Chapter 10: The Cosmic Adventure

The Cosmic Adventure: Science, Religion and the Quest for Purpose
by John F. Haught

Chapter 10: The Cosmic Adventure

In God’s feeling of the world it is saved from perishing. The value attained by God’s harmonizing the world’s contrasts abides forever. The aesthetic integration of order with freshness, stability with complexity, continuity with change, form with dynamics, and unity with variety is preserved in God’s experience in such a way that novelty does not mean loss after all. Instead novelty contributes to the "eternal vision" of beauty, the experience of which Whitehead refers to as Peace. It is the world’s quest for this Peace, consisting in the enjoyment of Beauty, that gives it its ultimate purpose.1

However, God not only feels the world; the world also feels God as holding out to it an aim toward which it must strive. God in this mode of being felt by the world as the source of new possibilities is one of the things Whitehead has in mind when he talks about God’s Primordial Nature.2 Throughout the course of the preceding chapters we have been conscious of the modern scientific view that the world is a creative advance of evolution in which nature has continually experimented with new possibilities of order. These possibilities seem to be inexhaustible in their variety and depth. The arrangement of the world’s occasions into an array of aggregates, organisms, and societies ranging from the subatomic to the galactic, from the simple to the complex, has no limits. The possibilities for new forms of order never seem to run out. The "whence" of these possibilities, the source of new forms of order in the world’s evolution, is, in part, what we mean by God.

The world in its constituent occasions has a feel for the realm of new possibilities held out to it by God. In each moment’s aesthetic "enjoyment" and "remembering" of the past it is also shaped by an influx of novelty from the transcending field of possibilities. For the most part the experiential occasions (such as those in the inorganic world) are only minimally affected by the reservoir of novelty. And so their mode of inheritance is largely one of conformity to the past, that is to say, of efficient causation. Occasionally, however, the pressure of the possible breaks through the routines of repetition and new schemes of recurrence gain a foothold in the cosmic process. Novelty insinuates itself more dramatically into the stream of becoming, allowing for the emergence of new levels of being in which there is a greater degree of sensitivity to final causation, that is, more freedom to respond to the cosmic aim of Beauty and Peace.3

In this sense the world is not only felt by God’s aesthetic care; it also feels God as the source of new possibilities. In the mode of being felt by the world, God lures the cosmic process toward further intensification of beauty. God offers to the world, however, only those possibilities that are relevant to it at any particular phase of its becoming. For example, after the macromolecules of amino acids or nucleic acids have become sufficiently abundant, the possibility of living cells becomes a relevant new form of ordered novelty in the world’s advance. But the possibility of life would not have been relevant, say, when the earth was still a seething ball of fire. Similarly, the evolution of man would have been out of place prior to the emergence of primates. In God’s primordial nature there is a "grading" of the infinite variety of possibilities so that only some are applicable to each occasion’s enjoyment. And even here the occasion has a "freedom" to decide which of these possibilities will be included in or excluded from its unique moment of satisfaction.

In the mode of being felt, God does not force the world to fall in line with the relevant possibilities offered to it. As we noted in Chapter 6, the world has to have an aspect of indeterminacy at every level in order for it to be a world at all. Otherwise it would be a mere extension of God’s own being. Thus the world is not compelled to pattern itself rigidly and immediately according to the shape of the relevant possibilities presented to it by God. There is room for flexibility and meandering in its response to the persuasion of its creative ground. The "principle of uncertainty" points to an indeterminacy at the level of the physical, and biology speaks of randomness at the level of life. At the conscious level the world’s indeterminacy takes the form of human freedom, where persons are not compelled to follow the lure of value rooted in beauty, but may instead opt for either monotony or confusion. And at the level of civilization, we know how easy it is for the world to drift away from intense forms of ordered novelty. At all levels of the cosmic hierarchy there is at least some degree of "freedom".

Such a view of the world is not necessarily a comforting one. And it is natural for us to feel uneasy with the notion of a God who allows such a degree of "play" and "drift" to the cosmos. But I shall suggest in this chapter that the God of aesthetic care, a God of love, is also a God of adventure who does not coerce but rather persuades the world toward its fulfillment. In such a world our being ultimately cared for is not the same as a guarantee of safety. Salvation in an aesthetic scheme is not the same as being secured within a universal harmony structured according to ethical criteria. I shall approach this position by entering more explicitly into the problem of theodicy than I have done up to this point.

In the previous chapter I attempted to show how the evil of perishing is overcome by the aesthetic care of God’s feeling the world and sustaining its experiences in an unfading immediacy. If God is in some way like what Whitehead calls a "fellow sufferer," however, we would still have only one aspect of a theodicy, that is, only part of a response to the "problem of evil." For just as pressing is that dimension of the theodicy problem which asks why suffering, perishing, and evil are allowed to occur in the first place. It is to this question that any reflection on the idea of God, in whatever context, eventually has to return.

The Theodicy Problem

No completely satisfying answer has yet been given to the question why, if God is a reality, powerful and benevolent, evil is allowed to exist. The question "Does not the fact of evil count against the reality of God?" will always reappear. I do not pretend that the following suggestions will adequately address this question either. For Paul Ricoeur is correct when he calls theodicy "foolishness." And yet this foolishness is irrepressible. We somehow cannot help but indulge in it.

The tremendous popularity in America of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is recent evidence of the perennial urgency of the theodicy question.4 People cannot help asking why bad things are allowed to happen to them in the first place, and they understandably seek a rationally acceptable answer. I think that in many ways the "answer" Kushner gives is similar to some conclusions that may be drawn from the Whiteheadian scheme that I have outlined in the previous chapters. So it may be of some interest if I preface my discussion of theodicy by a brief summary of some of Kushner’s ideas.

Rabbi Kushner states: "There is only one question which really matters: why do bad things happen to good people? All other theological conversation is intellectually diverting."5 But in considering the alternative "solutions" that have typically been offered he finds it impossible to accept the idea of a God who deliberately wills the suffering of creatures, whether for the purpose of (1) punishment, (2) education, or (3) in order to contribute to the pattern of some "grand design." No sort of "higher purpose" can justify our individual suffering here and now.

Kushner maintains that if belief in God is to be acceptable at all, God cannot be understood as all-powerful in the sense of being able but not willing to eliminate suffering. Such an "omnipotent" God would not be capable of inspiring our love and respect. A God who could remove suffering and yet refused to do so because of its possible punitive or pedagogical value, or because it contributes to some universal plan, will only arouse our hatred. The only feasible idea of God, then, is one in which God wants to eliminate suffering but is incapable, for some reason, of doing so.

Let us explore Kushner’s position by looking at the three types of theodicy he finds defective. In the first place, the idea that suffering is punishment and that we deserve what we get, instead of being an answer to the problem of theodicy, often causes even more suffering in the needless guilt that we experience when we look into our lives to dig out some hidden fault or misdeed which we suspect may have aroused God’s wrath:

The idea that God gives people what they deserve, that our misdeeds cause our misfortune, is a neat and attractive solution to the problem of evil at several levels, but it has a number of serious limitations. As we have seen, it teaches people to blame themselves. It creates guilt even where there is no basis for guilt. It makes people hate God, even as it makes them hate themselves. And most disturbing of all, it does not even fit the facts.6

The notion that suffering makes sense as punishment for misdeeds has a strong basis in biblical religion and in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teaching. The main reason for its attractiveness is that it appeals to our native sense of fairness and justice. It goes hand in hand with what we earlier called the ethical vision with its demands that the universe correspond to our sense of moral order. And because of our passion for order we are willing to put up with any punishment that sustains this order.7 The problem with this vision, however, is that it is ultimately shipwrecked, as Paul Ricoeur puts it, on the rocks of tragic suffering.8 The story of Job, the innocent sufferer, is evidence that biblical religion itself was uncomfortable with the simplistic theodicy that makes all suffering into punishment. And Kushner’s book, following a line of argument similar to that of Ricoeur, presents Job as the archetypical stumbling block to our accepting the ethical vision without qualification.

Closely associated with the theodicy of suffering as punishment is that of suffering as pedagogy. Some religious thinkers interpret our suffering as God’s way of teaching us important lessons. According to this solution,

. . . God treats us the way a wise and caring parent treats a naive child, keeping us from hurting ourselves, withholding something we may want, punishing us occasionally to make sure we understand that we have done something seriously wrong, and patiently enduring our temper tantrums at His "unfairness" in the confidence that we will one day mature and understand that it was all for our own good. "For whom the Lord loves, He chastises; even as a father does to the son he loves." (Proverbs 3:12)9

In this divine pedagogy God inflicts suffering on us in order to help us, and this is sufficient justification for our pain.

Kushner replies that this kind of theodicy tries to justify God, but it does nothing to alleviate concrete suffering. Kushner’s objections are like those of Jürgen Moltmann, a Christian theologian, who has also clarified the flaw involved in any such theodicy. The danger is that it gives a place to suffering in the total scheme of things and thus subtly legitimates it, making us reluctant to challenge its apparent metaphysical inevitability. The bottom line of any theodicy must be the alleviation of suffering. The theodicies of punishment and pedagogy, however, do not directly attack suffering but leave the sufferer in his or her pain, rationally justifying it rather than eliminating it. Such theodicies can only drive us deeper into despair. And the God that lies behind such theodicies can only generate our resentment.10

A third unsatisfactory theodicy in Kushner’s opinion is the one that has God causing or permitting suffering for the sake of some grand design. Perhaps my suffering is allowed or inflicted by the cosmic artist in order to add a dimension of texture and nuance to the world’s canvas. My suffering is then justified by the contribution it makes to the aesthetic value of the universe. Kushner is more impressed by this aesthetic texture and nuance to the world’s canvas. My suffering is then justified by the contribution it makes to the aesthetic value of the universe. Kushner is more impressed by this aesthetic theodicy than by those of punishment and pedagogy. But he still has reservations. In the first place he thinks it might be wishful thinking since we cannot ourselves see any overall pattern of beauty. In the second place it still seems to make God monstrously insensitive to the particular suffering of individuals. The individual can only hate a God who sends suffering for the sake of the "grand design."11

Here Kushner’s protest is reminiscent of that of the Russian philosopher, Nicolai Berdyaev, who like Ivan Karamazov, was repulsed by the sacrifice of the individual to any universal cosmic harmony:

What values does the very idea of world order, world harmony possess, and could it ever in the least justify the unjust suffering of personality?

. . .

World harmony is a false and an enslaving idea. One must get free of it for the sake of the dignity of personality.

. . .God is not world providence, that is to say not a ruler and sovereign of the universe, not pantocrator. God is freedom and meaning, love and sacrifice. . . . The good news of the approach of the Kingdom of God is set in opposition to the world order. It means the end of false harmony which is founded upon the realm of the common. . . . There is no need to justify, we have no right to justify, all the unhappiness, all the suffering and evil in the world with the help of the idea of God as Providence and Sovereign of the Universe.

. . .

God is in the child which has shed tears, and not in the world order by which those tears are said to be justified.12

No world order, aesthetic or otherwise, can justify the suffering of innocents. It is inexcusable that any alleged deity would sacrifice the particular for the sake of the universal.

It might seem to the reader that the present book has proposed just such a theodicy in arguing for an "aesthetic" understanding of cosmic purpose. Consequently Kushner’s critique of the "grand plan" justification of God and suffering seem to apply also to the "Whiteheadian" approach holds that "God is the poet of the world." Hence I must Kushner’s complaints.

First Kushner maintains that we have not ourselves seen the whole cosmic tapestry and that it may be wishful thinking to suppose that there is an overall aesthetic pattern that gives a hidden answer to our suffering. Such an hypothesis, he holds, does not respond concretely to our experience of pain. In response to this objection I can only reaffirm what I stated earlier: none of us is able to have a controlling or comprehensive knowledge of any hypothetical higher level of meaning in the cosmic hierarchy or in any supposed universal pattern of beauty. If there is a universal meaning that can make sense of our particular sufferings, we cannot expect to possess such meaning. Such meaning would comprehend us rather than vice versa.

Kushner himself seems to recognize this basic religious truth as exemplified in the Book of Job which he finds to be the most important document ever written on theodicy. Job tries desperately to squeeze God into the framework of the ethical vision, seeking to measure the Almighty according to the familiar criteria of justice and moral order. But when the vision of a God who surpasses Job’s narrow expectation of justice appears "out of the whirlwind," Job has to press his hands to his lips in a gesture of silence before the incomprehensible. I do not think that Kushner would deny that all genuine religious experience is characterized by such a sense of the ineffable. Therefore, the demand for clarity of comprehension in the issue of theodicy is out of place as it is in all religious consciousness. I think Kushner would agree.

Kushner’s second objection to the "grand design" theodicy is more forceful, however, and we must make it a part of our own aesthetic interpretation. Like Dostoevski and Berdyaev, Kushner finds repugnant any theodicy that sacrifices the individual to the universal. I would like to express my complete sympathy with this judgment and defend the aesthetic theodicy I have adopted from any association with such a callous approach. I suspect that the source of Kushner’s objections lies in the implied image or concept of God in the "grand design" type of theodicy. God is pictured or thought of as actively causing the contradictions and sufferings that give nuance and texture to the cosmic tapestry, (or if not actively causing them, at least refusing to intervene to prevent pain while having the power to do so). And it is the idea of a God who causes or deliberately tolerates evil for the sake of a higher good that justifiably arouses our sense of indignation. For this reason I am in agreement with Kushner when he points out that the real issue concerning why suffering occurs at all is that of God’s power.

All three of the theodicies rejected by Kushner have in common the belief that God is the cause of our suffering, for whatever reason. And it is this belief that I would agree must be rejected. But I think it must be rejected on the very grounds of, and not in spite of, an aesthetic view of cosmic meaning. With Kushner I would be willing to say:

Maybe God does not cause our suffering. Maybe it happens for some reason other than the will of God.

. . .

Could it be that God does not cause the bad things that happen to us? Could it be that He doesn’t decide which families shall give birth to a handicapped child, that He did not single out Ron to be crippled by a bullet or Helen by a degenerative disease, but rather that He stands ready to help them and us cope with our tragedies if we could only get beyond the feelings of guilt and anger that separate us from Him? Could it be that "How could God do this to me?" is really the wrong question for us to ask?13

It is clear that for Kushner the offensiveness of the theodicies of punishment, pedagogy, and universal harmony consists in their making God the agent of suffering. Kushner is correct, I think, in focusing his critique of these theodicies on the notion of God that underlies them. He is right in maintaining that such a notion of God can only arouse our hatred. Such a God, we might add, is probably one of the major causes of modern atheism which has been highly sensitive to the "moral view of the universe," with its implied themes of order and punishment.14

It is because I share with Kushner (and Ricoeur) the conviction that any theodicy based on the "ethical vision" (such as those of punishment, pedagogy and universal harmony) is inadequate that I have suggested we experiment with an aesthetic vision of the cosmos. Therefore, I do not hold out the aesthetic cosmic scheme as a universal for the sake of which it is justifiable to sacrifice the individual. Instead I see the aesthetic teleological vision as one in which we may break out of the confines of the ethical criteria usually employed in theodicies that have proven to be unsatisfactory for the reasons outlined so clearly in Kushner’s fine book. The aesthetic teleology I have sketched does not project some abstract universal harmony in which the suffering of individuals becomes justifiable for the sake of adding contrast to the whole cosmic tapestry. The suffering of individuals is never actively willed or desired by the ultimate source of order and novelty. What God wills, in our Whiteheadian scheme, is the fullest possible enjoyment and peace of each entity in the cosmos. The Whiteheadian view envisages God as more oriented toward the fulfillment of the individual than toward the filling out of some cosmic outline.15 But it insists that the organismic connection of all things makes it impossible for the individual to experience fulfillment apart from the cosmos as a whole. For this reason, then, we cannot disassociate the problem of universal cosmic meaning from that of particular suffering. And so it is inevitable that our reflections on the problem of theodicy move from the individual toward the universal context of the individual’s existence. And I would argue that we can more compassionately situate the concrete sufferer in an aesthetic than in an ethical universe.

In our aesthetic teleology the individual’s suffering is granted a significance in terms of and in the context of a universal cosmic beauty. But this does not mean that the individual’s suffering is justified by its potential for contributing contrast to the wider aesthetic whole. Such a view would make the "cosmic artist" monstrously insensitive, and I think we may categorically reject this idea. I would prefer to begin with the premise that the individual’s suffering is never justifiable and is never actively willed or caused by God for the sake of adding beauty to the cosmic work of art. But when suffering does in fact occur (though not intrinsically justifiable) it is capable of being salvaged from sheer meaninglessness by God’s aesthetic care. The individual’s sufferings are felt by God with unfading sensitivity, even though they are not willed by God. God may not be capable of preventing suffering, but God is infinitely sensitive to particular sufferings, identifies with them, takes them into the divine life and transforms them into an aspect of the beauty of the cosmos in order that they never be forgotten or lost. In this way the individual’s sufferings contribute to the universal without being justified by the universal.

Therefore, I can understand Berdyaev when he says that "God is in the child which has shed tears, and not in the world order by which those tears are said to be justified."16 However, an organismic understanding of the world would prefer a different wording: "God is in the child which has shed tears, and God takes those tears into a pattern of universal beauty where they are rescued from the threat of oblivion." This at least seems to be the spirit of the Whiteheadian approach to the problem of suffering. I think that an ancient Buddhist text from the Mahayana tradition, in portraying the ideal of the bodhisattva, expresses accurately the divine sensitivity to suffering suggested by the Whiteheadian view:

. . .it is surely better that I alone should be in pain than that all these beings should fall into the state of woe. . .. I must give myself away as a pawn through which the whole world is redeemed ... and with this my own body I must experience, for the sake of all beings, the whole mass of all painful feelings17

Only if God is something like this is the aesthetic teleology acceptable.


I have maintained with Kushner that no overarching aesthetic teleology can justify the sufferings of individuals. But it does not follow that an aesthetic teleology cannot redeem and give meaning to individual sufferings when they do in fact occur. Nevertheless we must still ask: Why do they occur at all? Can we give any reasonable answer to this question? Kushner tells us that it may not be appropriate to ask: "How could God do this to me?" But it is certainly appropriate to ask: "What kind of God creates a world in which such things happen to me?" With the help of Whitehead and his followers, I shall propose that this God is a God of adventure and that the alternative would thrust us back into the restrictedness of the ethical vision and its correspondingly narrow, ultimately dehumanizing teleologies and theodicies.

According to modern science our universe appears to be, by all accounts, an adventure. By adventure is meant the universe’s search for continually more intense forms of ordered novelty.18 Ever since the "Big Bang" the cosmos has evolved in such a way that, little by little, more organized complexity has appeared, at least at certain points. We do not know for sure whether life or intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, but even if it occurs only here on earth (something which appears unlikely) we can still discern the lines of a progress toward heightened versions of ordered novelty in the cosmic advance. The living cell, for example, has an intensity of or of sand. And the human brain is incomparably more complex in its organization than any other state of matter of which we are aware. We can measure the progress of the cosmic adventure in terms of the criteria of harmony and complexity or of order and novelty. The criterion of adventure is the intensity with which the world strives to hold these contrasts together. The more adventurous the world’s advance, the more possibility exists of intense syntheses of order with novelty appearing on the cosmic landscape. Because of the adventurous nature of the cosmos eventually life appeared, then consciousness, then civilization. Whatever else this cosmic adventure leads to (further expansion of consciousness? planetary unification? inter-galactic communication?) we can safely say that it would take the form of a heightening of the intensity of ordered novelty. It would continue the trend of intensifying cosmic Beauty.

If we are to speak of God at all today, then, we must correlate the idea of God with that of the cosmic adventure. Modern religious thought has not yet been able to do so in a completely satisfactory way. Whitehead and Polanyi are two of the few thinkers who have made significant strides in attempting such a correlation. They also leave many questions unanswered, but if theology is to relate itself to the facts of cosmology in the future, I think it will have to carry on the task begun by such original thinkers as these.

In the past the idea of God has been closely associated with that of cosmic order, but not often with the fact of novelty. As a result of developments in modern science we are much more aware than our theological predecessors were of the extent to which novelty continually pours into the world process. It is the fact of novelty that pulls our universe toward its adventurous experimentation with fresh forms of order in its evolution. We now must ask, more forcefully than ever before, what the idea of God has to do with the fact of novelty.

We have continually referred to God in this book as "source of order and novelty." But this does not make the task of theodicy any easier. For in understanding God as the source of novelty we have apparently made God responsible for the fact of evil. Let us recall that the influx of novelty into any orderly situation will inevitably disrupt that order and threaten it with the possibility of chaos. But chaos is evil; therefore, God seems to be responsible for much of what we call evil.19

It is tempting to revert, then, to the traditional idea that God is only source of order and to associate novelty with some other, perhaps even demonic, aspect of the universe. Much that passes as "religion" does exactly this. It refers to God as the upholder of cosmic order, an order usually framed in terms of the ethical vision, and it attributes whatever evil arises in the universe to the invasion of novelty. Such religion defends the status quo at all costs, identifies faith in God with staunch conservatism, and associates "civilized" life with stony immobility in the face of revisionist efforts.

Given the fact that innovation, especially in the area of human affairs, usually brings much immediate suffering even when its purpose is to eliminate suffering in the long run, it is easy to understand and even sympathize with the effort to associate God only with cosmic and ethical order. Revolutionaries often bring loss of life and property; visionaries are the most disturbing of all people since their entertainment of new possibilities always implies that the present order has to be overcome. So if we associate God with the realm of new possibilities we should not wonder that this God is disturbing. It might be easier to live with the God of punishment since punishment exists primarily to uphold a given order. We are willing to tolerate the idea that suffering is always the penalty for our violations of this order rather than interpret suffering as the result of the presence of novelty in the cosmic adventure. Even though biblical religion has always understood God as the source of novelty ("Behold, I make all things new"), classical theologies have predominantly associated God with cosmic order and have failed to consider in any depth the connection between God and novelty.

If we accept the world-in-process of modern science, however, we can no longer ignore the relationship of God to the novelty that renders our cosmos into an adventure. Novelty can no longer be understood as an accidental modification of order. Instead it is intrinsic to the very actuality of things. Each actual occasion is constituted by the way it feels its past. But it experiences its past (conformally or non-conformally) only in a manner shaped by its sensitivity to the new. Novelty is an aspect of each occasion. It is an essential metaphysical dimension in the process we call the universe. In fact our notion of "order" is usually the result of our abstracting from the cosmic process and freezing it into a pattern that has already dissolved and been replaced by another. "Cosmic order" can only be understood as a generalized representation of a process of successive new patternings of experience. Novelty, then, cannot be dismissed as incidental or secondary to order.20

Hence, we can no longer avoid thinking of God as source of novelty as well as order. God is the lure that arouses the cosmos toward adventure, constantly awakening it from the inertia that would fix it into any given order. It is because of this divine disturbance that the universe has the character of adventure which we constantly attempt to domesticate with our petty versions of ethical harmony. We find it extremely difficult to identify and coincide with the divine restlessness inherent in the cosmos. Some religious traditions, especially Buddhism, have taught that we will never find ultimate peace until we affirm this restlessness and cease our idolatrous substantializing of things and ourselves. It may take a lifetime for us to realize, as John Dunne puts it, that ". . . the only cure for the restlessness . . . is . . . a Yes to the restlessness itself."21 For the most part our "religious" life seems to be most comfortable with the feeling that the present order is eternally validated. To associate religion with adventure may seem to us to be the very antithesis of what we may have taken religion to be.

Whitehead often observes how we tend to substitute a sketch for the whole picture, how we prematurely close off our openness to the cosmos and narrow ourselves down in adjusting to a mere fragment of the whole. We become fixated on a particular version of cosmic order apparently in order to avoid the evil of chaos that accompanies the urge to novelty. But in our obsession with order we succumb to monotony and triviality. Whitehead does not hesitate to call this unnecessary acquiescence in monotony an "evil" also. Evil, he says, ". . . is the brute motive force of fragmentary purpose, disregarding the eternal vision."22 Evil, therefore, cannot be exclusively identified with chaos and perishing. It is a term applicable just as much to unnecessary triviality. Chaos and disorder constitute, of course, one form of evil. But another kind of evil belongs to those situations where a more intense harmony of novel contrasts is attainable and yet there is a reluctance to move toward a richer synthesis. "There is then the evil of triviality -- a sketch in place of a full picture."23 The aim toward beauty may be frustrated not only by the collapse into disorder as the result of too much novelty, but also by acquiescence in triviality when the appropriation of novelty is relevant. It is infidelity to the cosmic adventure to cling to low-grade forms of harmony, to remain stuck in monotony, when further advance is possible.

If the ultimate value is beauty, understood as the highest relevant synthesis of order and novelty, then it follows that too much order is just as evil as is too much novelty. Therefore, the identification of God only with order is a serious misunderstanding in our religion and theology. Such an identification is in large measure the source of the atrocities committed by humans throughout history in the name of God. The association of God only with some particular form of order has not in fact rescued God from complicity in evil any more than does the association of God with novelty.

It seems to me that it is only when God is understood as source of order and novelty that God is "justifiable" in terms of the problem of suffering. We could not rationally justify the existence of a God who was only the source of order since then we would wonder why the Orderer does not eliminate the disorder of suffering. Nor could we accept the idea of God as only source of novelty, since novelty without order is mere chaos. The only realistic picture of the universe we can have is one in which there is both order and chaos, one in which chaos is just as primordial as is order.24 If we begin with this fact and keep returning to it, then we will be able to render the idea of God compatible with the cosmos after all, including its experiences of pain.

We can do so, however, only if we understand God in terms of Adventure. "God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities."25 God does not directly will chaos. God wills only the magnification of Beauty and the highest possible enjoyment of beauty and peace relevant to every actuality in the universe. God does not want suffering to occur, but rather wills the well-being of all things. But God does not settle for mere survival. Instead God wills the maximum aesthetic enjoyment relevant to each individual entity. In order for this maximum to be attainable, however, each entity must be receptive to novelty without which its present status becomes unaesthetic, unenjoyable. But in opening itself to the adventure of appropriating novelty each entity runs the risk of disintegration. Creative advance, Whitehead says, takes place only along the borders of chaos26 In the transition from triviality toward intensity of enjoyment there is always the risk of the evil of disorder. Evil is "the half-way house" between monotony and maximum enjoyment27 The cosmic adventure requires such a risk.

So it must be admitted that in maximizing the aesthetic intensity of the cosmos and of the experiences that make up the cosmos, God may be held responsible for at least some of the chaos that occurs in the cosmic process.28 If God had not lured the process further in the direction of expanding its value (beauty), life and consciousness would never have appeared in evolution. And if life and consciousness had not appeared, then there would have been no such experience as suffering. Then we would not have any "theodicy problem." This would certainly have been one possible "solution."

Since this is not a very realistic option, however, we are still faced with the spectre of God’s apparent complicity with evil in luring the cosmos to such a level of intensity that suffering becomes a possibility. John Cobb and David Griffin have approached this question by making a distinction between "responsibility" and "indictability," and at the present time I am attracted to their proposed clarification of God’s relation to the fact of suffering. They insist that while God is partly responsible for much of what we call evil (meaning, I assume, that the reality of a persuasive God as source of novelty is a necessary condition of the world’s creative advance), this does not mean that God is morally indictable. For it is the very "goodness" of God, manifested in a concern for maximum enjoyment for each actuality, that brings about a situation in which the evil of disorder becomes a possibility. God is not indictable for our suffering, even though were it not for God there would be no such experience as suffering in the first place. If God had not lured the cosmos toward the levels of life and consciousness nothing like suffering could have ever occurred. So in this sense God is responsible for suffering. But this does not mean that God is morally reprehensible. For God can apparently be none other than a God of Adventure.29

Unable to settle for the adequacy of the status quo, this God is concerned with the maximum possible fulfillment of the world and the actualities that constitute it. Our individual sufferings are never directly willed or caused by this God of Adventure. But in the world’s and our own quest for beauty and peace suffering may and will occur. I doubt if we can make any sense at all of our suffering if we attempt to situate it outside of the adventurous universe of which we are a part. It is certainly difficult enough to do so even in this context, and I realize that there are many more questions raised by this chapter than I am able to respond to. Nonetheless, I think our cosmology of adventure provides a more realistic and humane setting within which to discuss the issue of theodicy than does the typical context of a fixed ethical order.


Why do bad things happen to good people? Rabbi Kushner suggests that there can really be no "answer." "We can offer learned explanations, but in the end, when we have covered all the squares on the game board and are feeling very proud of our cleverness, the pain and the anguish and the sense of unfairness will still be there."30 But while there can be no answer in the form of an explanation, there may still be a "response" on our part to a world in which suffering occurs and to the God who seems to be helpless in the face of our suffering. I think Kushner has captured the spirit of the Whiteheadian approach, though his book displays no explicit familiarity with it; and so it is fitting that we end this chapter by quoting from the conclusion to his book:

Life is not fair. The wrong people get sick and the wrong people get robbed and the wrong people get killed in wars and accidents. Some people see life’s unfairness and decide, "There is no God; the world is nothing but chaos." Others see the same unfairness and ask themselves, "Where do I get my sense of what is fair and unfair? Where do I get my sense of outrage and indignation . . . ? Don’t I get these things from God? . . . Our responding to life’s unfairness with sympathy and with righteous indignation, God’s compassion and God’s anger working through us, may be the surest proof of all of God’s reality."


1. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, pp. 252-96.

2. The "Primordial Nature of God" involves much more than I am bringing out here. See Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 343 ff.

3. Cf. Whitehead, Modes of Thought, pp. 86-104; Process and Reality, pp. 67, 88, 349; and Adventures of Ideas, pp. 273 -96. In this chapter I shall interpret Whitehead’s ideas rather freely in terms of my own concerns with the issue of theodicy.

4. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Avon Books, 1981).

5. Ibid., p. 6.

6. Ibid., p. 10.

7. "Punishment only serves to preserve an already established order." Paul Ricoeur, History and Truth, trans. by Charles Kelbley (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1965), p. 125.

8. Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 455-67. "The critique of the god of morality finds its completion in a critique of religion as refuge and protection" (p. 456).

9. Kushner, p. 20.

10. Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), pp. 21-59.

11. Kushner, pp. 17-19.

12. Nikolai Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom, trans. by R.M. French (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944), pp. 87-89, passim.

13. Kushner, pp. 29-30.

14. Cf. Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations, pp. 455-67.

15. Cf. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 105.

16. Berdyaev, p. 88.

17. Quoted by John Bowker, Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 265.

18. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, pp. 258; 278-83.

19. Cobb and Griffin, pp. 69-75. Cf. also David R. Griffin, God, Power and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), pp. 275-310.

20. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 21, 28 and passim; Modes of Thought, pp. 85-104.

21. John Dunne, Time and Myth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1973), p. 79.

22. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 192.

23. Alfred North Whitehead, "Mathematics and the Good" in Schillp, ed., p. 679.

24. Cf. Clark Williamson, "Things Do Go Wrong (and Right)," The Journal of Religion LXIII (Jan. 1983): 44-56.

25. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 105.

26. Ibid., p. 111.

27. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 276.

28. Cobb and Griffin, p. 75.

29. Ibid.

30. Kushner, p. 147.

31. Ibid., p. 142.