Chapter 6: Reconciliation through the Cross

The Lure of God: A Biblical Background for Process Theism
by Lewis S. Ford

Chapter 6: Reconciliation through the Cross

God was in Christ as the divine address for man actualized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He was also in Christ inasmuch as Jesus’ personal existence revealed the divine perspective upon mankind, for he encountered and experienced our predicament with all the patience, the care, and the longing for our well-being that God bestows upon us. In the last chapter we saw how in Christ’s resurrection we can be raised to newness of life, exchanging our separate, self-justifying individual existences for corporate participation in the body of Christ, whose manifold cells are coordinated and directed by the living purposes of its transhuman psyche, the risen Christ. Now we need to consider how this resurrection was prepared for by the suffering and death of Jesus. It not only made the original event possible, but it continues to make our own incorporation within this body possible by the reconciling work of God effected in Christ.

In the final high-priestly prayer, John records these words for Jesus: "I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gayest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thine own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made" (John 17:4-5). These words are spoken in anticipation of the cross, when all would be accomplished, and express John’s assumption of a subjective preexistence of Christ, for his exalted state in resurrection is understood as a restoration of his former glory. Our attention is drawn to the twofold act of glorification depicted here: God glorifies Christ in resurrection, while he glorifies God in crucifixion. Exaltation to the right hand of power is certainly glorification. The crucifixion is no less glorification, if it is understood primarily in terms of revelation. The Old Testament spoke of the Shekhinah, the glorious visible manifestation of the invisible God, for no manifestation of God’s presence among us could be less than glorious. The shocking reversal of the gospel, underscored by John, is that God is most decisively glorified to us in this execution of a criminal and blasphemer.

John Courtney Murray has said that while the Old Testament speaks to us of God, only the New Testament reveals this same God to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In his teaching and healing ministry Jesus certainly acted out an intimacy with his heavenly Father that startled contemporary Jewish piety, but his deepest revelation of God’s profound empathy for us was reserved for the agony of the cross. This dimension of God’s being, however, though hinted at in tentative probings in the Old Testament literature,2 was indignantly suppressed in classical theism by Greek ideals of perfection, which dictated absolute impassability to God. To safeguard this divine impassability, it even decreed two natures in Christ, one divine and one human, holding that in his crucifixion he suffered as man, but not as God. Our teaching is precisely the opposite: in no event did Jesus more fully demonstrate the love of God than in his passion! In this God was truly glorified.

Classical theism, despite its insistence upon the divinity of Christ, wishes to make the crucifixion into a purely human act. But this would have no saving significance for us. The resurrection is the presupposition of the cross, as Jürgen Moltmann has recently reminded us.3 Without the resurrection, Jesus’ execution is no different from the crucifixion of countless Christian martyrs after him, or the stoning of the prophets before him. He would have died as one of the heroes of the faith, along with the saints and martyrs, inspiring us by his fearless example and profound teaching, but not saving us from our sins and reconciling us to God.. Who can forgive us for our sins, save God alone? If God works through Jesus to reconcile us to himself, this must embrace the suffering this entails. If this is the cross of the Risen One, then the vindication of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God certainly includes the depths of this suffering.

Whitehead’s original conception of God as the principle of limitation in Science and the Modern World, like classical theism, had no room for divine passivity. Subsequently he enlarged this with an appreciation of God’s consequent or receptive nature. With Whitehead we can make a formal distinction between two natures or aspects of God’s actuality: his primordial nature as the locus of all pure possibilities, which God draws upon in order to provide the initial aims for each emerging event, and his consequent nature as the ultimate recipient of all actuality, which is perfectly experienced and treasured within God. Naturally these two aspects of God reciprocally influence each other: God’s provision of initial aims is particularized and made relevant to the world in terms of his consequent experience, and the way God treasures this experience draws heavily upon the infinite resources of his primordial imagination. While a full account of the divine dynamics must perforce dwell on these interactions, we may briefly consider these distinct natures by an abstraction of reason.

We may equally well designate the primordial aspect the nontemporal dimension of God’s being, for it is God conceived of as divorced from time, wholly independent of the world, timelessly envisioning the entire multiplicity of pure possibilities. It is Aristotle’s God "thinking on thinking." Alternatively, it is the God of the Old Testament in his role as creator, lawmaker, and judge. To be sure, Whitehead does not conceive of God as the efficient maker of the universe, fashioning it out of nothing. Rather, his God conforms to the image of the Priestly writers in Genesis 1, who commands the world to be. This realm of pure possibility forms the Word by which God commands and creates. This same realm provides all the pure forms of value, in terms of which each effort of the finite world is evoked, and in terms of which its final achievement is judged. This lure of God entices the creative advance onward, and simultaneously serves as the ideal standard by which its results are measured.

The passive, receptive aspect of God’s being is consequent upon the ongoing activity of the temporal world. It is, we may say, God’s temporal nature. In himself, God is independent of time, but temporal succession is a fundamental reality of the world, the chief means whereby it can support a vast multiplicity of finite, exclusive actualities. Three solutions have been offered as to how a nontemporal God could be related to a temporal world. (1) God and the world are radically distinct, at least from the divine perspective, and so God is ignorant of this dull, sublunary world (Aristotle). (2) God knows the world, but because his knowledge is nontemporal yet penetrates to the reality of things, the temporality of the world is finally merely apparent. This is the upshot of classical theism, and the basic implication of God’s knowledge of future contingents. There seems to be no way a purely nontemporal God can know a temporal world without violating that world’s temporal integrity. (3) God’s eternal nature is supplemented by a temporal nature, itself directly dependent upon the world’s finite actualizations for its concrete content of experience. In himself God knows only pure, unbroken, nontemporal unity, but this knowledge is further enriched by the temporal experience of the world’s plurality. This consequent knowledge is cumulative and temporal, following the contours of the world’s unfolding reality.

The thoroughgoing coherence of Whitehead’s philosophy demands these two natures in God. God is an actuality, even the chief exemplification of the category of actual entities,4 and all actualities have both conceptual and physical prehensions. Without these additional physical prehensions, God would have no experience of the world, whose plurality and finitude require temporality. On the other hand, the experiential evidence for the divine consequent nature is very subtle and tenuous. For this reason Whitehead postpones its introduction as long as possible in his two major metaphysical works. In Process and Reality, the consequent nature is considered only in the last eleven pages,5 while its counterpart, "an Adventure in the Universe as One,’’ is mentioned only on the last two pages of Adventures of Ideas.6 The structure of both works is the same: for the most part Whitehead is content to justify his doctrines by an appeal to average, ordinary experience, although experience is understood more richly than its analysis in classical empiricism would indicate. In this one instance, however, he warns us that "any cogency of argument entirely depends upon elucidation of somewhat exceptional elements in our conscious experience -- those elements which may roughly be classed together as religious and moral intuitions.

These words should not be misunderstood as a traditional appeal to revelation. At least two factors militate against such an interpretation. In the first place, Whitehead takes an evolutionary view of experience, reminding us that our ordinary, waking consciousness was once highly extraordinary among our primate ancestors. Thus it is quite conceivable that in the future the extraordinary deliverances of religious and moral intuitions will appear quite ordinary. Secondly, Whitehead is at all times interested in discerning the generic, invariant structures of experience, not their contingent contents. Insofar as revelation diverges from reason, it does so in terms of such contingent content. Revelation has sought to apprise us of the favored role of Israel or of the divine significance of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, contingencies which in the nature of things philosophic generalization knows not of. If revelation has sought to teach us of the mysteries of the Trinity transcending human reason, we must remember that its reflection began in the effort to understand just how God and the person of Jesus are to be related, and must make allowance for the partial or total eclipse of specific revelational content by the overlay of philosophical speculation. Inasmuch as Whitehead always seeks for philosophically generic features, disregarding specific historical particulars, we must suppose that the impress of the consequent nature is a pervasive feature of all experience, yet unnoticed except in all but the most sensitive religious experiences.

The initial aim guiding each act of becoming to fruition is a pervasive feature of all actuality, yet only humankind, to our knowledge, is consciously aware of it. Our perception of the initial aims provided by God is a measure of our moral sensitivity. Frequently, however, these moral norms are taken to be absolute and invariant, regardless of circumstance. No flexibility or sensitivity to changing situations is permitted. This would be the case if the initial aims provided by the primordial nature were not tempered and modulated in any way by God’s consequent experience. In that case, however, moral norms would either be too general to be relevant and useful, or so specific as to be unduly restrictive.

If this were the only side of his character, the primordial nature of a personal God could easily become the impersonal standard of values such as Plato’s Form of the Good. With the consequent nature, however, God is unmistakably personal. We do not directly apprehend his consequent nature, but become aware of its presence by the subtle, dynamic shifts in the divine aims directly accessible to us as God responds to our actions. This is the meaning of a very enigmatic statement that appears on the very last page of Process and Reality: "Throughout the perishing occasions in the life of each temporal Creature, the inward source of distaste or of refreshment, the judge arising out of the very nature of things, redeemer or goddess of mischief, is the transformation of Itself, everlasting in the Being of God."8 This inward source of distaste or of refreshment is the series of initial aims received from God, which both judge our previous achievements, and give us courage to strive anew. If the best be bad, it appears under the guise of the goddess of mischief, providing only the best possibility for that impasse.9 Yet it can also redeem. The individual, momentary occasions of our life, with their particular, limited accomplishments, pass away, yet not before they are caught up and transformed in the divine life, informing and qualifying those initial aims which God then supplies our successive occasions. These new aims are not impervious to our past, but express God’s living response and encouragement to our faltering actions.

In the biblical imperative "You must be born anew" (John 3:3), the same Greek word anothen may also mean: "from above." Both meanings of this rich ambiguity are relevant to our argument. In terms of the perishing occasions of our temporal life, we are being born anew and from above as we receive novel initial aims from God originating our subjectivity from moment to moment. It is possible for us to be blind to this inward source, insisting upon the solid, substantial endurance of our old selfhood, but the experience of reconciliation in nearness to God calls forth the newness of life that this interior dialogue evokes. It is God’s consequent experience of our lives which calls forth his dynamic provision of new aims for our lives, by which we have redemption.

Ancient Israel was never tempted to replace the lawgiver with the law, following Plato’s example. It had a lively sense of God’s personal involvement in the history of his people. To that extent its teachings clearly anticipate what Whitehead designates as the temporal or consequent nature of God. Yet combined with the image of God as the righteous judge, this divine responsiveness quickly issued into the threat of rejection in the face of Israel’s sinfulness. The New Testament proclaims that no matter how evil the sin, God stands ready to receive the sinner and to forgive the sin, He stands ready to receive into his own being all the evil of the world to bring about its transformation, and this experience of evil is the divine suffering epitomized by the crucifixion. This is the most profound manifestation of the presence of the consequent nature in our experience.

Yet the dynamics of divine reconciliation is subtle, and it is all too easy for some commentators to emphasize the consequent character of God’s activity at the expense of his primordial character. This appears to be the case with the most extensive reflection to date upon the work of Christ within a process context, Don S. Browning’s Atonement and Psychotherapy.10 As the title indicates, Browning proposes to understand the atonement in terms of an analogy drawn from Carl Rogers’s theory of psychotherapeutic healing. According to this view, the neurotic person cannot rely spontaneously upon his total experiencing process because some of his feelings are inadmissible to his own awareness.11 He has placed conditions of worth upon himself, conditions by which he can accept his actions, and these same conditions, largely appropriated from his own social matrix, exclude certain elements of his behavior and feeling as unacceptable. The healing process calls for the unconditioned empathic acceptance of the client’s feelings by the therapist. He must feel his client’s feelings fully, yet empathetically rather than sympathetically. If the therapist were to experience these feelings under the same conditions of worth that the client attaches to them, he would become alarmed and attempt to fend off the same feelings the client was trying to avoid.12 He must show the client how to accept the full range of his experiencing, and thereby overcome the inner division within his soul.

Browning makes fully clear to us the sinfulness of our bondage to our conditions of worth, but not the sinfulness of our violation of these standards. In the context of his analysis focusing upon the therapeutic relationship, these conditions of worth are uniformly depreciated as that which the good therapist does without as much as possible. In criticizing Anselm’s concept of sin as a violation of God’s honor, Browning protests that this implies some condition of worth within God. "It would, in effect, place within the Godhead a neurotic element that can never serve as a solid presupposition for the salvation of man."13 God is completely without conditions of worth qualifying his empathic acceptance, and this unconditionedness constitutes the primary sense in which God is law. "This primary sense in which God is love and law must be kept separate from other ways of referring to God’s law. The secondary sense in which God is law refers to the means-end structures of coercion designed to keep the human situation integrated so that his law and love in the primary sense can operate with enhanced effectiveness."14 In neither sense, then, does divine law sanction moral norms. Unconditioned acceptance transcends such norms, while "the means-end structures of coercion" can only refer to the laws of nature whereby human freedom is kept within constructive bounds.15

Perhaps we may distinguish between values functioning as creative goals and values used as conditions of worth. The specific content of these values may be the same, although their use is different. In the first instance, these goals derived from God serve as a focus for creaturely striving; in the second, as a means of exclusion whereby other values are ignored, destroyed, or suppressed. Yet, as Whitehead saw, these two roles are so bound up with one another that some values are inevitably lost. "In the temporal world, it is the empirical fact that process entails loss: the past is present under an abstraction. . . . The nature of evil is that the characters of things are mutually obstructive. Thus the depths of life require a process of selection."16 Every actualization is a finite achievement cutting off all other possibilities for that particular situation and eliminating all elements received from its immediate inheritance which are incompatible with that one outcome decided upon. In human experience, this elimination may take the form of dismissing the unwanted element into the subconscious mind.

In general, if one takes into account all stages of evolutionary development, the elimination inherent in finite actualization takes two basic forms. In simpler organisms the large bulk of incompatible elements are simply never included in the first place, for the organism is incapable of absorbing and responding to them. Thus the behavior of elementary particles and atoms can be explained solely in terms of physical influences because psychological, cultural, or other such influences have no impact upon them. The more complex organisms, on the other hand, are capable of receiving and responding to more influences derived from their immediate situation than they can handle and therefore must eliminate some of these in the very process of achieving a definite result. Thus a molecule’s experience is "unconscious" because it is incapable of raising any of its feelings into consciousness, while the subconscious reaches of our experience have been suppressed in the interests of some definite conscious outcome.

Simpler organisms, including animals, may be largely understood in terms of the Aristotelian concept of entelechy, as spontaneously fulfilling their inherent goals in terms of resources ordinarily commensurate with these goals. In man, however, conscious awareness of goals as moral norms takes precedence, because the freedom consequent upon greatly expanded resources requires more explicit focus. For much of our activity and, experience, these moral norms need to function as conditions of worth excluding much of our potential resources for the sake of definite, stable outcomes. These conditions of worth are not bad in themselves, but they can become the barrier to further self-growth if allowed to become rigid, and the allegiance to old values can make us impervious to the emergence of new values.

Unconditioned empathic acceptance means that God has no intrinsic conditions of worth restricting his own experience and activity, but this does not mean that he has no such conditions for his creatures. Here we must distinguish between the diverse roles of God and his creatures. God is infinitely receptive, receiving from his creatures the measure of finite actuality he acquires. The finite and ultimately arbitrary character of temporal actualization prevents us from ascribing it directly to God’s own activity. His function is to foster and direct the process of actualization carried on by his creatures, and to redress the inevitable loss involved by integrating all of its results into his living experience. In the first role he is the ultimate source of all our values, which serve both as lures for achievement and as conditions of worth by which our achievements may be judged. In the latter role God is the ultimate preserver of all, embracing both our achievements and failures, thereby overcoming the destruction inherent in finite achievement.

The analogy of the therapist adequately describes God’s second, consequent role, but may distort the role of value-commitments both for God and the therapist. We may say that God acts without values in his unconditioned acceptance, but values govern both the initial aims he proposes to his creatures and the way in which what he has fully accepted becomes organized and integrated into his own experience. Likewise the therapist in Browning’s eyes may seek to eliminate all value-conditions from the therapeutic relationship, but this very effort is both motivated and judged by the specific aim of healing the client’s neuroses.

Browning distinguishes between feelings and behavior, arguing that behavior should be controlled by conditions of worth, but not feelings, all of which are acceptable. But our feelings of failure and worthlessness ordinarily relate to our behavior, which would have no focus or direction apart from these value-conditions. What is needed is not an elimination of value-conditions, but their relativization: the possibility of their expansion and growth, and the possibility that failures relative to these values can somehow be redeemed. The therapist in unconditional acceptance conveys that redemption to the client, but the ultimate basis for such acceptance lies in God’s infinite capacity to provide every failure, no matter how severe or destructive, with some value within the total scheme of things.17

A second corrective to Browning’s approach may be found in the other major reflection upon the atonement from a process perspective, that of Daniel Day Williams.18 Williams follows Josiah Royce in placing the meaning of Christ’s death within the context of the entire community. "Royce sought to interpret human existence as the search for loyalty to an adequate cause. Sin is disloyalty to the one really adequate cause, the world of loyal men. . . . In its memory of Jesus the Church has the foundation of its existence in the memory of the deed of Jesus who acted in absolute loyalty to the community in the midst of its disloyalty.19 Royce’s analysis, however, needs to be deepened by an understanding of suffering, which Williams understands not so much in terms of undergoing pain as "being acted upon or being conformed to another in a relationship."20 Such suffering appears to be identical with the empathic acceptance of those negativities of existence which usually cause pain and evil. To Royce’s view Williams adds "the insight that the reconciliation which creates the new community comes by way of suffering. Jesus’ suffering becomes the very word and speech of love finding bodily, historical expression and creating a new possibility of community." 21 This suffering, moreover, discloses God’s own suffering to man. God’s love is absolute in its integrity, invulnerable to any destruction, but this by no means implies any impassibility to suffering, which is at the heart of the most profound love. "If God does not suffer then his love is separated 2 completely from the profoundest human experiences of love, and the suffering of Jesus is unintelligible as the communication of God’s love to man." 22 Through such suffering reconciliation and renewal of love are effected (in ways more fully explored by Browning), bringing into existence a new community, the church, which Williams defines as "the community which lives by participation in the atonement."23

Here we find the clue indicating the intrinsic connection between the atonement and the resurrection, once we recognize that the church is none other than the resurrected body of Christ. Given our understanding of the way God acts in cooperative union with his creatures, we cannot see the resurrection as a unilateral action of God. On the one hand, raising Jesus to himself cannot simply be a purely arbitrary decision on God’s part, but one made in response to the intrinsic quality of Jesus’ life, suffering, and death. He is the one most worthy to be raised, because the living purpose of Jesus concretely embodied God’s own purpose for mankind. Were any other person with a narrower outlook or sympathies raised up as the living source of aims to which we humans would be subordinate, we could find ourselves subject to a demonic totalitarianism destructive of the best possibilities inherent in us as separate individuals. A risen Christ to whom we can subordinate ourselves in good conscience must be one "whom to serve is perfect freedom." Jesus can become that risen Christ only because his living purpose fulfills and does not thwart our highest alms. On the other hand, the resurrection of the body of Christ also involves the transformation of individual men into willing members of that body, and this can only be effected through the atonement.

As Browning has shown, the function of atonement is to overcome those structures of sin which cause us to deny and distort the love of God in our lives. These structures arise from the absolutizing of those value-conditions given to us by God into conditions of acceptability whereby we judge our failures and worthlessness in such a way as to alienate ourselves from God’s love. Moreover, these structures that tend to isolate us as individuals save as they bring us together in terms of the fairly rigid social patterns of "life under the law." Before we can become members of the body of Christ, these structures must be broken down, in order to free us from limiting self-concepts, from the tendency to minimize and downgrade the values we aspire to in a desperate effort to avoid self-judgments of failure which accompany the acceptance of divine values. Given the greatly expanded resources at man’s disposal, coupled with God’s invariant aim at the maximum intensity and enrichment of experience, it is inevitable that the ordinary human achievement will fall short of its originally intended goal. The Christian recognition of original sin appreciates this gap between the initial aim envisioned by God and the final outcome achieved by man in every human event.

Low-level achievement may well be insensitive to this gap either because the original resources are too meager or because there is insufficient awareness of the aims as received from God. But any high-grade achievement depends upon richer resources and upon increasing awareness of these initial aims which in their vibrant intensity may well outrun the achievements they evoke. Therefore, for the very awareness of more intensive aims we must be reassured of our acceptability despite our failures. Reconciliation through atonement places our ultimate acceptability upon a different plane from the judgment of our success or failure in terms of our initial values, thereby enabling us to aspire to those values with greatly reduced risk. Until we are thereby enabled to aspire to the highest values available to us as individual human beings, we cannot be in a position to aspire to those values transcending ourselves which direct the activity of the whole body of Christ. Without atonement, therefore, the resurrection of Christ would not have been possible -- for there would be no individual human beings capable of being transformed into members of that body.

Through participation in the body of Christ we continue to experience this concrete embodiment of divine love, for Christ accepts, cherishes, and affirms us in precisely the same manner in which we accept our own bodies. We have become part of him, and, just as we cannot, he cannot limit his selfhood merely to his mind, excluding the activity of his body. Our acceptability before God is no longer simply dependent upon our individual roles as separate human beings, for we have become part of Christ, and concretely participate in his acceptability before God. Jesus’ suffering and death have inaugurated a process of reconciliation which continues its work of concretely exhibiting to us the love of God in the body of Christ’s resurrection.

Throughout this discussion we have insisted upon God’s suffering, in apparent contradiction of the common assumption that God dwells in unbroken bliss. This language has been unavoidable, in order to emphasize that God is totally involved in our lives, including the negativities of our experience. His happiness is not purchased by the exclusion of our misery. Nevertheless, there is merit in the ancient concern over the alleged heresy of Patripassianism. That concern is ill expressed in the usual protective doctrine that only part of the Godhead suffered, the Son but not the Father. How are we then to understand John’s word that the Father so loved the world that he was willing to give up the Son (John 3:16)? Is this done at no cost to him? I take the deepest meaning of this concern to lie in the conviction that God is never defeated by evil. He can absorb all evil and overcome it. "He saves the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life. It is the judgment of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved. It is also the judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the temporal world is mere wreckage." 24

Evil lies in the mutual obstruction of things; their conflict and disharmony engender suffering and loss. No matter what the conflict, God possesses infinite conceptual resources in his primordial nature whereby an appropriate pattern can supplement these conflicting elements, thereby transforming them into a harmonious good. In themselves the elements conflict, but not as taken up into the larger texture of meaning.25 This analogy appears distressingly feeble, but only because our human powers of aesthetic creativity are so feeble. We can reconcile conflicts by the addition of clarifying distinctions and imaginative constructs, but only theoretical, not actual conflicts. We can create harmony from discordant sounds by the addition of further sounds, but only in music. We can transform gross evil into tragic beauty, but only on the stage, only in make-believe, when the proper aesthetic distance has been achieved. Our powers of imaginative reconciliation are very restricted indeed. We should not underestimate the powers of an unlimited imagination to over-come the conflicts of finite actualities.

Our redemption is found not only in the assurance that our unacceptability is accepted, but that the evil inherent therein is transformed into lasting value, a good we can dimly appreciate. "For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world, and qualifies this world so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience. For the kingdom of God is with us today. . . .What is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in heaven passes back into the world. By reason of this reciprocal relation, the love in the world passes into the love in heaven, and floods back again into the world."26 In the provision of novel aims for our ongoing activity, in the wellsprings of our renewed selfhood received afresh from above, God discloses the redemptive value whereby he cherishes our past. This sense of transformed meaning is very elusive, and exceedingly hard to describe. We can only refer the reader to the final chapter in Adventures of Ideas, in which Whitehead tries to explain this ultimate "Peace." We cannot hope to improve on his words.

Jesus had this "Peace," this assurance of ultimate victory throughout his life and ministry. It was what sustained his radical obedience, confirmed his quiet sense of authority, and encouraged him to address God as his father. Yet at the very end of his life this "Peace" deserted him: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Jesus did not die a "good" death, with the serene nobility of a Socrates, but in the painful awareness that the intimate presence of God had been withdrawn in the ultimate hour, and he had been abandoned as one rejected. Jürgen Moltmann has recently underscored this forsakenness, challenging us to come to terms with this horrifying prospect. He argues that it can only be described in inner-trinitarian terms: "The abandonment on the cross which separates the Son from the Father is something which takes place within God himself."27 Yet for the Son to be abandoned by the Father, there must be two distinct subjectivities within the Godhead. Many ontologies can permit this, but not Whitehead’s. As we have seen in our discussion of Lionel Thornton’s Christology any distinct subjectivity is necessarily a distinct actuality. Any doctrine suggesting three subjectivities within the Godhead automatically degenerates into tritheism. How, then, can we understand this abandonment, this radical bereavement Jesus felt?

As we have seen, the experience of redemptive love, "Peace," renewing life, is intimately bound up with the provision of initial aims. God is at work in every life providing it with novel aims at every turn, and Jesus was profoundly sensitive to this. Yet these aims, to be relevant, must express real possibilities for the moment; otherwise they could not be actualized under the circumstances. Each occasion of experience is free to actualize itself within the parameters of its causal past, but only within those parameters, since this past provides the content of its actualization. Normally the past allows us some leeway, but it can be coercive, restricting our future within very narrow confines. The initial aim articulates God’s evaluative gift of these real possibilities, but they may be severely constrained. "The initial aim is the best for that impasse." But if the best be bad, Whitehead can speak of the ruthlessness of God.28 In the hour of Jesus’ deepest need, he could not feel the presence of God, because there were no redemptive possibilities that God could provide, no aims which could vouchsafe to him the infinite resourcefulness of the divine life in clothing his actions with resplendent meaning, sending him forth with renewed courage. For Jesus, there was only the cross and death. In his cross the weakness of God is revealed, as he stood by powerless to comfort his beloved. The worst of it was that God intimately experienced Jesus’ awareness that this sustaining grace had suddenly been taken from him. God did not abandon Jesus, but he knew this abandonment, as Jesus knew it, in the depths of his being.

"What is inexorable in God," Whitehead continues, "is valuation as an aim towards ‘order’; and ‘order’ means ‘society’ permissive of actualities with patterned intensity of feeling arising from adjusted contrasts."29 This abstract description is very general, applying equally well to molecules, amoeba, trees, rabbits, man, and that which transcends man in some new transhuman organic society. The ruthlessness of God is Inexorable in evoking new intensities of being. Thus the very act in which Jesus felt abandonment in his death enabled the emergence of the lure for resurrection in the near future. In this transhuman body we need no longer fear abandonment of God in death, for even that can contribute to ongoing life. Jesus underwent the abandonment of God, so necessary for the emergence of the resurrected body, in order that we might be spared this experience.

As we have seen in the last chapter, this risen Christ is a living subjectivity, distinct from the divine subjectivity. In this our proposal has a distinctly Arian flavor: Christ is temporally created, not begotten. On the other hand, we also agree with Athanasius that the Logos, the second member of the Trinity, is nontemporally begotten "before all worlds." We can be both Arian and Athanasian by denying the one point they share in common, namely, the identification of the risen Christ with the preexistent Logos. Here Arius errs philosophically in supposing this preexistent Logos could be created in time and errs religiously in worshiping that which is other than God. The living subjectivity of Christ is temporally emergent, but not "in the beginning," nor even in the birth or baptism of Jesus. Jesus died so that Christ might be born. But Christ is not to be worshiped in himself, but serves only as a mediator, magnifying the availability of God to us. In him the divine aims for our lives can be intensified in a way not possible without him. Yet the very fact that he is our privileged means of access to God, such that only in Christ do we encounter the fullness of God, should not blind us to the createdness and relativity of even the risen Christ. There may be other transhuman societies, in the future or even now, just as there may be other living societies embracing intelligent life on other worlds, or even emergent forms capable of incorporating the fullness of Christ within an unimaginable intensity and richness of being. The possibilities which the divine creative Word holds for the future are inexhaustible, and any restriction of that Word to the risen Christ bespeaks a parochial anthropocentrism we should eschew.

Yet while the Christ is created, temporally emergent in the resurrection, he truly incarnates the Word of God addressed to our situation. His subjectivity is temporally emergent, yet the objective principle that he embodies relative to our need is grounded in the very fabric of the transcendent, primordial God. For the purpose of explicating this inner complexity of the Godhead the ancient doctrine of the Trinity is highly illuminating, as we shall see in the next chapter.


1. John Courtney Murray, The Problem of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), pp. 25-29.

2. Gen. 6:6; Jer. 31:20; Isa. 63:15. Cf. Kazoh Kitamori, The Theology of the Pain of God (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1965).

3. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), esp. pp. 182 ff.

4. PR, p. 521.

5. Ibid., pp. 523-33.

6. Al, pp. 380-81.

7. PR, p. 521.

8. Ibid., p. 533.

9. Ibid., p. 373.

10. Don S. Browning, Atonement and Psychotherapy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966).

11. Ibid., p. 101.

12. Ibid., p. 194.

13. Ibid., p. 230.

14. Ibid., p. 201.

15. Browning bases his study on Hartshorne’s process theism, and it is appropriate to interpret his theory of the divine imposition of the laws of nature in terms of coercion. Cf. Charles Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1967), pp. 101-2, 120. Yet this need not be the case if, as Whitehead argues, the laws of nature summarize the average response of the creatures to divine persuasion. On this difference between Hartshorne and Whitehead, see Two Process Philosophers, ed. Lewis S. Ford (American Academy of Religion: AAR Studies in Religion 5, 1973), pp. 75-79.

16. PR, p. 517.

17. See also Browning’s argument, Atonement and Psychotherapy, pp. 149-53, that the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic acceptance depends upon a wider context of divine acceptance, which we would argue is in turn justified by God’s capacity to infuse anything with imaginative value.

18. Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and the Forms of Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 173-91.

19. Ibid., pp. 180-81.

20. Ibid., p. 182.

21. Ibid., p. 184.

22. Ibid., p. 185.

23. Ibid., p. 188.

24. PR, p. 525. These words are easily misunderstood as meaning that there is some residue of unredeemable evil that God cannot overcome. Yet all being, no matter how evil and recalcitrant, can be saved; it is becoming that cannot be preserved, for becoming necessarily ceases ("perishes") in the attainment of being. The indeterminacy of becoming is replaced by the determinateness of being.

25. See my essay on divine persuasion, cited in Chapter 3, note 22.

26. PR, p. 532.

27. Moltmann, The Crucified God, pp. 151-52. See the whole context, pp. 146-53.

28. PR, p. 373.

29. Ibid., pp. 373-74.