What would it look like for these true depths to fully come forth again? What would this mean in our lives individually, and collectively as members of communities and citizens of nations? And, in particular, what would it look like in our religious traditions, in our Christian household? A primary feature of such rebirthing is the desire to move back into relationship with everything else that is of God. It means choosing to move in harmony with the universe again, knowing the rising of the sun and the whiteness of the moon as part of us, seeing the beauty and wildness of the creatures as expressions of what is also within us, the unnameable and untameable presence of the Divine in all things. It means growing in awareness of earth’s sacredness, knowing that its moist greenness issues forth directly from the ever-fresh in the fecundity of God. Newell, John Philip. The Rebirthing of God (pp. 1-2). Turner Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
God sees that the world is very good
And to every beast of the earth and every bird of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth—everything that has the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God looked upon all that He had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning— the sixth day.
The world transcends God
It is as true to say that God transcends the world as that the world transcends God. Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) (p. 348). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
When I look upon my two sons, Jason and Matthew, I love them very much. They are "good" in the deepest of senses. It's not that everything they do is good in a moral sense. It's that there is something precious in them, evoking my love and respect. What is this preciousness? It has something to do with the fact that they are subjects of their own lives and not just objects for me. They transcend me. Even if I die, even if I cease to exist, they will be precious in this way, and thus worthy of respect. And so, of course, will every other person on our planet or any other planet. And the animals, too. This preciousness - this intrinsic value -- is part of them quite apart from their father's views or, for that matter, quite apart from their cosmic maker. God sees the preciousness, too, and declares it good.
Let the World be Not-God
I don’t know. Just as God makes the world, there may be a sense in which parents make their children. But once they are made, they have value in their own right and for their own sakes, and they have agency as well, quite apart from their parents. If someone said to me “your children are valuable only because you made them,” I would think the person was blind. I would say that they have value because they are subjects of their own lives, and not just objects for me. That transcend me, and in their transcendence they are worthy of respect and care. Which takes me to panentheism.
In truth there are two kinds of panentheism. One of them says that the entire universe bodies forth or emanate from God, not unlike the way that photons emanate from the sun. The photons are “really” self-expression of the sun’s energy. This is emanationist panentheism. The other says that the universe is inside God even as it is more than God, not unlike the way that an embryo is inside the womb of a mother. This is relational panentheism.
It seems to me that, in the passage above, John Philip Newell leans toward emanationist panentheism. The moist greenness of the earth “issues forth directly from the ever-fresh in the fecundity of God.”
Such language is typical (and typically beautiful) of emanationists. One way that emanationist panentheists seek to affirm the world is to emphasize the presence of the Divine in all things. Their emphasis is on divine immanence in the world. It seems as if they can say “yes” to the world – to other people, other animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars - only by recognizing the presence of the divine in the world. Only by seeing the world as issuing forth from God.
Many years ago, I was challenged by a friend to realize the limitations of this way of thinking. She put it this way: “Can’t you Christians affirm the beauty of the world, and the value of its living creatures, on their own terms and for their own sakes. Can’t you let the world be not-God?”
It seems to me that she was right. If we say “yes” to other people and the natural world only because they are carriers of divine presence, we fail to recognize and appreciate what process philosophers call the intrinsic value of each and every living thing: the value that a living being has in itself and for itself, God or no God. We also fail to recognize their own agency, including the agency of, say, viruses and cancer cells.
A unique feature of process theology is its affirmation that the world transcends God even as God transcends the world. Yes, God and the world are immanent within one another; but it is also true that they transcend one another. The world is more than God and God is more than the world. It's moreness lies in its agency and value.
I am not alone in saying this, at least about the agency.. Open and relational theologians of many kinds emphasize the agency of the world and its open future. It because the world has freedom and creativity of its own,” they say, “that there is evil as well as goodness, violence as well as peace, horror as well as beauty, in the world. Don’t blame God for it all.”
I believe this. But might we also add that the things of this world – the whiteness of the moon, the flowing of the water in the creek, the preciousness of each human being and the other animals - have goodness and beauty of their own. In one of the creation stories in Genesis, the text says “and God saw that it was good.” God doesn’t create their goodness and beauty, God appreciates it. May we do the same. Let the world be not-God for the world’s sake, and for God’s sake, too.