A God of life

The God of the Bible creates, re-creates, and ultimately redeems life. This God, whatever the other so-called “gods” might be like, loves life, rejoices in it, is concerned about it, not only creates it for the purpose of blessing it, but saves it, and in between discloses to God’s covenanted people the way of life that they are to follow as an alternative to the death-dealing ways so prevalent in the world. (Clark Williamson, Way of Blessing, Way of Life, p. 99)

For Williamson, too much traditional theology has painted a picture of God that is at odds with this central biblical affirmation. He criticizes the view that God is “impassible”–unaffected by anything that happens in the world. While he affirms God’s “necessity” in two senses–God exists necessarily, and God necessarily has a particular character–he also predicates “contingency” of God. That is, God is affected by what happens in the world, by how the life that God has created fares. God is genuinely related to us.

Following process thought, Williamson proposes that in place of a static, substance-attribute metaphysics, we’re better off using our experience as living selves to model the nature of God. For example, we shouldn’t think of God as fundamentally a-temporal (unrelated to time and change) but as eternally faithful through time. “If we develop a model of God from this basic awareness of the self, then God would be genuinely social and temporal, affected by others as well as effecting (creating) them…” (p. 105). Just as human selves are relational and social through and through, God is intimately related to all existing things.

Williamson departs from some versions of process theology by affirming creation ex nihilo. “God’s creativity is not simply a once-upon-a-time creation, but an ongoing creativity that calls every moment of the life of the world into being” (p. 107). Further, God “created the world in order to share with it the blessing of God’s fullness of all possible good and beauty, to bring the world to well-being that the world might thereby glorify God” (p. 110). God wants to be in relation to creatures, a desire that manifests itself in God’s history of covenant-making.

However, it’s precisely because of the relational nature of all existence that God cannot be said to be omnipotent, if by that we mean that God unilaterally determines the outcome of events. If reality is relational through and through, then power is essentially shared power. “What guarantees that evil will not finally triumph is God’s covenantal faithfulness and the faithfulness of God’s covenant partners in the task of actualizing God’s purposes in the world” (p. 128). We cannot, Williamson argues, divorce God’s power from God’s love; God’s power is at work in the world is through love. God’s will opposes the evil that exists in the world, but that doesn’t mean God can simply destroy evil through coercive power. The cross of Jesus is the clearest picture of how God’s love is manifested in the world. God’s love is the power whereby God blesses, redeems, and reconciles all life.

This view has two main implications for ethics: (1) what we do matters to God (because God is affected by everything that happens) and (2) since God is not one finite agent among others, we are responsible for doing the sorts of things that it is appropriate for finite agents to do (things like concretely meeting the needs of our neighbors). A life-centered ethic is the proper response to the blessing of life we receive from God.

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