The God Who Knows
The Strength of an Open and Relational View of God
For more on Open and Relational Theology (ORT) please see the link at the end of this essay to register for the online conference ORTLine24 coming later this month. I will have some more responses to critics of ORT in my panel response of Tom Oord’s The Death of Omnipotence and Birth of Amipotence.
One criticism of Open and Relational Theology is that it portrays an impotent or distant God. The argument usually comprises one or more of the following arguments:
If God does not know the exact future, then God is not all knowing.
If God is unable to do certain things, then God is powerless.
If God can’t, then God is impotent.
When ORT theologians (and many Process Theology theologians) consider the knowledge that God possesses, there are a few ideas that come to the fore. This shows us that ORT and Process are not monolithic in thinking or structure which is an important thought to keep in mind. The general thoughts on knowledge include the ideas that God cannot or does not know the future, God can see glimpses of the future, God does not have all knowledge, and the most likely to me that God can know all that it is possible to know. I will unpack that last one some more because it is the view I believe makes the most sense given the revelation of God in Christ.
God can know all that it is possible to know. The idea is not that God’s knowledge is limited to even restricted. Instead I will lean on an analogy to the idea of the Multiverse in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe. The best recent examples of the Multiverse is in several films and TV series. Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Ant Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, The Spiderverse animated features, Spider Man: No Way Home, The show What If, and the series Loki. For our purposes Loki may be the best example because at the conclusion of season two, Loki becomes the God of Stories. For an in depth look at the ideas in Loki you can see my essay entitled God of Stories. But the important piece is that when Loki becomes God of Stories he has the ability to “see” all of the possible variant timelines and where they head. This is one of the pieces to an open and relational understanding of God’s knowledge. In this metaphor, God can see the infinite strings of possibilities and branching “timelines” of our lives. Because we have true agency (even to the quantum level) the possibilities lead to many outcomes and God can see all of the outcomes, but without the decisions being made by all the players in the outcome, God does not know the direction that will be revealed.
Unlike the multiverse, these branches do not constitute new timelines as they determine points and which change happens. Philosophically, I lean toward the idea that some events are fixed anchors in the timeline and can be known by God. This is similar to an idea in the Dr. Who Universe that some events cannot be changed because they are anchors. Dr. Who uses it as a plot device to avoid answering tough questions about tragedies, etc. but I believe the idea of fixed points to be compelling. The incarnation and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD are examples of this as God had knowledge and, in the case of the incarnation, chose the event’s time and place. A fun thought experiment would be to ponder the possible outcomes of Mary saying no. Ultimately, the claim that God cannot be all-knowing in ORT only works if the assumption is that the future is fixed and knowable. In the context of God being able to know all that can be known, then God can be all-knowing without a fixed future.
Powerless and impotent are the two most troubling claims against ORT. These are often the aces up the sleeves of the classic theist, but they are not quite the mic drops they appear. ORT views God as always working in the universe to bring about the good. This is an idea that God, as creator and sustainer, is always working in the world. In this context, prayer can move God to move and work. But, God cannot bring about everything single handedly. Rather, God and creatures cooperate to bring about the good God wants. We have evidence that choice exists to the quantum level so the choices and cooperation become important across the board. Wesleyan-Holiness people can embrace this paradigm because we believe that we bear responsibility to respond and work with God.
See my previous essay for a look at some of the ways we cooperate with God. The Lord’s Prayer contains a hint as we are partially responsible for helping God bring the Kindom (Kingdom) on earth as it is in heaven. Maybe the criticism is partly a concern that in saying creatures work with God to bring about good, that an added responsibility is placed upon us when we do not cooperate. I agree because i have read Matthew chapter 25. Our actions in the world matter as they can be the very actions of God. I will also answer the follow up critique that the God illuminated by ORT is a distant God. At the rick of repeating myself, see the previous paragraph because open and relational thinkers understand God to be intimately involved in creation at all times. In some ways ORT sees God’s transcendence in God’s immanence. In other words, God is so different than creation by being present to all of creation. The core reason that God is so present and God is the God of knowing all that can be known is that God does not force creatures to act. Instead, God’s nature of love* causes God to work in cooperative and relational power in the universe.
I get it; it’s scary to think that the God who created and sustains does not control the universe like a puppeteer. But our experience of God and the revelation of God in Christ shows us that God acts out of love. But when we see God through love as defined, it is easy to see why cooperation is part of this. Love does not force or compel. Practically, how do we deal with the nature of God? In a recent adult class on the Psalms at our local church we read Psalm Two. The class immediately stated that it sounded like the Psalmist was projecting a vision of God that is not what we see in Jesus. This was an astute oobservation, so we explained that the Royal Psalms may have been coronation Psalms. In that context, we see how humans could have tried to show visitors how strong God is, so the vision is of a God who crushes enemies. Most of the class would not consider themselves open theists, but they were describing the idea of a God who is revealed through progressive revelation and who we now know more perfectly because of Jesus.
The God who can know all that can be known and whose power is cooperatively relational is the God our class described. I hope this helps clear up fears you might have about an open and relational approach to Christian faith and theology. For more expressions and discussion of ORT, see the link below for ORTLine24. The cost is reasonable and you get access to the sessions for three months following the conference. A lot of brilliant authors and presenters are involved (including a few friends) and I know you will find something of interest.
*To define love, I will lean on Tom Oord’s definition as found in Pluriform Love. “To love is to act intentionally, in relational response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.”
Oord, Thomas. Pluriform Love: An Open and Relational Theology of Well-Being (p. 35). SacraSage Press. Kindle Edition. My review of Death of Omnipotence can be found at the following link: