The concept of God in Process Theology


Process theology

Process theologians take the problem of evil to pose a challenge, not to God’s existence, but to our view of what God’s attributes and nature are. The key feature of process theodicy is a challenge to the traditional view of what omnipotence is.

Omnipotence and Genesis. Traditionally, most theologians agree with Aquinas’ view of omnipotence, which is that God has the power to create any logically possible state of affairs. This view is based on Creatio ex nihilo, which means ‘creation from nothing’. Since God created the universe from nothing, he must be powerful enough to do anything logically possible. This is based on Genesis 1:1-3:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.

Griffin rejected creatio ex nihilo. He pointed to an alternative translation of Genesis 1:1-3:

“In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth, the earth being without form and void, and darkness being upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light”.

In this second translation, it suggests that the earth already exists, as it is ‘being’, but in a formless state. This suggests that matter has existed eternally in a simple chaotic formless state and God’s act of creation was to give form and order to it, but not to actually create it from nothing.

For Griffin, the bible therefore does not suggest that God has the power to do absolutely anything. God’s creative act introduced into the universe the process of increasing complexity. Turning chaos into form was the first step. The process of evolution is also part of this process, increasing the complexity of living things over time. This allows for beings like us to exist which has the benefit of allowing good experiences, but brings with it the downside of the possibility of suffering.

Coercion vs persuasion. Process theologians argue that the traditional view of God’s omnipotence is coercive, meaning it is a form of domination that simply overpowers resistance and forces a thing to do what God wants. This seems to be incompatible with free will however, since a human being who is truly free cannot be controlled, otherwise they would not have free will. Process theologians argue that viewing God’s power as coercive is thus incompatible with free will. Griffin claims it is a ‘common notion’ that we do have free will, and therefore we should view God’s power as persuasive, not coercive. This means that God cannot directly coercively control things in a way that would prevent evil. The best God can do is attempt to persuade things to be better which takes a long time.

Griffin claims that the universe is in God, which is called a panentheistic relationship. God therefore is not a transcendent being with direct coercive control but is the ‘soul’ of the universe. Just like our minds cannot control everything going on in our body, but can encourage things in a more positive healthy direction long-term. This also means that God suffers with us when we suffer from evil.

Natural evil results from what Griffin calls ‘low-grade’ material things like molecules, which are very difficult for God to influence since they lack the mental ability to respond to persuasion. God can only affect such things through long-term influence of beings that have free will who might then affect the ‘low-grade’ things into a better order.

“The omnipotence fallacy” is a term Griffin uses to argue that it is a fallacy to assume that something’s being logically possible means that God can bring it about. Process theologians point out that that contractual agreements can only be brought about with the consent of both parties involved. Even if one is omnipotent, they do not have the power to ‘force’ the other to agree, because that is not agreement. The traditional view of God’s relationship with humans is that of a covenant, which is a kind of agreement. Therefore, God’s power over us is not absolute and so he does not have the power to coercively prevent moral evil.

The issue of the God of process theology being worthy of worship

The God of process theology has such diminished divine power that it is not worthy of worship.

Process theologians respond that it is the God of classical theism that is not worthy of worship and that its notion of omnipotence is incoherent because coercive omnipotence is incompatible with free will.

Furthermore, process theologian C. Mesle argues that the greatest strength possible is actually to endure evil and suffering without giving in to hate, as exemplified by M.L King, Gandhi and Jesus. We should reassess our view of what it means to be the strongest possible being to involve not coercive power but the willingness to suffer in pursuit of love and peace.  This is what God does and it requires much more strength than it would to simply crush anyone who stands in the way of love and peace.

Roth’s critique of process theology

Roth argued that a God who lacked the ability to stop the genocide at Auschwitz would not be worthy of worship because there is no point worshiping a being who cannot save us from terrible situations. Roth claims that, for Griffin’s view of God, “the best that God could possibly do was to permit 10,000 Jews a day to go up in smoke”.

Griffin responds that it is better to worship a God who lacked the power to prevent the holocaust than to worship one who had the power but didn’t. Griffin argues that this shows the differences in what people find worthy of worship; for Roth it is simply brute power whereas Griffin argues that is not the message derived from the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Griffin concludes “Roth finds my God too small to evoke worship; I find his too gross”.

We’ve got two choices – believe in a God who could’ve but didn’t or a God who would’ve but couldn’t.

The issue of process theology vs the bible

Process theology vs the bible. God is presented as having coercive power in the Bible.


Liberal view of the Bible can counter this view.