Chapter 2: God and the Divine Activity in the World

Process-Thought and Christian Faith
by Norman Pittenger

Chapter 2: God and the Divine Activity in the World


In his Gifford lectures, Process and Reality, Professor Whitehead wrote the following words:" God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification."(A. N. Whitehead: Process and Reality, p. 521 (Cambridge University Press, 1927-28).

These words provide an excellent starting-place for a consideration of the concept of God which is to be found in process-thought. First they make it clear that what Whitehead in another place referred to as "paying God metaphysical compliments" is for this sort of philosophy a basic error of method. Rather, the task is to find the necessary principles for making sense of the world, while at the same time it is clear that any principles which properly can be said to make sense of things will be those which are not in stark contradiction of all that realm of which, in fact, sense is being made. If the world is a world in dynamic movement, then God as its chief principle of explanation will himself be in dynamic movement; if ceaseless adaptation to novel possibilities is found in the order of creation, the meaning of creation will itself include a factor which in the highest degree is adaptable. For sound explanation it is essential that we look for genuine congruity between God and his world, rather than that we attempt to find ways in which God can be removed from all contact with and reflection in that world and hence treated as nothing other than the great "exception".

A consequence of this approach is that for process-thought deity is not understood as characterized chiefly by "aseity", as if God could be said to "exist" without the continuing relationships and the ceaseless activity which in another way we see reflected in the world which we observe. It has indeed been a strange perversion of the theological mind to employ for our picture of God the "model" which we find most reprehensible when we see it in human form. A man who is utterly self-contained and whose chief ambition is to be "self-existent" and hence to exist without dependence upon relationships of any sort, is a man whom we regard as an unpleasant if not vicious specimen of the race; and it is odd that deity has been regarded, and this even in Christian circles, as more like such a self-contained human being rather than as like a man who in every area of his life is open to relationships and whose very existence is rich in the possibility of endless adaptations to new circumstances.

Recognition of the need for an interpenetrative societal view of the world, perhaps more than any specific philosophical requirement, has led process-thinkers to place their emphasis upon "becoming", as a dynamic movement of development in relationship, rather than upon "being"; here, they insist, is the best "model" for our understanding of God. This is not to say that there is no sense in which God "is". His self-identity, established by his "subjective aim" or purpose of self-realization in all his relationships, is always the same: he is God. But if the world provides any clue to the nature of deity, for God to be God must imply vital actuality and ceaseless capacity for adaptation; and this may properly be said to define deity as "living" and not as a static entity.

If this way of thinking is correct, it follows that God is not "abstract" but is richly "concrete". This divine concreteness is at least in part derived from his participation in the world itself, whose processive nature he both explains and supremely exemplifies in his own processive nature. There is a considerable variety in the ways in which process-thinkers have attempted to state this position. The way which we shall follow here is largely that of Whitehead and Hartshorne, since this seems the most consistent and coherent. Let us begin by noting that the reason there must be deity is that there must be some reason why things are as they are and why they "go" as they "go". Among all the possibilities which are open in the total scheme of things, there must be a reason why the particular actual achievements which we know to be there are in fact present. God is taken to be that principle which will explain why this rather than that set of possibilities for good has been actualized in the world we experience and observe. He is "the principle of concretion" who by his "decision" has established the good which is in the order of things as it is. As "primordial" -- abstract and in this sense "eternal" -- God may be said to "contain" all that might ever be. But among all the possibilities of "whatever might be", certain specific occasions do in fact come to be. It is to explain this concrete world, with its emergent order and value, that the concept of God is required metaphysically.

Yet it is also true to say that what comes to be has its consequences in creating new possibilities for what may happen hereafter. As a process, the future is based upon the past; what has happened and what does happen determines, in a general way, what is to happen. If God be the supreme exemplification rather than the contradiction of metaphysical principles required to explain the world, then it can be said that what happens enters into the continuing decisions which are made by deity for the establishment of further actualities. In his "consequent" nature, which is as real as but much more concrete and specific than his "primordial" aspect, God is affected by that which occurs in the created order, for what happens enters into his life and influences his "decision" by providing new possibilities for his further activity. While he always remains God as the chief principle of explanation for such concrete emergents of the good -- in all its variety -- as do in fact appear, he is "enriched" both by satisfaction in what happens and by the provision of possibilities of future action by that which has happened.

Therefore time -- or succession as the world exemplifies it -- is real to God. He is not above and outside all temporality, in an eternity which negates succession; rather temporality is both a reflection of his own dynamic life and also enters into his own reality. What happens matters to God. And it matters to him in more than a superficial sense, as if he simply observed and knew in an external way what was going on in the world. On the contrary, what goes on in the world is a genuine manifestation of the living process which is his own nature; and it also makes a difference to him, for it makes possible the novelty of adaptation, the emergence of new actualities, and the appearance of real possibilities, which otherwise would not be available to him. History, historical occurrences in time, are real to him, for him, and in him.

Now what is involved here is a radical historicizing not only of the order of nature and of all that is in nature, but also of deity in his concrete reality. A Christian may be allowed to say that, if ever there were a philosophy which took seriously the kind of portrayal of God in relation to his world which we find in the biblical record, it is the philosophy of process. But just as in the biblical record God remains God throughout the story, not in spite of but precisely because of his capacity for relating himself afresh to every exigence, every human action, every event in the natural order and in the historical sequence; so in process-thought God remains God, forever "creating" new possibilities and forever employing the world’s occasions for the fulfillment of his purpose, which we may describe as the specific "subjective-aim" which is characteristic of deity. God is faithful, the Bible tells us; the world in process, and the chief principle of explanation in that processive world, are self-consistent and harmonious, the philosophers of process affirm. These two assertions are remarkably similar.

If God is the source of all possibilities, as "primordial deity", there is a sense in which he may be called abstract and "eternal"; but God is also infinitely related to and influenced by the world, and hence as "consequent deity" is concrete and "everlasting". In other words, while the possibilities are "eternal" and while they are "abstract" until in one way or another they are actualized, the actualizations which are selected and used by God for further achievement of his purpose of good in the world are themselves concrete and in process; when taken into God they establish deity as being himself also concrete and processive. But it is the dynamic, processive, and becoming aspect which, in one sense, is more important to us than the abstractive aspect. Thus there is a polarity in this concept of God: he is both abstract and concrete; he is both "eternal" and "everlasting"; he is both himself and yet endlessly related; he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both the chief principle of explanation and yet participant, working with, and influenced by, all that is to be explained. But the priority is with the concrete, not with the abstract, set of terms.

What then of "evil" in the world? Here three things are to be said. First, in a world which is in movement, which is an evolutionary process, and which is at the same time "open-ended", in which novelty is present and new possibilities are always becoming available, there is inevitably the chance of error. Error here means that the adjustment of means to end, the fulfillment of end by means, and the consequent adaptation of each succeeding occasion to the aim which is its basic identity, may be missed in this or that given instance. If the world were conceived as in some fashion a static entity, such error would hardly be possible to understand; but in a world which is processive and dynamic, error is not only possible but on occasion it is highly likely. There is always some element of "risk" in such a process. Furthermore, as the process goes on there is always the possibility that what we might call "backwaters" will remain. Here and there, in this instance and in that, there will be a certain recalcitrance, negativity, a refusal to move forward for the creation of greater good and towards more widely shareable and more widely shared life. And since the world has a radical freedom, being in fact the realm of choice, such as we know at the human level in conscious decision but which in differing mode is present at every level, this may be not only a "natural" recalcitrance but a quite definitely elected refusal to move.

In the second place, it is characteristic of God, in his consequent aspect, to take into himself all that has in fact occurred. Whether this be good or evil, whether it be directed to further prospective fulfillment or a denial of that end, whether it be adjustment or maladjustment: all is accepted by God and in one way or another can be used by him. None the less, he remains God, which means that he is ceaselessly working towards the most widely shared good. Hence a mysterious but genuine part of the divine agency in the world (of which more will be said later in this chapter) is the way in which the error, the maladjustment, the refusal to move forward, the "evil" in the world, precisely because (and precisely in the degree that) it enters into the divine concern, can become the occasion for new possibilities of good. In other words, God makes the best of everything, even of that which we can only describe as "evil"; and out of it is able to distil goods, some of which otherwise would not have been in the realm of genuine possibility.

The third point in respect to "evil" may be approached by noting that in speaking of the creative process we have been obliged to use the word "good" to describe what God is "up to" in the world. The word has been employed to indicate that which can be shared for mutual enrichment; and this use leads us to the description of God as being essentially "Love". It is of the nature of love to pour itself out for others; to take into itself all that is made available to it; to absorb the evil which is there and out of it to distil something good; and to do all this not for self-aggrandizement but for the benefit of the entire relationship in its widest and richest sense. Love is both self-giving and unitive. Thus we may say that God is love because he is infinitely related; he is love because he enters into and participates in his creation; he is love, supremely, because he absorbs error, maladjustment, evil, everything that is ugly and unharmonious, and is able to bring about genuine and novel occasions of goodness by the use of material which seems so unpromising and hopeless. So the third point about evil is that in the concrete world of experience, and especially in human relationships, we see that it may provide the opportunity for deepening love and for widening participation in the good -- although this must never be taken to mean that evil is, in itself, a good. It is not; but it may be used for good.

The objection has been raised by some that such a view of God as that found in process-thought may be satisfactory enough on the basis of philosophical enquiry, but that it provides no "religiously available" deity for men. This suggests two questions about which something must be said.

First, does this concept of God in fact arise from genuine experience or is it purely theoretical? To this we have already given the answer; the God who is here portrayed is not derived from theoretical considerations alone, although of course these have entered into the picture since God is taken to be "the chief principle of explanation". But the way in which he has been described has come in the main from the observable facts of experience and from our observation of how things go in the world. Hence God as here "described" (an almost blasphemous word!) is God as he has been encountered or seen in his workings in the creative process. But -- and this is the second question -- is such a God in any sense describable as "personal"? Here we are obliged first of all to define what should be meant by the adjective. Whitehead, for example, seems to have been in two minds about the viability of the idea of God as "personal", largely because he felt that as commonly used the term was overtly anthropomorphic and did not provide adequate explanation of that kind of experience which stresses the sheer "given-ness" of process. We must agree that if "personal", when applied to deity, means that God is to be taken as an enlarged replica of what we know as person, as if he were (so to say) "a very big man", then it is obvious that the adjective is entirely inappropriate. If, on the other hand, we define more carefully what is meant by "personal", perhaps there can be no objection to employing the word when speaking of deity. By "personal" we can and I believe we should mean such characteristics as awareness and self-awareness, capacity to communicate or enter into active-reactive relationships, freedom of action within the limits of consistency and possibility, etc. All these characteristics are quite readily applicable to deity as seen in process-thought. In that sense, then, God may properly be called "personal" -- provided of course, that we are constantly on guard against restricting the sense of these "personal" elements in him to the merely human level on which we ourselves know personality.

So far we have not discussed the area of human life which is known as the "religious experience", the awareness of the "more-than-human" impinging on ordinary experience. Yet this kind of experience is certainly central in the historical and theological development of the concept of God. In the main, it should be noted, process-philosophers have been quite ready to use such religious experience as part of the data which must be taken seriously in the effort to understand the world. They have accepted the fact that vast numbers of members of the human race have spoken or written about some such awareness, however it may have been conceived, of a presence which is believed to be more than human, and they have told us that they have experienced a power that seems to come from beyond, above, and below the level of human enabling. How this sense of presence and power has been expressed in words is another matter, differing from age to age, place to place, and culture to culture. But the awareness of "the sacred" is too widespread to be dismissed by any responsible thinker. The history of religion is the continuing story of the refining of the meaning of such awareness. In primitive man, sheer power may well have been dominant in his conception of the meaning of the sacred. But as men became more and more aware of moral principles and as their thinking was "rationalized", the way in which the sacred was understood, the way in which men came to interpret the more-than-human, was in terms of love and of "persuasion" (as Whitehead put it), although it never lost the awesome quality which evoked from them worship and adoration. There was a gradual substitution of tenderness for sheer power, of goodness for omnipotence, and of deep and intimate concern for arbitrary dictatorship. So the religions of the world, as they have developed through the centuries, have tended to react against despotic conceptions of deity and to regard the sacred as holy love.

As this movement has proceeded, there has also been an increasing readiness to relate the so-called religious experience to the aesthetic experience -- to the sense of the harmonious and the beautiful as this was perceived by a deeply felt appreciative capacity in man. And here we come to a matter of quite enormous significance. We have already emphasized that in the refusal to separate primary from secondary qualities process-thought has reversed the over-rationalizing philosophical tendency of western man. Feeling-qualities, the sense of empathetic identification, and the valuational aspect in all human experience have been given serious attention by most process-thinkers; this was why words like "good" and "love" and "harmony", and their opposites, could be used with some freedom in the preceding discussion. What this suggests to us is that religion, as an inescapable element in that human experience, is one of the ways -- indeed it may be the chief way -- in which man feels his way into, finds identification with, and becomes participant in, the ongoing "movement of things".

If this is so, the experience is not only with the "movement of things" but with the dynamic power which makes that movement actual; in a word, with God himself. There can be no doubt that countless men have felt themselves caught up into what in more thoughtful moments they have regarded as the working of supreme actuality as it operates ceaselessly in the world. They tell us that they have known themselves to be empowered in this relationship. Their limited concern for their own self-hood and for self-assertion has been redeemed, they insist, into concern for others and for greater good. They say that they have been refreshed, invigorated, renewed, made better because of it. And they declare that they have experienced the judgment of an all-inclusive love on their pettiness and pride, while at the same time they have been the recipients of a forgiveness or acceptance which comes when their previous stupidity and cupidity have in some strange fashion been taken away and they have been given the opportunity and occasion for genuine enrichment in fellowship with their human brethren. In other words, they tell us that they have known the energizing of God in their own experience as the loving Companion who is also the sovereign Ruler -- not the despot, not the oriental sultan or dictator, but the One who "rules" and who works for good which can be in "widest commonalty spread". They are sure that precisely in his boundless creativity God can guarantee the eventual triumph of good, no matter what may be the evil with which he must work and the risks which such working necessarily implies. Through suffering, they say, we can know joy; and this is because God’s patient self-identification with his world enables him to use its anguish, which he knows and shares in himself, for the accomplishment of gloriously good ends.

In our common human experience, God is often "the void", as Whitehead once said, although he said it in a very different context. We are not aware of him, in any vivid sense or perhaps in any sense at all; he is present to us in the very fact of our feeling of his absence. Again, his activity as participant love can make him seem to us our "enemy", which once more is Whitehead’s word; God’s supreme goodness makes our lives look shoddy and cheap and we are brought to a self-imposed judgement by the love which is ultimately sovereign over all things. But there can also come times, as Whitehead went on to say, when "God the void" and "God the enemy" becomes "God the companion", the One who is somehow sensed as "with us" -- perhaps dimly and vaguely sensed, perhaps more vividly and acutely sensed, but none the less sensed, in this or that moment of our experience.(A critic may point out, correctly enough, that Whitehead uses the terms "void", "enemy", and "companion" to describe the historical development of the concept of God. However I think that my "existential" use of the terms here is not alien to his more general line of thought; and in any event I find the words extremely apt in making the point I am arguing in this paragraph.) The basic act of faith, which is open to any and every man, is to live his whole life on the assumption that such moments, when love is known and life ts shared in a deep relationship of love one with another, are in very truth the disclosure of the structure of things and of the dynamic power which moves in and through the world; and hence that the "actual entity" which men have called God has both "the nature and the name" of Love.

In a beautiful passage, which comes after his criticism of more traditional concepts of God as despotic ruler, moral governor, or unrelated first cause above and beyond the creation, Whitehead once wrote:

There is in the Galilean origin of Christianity yet another suggestion which does not fit very well with any of the three main strands of thought. It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules nor is unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.(Process and Reality, pp. 520-21)


For our purposes it has been convenient to follow the traditional sequence in philosophical theology, in which it is customary for a presentation of the nature of God to precede rather than follow the discussion of his manner of operation in creation. This, as I say, has been the usual procedure; and yet in the Christian theological structure God in fact is known for what he is through a study of what he does. In theological language, this means that his revelation or self-disclosure, which is made primarily through what are sometimes styled his "mighty acts" in nature and history, has been the clue to his nature. In process-thinking, certainly, the same is true -- the meaning of the concept of God is not derived from abstract theory but from observation of the world and its concrete actuality. Let us then proceed at once to a discussion of the Divine Activity as this is generally understood by process-thinkers.

The first point is to repeat what we have already noted, namely that for process-thought God’s relationship to his world, and his working within it, are never conceived as an external relationship or as an arbitrarily intrusive action. God is in his world; or perhaps it would be better to say that the world is in God. For the most part process-thought has been panentheistic in tendency. "Panentheism" was first used by the German writer Krause during the last century. It is to be sharply distinguished from pantheism, which would identify God and the world. For the panentheist everything which is not in itself divine is yet believed to be in God, in the sense that he is regarded as the circumambient reality operative in and through, while also more than, all that is not himself; or conversely all which is not God has its existence within his operation and nature. Here of course we are using pictorial language; but from this there can be no escape, no matter what philosophical orientation we may adopt.

It is very important to see that panentheism is intended to be a mean between the absentee-God of deism -- who is indeed also the God of much popular Christian teaching and preaching and of much supposedly orthodox theology -- and the pantheistic God who is simply identified with the world as it is -- an identification sometimes without qualification but more frequently with certain reservations that are thought to safeguard moral distinctions. Spinoza’s phrase Deus sive natura is a succinct statement of pantheism. Panentheism, on the other hand, attempts to preserve the relative independence of the world-order, while at the same time it insists that God cannot be envisaged as totally separated from or alien to that order. Indeed we might say that the adoption of such a panentheistic view is the only way in which genuine theism can be maintained, if by theism (as distinguished from pantheism and deism) we mean that God and the world are not thought to be identical even though they are taken to be intimately and necessarily related one to the other. In theism generally, however. God is seen as "cause" and the world as only "effect", in such fashion that without God there could be no world at all. The corollary of that view is that one could say that without the world God theoretically speaking might indeed still be God. But for the process-thinker if God is in fact creator, with creative activity in love as his very heart, then he cannot be the God he is, and hence not really God, unless there is a world in which his creativity is expressed and which itself is an expression of that creativity, and unless he is "affected" by that world and what happens in it.

Since for process-thought God and the world are thus most intimately related, the world may be described as "organic" to the divine reality. It is not an afterthought of God, who before it was "made" had existed in isolation. (Incidentally the Christian doctrine of the triunity of God does not really demand this, despite frequent assertions to the contrary.) Neither is the world adjectival to God in the sense that what happens in it is expressive of, but without real effect upon, the divine reality. We have already noted this point and we shall be returning to it again later in our discussion.

Furthermore, process-thought does not build on so-called "intrusions" or "interventions" of deity in the created world. Since nothing is "outside" God and since he is the chief explanatory principle in arid for all things, although the fact of creaturely freedom demonstrates that he is not the only one, it would be absurd to speak of his "intruding" or "intervening" in his world. He is always there, or else the world could not and would not be there either. Yet this does not deny the possibility that there may be "fuller" or "deeper" or "richer" instances of the divine operation in this or that particular area or aspect of nature and history. What Gerard Manley Hopkins so beautifully styled "the dearest freshness deep down things" is by no means excluded in process-thought; indeed it is emphasized. Nor is the particularly vivid manifestation of that "freshness" in given times and places ruled out of the picture. On the contrary, it is precisely in such a picture as that which is provided by process-thought, that particularities of this kind are given point and significance in respect to the entire dynamic movement of creation. But they are not seen as un-related instances, to be taken simply by themselves; rather they are indicative of the total structure and of the dynamic of God’s operation. Hence they may be seen as possessing a peculiar importance for our interpretation of its meaning.

We are thus brought back to the notion of "importance", to which reference has been made in our earlier discussion. In that discussion, we spoke of moments which objectively have an unusually striking quality and subjectively evoke an unusually vivid response, providing us with significant clues to the nature of the process in its entirety. As we then said, such moments have their "importance" in that they illuminate what has gone before, are in themselves a kind of concentration of what is actually present, and provide new opportunities and possibilities both for understanding (which is the "subjective" side) and for that emergence of novelty in concrete experience (which guarantees "objectivity") which is the occasion for further creative advance as the process continues on its way. The emergence of living matter, the appearance of consciousness in such living matter, and the coming into existence of moral valuation and appreciative awareness in human life are instances of "importance" which should be obvious to any observer of the world-process.

But since this is true, the creation is best understood as an order in which new levels do in fact make their appearance. They are not to be explained reductively in terms of what has preceded them; on the other hand they are not to be seen as entirely unrelated to all that has gone before. They are indeed genuinely new, they have the quality of emergent novelty, yet they are not in total contradiction to the preceding sequence of events which has prepared for them and made their appearance possible. And once they have occurred, they inaugurate new possibilities on their own level and they open up a range of experience which without them would not be available. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has made much of this in his widely read The Phenomenon of Man, but long before the publication of that volume C. Lloyd-Morgan in his Gifford lectures had indicated the significance of such "emergents", along with the "importance" (although this is not his, but Whitehead’s, word) which they possess both in the ongoing movement of the world and as a way of our grasping of the meaning of that world in its on going movement. In some sense they are the activity of God, just as the whole process is also in some sense that activity.

How then does God "act" in his world? Before discussing this question, in general, following the line of Whitehead’s picturing of the matter, there are some prior considerations to which brief reference must be made.

First, process-thought would insist that it is always through the activity of God that things come to pass, although God is not the only agent in creation. On the one hand, the divine activity is the ultimate grounding for events; it provides the ultimate efficient cause which turns mere possibility into sheer actuality. On the other hand, God is the final end of all that comes to pass, since it is for the fulfillment of his purpose (or, in Whiteheadian language, for the "satisfaction" of God’s "subjective aim") that the process goes on, with its consistency and with its new emergents. This should not be taken to mean that God is introduced as a sort of "stopgap" for man’s ignorance. He is not understood as the God who functions only in those "mysterious" areas in which we are not able as yet to see the connections of past and present. His all-inclusive functioning is the basic ground of each and every occurrence; he is Alpha and Omega, both the origin -- although not necessarily in the ordinary temporal sense -- of all things and the goal towards which they move. Thus he is the sufficient ultimate explanation of what occurs. He is adequate to explain what happens; and he is increasingly shown to be adequate as the process goes forward. Each new event rests back upon and is an expression of, while it also provides genuine fulfillment for, the originative and final purpose which is divine -- in one sense, even the "evil" occasion has this reference, although God is not "responsible" for it.

Second, this adequacy does not depend upon God’s being recognized as such. The divine activity in the world is for the most part an incognito activity, by which I mean that it is divine activity in and through, by and under, "creaturely" occasions. As we emphasized in the preceding lecture, God does not exist nor does he act only to the degree in which he is explicitly seen by the human mind to exist and to act. He is greater than that. He is not simply a mental concept devised by man for his own purposes, but rather he is inescapable as the supreme (I repeat, not the only) "cause" in the total process of creation and in every moment within that process. The radical freedom found in the world cannot finally overthrow him; his love is supreme over all. In this sense, it matters little enough whether he is given any particular proper name, although there are other reasons for calling him "God" and certainly we are right in describing him as "Love".

Third, since God is not the great exception, metaphysically speaking, but is himself "the supreme exemplification" of the principles which actually and concretely operate in the world, a study of how the world goes will be the best way in which we can come to understand the nature of the divine activity itself. As we become aware of new and particular concretions which are grasped (or as Whitehead would say "prehended") by us, we are given an insight into the God who provides the data for these and effectively brings them about. As there are enrichments in the process which contribute to new possibilities and hence to the provision of new actual data for "prehension", we are given some understanding of how God is in himself "enriched", so that he is capable of a variety of novel adjustments to which he is entirely adequate without his becoming "more" God than he is -- although his deity can be, and is, more adequately expressed and active, and hence more adequately disclosed, in consequence of them.

When, therefore, we use the phrase "God acts", what we are really saying is that the divine causal efficacy, moving towards the fulfillment of the divine aim, is in varying degrees the dominant element in each successive occasion. Were this not the case, there could be no occasion at all, since (as we have seen) God is precisely that factor which provides both the "control" and the "efficacy" which brings the occasion about. On the other hand his control and efficacy operate not by arbitrary (that is to say, independent and "omnipotent") overruling, nor by being the only active elements in the occasion; but by the persuasive molding of new possibilities, by redirecting the pressures of prior actualities, by providing new opportunity for advance, and by offering the "lure" which evokes from each occasion in the ongoing process the movement towards satisfaction of its "subjective aim". This aim, it must be remembered, is the identifying quality of each specific actual event as it goes along its own particular routing within the process as a whole. So God as the "principle of concretion" can operate without for a moment reducing the value of, or in any way negating the role played by, the freedom of the creation.

In this conception of the divine activity we see clearly that radical historicizing of the creative process to which we have already called attention as characteristic of process-thought. Notions such as "satisfaction", "subjective aim", "realization", "actualization", "movement", and even "process" itself, have been introduced into the explanation of the world. This is not because such words are supposed to have some kind of vitalistic tinge which will redeem what we have to say from apparent mechanistic suggestions, but because they are in fact required for any genuine understanding of the world and any sound explanation of how things come to be.

The teleological aspect of the picture drawn in process-thought is indeed very clear. In the real world there is no monotonous repetition, no grinding-out of an already predetermined routine, no re-shuffling of a pack of cards. On the contrary, there is a genuinely epigenetic advance in the order of nature and in the realm of history. The mechanisms are certainly there; but they are mechanisms of the kind that we know as elements in an organism, not those which might be more appropriately ascribed to an engine or a machine. They subserve the "ends" of the whole. So novelty does occur; there are real supervenient occasions; the world is no rigid corpse but is a living and organic (or societal) process.

Finally, genuine, not Pickwickian7, freedom is seen to be a genuine constituent of the process. For God does not dictate. He is no tyrant, nor can he act without regard for the created occasions. He persuades, draws out, elicits, provides data for, and is himself enriched by, the new occasions as they occur. He uses the materials of the world as they have come to exist. He works in and through, with and by, for and on behalf of all those actual entities which at any given moment are present. Through his "tenderness" and by means of his "lure", he moves them towards those self-decisions which can bring about great and greater good. He offers ever more widely shared opportunities for enhancement; and throughout the process he works towards the appearance of a realm in which his own satisfaction of aim in a realm of love becomes also the satisfaction of the creaturely aim and hence a sharing in love, as the creation moves forward towards richer life.


Suggested diagrammatic representation of Divine

Activity in the world



(The author is indebted to two of his former students, the Reverend Gary McElroy and the Reverend William F. Starr, for the suggestion that Whitehead’s view of Divine Activity might be represented by some such diagram as is here shown.

(Another possible diagramming will be found in the note appended to this chapter. For this second diagram the author is indebted to Professor Donald Sherburne of Vanderbilt University, U.S.A., who has kindly consented to its use. The special value of Professor Sherburne’s diagram is that it avoids the possible suggestion, in the diagram above, that one is, so to say, moving backwards in following lines A and C, since line B (both B1 and B2) are intended, in loyalty to process-thought, to represent the forward thrusting of creativity.)

Some explanation is required of the accompanying diagram, in order to make clearer the way in which the divine activity is presented in Whitehead’s thought -- a presentation which to the writer seems the most adequate description available to us. It should be apparent, as we proceed, that this presentation is no merely speculative scheme but is in fact a description of that which occurs in the world as we know it. It is an explanation which, in Plato’s phrase, "saves the appearances" by providing a coherent and meaningful account of what goes on and of why it goes on as it does.

1. In the diagram the vertical line represents deity. The upper point stands for God in his "primordial" aspect, abstractly understood as the eternal reality whose awareness conceptually includes all the possibilities ("eternal objects") denoted by the extreme left point of the horizontal line; this includes the abstract, aspects or patterns of all that might come to pass in the created order, envisaged as possibilities for actualization. The lower point of the vertical line stands for God in his consequent aspect as the recipient of all that has occurred in the order of creation, hence as concrete and everlasting in that the factuality of the occasions in the process have entered into and helped to mould the divine experience in its capacity for infinite adjustment and relationship. This aspect of deity is called "physical" because it is inclusive of the events in "nature" (physis) and is not abstractly conceptual or theoretical.

2. The horizontal line "B1--B2" represents the process of the created order. In the first place, the line as a whole is established on "creativity"; that is, on the potentiality of things to come into existence as concrete actualities. Here we can perhaps find analogies in the "first matter" of Aristotle, the given materiality of Plato, or the initial potency of which Aquinas speaks. In any event, we are concerned to stress the patent fact of a potentiality for event or occurrence as the pre-requisite to our understanding of the world which we know. This horizontal line moves from possibilities of actualization, as they are available for the actualization which will produce real entities, through the "creative nexus" (of which we shall speak in a moment), to the concrete occasions with which we are confronted in their presentational immediacy to us. That is, the horizontal line includes all that actually is going on in the world.

3. The line "A" represents the divine activity through which the possibilities of actualization are brought into concrete and factual existence. Deity, as the principle by which possibilities are actualized, may thus be said to select or "decide for" this or that set of possibilities; hence deity in this aspect may be styled "first" (prior) principle of causation. The line "C" indicates that actual occasions -- things as they are brought to be in the world -- return to God, or better are received by God. As they are received by him and thus enter into his very life, they bring about that kind of "enrichment" of the divine reality to which we have frequently referred. Once again, it must be made clear that talk of enrichment is not meant to suggest that God becomes any more "God" than he always has been; what is intended by such language is simply that, because God is supremely related to all occasions, these various occurrences provide material for his fuller expression in relationship with creation and at the same time bring about an enhancement of the divine joy as well as a participation through "suffering" (or sharing as participation) in all that takes place in the world.

4. The line "D1 -- D2 " represents the way in which emergence of novelty in the world takes place. The enhancement of the divine life in its consequent aspect has opened up new possibilities of relationship with the creation and has also provided new material through which God may act upon creative potentiality, thus bringing to pass that emergence of novelty which is so genuine an element in our experience and (as our observation informs us) of the world at large. A simple illustration for this might be the historical development of a given human culture. This development, in combination with the natural setting of that culture which provides its locus, moves forward to a point at which, out of the rich congeries of events and responses to events made by those who are involved, a new type of response becomes available. The prophet, for example, makes his appearance. He is not just the same as the dervish who preceded him; he is not simply a "wise man or sage; he is not only the precipitate of a particular historical milieu with its context in the order of nature. He is indeed all of these, but he is something more too. In him there is the appearance of a novel response to a complex situation; and as such, he brings about new ways of understanding and new kinds of adjustment to the world which then may be shared and developed by those who hear him and accept his message.

5. The point of emergence is called the "creative nexus". While there is preparation for it (D1), there are also consequences of it, but these are not only along the line of creative advance (B2) to which we have just referred. There are also new and enhancing opportunities (line D2) provided for deity, which he employs in his continuous activity of bringing possibility (left point of the horizontal line) into actuality (along line A). This emergence thus will permit enhancement along the line of creativity (B1), towards the actualizing of still newer occasions of novelty or freshness.

6. Finally we must remember that all this is an ongoing process. Our diagram is at best a kind of "cross-section" of the dynamic movement which is the given reality of the world and of the Divine Activity in the world. So far as we know, there is no "ending" of the movement. It is everlasting in the sense of a continuous and unceasing development, on the whole moving towards fuller realization of heterogeneous yet organically inter-related goods, even though there is "evil" with maladjustments, "backwaters", and elected failure to advance at many points along the line.

The Christian thinker may wish to add to, or to modify, this diagram in the light of his distinctive faith. But what is at once apparent, I believe, is that the diagram portrays an onward movement towards continually greater realization of the purpose or "subjective aim" of Deity. And this realization is, at the same time, the increasing satisfaction of the various subjective aims" or purposes that are the binding-identity of the several actual entities which are "less" than, and have been brought into existence through, the patient, loving and overcoming work of the divine activity. God "expresses" himself in his ceaseless relationship with and participation in the world, whose future in many respects is "open". The limits set are those given by the divine intention for fulfillment or "satisfaction", by the possibilities which at any given moment are available for use in this way, by the "decision" of each actual entity, and by the finitude of creativity itself which will permit only specific creaturely occasions to emerge. Each creaturely occasion, however, is always open to further divine activity in, upon, and through it. And the divine activity is always present and at work in each occasion. Hence each occasion (and more particularly every "good" occasion) may be seen as an "incarnation" of deity under the conditions of finite creativity.

Appended Note to Chapter 2

Another diagram, in this case suggested (as has been said earlier) by Professor Sherburne, to illustrate the fashion of the divine activity in the world, would be as follows.

There are three useful points about this diagram. In the first place, it indicates the way in which what White-head has called "the we of God’s physical feelings upon his primordial concepts" constitutes the consequent nature of God -- that is, how what God "accepts" into himself as "affects" modify the future on-going occasions through a modification of God’s own use of the possibilities offered him (X in the diagram). Second, in thus modifying occasions, it will be seen, subjective aims are provided for the further generation of occasions (Y in the diagram). Third, the new possibilities (relevant to the past, of course) are seen and felt by God and become the "lure" (in Whitehead’s own word) to which occasions may respond, to their (and to God’s) enrichment.