Why We Should Believe God is Essentially Relational

January 25th, 2018 / 2 Comments

It seems that most Christians believe God is relational. I agree. Theologians call this “divine passibility.” But some Christians think God chooses to be relational, while others think God is relational by nature. Does it matter whether we believe God is relational by choice or by nature?

Five Reasons to Affirm God is Essentially Relational

In my previous post, I described two forms of strong passibility, or what I usually call God’s “essential relations.” One form says God essentially relates within Trinity. The second says God essentially relates with creation. A third combines them to say God essentially relates in Trinity and with creation.

So what? Does it matter that we affirm the strong version of divine passibility? After all, biblical writers don’t explicitly endorse one version of passibility instead of the other. I think it does matter, and there are good reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not by an arbitrary choice. Saying God is essentially relational makes better sense than saying God is contingently relational.

Saying God necessarily relates makes better sense than saying God contingently relates. Click To Tweet

1. The God Revealed as Relational is So by Nature

I am among many who believe it wise to unite conceptually how God self-reveals with who God truly is. We should believe the God witnessed to in Jesus, the Bible, and in other forms of revelation is who God truly is by nature.

While this argument isn’t a proof, it makes sense to think that the God revealed as relational is who God is by nature.

2. God’s Essence is Love, and Love is Relational

Affirming strong passibility provides a consistent view of divine love. If love is an essential divine attribute and God essentially and everlastingly expresses love in relations with others, strong divine passibility makes sense.

Strong divine passibility does not force us to do apophatic gymnastics when speaking of God’s love. It doesn’t balk at speculating about God’s nature. Strong divine passibility provides a coherent framework for conceiving of God’s love.

To affirm that love is an essential attribute of God, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

3. Only an Essentially Relational God Can be Trusted to Love Us

If God’s love is essentially relational and God necessarily relates with creatures (theocosmocentrism), we have assurance that God always loves us. God loves us no matter what, because that’s the kind of being God is.

Weak divine passibility cannot affirm this, because it says God’s love for us is contingent. The weak view cannot say God necessarily loves creation. And those who deny divine passibility altogether cannot speak coherently about God being compassionate or expressing love in giving-and-receiving relations.

To affirm unambiguously God’s steadfast love for us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

4. An Essentially Relational God is Best Conceived as Uncontrolling

I’ve argued in other publications that God’s love is uncontrolling. Strong divine passibility fits nicely with the view that God’s love is necessarily uncontrolling, because divine love necessarily gives and receives.

Believing God cannot control others solves the central issue in the problem of evil: the God who cannot control is not culpable for failing to prevent evil. I call this “essential kenosis.”[1] Although one could affirm weak divine passibility and the uncontrolling love of God, the strong divine passibility view fits uncontrolling love better.

To affirm clearly that God is not culpable for evil, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

5. An Essentially Relational God Will Never Leave nor Forsake Us

The theocosmocentric version of strong divine passibility provides grounds for believing it is necessarily true that God will “never leave you or forsake you” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5).

Other views cannot affirm that God necessarily relates to creatures. If those views are correct, God may choose to leave us and forsake us. There’s nothing to prevent God from giving up and abandoning us. Those views provide no confidence God will always be with us.

To be confident that God will never leave us or forsake us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

Conclusion

To my way of thinking, these are powerful reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not merely by choice. But I know that some will disagree. In the final post of this series, I’ll show that even most who think God chooses to be relational actually think God is necessarily so.

We have good reasons to think God is relational by nature and not by arbitrary choice. Click To Tweet
  1. See my arguments in The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Theory of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Academic, 2015) and various essays in Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Uncontrolling Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, Chris Baker, Gloria Coffin, Craig Drurey, Graden Kirksey, Lisa Michaels, and Donna Ward, eds. (San Diego, Ca.: SacraSage, 2017).
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Comments

Max Johnson

Nicely said, Thom. I wholeheartedly agree!


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Max! And good to hear from you!


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