Providence as Improv, Jazz, or Family
Most Christian theologies assume God is essentially timeless. This timeless God foreordains or foreknows all that will ever occur. For these theologies, “divine providence” means God acting with the end already settled.
Open and relational theology thinks God is timefull, not timeless. How we think about God’s relation to time makes a big difference in how we might think about God’s providence.
A Timeless God
When I say some Christian theologies see God as ‘essentially timeless,’ I mean they do not think God experiences in relationship with others, moment by moment. Many assume God ‘sees’ history – beginning to end – from an eternal now.
Scholars offer various theories for how this timeless God allegedly acts. Many think God only acts once. But each theory shares the view God is fundamentally nontemporal. The timeless God is ‘outside,’ ‘beyond,’ or ‘above’ time.
A Timefull God
Open and relational theologies believe God experiences time similar to how we do: sequentially — moment by moment — in relation with others. God’s experience is in process.
God experienced the actual past, experiences in the present, and faces an open, yet-to-be-experienced future. God’s experience is essentially timefull not timeless, pantemporal not nontemporal.
In a recent chapter I wrote for a book, I explore many of the differences thinking God is timefull has for understanding providence. There are many Ways to Think about Divine Providence. In this essay, I want to address one difference among the many.God’s experience is essentially timefull not timeless, pantemporal not nontemporal. Click To Tweet
Plans but No Blueprint
Many timeless theologies assume the God outside time predetermined creation’s current events and future outcomes. Or they assume this timeless God foreknows – in some mysterious way – precisely how history plays out.
Because God either foreordains or foreknows every occurrence, timeless God theologies typically think of providence like a detailed divine blueprint. This blueprint portrays all events in advance.
Theologies that believe God and creation are in process deny God foreordains or foreknows exhaustively. The future is open, they say, and the present becomes what a timefull God and creation decide. There is not detailed divine blueprint.
The Future is Yet to be Decided
A God of uncontrolling love cannot guarantee or foreknow all outcomes. Giving-and-receiving relationships of love make a real difference, because the future is yet to be decided. (See “What Does God’s Love Do?“)
The timefull God has general plans and desires, however. God is present to us and all creation, and God leads creation toward fulfilling those plans.
A timefull God is not watching us from a distance. This is not an aloof and detached divine being. The God of open and relational theology makes plans for love to win and empowers creatures to cooperate. God works in each situation to call, persuade, or command creatures to choose well-being.The God of open and relational theology makes plans for love to win and empowers creatures to cooperate. Click To Tweet
Improv, Jazz, or Family
Instead of a blueprint, God-in-process models might think of providence like an improvisational play. The play has a Director and general direction. But creaturely actors play essential roles in deciding how the plot unfolds. The play and its conclusion are neither predetermined nor preknown.
Timefull God models might also think of providence like a jazz session. Each musician contributes, and there’s a general movement toward the possibility of beautiful art. But the artists determine together how the music develops. The musical piece is yet to be expressed.
These models might also think of providence like a family. A perfectly loving Parent nurtures and instructs children trying to direct the whole family toward well-being. But the family’s health and vitality depend on the decisions of all members, not just the Parent. A healthy family does not emerge from a dictatorial parent!
I could list a dozen other positive differences timefull God views of providence have over timeless God views. And I do so in the essay I’ve just completed.
What positive differences do you find attractive?A healthy family does not emerge from a dictatorial parent, divine or otherwise! Click To Tweet