Keith Ward and a God of Love

October 16th, 2022 / No Comments

I recently wrote a chapter for a book celebrating the work of Keith Ward. My argument is that Ward offers a metaphysics that supports both a conceptual basis for love and a basis to view God as loving.

God is Love

Keith Ward believes an adequate account of love requires an equally adequate account of God. He believes God is the chief exemplar of love and the ultimate Mind making creaturely love possible.

Keith believes a Christian description of God is “guided by the key teaching that ‘God is love.’”[1] But just about every Christian believes God loves.

The way many professional theologians conceive of God, however, does not align with love as I have defined it, as we experience it, or as described in much of sacred scripture. Keith Ward’s concept of God is different; it aligns with love so understood.

God Must Love

Unlike the voluntarist God of some theologies, Keith believes God must love. God cannot freely choose evil.[2] In fact, divine freedom is “necessarily conditioned” by love.[3] To put this in my own terms, Keith believes love comes logically prior in the divine nature to will.

We should reject theologies aligned with ancient Greek philosophical notions of a static God, says Keith. Such theologies consider God a timeless substance rather than a dynamic person. They present God as simple, immutable, and impassible too, which fails to align with the dominant biblical portrayal of God or with the personal piety of believers.[4]

Keith agrees with the majority portrayal of God in the Christian scripture, which portrays God as “a dynamic, creative, and relational reality.”[5] This dynamic God changes but is not in all ways immutable. “A general biblical account of God,” says Keith, “is more sympathetic to the view that God changes in some respects than to the view that God is completely changeless.”[6] A changing God “capable of new creative actions is more supreme than are being that cannot be other than it is.”[7]

Open and Relational God

Keith Ward is what I call an “open and relational theologian,” because he believes God essentially experiences time analogous to how creatures experience it. God’s experience is temporal, but the divine nature does not change. Keith rejects the classic view of divine simplicity because it undermines the personal and relational aspects of God. God does not have a preordained plan that is worked out in a predetermined and precise way.[8]

A relational God suffers with and knows creatures experientially. God’s “concern for the well-being of creatures implies knowledge of their condition,” Keith says. And it implies “pity if it involves suffering, revulsion if it involves the willful causing of suffering, and action to relieve that suffering where it is possible.”

A God who simply contemplates suffering “is not truly love,” says Keith. “The one who truly loves will do something to help.”[9] God is passible, because “affected by the beauties and sufferings of the created world.”[10]

God’s Creative Love

 Love compelled God to create the universe. “One who believes in the existence of God,” argues Keith, “will believe that there is an actual case of supreme goodness that has created the world for the sake of good.”[11] And God had a particular aim in creating: “that autonomous persons can come into existence,” says Keith. These creaturely persons would be able to “shape their own lives freely and creatively, and can find their fulfillment in being united to the divine in love.”[12]

In a certain sense, says Keith, God needs creation. “If God’s love is agape love, love of the other and the imperfect, then that love could not exist without a creation containing possibly imperfect creatures.” This does not mean that the universe created God, however. “Creation in no way brings God into being,” Keith says, “and it depends wholly upon God in order to exist.”[13]


A good number of Christian theologians affirm divine love as necessary among members of the social trinity. But Keith thinks “the idea of God as a sort of society is a bad idea.”[14] Christians should not think God is comprised of three persons, each with distinct centers of consciousness, distinct freedoms, distinct responsibilities, distinct wills, and distinct relations between one another.

This formulation of the Trinity is more tritheistic than monotheistic. Keith believes God is one; God has one mind and will. I’ve reviewed Keith’s book on the Trinity here.

The loving Creator experientially loves and relates with the created world.[15] God’s love is ad extra. “If God is a relational being characterized by love,” Keith reasons, “that relation must be to non-divine persons, and not a sort of secret self-love.”[16]

We can talk about divine love as in some sense trinitarian, Keith says, if we identify a “threefold form of divine love – as creating finite persons, relating in love to them, and uniting them to the divine life.” This activity “is the manifestation of the supreme goodness of God as creative, self-giving, and universally inclusive love.”[17] “If God is agape love,” says Keith, “this is love of what is truly other than God, not just love of the divine beauty and self.”[18]

God and the Future

God’s “plan” for creation is not a detailed blueprint of all that will occur. God does not entirely determine or even foreknow what the future of the universe will be. But “God wills that creatures cooperate in the work to create new expressions of love and goodness,” says Keith, “and that plan can take many forms.”[19] The love plan Keith says God entertains is neither unilaterally determining nor willy nilly.

Creaturely love is derived from divine love. We “must learn to love,” says Keith, “by learning to share in the divine love.”[20] This learning provides creaturely persons with their purpose. “The highest business of life is to live well in a just and compassionate society,” Keith says, “and to see that living well consists in seeking the true, the good, and beautiful for its own sake.” It involves “realizing as fully as possible our positive human potentialities, and then working for a society and a world in which that is a real possibility for all without exception.”[21]

Love after Death

Loving creatures hope to experience even greater love after death. “For those who believe themselves to experience something of a God of love,” says Keith, “the hope of paradise is the hope of closer knowledge and love of God.”[22] But this closer knowledge and love does not come through divine fiat. God wills that persons “attain their end by their own efforts, in cooperation with the divine…” And “if finite persons are to love and realize themselves in God, there must be more to finite consciousness than the often painful and always inadequate sense of union with the divine that is apparent in ordinary lives.”[23]

This “more” is what many theists call “heaven.” Even “the hope of heaven,” says Keith, “is entailed by belief in a God of love.”[24]

Keith Ward’s theistic metaphysics provides a far more adequate account of love, creaturely and divine, than alternatives. Rather than a materialist metaphysics that denies essential elements of love, such as value, freedom, experience, agency, morality, and more, Keith’s idealistic metaphysics not only accounts for these elements but emphasizes them. Rather than a theistic metaphysics that claims God is impassible, timeless, simple, and in all ways immutable, Keith’s theistic metaphysics portrays dynamic love as the activity of a dynamic God in giving-and-receiving relations with creatures.

Keith Ward’s philosophical vision aligns with a robust account of love.

[1] Keith Ward, Christ and Cosmos, 86.

[2] Ibid., 167.

[3] Ibid., 165.

[4] Keith expresses this throughout his book Sharing in the Divine Nature.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] Ibid., 61.

[7] Ibid., 73.

[8] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 77-78.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 49.

[11] Ward, Morality, Autonomy, and God, 208.

[12] Ward, Christ and Cosmos, 231.

[13] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 74.

[14] Ward, Christ and Cosmos, x.

[15] Ibid., 72.

[16] Ibid., 182.

[17] Christ and Cosmos, 62.

[18] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 77.

[19] Ibid., 77-78.

[20] Ward, Morality, Autonomy, and God, 202.

[21] Ibid., 215.

[22] Ibid., 207.

[23] Ibid., 192.

[24] Ibid., 207.

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