God in Process

Transcribed from the sermon preached August 3, 2014

The Reverend Max Lynn,

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-4, Matthew 7:7-14

It is an amazing thing to see a baby grow. They just absorb information from all over, taking in the whole world. Because they take in information so fast, they change from one moment to the next. As parents we try to direct them, to lure them to things that are safe or good for them. Recently, in an attempt to keep Adam in the living room so his dad would have to chase him every 10 seconds, we put up an enclosure of tables and chairs. That worked for a while, but eventually he figured out he could fit under the table and escape. So we put something under the table to block him. That worked for a while, then he figured out he could push the table out of the way. So we put something to keep the table from moving. That worked for a while until he figured out he could climb up on the couch arm and flop himself over. So that was the end of keeping him in the living room. He absorbs information like a sponge, adding the new of one moment to the accumulation of what came before. Based on prior knowledge of what he has done, we can try to anticipate what he might do in the future, and encourage him to do what will be helpful in the next moment. The baby is learning and free, and the possibilities for what he might do, or what might happen next are endless, so there is no predetermining his future.

Alred North Whitehead was a mathematician who lived from 1861 to 1945. After he retired from the University of London, he moved to Harvard and took up philosophy. His process metaphysics has influenced many fields, among them theology. For Whitehead, reality is made up of occasions of experience. Existence is not made up of things, but occasions of becoming. A being, such as a baby human being, is a being because it is being, or becoming. After a thing becomes for a moment, then it is becoming for the next. Everything that is becoming is becoming in relations to all past becoming and all things that are becoming together in that moment.

In other words being is relational and dynamic. There is no such thing as an individual isolated form from time or relation. Each moment of becoming is influenced by all of the things that made up the moment previous. We breathe out because we just breathed in. We feel love because we have been loved. John Cobb uses the experience of listening to music as an example of how previous becomings influence the identity of the present: “If we focus on the presentational moment alone, the sound would be just what it is in itself. But in fact we hear it as a completion of a phrase. The sounds we were hearing in the preceding seconds are still resonating in our present experience. Otherwise there would be no music.” (Cobb, J.B. Process Theology. Religion Online. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1489 )

The most basic occasions of experience, unite through complex and harmonious relationship to form nexus or actual entitites. They become together to become something bigger, more complex and harmonious than themselves. So for instance, atoms make up molecules which make up DNA for cells within us which have the subjective aim of constituting an organ, which together with other cells and organs constitutes our body.   Our body in relation with other bodies helps constitute a family, society, ecosystem, and the whole Creation. So molecules work together to become cells, and cells body parts, and body parts a body.

Now the vast majority of actual entities incorporate most of what was received in the previous moment. What we are now is almost identical to what we are now. Yet what becomes is not entirely predetermined. There is freedom and novelty. What keeps a child in the living room in one moment will not necessarily keep them in the next. What kills a virus one minute won’t necessarily kill it the next.

The number of possibilities for the next becoming moment is huge, but only one of those possibilities actually becomes. We are the accumulation of what we have actually become in our previous moments. Our becoming in the next moment has to take into account what has actually become. A simple cell doesn’t suddenly become a mammal without a few bazillion moments in between.  A baby doesn’t go from crawling to running. A marriage doesn’t go from conflicted to perfect from one second to the next. We have to work from what actually exists, with the relationships that have brought us to this moment of being.

In Process Theology, God is the Creative push. God lures and encourages the becoming of things from Caos toward increasing complexity, intensity and harmony. Complexity and harmony in balance together make up beauty. The most intense harmony is love. God is love. God remembers all that has been and encourages the becoming of each next moment. Out of all the possibilities for what might be, God gives each entity a divine aim: the best possible outcome from what is possible given our context.

We might not have chosen to whom, when or where we were born. We may not choose what gifts or challenges we have. But we are part of God’s Divine aim for the world. But with God we can do the best we can with the gifts we have been given.

Martin Luther King Jr. hit the Divine aim well in making this point in his sermon entitled The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life. First he talks about the grace of accepting the gifts or tools we have been given, then he talks of using them well:

What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill

Be a scrub in the valley—but be

The best little scrub on the side of the hill,

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

If you can’t be a highway just be a trail

If you can’t be the sun be a star;

It isn’t by size that you win or fail—

Be the best of whatever you are.[1]

While God can see all the possibilities, God does not determine them. There is novelty and freedom.   God’s being grows, creates and continues to become as a consequence of God’s relationship with the created and creatively becoming world. God lures us in the direction of the best possibilities, but because we have freedom and don’t follow the divine aim in our becoming, God has to readjust in each moment to envision a whole new set of possibilities based on what has just happened. Upon incorporating the new possibilities God envisions and lures us with his Divine aim into the next moment of becoming. Yet the divine aim is not based only on what is good for us as an individual, but also on what is best for all the other entities and indeed, the whole creation.

God lures a child toward complexity and harmony of being and relationship. Reaching, exploring and experimenting are gifts God gives children. But their ability to harmonize intensity is limited. So God gives us parents and people who love us to nurture and protect us along the way. But both we and our parent and the world are not entirely predictable.

The power of God is persuasive, not coersive. God nurtures and lures us. God doesn’t force us to accept the divine aim. When we fail to become into the Divine aim, there is sin and evil. Self-determination increases with complexity, increasing the possibility of either enjoying or deviating from the divine aim. The capacity to feel either good or bad is increased with complexity. The increased complexity that makes greater enjoyment possible also makes greater suffering possible. As God leads us toward capacity for intense harmonious love, so triviality, and movement away from purpose or connection toward chaos is sin.

The quality of becoming can degenerate and fragment so that it is less close in relation and value to God. It can also further fog our ability and willingness to see and feel God’s aim for our future. Thus sin and evil compound upon themselves and lead to the death of Divine possibilities for us and others. Sin leads to the death of good possibilities, death of both our immediate becoming and of what might have been in the future. Blinded by self-centered maintenance, we may reject God’s aim and choose to degenerate toward discord and unnecessary triviality.

To the degree our aim follows the aim of God, and we become the best that is possible for us in a moment, our aim is God’s aim. But we all fall short of the Glory of God, the whole world falls short. Thus, our situation It may be a very difficult, complex situation in which any possibility entails suffering. It also may be that we are so clouded by previous bad choices and events, that overwhelmed our capacity to harmonize, and we may not see a choice that feels good. We may have avoided the intensity of feeling for so long that it has caught up with us, and now it appears there is no way out. We may have gone down the wrong road and come to a cliff, and now the best possibility is to go backward.

But God never leaves us. God is always there to love, feeling with us both the pain and joy of this moment, giving us His divine aim for what is possible given our context. No matter what mess we find ourselves in, God is always luring us toward the most beautiful us we can be.

And, of course, God lures other beings to help us with our divine aim. We see in the Gospels that Jesus was came into being in a pretty tough situation, full of chaos and disharmony. For process theology, Jesus embodied the divine aim of God exactly, in every moment of his life. In this way he was both himself, Jesus of Nazareth and also the Divine Logos, the Word of God, the Christ. Jesus embodied each divine aim of God in such a beautiful, complex and harmonious way that he became an actual experience of the aim of God.

As John says in his Gospel: [2] He was in the beginning with God;
[3] all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

God in Christ shows us that God is with us, loving us, luring us here and now. To the degree our aim follows the aim of God, and we become the best that is possible for us in a moment, our aim is God’s aim. It is our move, but it is God’s move too. God graciously makes a way for us. Knock, Jesus says, and the door will be opened. Ask, and it will be given. The key I believe, is the focus on Divine aim: Thy will be done Lord.

While God’s aim is for the moment, it is also eternal. Thus even amidst the suffering of the cross, there is the joy of knowing we are in harmony with the eternally loving God.

I Cor 15:

[54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
[55] “O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”
[56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
[57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[58] Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in