternally ordained means by which God brings about his eternally decreed ends.

Salvation

In the openness model the triune God of love seeks to establish relations of love with his creatures which results in the creatures loving one another. Unfortunately, creation has miscarried for sin has spoiled God’s intention. Nonetheless, God refuses to give up on us and so seeks to redeem his creation. God’s redemptive love is most clearly manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of our lord Jesus Christ. As creatures we are solely dependent upon divine grace to initiate the reconciliation necessary to restore the broken relationship. As sinners we are on the run from God but God seeks after his lost children. Though our hearts are calloused from sin, the Holy Spirit provides enabling grace by which we are empowered to repent. Enabling grace is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for our salvation. In order for reconciliation to take place both sides must freely desire the restoration of the relationship. The Holy Spirit empowers us through the gospel story of Jesus to see God’s stance towards us as one of love that beckons us to return home. But our acceptance of restoration is not determined by the Spirit. God waits on us to freely respond to his grace.

Regarding sanctification, at any particular time we may, or may not, exhibit the degree of holiness that God wishes us to have. God has given us everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3-11) and we may use these gifts to grow in grace and service to God. However, we may also fail to utilize them and thus grieve the Holy Spirit for not being what God intends us to be. We cannot achieve personal holiness without the Spirit’s help and the Spirit will not do it without our free participation. This does not mean, however, that all of God’s decisions are contingent upon our obedience. Though our faithfulness may waver, God’s does not. God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our faith.

Guidance

Though some freewill theists believe that God has a “blueprint” for every decision we make, such as which college to attend or which career to take up, open theists believe that no such blueprint exists. Rather, God has an overarching goal for our lives: to be like Jesus. The issue then becomes whether we are seeking to be like our Lord in our actions and attitudes at whatever college we attend or whichever career we choose.

In making such decisions we are to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit and the Spirit typically provides this through the body of Christ. We seek counsel from Christians we respect as we deliberate and we trust the Spirit to help us separate the wheat from the chaff. The Bible speaks a great deal about seeking divine wisdom and little about reading the so-called “signs” in our circumstances. Freewill theists, as opposed to theological determinists, believe that there are chance events and accidents. Because God does not meticulously control everything that happens we should not attempt to read most events as messages from God. Many people, for example, used to believe that lightning striking your house was a sign from God and they accused those who placed lightning rods on their barns of lacking faith. If you are a good employee and are fired, it most likely has nothing to do with God trying to get your attention. Certainly, God will try to help us exercise virtues in such situations and God will work to bring good out them, but we need not see it as a sign from God. Such events are usually the result of sinful behavior on our part or others.

Some critics of open theism claim that a deity without exhaustive definite knowledge of the future could not guide us properly. If by this they mean that everything will not necessarily turn out well in the end then they are correct. But no freewill theist believes God can guarantee that our lives will turn out for the best. Perhaps the critic believes that a being who knows precisely what is going to happen has the ability to forewarn us in order to prevent something terrible from happening. For instance, say that Beth is considering marrying Harry and Beth believes that God knows everything that will happen in the future. Let us also suppose that in the future God knows that Harry will become an alcoholic which will lead to their financial ruin and physical abuse to Beth. Beth may think that if God knows that will happen then God would guide her to decline an engagement to Harry. However, that is not possible if God possesses the type of foreknowledge most Arminians affirm: simple foreknowledge. According to this view God, prior to creation, figuratively “looks ahead” and sees everything that will occur in history. What God observes is what will actually happen, not what might happen. If so, what God sees is Beth’s unhappy marriage to Harry since that is what will factually occur. Since God’s foreknowledge is always correct, God cannot guide Beth away from Harry.[12]

Gregory Boyd tells the story of a woman in his congregation who was very angry with God because she believed God had intentionally guided her into an abusive marriage.[13] From a young age she wanted to be a missionary in Taiwan and when she went to college she met a young man who shared that same goal. For three years they attended church together and prayed together. They consulted with their parents, pastor and friends after which they felt it advisable to marry. After college, they married and then attended a missionary training school together. However, at this time her husband had an affair with another student. When confronted he repented but then the affair resumed. After a while he became physically abusive to his wife and then divorced her. Several of her friends told her what Job’s friends had told him—that God intended this horrible set of events to teach her a lesson.

According to theological determinism, God did indeed meticulously control all these events in order to achieve some desired end. However, according to the openness model, God did not intend for her to be abused since God intends good not evil. Instead, God was grieved that she was treated as she was and worked to change her husband. For open theism, God’s guidance at any particular point is based on his wisdom which includes exhaustive knowledge of the past and present and anticipatory beliefs about the future. At the time of their engagement her fiancée was a godly person with a passion for ministry so the prospects were good that they would have a healthy marriage and ministry. However, because of freewill he gave in to temptation and resisted the promptings of the Spirit even after he was found out. Through a series of choices he became what he had not been when they were dating. God’s guidance had not been wrong. What was wrong was the husband’s misuse of his freewill. Fortunately, God is resourceful and redemptive and so is ready with other options for her life. God is guiding us with the best wisdom at any point in time, but God’s wisdom might guide us to a change in direction should someone misuse their freedom by sinning.

Suffering and Evil

The problem of evil is a difficult challenge and a range of Christian responses to it have been developed. Freewill theists devised what is commonly called the “freewill defense” which open theists utilize.[14] According to this approach, God’s purpose in creating was to bring forth beings who could respond to his love by loving God in return as well as establishing loving relationships and social structures among creatures.[15] This implies that God did not want moral evil to arise—it was not part of his plan. The scriptures attest that God is implacably opposed to moral evil and that his heart breaks over the sinfulness of his creatures (e.g., Gen. 6:6; Isa. 2:10-15; Eph. 4:30). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are portrayed as standing opposed to the harm we bring on one another. The world simply is not the way God wants it to be. For open theism, there is no “happy fall” (O felix culpa) into sin. Evil is not part of a divine blueprint ordained by God.

It may be asked whether God can create free beings and guarantee that they never do evil. Theological determinists believe God created us with compatibilistic freedom and so God could have simply ensured that we always have the proper desires in order to guarantee that we “freely” never commit evil. That would mean God never takes any risks and so the freewill defense cannot be used. If God creates us with libertarian freedom God could still guarantee that we never do evil if God can do the logically impossible (i.e. God meticulously controls beings over which he does not have meticulous control). This would also invalidate the freewill defense. However, if, as most freewill and all open theists affirm, God cannot do the logically impossible and God creates us with libertarian freedom, then God cannot guarantee that we will always do what is good—God takes risks.

Since God desires relationships of love and since these cannot be coerced, the divine love is vulnerable to being rejected due to our use of libertarian freedom. Because God enacts general rather than exhaustive control, the possibility exists that what God wants to happen in any particular situation may not happen—God’s intentions can be thwarted by our actions. God simply cannot guarantee that we will act in loving ways towards one another. God is solely responsible for creating a world with the conditions in which the failure to love was a possibility. But God is not responsible for evil actually occurring.

Some object that God, like a human parent, ought to act more often to prevent harm and suffering. After all, what parent would stand by and allow her child to be assaulted? Though God is in some respects like a human parent, God is not completely like a human parent for God is uniquely responsible for upholding the ontological, moral and relational structures of the universe. God has a role that is unlike the role of any human. Even in our own lives we play different roles. For instance, though I have responsibility for the health of my children it is not my role to perform surgery on them. In his role as the one who established and sustains the project, God cannot also bring it about that he abandons the very conditions for the project. The almighty could veto any specific human evil act, but if he made a habit of it this would undermine the very type of relationships he intends. God cannot prevent all the evil in the world and still maintain the conditions of fellowship intended by his purpose in creation.

But could not God allow only those people to come into existence that he knows would love and trust him? Not in the open theist view because God has dynamic omniscience. Accordingly, God did not know prior to creation that an individual would become a child abuser or a CEO who rips off his company.[16]

Nevertheless, most open theists hold that God does intervene at times in specific situations. Some people are healed, for example. Process theologians, in particular, criticize open theism on this point.[17] Why, they ask, does God not heal all? Does God play favorites? The God of open theism would certainly anticipate that something dreadful was about to happen and God has the power to prevent it, so why does God not prevent it? This is a difficult question for open theists as well as for all theists who hold that God has the ability to intervene, but a number of responses are available.

Though none of us has any claim or right to a special act of God, for God is not at our beck and call, the question of divine favoritism remains if some people receive protection or healing and others do not. In order to establish that God was showing favoritism or was acting arbitrarily, however, we would have to have access to all of God’s knowledge and intentions and that simply is not possible. Additionally, in my opinion, God is much more active than we can ever identify but most of his work, like an iceberg, goes unseen by us. God may be doing much in any given situation even if we do not detect it or if it is not the sort of help we desire.

Furthermore, freewill theists, in contrast to proponents of meticulous providence, can say that one reason for God not intervening in a particular situation is his unwillingness to interfere with the libertarian freedom of the people involved. Some open theists believe that God might occasionally override the freewill of a human while others believe that God never does this. A question arises for those open theists who believe God does occasionally violate human freedom: why does not God do so more often to bring about a better world? David Basinger replies that we cannot know the extent to which God is already doing this. Perhaps, he says, God has already maximized the extent to which he may profitably violate human freedom.[18]

Also, we affirm that God is at work in many ways. Human lives are affected by “behind the scenes” human and nonhuman forces that seek to undermine God’s program. Whether we think of these powers as demonic beings (as does open theist Gregory Boyd) or as malevolent social forces (as does open theist William Hasker), the point is the same: God is hard at work keeping creation from disintegrating. These forces demand God’s competence, wisdom and power to keep creation going in the direction he intends without overturning the very rules of the game he established at creation. We believe that God is doing all he can, short of rescinding his original gifts of freedom to his creatures, to prevent what evil he can and, for that evil that does occur, God works to bring good out of those situations (Rom. 8:28).

Moreover, open theists, as opposed to theological determinists, can say that God in no way wants the evils of this world. They are not part of a detailed plan by which absolutely everything works out for a specific greater good. It is not God’s desire for creation that a young child contract a painful and incurable bone cancer. God’s intention for creation did not include evils such as rape, terrorism, corporate theft, or abuse of the natural environment. Such evils are gratuitous or pointless for they were not intended with the purpose of attaining a greater good.[19] Theological determinists sometimes claim that such evils are for the purpose of helping us learn a lesson. Though freewill theists can certainly affirm that God works to bring good out of evil situations and that we may, indeed, learn something from our suffering or the suffering of others, it cannot be held that God always succeeds in such efforts. We simply do not always respond in virtuous ways to suffering. Some of us become embittered, hateful and further perpetrate violence on others. Though some of us respond in redemptive ways to evil, not all of us do. Given our libertarian freedom God cannot guarantee that a greater good will arise out of each and every occurrence of evil.

Open theists are under no illusions that they have the perfect solution to the problem of evil for every response to the problem of evil has difficulties. Nonetheless, open theists believe that the approach stated above yields some beneficial practical results. For instance, a woman who has been abused by her husband need not believe that it was “God’s will” that she suffer so. God did not ordain such evils for her to learn some lesson. This should relieve a great burden from many people who have been taught that everything that happens to us is part of the divine blueprint for the greater good. A fair number of people in church are very angry at God though it is considered improper to express it. The anger arises because people have been told to believe that God ordained their cancer or the death of a daughter for some unknown and difficult to grasp good. However, if God did not ordain such evils then we need to think of God’s relationship to such events differently. We are free to grieve such losses and work to redeem what we can from them.

Open theists do believe that in the eschaton God will be victorious over all the forces of evil and will usher in an age where all act in love.[20] In a way a similar to the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis, we believe that the redeemed will freely ask God to confirm their characters such that they freely choose never to sin. The assurance of our hope is grounded in God’s track-record of resourcefully fulfilling his promises. This is especially manifested in Jesus Christ, whom Paul says is our hope (1 Tim 1:1; Col 1:27). We, who have a taste of the victory of God, look forward to our own salvation as well as the redemption of the cosmos (1 Thess 5:8; Rom 8:18-23).

The openness understanding of divine sovereignty is that God calls believers to be collaborators with God in redeeming the world. It gives significance to our lives. God calls us to love and care for one another. It gives urgency and motivation to activities such as prayer for others, care for the environment, healing the sick and aiding the poor. This model of providence allows us to see the Christian life as a journey, an adventure, in which we interact with God in reciprocal give-and-take relations. As such, it comports well with the way most Christians actually live their lives.

  1. Does Creation Affect God? Does God Suffer or Change?

Though these questions have already been answered in the affirmative some biblical support for this will now be provided.[21] Open theists have provided lengthy treatments of scriptural texts but space here allows only for highlighting a few. [22]

  1. The Bible portrays God as authentically responding to people’s petitions.

When God called Moses to be the one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt Moses gave God several reasons why he was inadequate for the task (Ex. 3-4). In response, God attempted to satisfy Moses’ felt needs. At one point God switches to “plan B” by allowing Aaron to do the public speaking instead of Moses. In another text, God had the prophet Isaiah announce to King Hezekiah that he would not recover from his illness. However, Hezekiah prayed and God responded by sending Isaiah back to announce that God had changed his mind, Hezekiah would recover and not die (2 Kings 20). Such texts reveal divine flexibility utilizing various ways of achieving his agenda depending upon human responses.

John Goldingay, a biblical scholar, concludes from his study of the Hebrew Bible that God does not operate with a blueprint:

The First Testament story never talks about God having a plan for the world or a plan of salvation or a plan for people’s individual lives, and the story it tells does not look like one that resulted from a plan. . . . The story does not give the impression that from the beginning God had planned the flood, or the summons of Abraham, or the exodus, or the introduction of the monarchy, or the building of the temple, or the exile. . . . It portrays these as responses to concrete situations.[23]

Something of the same is found in the New Testament. Jesus is said to heal a paralyzed man because of the faith of his friends (Mark 2:5). He responded to the faith of this small community by granting their request. People’s faith, or lack of it, deeply affected Jesus and his ministry. Mark says that Jesus could not perform many miracles in Nazareth due to the lack of faith by the people in the community (6:5-6). It is not that their unbelief tied God’s hands but it did seriously alter what Jesus would have done had they been more receptive to his message. Not only did the response of the community affect what Jesus did, it also disturbed him for “he was amazed at their unbelief” (6:6). Oftentimes, what God decides to do is conditioned upon the faith or unbelief of people. As James says, we have not because we ask not (4:2).

  1. The Bible portrays God as being affected by creatures and as sometimes being surprised by what they do.

Genesis  6:6 says that God was grieved because humans continually sinned. Why would God grieve if God always knew exactly what humans were going to do? It makes no sense to say that a timeless being experiences grief. Also, the biblical writers, when describing God’s speeches, use words such as “perhaps” and “maybe.” God says “perhaps” the people will listen to my prophet and “maybe” they will turn from their idols (e. g. Ezek. 12:1-3; Jer. 26:2-3). Furthermore, God makes utterances like, “if you repent then I will let you remain in the land” (Jer. 7:5). Such “if” language—the invitation to change—is not genuine if God already knew they would not repent. Moreover, God says, “I thought Israel would return to me but she has not” (Jer. 3:7; cf. 32:35) and that he had planted cultivated vines and so did not expect them to produce “wild grapes” (Isa. 5:1-4). In these texts God is explicitly depicted as not knowing with certainty the specific future.

  1. The Bible portrays God as testing people in order to discover what they will do.

God puts Abraham to the test and afterward says, “now I know that you fear me” (Gen. 22:12). God puts the people of Israel to the test to find out what they will do (Ex. 15:25; Deut. 13:3). After the sin of the golden calf God asked the people to “put off your ornaments that I may know what to do with you” (Ex. 33:5).[24]

Commenting on such texts John Goldingay writes:

He limits his knowledge to be able to genuinely listen. . . .no doubt God could know everything, including everything about us, whether we are willing for this or not. . . . But even God’s supernatural knowledge of us comes about through discovery, through “searching out,” rather than because God possesses this knowledge automatically (e.g., Ps 33:15; 139:1-6). God does not seem to have looked into their minds to discover what their reaction will be. . . . Perhaps there would be something abusive about looking into our minds all the time, like a parent reading a child’s journal. One would do that only in exceptional circumstances. Instead God lets people reveal who they are.[25]

  1. The Bible portrays God as changing his mind as he relates to his creatures.

God announced his intention to destroy the people of Israel and start over again with Moses but Moses said that he did not want to do that and so God did not do what he had said he was going to do (Ex 32). God apparently said in unconditional terms that Eli’s descendants would be priests forever in Israel. But after the horrible exploitation of the priestly office by his sons, God changes his mind and removes the line from the priesthood (1 Sam. 2:30). God’s original plan was to have Saul and his descendants as kings forever in Israel (1 Sam. 13:13). In other words, there would have been no “Davidic” kingship. Latter, due to Saul’s sin, God changes his mind and rejects Saul and his line (1 Sam. 15:11, 35).[26] Though Samuel and Saul plead with God to change his mind back to the original plan and go with Saul and his son’s God declares that he will not change his mind back to the original plan (1 Sam. 15:29). If God always knew that he was never going to have Saul’s line be kings, was God deceitful?

Divine change of mind is an important theme in the Hebrew Bible as the expression is used of God around three dozen times.[27] Moreover, Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2 add the statement that God can change his mind to the great creedal formula of the divine nature given in Exodus 34:5-7: God is compassionate, gracious, longsuffering, abounding in loving kindness and truth, and one who changes his mind. Each of these terms describes God in relation to us and the last one includes the notion of God being affected by creatures.

The sorts of biblical texts just mentioned depict God is a personal agent who experiences dynamic give-and-take relationships with his creatures. God changes in his relationships as he works with us in history and God does not meticulously control all that happens. If this accurately portrays what God is like then it makes sense to speak of conditional election, resistible grace and that our prayers can affect God. These are some of the core theological beliefs of freewill theism. Open theists affirm these doctrines but go further and argue that divine timelessness and simple foreknowledge are incompatible with the sorts of characteristics ascribed to God by the biblical writers. For instance, a timeless God cannot be said to plan, deliberate, have changing emotions, adjust his plans, anticipate, respond and change his mind.[28] All such actions require a before and an after which a timeless God cannot experience. Reformed philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff points out that according to timelessness “none of God’s actions is a response to what we human beings do; indeed, not only is none of God actions a response to what we do, but nothing at all in God’s life is a response to what occurs among God’s creatures.”[29] This is precisely the reason why the influential nineteenth century Wesleyan theologian, John Miley, rejected divine timelessness.[30] Also, how can God interact with us in reciprocal relationships if God has prescience? If God knows in exhaustive detail every single event that will ever transpire in the universe then how can God be said to interact, respond, suffer, or change his mind?

If God is affected by creatures and is responsive as these texts indicate then God has a before and after—succession—in his experience. This means that God is temporal and has a history. The openness model allows us to maintain that God is open to our prayers—allowing himself to sometimes be persuaded by them—that God has changing emotions, that God enters into reciprocal relations of love with us, and responds to us. It also allows us to maintain that God is faithful, steadfast, has the power to enact specific events of his choosing, and that the divine nature does not change.

  1. How is This Related to Christology?

As triune each person of the godhead is open to the other so God’s openness to creatures does not represent a fundamental change in divine character. God is self-giving, making room for the other. This understanding of the divine nature helps us see that the way of Jesus Christ is the way of God. The incarnation does not represent an aberration of God because self-giving love is what God is like. Consequently, the responsiveness, openness to others, and willingness to suffer in order to restore the broken relationship, manifested in the incarnation confirm the portrait of God in the Hebrew Bible.

The openness model allows us to affirm, without hedging, the New Testament claims that Jesus is the definitive revelation of who God is, the “exact representation” of the divine nature (Heb. 1:3). Jesus is the divine word who by his way of life displayed the true divine glory (Jn. 1:14) and so the one who has seen Jesus has seen God (Jn. 14:9). In Jesus, “the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). The scriptures attest that Jesus Christ in his humanity is constitutive of the very nature of God. Christians confess that God in Christ saved us which means that the humanity of Jesus does not entail a surrender of deity. Instead, Christians are to define “divinity” in the light of Jesus’ self-giving love.

The openness model removes some of the problems surrounding the incarnation of the Son since there is no conflict with God experiencing sequence, change or suffering.[31] This means that we do not need to ascribe Jesus’ suffering to his human nature while keeping his divine nature free from all suffering. God, as God, can change and suffer in some respects. Also, this model overcomes a conundrum faced by those who affirm divine timelessness. A timeless deity knows everything that happens in time but there is no “now” for a timeless God. Hence, at the moment when Christ died God did not know this was happening “then.” Even the divine Son could not know this event was taking place at that moment since he is timeless. He would know that the crucifixion is an event which happens in time but he would be unaware that it was taking place when it occurred. It is strange to think that the human Jesus knows when he is being crucified but the divine Son does not know this.

According to open theism, God is temporal (experiences duration), is passible (though not incapacitated by emotion), and is softly immutable (the divine character does not change but God experiences dynamic relationships). The portraits of God in both the Hebrew Bible and in the incarnation display vulnerability and a willingness to suffer with, because of, and for us. God has a history in that God works in time to bring his redemptive work to fruition. As the liturgy says, “Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ will come again.” Consequently, the incarnation is in continuity with the God of Israel and kenosis is not the abandonment of divine attributes but the way God is.[32]

Knowledge of, and Language About, God

Before concluding I want to say a few words about my approach to understanding God.[33] Some criticize open theism for being too anthropomorphic. Several points may be made in response. First, the Bible describes God as the Lord of Lords who cares for widows and orphans (Deut. 10:17-18). This is a very anthropomorphic way of conceptualizing God. Second, I believe that the metaphors we use to describe God depict the reality of who God is and the way God relates to us. Nicholas Wolterstorff says that if God does not relate the way the Bible describes in the texts cited above then we “would have to regard the biblical speech about God as at best one long sequence of metaphors pointing to a reality for which they are singularly inept, and as at worst, one long sequence of falsehoods.”[34]

Calvin and others invoked the notion of divine “accommodation” in order to claim that the biblical depictions do not portray God as he really is. Others sought to overcome this by means of the doctrine of analogy but this route ends up in theological agnosticism.[35] I believe that it is better to understand the portraits of God in Scripture as conceptual metaphors which enable us to conceptualize (give meaning to) our experience of God in terms of very concrete events or objects.[36] For example, when we say “She shot my claims down” we are using the physical experience of warfare to understand argumentation. When we say “I can’t swallow that point” we are conceptualizing ideas in terms of eating. Conceptual metaphors are used to depict the reality of our multifaceted relationship with God.[37] In the texts surveyed above, God is depicted as acting in very common human ways. Broadly speaking, conceptual metaphors have three characteristics. (1) They are vehicles for understanding our world—they structure the way we think about life experiences. (2) They only partially map reality for they do not say everything that can be said and consequently they constrain our understanding. For instance, the apostle Paul speaks about the Christian community as a body but since this conceptual metaphor does not communicate all of his understanding he also speaks of believers as a building and as a farmer’s field. (3) They are culturally constrained since not all cultures use the same conceptual metaphors to give meaning to our experiences of love, anger, success, failure or truth. So, the biblical depictions of God convey the reality of God’s relationship to us but they do so in ways that cannot be nailed down without remainder.

Open theists do not believe that we know God exhaustively. But there is a vast difference between saying (A) God is not completely like anything in the world, and (B) God is completely unlike everything in the world.[38] It is one thing to assert that God does not share all properties with anything else, but it is quite another matter to say God does not share any properties with anything else. Clearly, the bulk of the Christian tradition has rejected this latter notion because Christians have generally held that though God is more than we can ever comprehend (exhaustively know), God is not totally beyond our knowing or ability to be in relationship.

Some critics claim that the application of human logic to our understanding of God places limits on God. However, we use logical reasoning to understand what God has revealed to us all the time. For instance, if we read that God redeemed us in Christ, we do not take this to mean that God did not redeem us in Christ. If God can do the logically contradictory then we could just as well say that God loves us and that God will damn every one of us. When I make this statement my critics typically respond by saying that God would do no such thing since we can trust God’s promises. In my experience, virtually all those who claim that God is above logic also say that God cannot be dishonest. People who say this are, in fact, affirming the rule of non contradiction since they believe that God cannot be both honest and dishonest. Also, if using logic to understand God places limits on God then classical theists are also guilty of limiting God for they hold that God cannot feel pain or be affected by us. By using human reasoning we do not claim to understand everything about God. We are finite beings so our knowledge is always less than complete. There is room for mystery and paradox in our theologizing but logical contradictions pop the circuit breakers of our mind, shutting off any understanding of the divine.[39]

Conclusion

According to the openness of God model of providence, God freely decided to create a world in which he takes some risks by not exercising exhaustive control. God grants creatures a say-so as to what history comes to be. God establishes the general framework of reality in which we operate and though the triune God loves us and seeks to draw us into that love, God does not obtain all that God would like. Though God did not want moral evils to occur, God does not give up on us. Rather, God works in flexible ways to redeem creation. God and creatures together determine what shall happen in history. The future is not a settled blueprint but a number of possible futures. God works with us as the lead player in a jazz band, inviting us to join in the production of kingdom music.

This model of God seeks to be faithful to the portrayal of God in both the Hebrew Bible and God as disclosed in Jesus. There is continuity in the disclosure of who God is and there is no need to attribute all suffering only to Jesus’ human nature. God, as God, can change and suffer in some respects though God is neither fickle nor overwhelmed by emotions. This model gives urgency to prayers of petition and places responsibility on us for care of one another and the planet. Though this model is not free of problems and will not appeal to the piety of all Christians, it is a highly relational understanding of God that is justifiable in light of scripture, piety, tradition, and conceptual intelligibility.


[1] Some of the authors  who  influenced my thinking include Abraham Joshua Heschel, Terence Fretheim, Adrio Kőnig, William Hasker and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

[2] It is not essential for open theists to take a stand on whether or not God was temporal prior to creation. Even if God was eternally temporal God did not experience metric (measured) time until the creation. See Nicholas Wolterstorff’s discussion in God and Time: Four Views, ed. Gregory Ganssle (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 233.

[3] See Marc Zvi Brettler, God is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor.  Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 76 (Sheffiled, England: JSOT Press, 1989) and Nelly Stienstra, YHWH is the Husband of His People: Analysis of a Biblical Metaphor with Special Reference to Translation (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1993).

[4] For further explanation see my The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence,, revised edition  (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2007), pp. 18-27.

[5] Several contemporary evangelical theological determinists claim that God is weakly immutable and passible because they know that an “unresponsive” deity will not sell in the evangelical pews. John Calvin, however, was logically consistent on these points.

[6] Most of the early church fathers were freewill theists who affirmed weak immutability and weak impassibility. See the outstanding study by Paul Gavrilyuk The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought The Oxford Early Christian Studies series (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[7] This explains why the vast majority of criticisms leveled against open theists by theological determinists are the same old arguments against Arminianism. Roger Olson makes this point in his The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 196.

[8] Many critics of open theism have failed to understand this connection to the freewill tradition, claiming that the watershed is between those who affirm exhaustive definite foreknowledge and those who do not. They claim that proponents of dynamic omniscience cannot be considered “Arminian” since Arminians affirm simple foreknowledge. Though this is a difference between the views it is not the crucial difference. For elaboration on the fundamental similarities between simple foreknowledge and dynamic omniscience see Steven M. Studebaker, “The Mode of Divine Knowledge in Reformation Arminianism and Open Theism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47.3 (September, 2004): 469-480; and John Sanders, “Open Theism: a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 38.2 (Fall 2003): 69-102.

[9] For careful studies of the position advocated here see Robert Ellis, Answering God: Towards a Theology of Intercession (Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster, 2005) and Vincent Brümmer, What Are We Doing When We Pray? A Philosophical Investigation (London: SCM Press, 1984).

[10] Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 244.

 [11] Edwards, “The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God,” Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, 115-6 (emphasis mine).

[12] For a fuller account of why simple foreknowledge is useless for divine providence see my The God Who Risks revised edition, pp. 209-217 (pp. 200-206 in first edition) and my “Why Simple Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control than the Openness of God,” Faith and Philosophy 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 26-40.

[13] Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 103-106.

[14] For other discussions about evil by open theists see Gregory Boyd, Is God to Blame? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003); his Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001) and William Hasker, Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God, Routledge Studies In the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2004) chapters 1-5.

[15] Proponents of the free will defense sometimes emphasize the intrinsic, as opposed to instrumental, value of libertarian freedom. I have tried to avoid doing so.

[16] The same is true for a deity with simple foreknowledge (see note 12 above).

[17]  It should be noted that process theists admit that freewill theists can allow only the occasional overriding of human freedom. Given this and the fact that they believe persuasion to be morally superior to coercive force, it seems disingenuous for them to say both that violating human freedom is a moral wrong and also that God should do it more often. Process theologians often assert that their view is the only one that gets God completely off the hook of evil. This is not the case, however, since they believe that God influences individual actual occasions to keep them ordered. If God is so effective, for example, at the molecular level at persuading entities to remain orderly, then why cannot God influence them enough to keep them from emerging in ways that bring about harm? Could God have persuaded forces of nature to interact in different ways so as to prevent the formation of, say, a tornado or, at least, modify its path? As David Basinger argues, process theists cannot avoid the very criticisms they heap on freewill theists since the God of process theism is not as powerless as we are sometimes led to believe [Basinger, Divine Power in Process Theism: A Philosophical Critique (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 27-53]. Furthermore, the God of process theism has, through persuasion, had a great deal to do with bringing about the present world order with its attending evils so God bears some responsibility for the situation. John Cobb and David Griffin acknowledge God’s responsibility here since God took the risk of luring societies of occasions to form humans who have the potential for “intense enjoyment” but also the potential for suffering. They admit this rests on a disputed intuitional value: that “overcoming unnecessary triviality” is better than simply avoiding discord and suffering. See their Process Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), p. 75. For further discussion see the exchange between process theist David Ray Griffin and open theist William Hasker in Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Freewill Theists, eds. John B. Cobb and Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2000). Also, William Hasker, “The Problem of Evil in Process Theism and Classical Free Will Theism,” Process Studies 29 (2000): 194-208; Reprinted in his Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God, pp. 136-150.

[18] David Basinger, Divine Power in Process Theism p. 63.

[19] See William Hasker, “The Necessity of Gratuitous Evil” in Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God,  58-79.

[20] For elaboration and response to criticisms that open theism is not entitled to such confidence see my “The Assurance of Things to Come” in Looking to the Future, ed. David Baker, (Baker Book House, 2001): 281-294.

[21] The issue of divine providence cannot be settled by a straight forward appeal to biblical teaching for the simple reason that Christians have had different interpretations of these passages for millennia. My claim is only that the open theist’s way of understanding such biblical passages is justifiable.

[22] For more see Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984; Sanders, The God Who Risks, revised edition, chapters three and four; Richard Rice, “Biblical Support,” in Clark Pinnock et. al. The Openness of God,: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional View of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 22-50; Boyd, God of the Possible, 53-87.

[23] John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 60.

[24] One could argue that the testing was only for the benefit of the people since it added nothing to God’s knowledge but that is not what the texts themselves say.

[25]Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, pp. 136-7. See also Michael Carasik, “The Limits of Omniscience.” Journal of Biblical Literature 119.2 (summer 2000): 221-232.

[26] See Terence Fretheim, “Divine Foreknowledge, Divine Constancy, and the Rejection of Saul’s Kingship.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 47, no. 4 (Oct. 1985): 595-602.

[27] Hebrew Bible scholar, Terence Fretheim, has done the most exegetical work on the divine change of mind texts. In addition to the article cited in the previous note see his The Suffering of God;  “The Repentance of God: A Key to Evaluating Old Testament God-Talk.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 10, no. 1 (June 1988): 47-70; and “The Repentance of God: A Study of Jeremiah 18:7-10. Hebrew Annual Review 11 (1987): 81-92.

[28] This is shown by Norman Kretzman and Eleonore Stump, “Eternity,” Journal of Philosophy 78 (1981): 429-458. There are those, however, who claim that a timeless God can experience changing emotions and give-and-take relations even though it is logically contradictory to affirm both.

[29] Wolterstorff, “Unqualified Divine Timelessness,” Ganssle ed., God and Time, 205. Paul Helm argues that there is a highly qualified way that a timeless God may be said to “respond” but Wolterstorff shows serious problems with Helm’s claim (232-3).

[30] Miley, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1892), pp. 214-5.

[31] See Keith Ward, “Cosmos and Kenosis,” in John Polkinghorne, ed. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 152-4.

[32] See the essays in John Polkinghorne, ed. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis.

[33] For elaboration see my God Who Risks, chapter two.

[34] Wolterstorff, “God Everlasting,” in God and the Good, ed. C. J. Orlebeke and L. B. Smedes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 181-203.

[35]  For the devastating problems associated with the appeal to analogy see Vincent Brümmer, Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 43-51, and William Alston, “Aquinas on Theological Predication: A Look Backward and a Look Forward,” in Eleonore Stump ed., Reasoned Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology in Honor of Norman Kretzman (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993): 145-178.

[36] On conceptual metaphor theory see George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Zoltán Kövecses, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[37] I explain this use of conceptual metaphor theory more fully in the revised edition of my God Who Risks, chapter 2.

     [38]See Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 20.

[39] For further discussion see my “Mystery and Nonsense” in God Who Risks, revised edition, (2.4)

John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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