Unspeakably Transcended—Part 4

cataphasisNow is probably a good time to state how we think open theism fits within an apophatic theology. Recall from a very early opening post our view of open theism’s defining claim and three core convictions. The defining claim — divine epistemic openness regarding future contingents. On the open view, God does not possess eternal/unchanging knowledge of which possibilities will occur in precise detail as if there is eternally in the divine mind a single storyline that describes the path which the flow of time will doubtlessly follow.

We would agree God can be said to possess eternal unchanging knowledge of all possible futures which his providence embraces so that God is never surprised, caught off-guard or ill-prepared. Hence, one might say that with open theism God overknows as opposed to underknows the future. Considered in terms of this defining claim, open theism is simply the belief that there are open routes to the world’s becoming what God intends and that God knows these routes as paths the world might take without it also being the case that God eternally knows which particular path the world will take.

Beyond this we emphasize the same three core convictions shared by all other open theists: love with respect to divine purpose, freedom with respect to creation, and risk with respect to providence. This final conviction regarding risk seems most unsettling to those who investigate open theism. And to them let us just say that in our view nothing about God’s existence or triune actuality (even divine apatheia understood as his transcendent, indestructible joy) can possibly be at risk. Uncreated divine being cannot take metaphysical risks. Optimal outcomes within creation, given creation’s freedom, may be at risk, but this is just to say that creation may fail to conform to God’s intentions. But ultimately all risks lie within the all-embracing reach of divine providence, which we understand to be God’s wise, competent and loving pursuit of his purposes for creation.

How do such claims square within an apophatic theology? Quite simply in the same way and as equally as any other set of cataphatic claims does. The cataphatic within theology describes what we must say about God and the world, and in our view affirming God’s perfect knowledge of the changing state of the world and the open nature of its future contingencies are part of what we are to affirm cataphatically. In case you were wondering, this is expressed in the photo that attends this post. The cataphatic inscribes, writes, says in as many ways as possible what must be said of God. We believe open theism is a cataphatic necessity. However, in our case we are also happy to deny this in proper apophatic measure along with every other affirmation and denial we make regarding God, including God’s being good, loving, personal, existent, first-cause, etc.

But does it not follow from open theism that there is a temporal flow to God’s experience and knowledge of the temporal world? Is this not contrary to Orthodoxy? I honestly don’t know if how Dwayne and I qualifiedly affirm divine temporality is incompatible with Orthodoxy. My guess is that it is. However, we ourselves disagree with some understandings of God’s experience of the temporal world, for we don’t think God is temporal in any straightforward, unqualified sense equivalent to the sense in which created entities have their being in temporal becoming.* This will set us apart from other open theists perhaps but without any compromise we can see for open theism’s defining claim and core convictions. It remains that we can affirm God’s transcendence of the world, including time, as the fullness of his perfections independent of the world as well as affirm that open theism’s defining claim and core convictions are as inadequate as any other claims are at capturing the truth about God’s relationship to future contingencies.

The defining claim and core convictions of open theism are as transcended by God as any other claim rightly made about God, including creedal affirmations. In this we are more comfortable than other open theists we know with qualifying what we affirm and deny of God with (an apophatic) “Yes, but…” or “No, but…” if only as a strategy to acknowledge that God and creation do not constitute between them (to borrow Hart’s words) “a single order of content and explication.”

*See David Bradshaw’s “Divine Freedom: The Greek Fathers and the Modern Debate” in Philosophical Theology and the Christian Tradition: Russian and Western Perspectives, 77-92, and “Time and Eternity in the Greek Fathers,” The Thomist 70 (2006), 311-66. I’ll later suggest that Bradshaw’s understanding of God’s relationship to time doesn’t preclude the sense in which God need be viewed as temporal by open theists.

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