Some of my favorite people are good pivoters. They adapt to changing circumstances. One of them is the poet Naomi Shihab Nye; you'll find her story below. As a young teenager she went with a friend to what she thought was a museum, walked around touring it, only to discover that it was someone's house. She had to pivot.
Does God pivot? It's a natural question for process theologians. We believe in a God who adapts to the changing circumstances of the world. We believe in a God who pivots.
I asked chatGPT if God pivots and got this answer:
The concept of God pivoting depends on one's belief system and religion. In monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, God is considered to be unchanging and eternal, so the idea of God pivoting is not applicable. However, in some pantheistic or polytheistic belief systems, gods may be seen as changing or adapting in response to the changing circumstances of the world.
I didn't have the heart to explain that, in open and relational (process) theologies, God adapts to the changing circumstances of the world and that, for that matter, the God presented in the Bible does the same.
I understood that chatGPT was probably doing its best: drawing from a well-spring of digital sources. But I'm hoping that, as it improves over time, it will take into account open and relational (process) theologies.
I think my hopes are justified. After getting over my initial disappointment, I asked chatGPT to explain "open and relational theology," of which process theology is one form, and it gave me this:
Open and relational theology is a modern theological perspective that emphasizes the idea of God's openness and relatedness to the world. According to this perspective, God is not distant or detached from creation, but is deeply involved and invested in it. God is seen as constantly in dialogue and relationship with the world, and is responsive to the changing circumstances and needs of humanity.
In open and relational theology, God is not limited to a set of static, unchanging attributes, but is understood as a dynamic, personal being who is always in the process of self-revelation and self-expression. This view of God emphasizes God's love, compassion, and justice, and holds that God is actively seeking to bring about the flourishing and well-being of all people and creation.
In summary, open and relational theology sees God as a relational being who is constantly engaging with the world and responding to the needs of humanity and creation.
This seemed pretty accurate to me. I would add that, in open and relational theology, God is also responsive to the changing circumstances and needs of the more-than-human world: other living beings on our planet, living beings on any other planets in the universe, and the needs of non-living creatures, too, including stars and planets.
Why does God pivot? For open and relational theologians it because God is loving. Theologians influenced by Whitehead will recall this passage in Process and Reality:
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. In this sense, God is the great companion— the fellow-sufferer who understands. (AN Whitehead, Process and Reality)
I asked chatGPT what this means, and it said:
This statement is describing a reciprocal relationship between heaven and the world, in which what happens in the world influences heaven, and what happens in heaven influences the world. The love in the world is transformed into love in heaven, and this love in heaven then floods back into the world. This reciprocal relationship between heaven and the world is viewed as being driven by God's love and compassion, which is seen as the great unifying force behind all creation.
In this perspective, God is viewed as a companion or fellow-sufferer who understands the experiences of humanity, and is present in both heaven and the world. This idea suggests that God is not distant or detached from the world, but is deeply involved and invested in the lives of all people. The reciprocal relationship between heaven and the world is viewed as a manifestation of God's love, which is constantly working to bring about the well-being and flourishing of all people and creation.
Again, I would add that the reciprocal relationship includes God's relationship with the more than human world, but that notwithstanding, it seems pretty accurate.
It occurred to me that having a reciprocal relationship with the world is different from pivoting, so I asked chatGPT if a reciprocal relationship with the world, grounded in love, entails the idea of God pivoting, and got this answer:
Whether or not God pivots in the context of a reciprocal relationship with the world depends on one's interpretation of what it means for God to pivot. If pivoting means that God changes in response to the changing circumstances of the world, then yes, in the sense that God is responsive to the world and is constantly in dialogue and relationship with it, this could be seen as God pivoting.
However, if pivoting implies a fundamental change in God's nature or essence, then no, God does not pivot in this sense. According to open and relational theology, God's love and compassion are considered to be eternal and unchanging, serving as the foundation of God's relationship with the world. While God may respond to the changing circumstances of the world and the needs of humanity, God's nature as a loving and compassionate being remains constant.
I must be honest: I enjoyed this theological dialogue and was grateful to chatGPT for offering up ideas to which I could respond, and which would spur my own thinking. ChatGPT didn't need to be "right" in order to be engaging; and, needless to say, I am probably not "right" about a lot of things, too.
But I also confess that I've had much worse dialogues with live humans, because we sometimes find it difficult just to talk and share, given our vested interests in defending our inherited points of view. And we are not developing our own views from such a wide data-base.
So I'm wondering if one function of chatGPT might simply be that it is, or can be, a dialogue partner, as above.
My guess is that it's time for us humans to pivot, too, and to recognize that AI is with us to stay. Rather than reacting too defensively, as if we are obviously much more creative and wise than machines, we might as well recognize that, into any foreseeable future, there is a place for them even in theology. Time to pivot!
- Jay McDaniel, 2/5/23
Poetic Addendum: Human Pivoting
"Where do you think you are?" he asks.
"The McNay Art Museum!" Naomi replies.
"Sorry to tell you. The McNay is three blocks over, on New Braunfels Street. Take a right when you go out of our driveway, then another right."