Surely one does not turn against the needy, when in disaster they cry for help.
Did I not weep for those whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?
--Job to God
Job's challenge to God is an example of protest theodicy in the face of what might be called classical theism. Process-relational theologies offer a solution to the ethical problems inherent in dominant theisms. Creativity, as the moving totality of everything that is, solves the onto-ethical problem of classical theisms by conceptualizing power and goodness in distinction from one another. Job figures out that atheism is no help on this point--it consoles by avoiding the question.
Traditional theodicy can be expressed as a logic problem primarily between the doctrines of goodness and power in and as God. The contradictions of the problem show best under pressure from radical suffering, aka evil. Solutions from dominant theodicies quickly amount to gaslighting, as Job quickly learns from the friends who come to enjoy and console. The answers tend to wish away radical suffering and marginalize the people who endure it; to hold victims liable for their own abuse and in short to justify systemic evils like slavery and its aftermath. Theology is bad, I would argue, primarily through its theodicies, amplified by the element of betrayal that must be accounted for by anyone claiming relationship with a personal God. Job is demonstrating moral conviction better than God by going to the source and demanding better.
Job demands from God an answer to the question of Goodness. God answers with a display of Power.
In the process philosophy of A. N. Whitehead, God is able to serve as the principle of value by way of dis-identification with the first ultimate of the universe, Creativity. The difference between Creativity and God is a key philosophical move because it appreciates the ethical problem at the heart of metaphysics, theistic or otherwise: the problem of value and being. As the difference that is value, a process-relational God makes ethics out of alterity.
The indifference of creativity makes the goodness of God possible, and their separation makes both power and goodness powerful and good.
Yet for the sake of what I call size and scale--the ontological aspect of God--process-relational thinkers move toward creativity as a resource for reimagining the divine life. This makes sense and is well sourced in historical church writings like the wisdom and spirit of Proverbs and Eckhart's sermons on the distinction between God and Godhead.
God answers Job with the astonishingly intimate detail of the creatures, the scope of life in all its vastness and gritty minutia. Whitehead claims that “each is all in all,” and that “every entity is only to be understood in terms of the way in which it is interwoven with the rest of the universe."1 While perhaps not a totality, Creativity does operate at the scope of the all and the every; and as such, it makes for good ontology.
As Whitehead conceives of God as the redeemer rather than the creator of the world, Creativity is allowed to create God - the indifference that allows for the difference of God.
Joseph Bracken suggests “precisely as an activity and not an entity, creativity could be the underlying nature of God, the dynamic principle or ground of the divine being, and as such likewise the ground of all finite beings." 2 Responding to poststructural philosophies of differentiation, Catherine Keller and Roland Faber search the bottomless depths of creativity for a Godhead beyond God, an indifference that gives rise to the difference of God. Creator and creature could be thought to emerge as mutual differentiations. In this way, Keller writes, God might emerge from an infinite creativity as its difference from itself, "from a flux that is in God and yet not the 'same' as God." 3 Roland Faber observes that “creativity is Whitehead’s version of Heidegger’s ontological difference…not as the difference between Being and beings…but as that between activity (creativity) and actuality (event).” 4 Creativity could be thought as the condition before the separation of the waters in creation, becoming actual in the event.
In such a universe, Nancy Frankenberry suggests, moral ambiguity is woven into the fabric of things divine and human such that there is no process or event that is unambiguously good or evil. Karen Baker Fletcher calls this the wildness of God, the awesome and awful aspects of God in the hurricane, what shows in the end as an answer to Job's challenge.
God's response in the whirlwind, a litany of the creatureliness underlying creation presents God's many-oneness in a register beyond value, as the fact of Being, astonishing. But aesthetically satisfying as an encounter with awe might be, it operates on a bait and switch. Job asks for expansiveness in God's mercy; God responds with a different magnitude. Showmanship doesn't do justice to a moral question about the goodness of God.
From 1978, David Ray Griffin's response in Process Theodicy may yet hold up. Griffin claims that creativity can preserve a Western commitment to both the size and goodness of God because creativity is both within and outside of God. The creativity within God is at work in the creation of value and in the lure toward aesthetic goodness, while the creativity outside of God is at work in the transitions from actual occasion to actual occasion, and to the societies that are creatures in relation to one another. The indifference of creativity makes the goodness of God possible, and their separation makes both power and goodness powerful and good.
Job demands of God an answer to the question of Goodness. God answers with a display of Power. The Book of Job invites us to consider whether humans have more ethical capacity than God. By redefining the power of God to be non-coercive or even non-agential, theodicy-minded process theologians have been able to maintain the perfect goodness of God, the worthiness or worshipfulness of God amid the reality of evils. Yet what amounts to worship in Job's encounter with the Whirlwind is not a response to goodness but to power and the fact of being in its seeming surpassing of any morality at all, including God's.
The ethical problem at the heart of metaphysics, theistic or otherwise, is the relation of value and being.
As process theologians issue the call for more nuanced understandings of persuasion-coercion and passivity-activity in the dynamics of creativity, so must we attend more carefully to the spectrum of benevolence and indifference.
Engaging the theodical question in dialogue with Whiteheadian creativity opens up possibilities for a doctrine of God that engages and expands traditional and process-relational claims of the nature of goodness as well as power. To pursue the question of value independently of questions of power requires holding the ethical and metaphysical mandate of God's distinction from creativity together with the possibilities of the in/difference of creativity in and as the Godhead.
There are at least two ontological differences on offer and neither one, the other, nor the combination will yield a one size fits all solution. But without creative energy or power conceived in distinction from value, the problems of theodicy--of an abusive God--remain.
1. Whitehead, A. N. (1978) Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Free Press (p 335).
2. Bracken, J. (1995) The Divine Matrix: Creativity as Link Between East and West. Maryknoll (p 55).
3. Keller, C. (2003) Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. Routledge (p 219).
4. Faber, R. (2008) God As Poet of the World: Exploring Process Theologies. Westminster John Knox Press (p 76).