Creation Untamed 2

“… if God cares for so much for all creatures, why didn’t God create a world in which there would be no natural disasters?”

Terence Fretheim asks why God created a world in which bad things happen in his new book, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic).

He opens with an observation I think few of us have thought of:

God created a world that was good, but not perfect.

His previous studies are summarized here, but the big point is quite clear and fundamentally challenges major ideas: the world was not perfect; creation was not completed; creation continued.

The question that arises here is this: Does Genesis 1-2’s creation account suggest an “openness” to God, a kind of open theism, a kind of divine-human cooperative in the ongoing “creation” and “development” of the created world?

In Genesis 1–2 we get the word “good” (with “very good”) and we hear this word as something God says of the created world. God does not say “perfect” and he doesn’t say “innocent.” God says “good.” Which means what? It corresponds to what God wanted it to be. This created world, when God said “very good,” was not static or perfect.

If it were perfect, nothing could go wrong, but things did go wrong. Humans are called to “subdue” the earth — before Genesis 3! — and that means the earth was not entirely subdued, and that means the earth was not perfect. It was good and was moving toward perfect.

God’s creation was to bring order out of disorder. Humans are called to participate with God in the continuing subduing of the disorder of creation. The world need work, and we are called to participate with God in that work of bringing order to creation.

God in some sense hands the task over to humans. Freedom is inherent to this task — we are free to do or not to do what God calls us to do: subdue the earth, that is, bring it into the order of its creator.This tells us something about God: God shared his creation work with us, and that means the traditional view that God is in absolute control and with overwhelming power is not entirely accurate. If Fretheim’s right here, that means humans aren’t to imitate a controlling, powerful God but a sharing, cooperating God. God forms an interdependent relation with his created world.

Themes are then developed out of Genesis 1-2:

God created out of already existing materials — which is the point of Genesis 1:1-2.

God calls already-existing creatures to bring about new creations — “let the earth bring forth…”.

God invites the divine council to participate in the creation of humans — “let us create…”

God involves the human in still further acts of creation — tilling ground, be fruitful, Eve “created a man child” in Genesis 4:1, Adam names…


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  • Rick

    “God shared his creation work with us, and that means the traditional view that God is in absolute control and with overwhelming power is not entirely accurate.”

    Are you saying God does not have “absolute control” and “overwhelming power”, or just that He is not exercising them at times, or within minute details?

    Allowing freedom or cooperation does not mean He does not still maintain those traits.

  • Alan K

    In the narrative God says, “Let there be light” but does not say, “Let there be darkness.” However, because there is light, there is somehow the “potential” for the non-reality of darkness. But this need not imply open theism. It need not imply God was not in “absolute control.” Rather, it begs the question of what sort of God are we dealing with, what sort of time is God’s time and what sort of space is God’s space. If we see the cosmos as something that God is subject to, we are not reading our Bibles.

    Divine-human “cooperation” is the heartbeat of liberal theology, of which we evangelicals appear very eager to practice as well. To suggest an ongoing creation and development is to view the Sabbath as God’s coffee break instead of rest. The “freedom” that is described in the post, the freedom to say no to God, is not true freedom. Freedom is what Jesus Christ does when his human will corresponds to his divine will, when he prays in the garden “not what I want, but what you want.”

  • dopderbeck

    The “cultural mandate” of Gen. 1:28 demonstrates that human beings are in a sense “co-creators” with God. This should not be controversial. It is not a “liberal” doctrine, and it does not imply open theism. Further, there are many resources in the Tradition for the fact that creation was not initially made “static” but was given the potential to develop, and that “Adam” (humanity) was given the task of shepherding that development — this is a major theme in many of the Eastern Fathers. But again, this need not imply open theism. So, I’m very sympathetic to Freithem’s project, but I think he quite unnecessarily translates these important themes into an inherent limitation on God’s sovereignty.

  • scotmcknight

    Rick, Fretheim wants to make it clear that God’s form of creation is not one of absolute control (in a bad sense) but that God created and then shared that creation’s rule with humans.

    Alan K, perhaps “cooperating” is part of liberation theology; I’ve not seen a word of that in this book so far so I don’t want to make connections the author doesn’t make. Cooperating, however, might be biblical, and that is what Fretheim contends with giving humans the task of ruling on God’s behalf.

    One of the more interesting features of Fretheim’s work is the observation is that humans are called “to subdue” the earth and that suggests that God didn’t subdue it all. Agree?

  • dopderbeck

    I think we need to be careful in our use of terms like “perfect.” If I import my own notion of “perfection,” it probably will be drawn more from Milton or Plato than from the Bible. I assume the initial creation was “perfect” in the sense that it corresponded perfectly to God’s creative will and design. If I consider the dynamic, embodied world God actually made “imperfect,” I’m at risk of denigrating that which God called “very good.”

  • The notion of creation being “good” should also be understood in light of folks such as Goldingay and Walton, both of whom have recently written on the impact of God’s resting in his creation. For Goldingay, this is to say that God made this world for himself – for his own enjoyment – and chooses to take rest in this place he has made. For Walton, God’s rest also implies the rise to rule over all of creation – rising to his rest on the throne (a royal terminology) – so that he might exercise his sovereignty. Both positions work with Fretheim’s overall theology (both here and elsewhere), and give us a fuller picture of what’s going on with this passage.

    As far as the Openness question that has been posed . . . There are many questions that are difficult for theological positions to handle, and Fretheim is going after some of the biggest ones here. Are natural disasters a result of human moral failure? Do lions, tigers and bears only kill other creatures after the initial sin of humanity? I think these are giant leaps in philosophical thought, and they cause big problems for various theological systems of thought.

    So, what do we do when our systematic theology breaks down? We find other ways, which is the entire enterprise of Open Theism. If God is open to having his creation work without this meticulous control and intervention, then that is the world he has made and the way he has chosen to demonstrate his sovereignty. (Remember, this was for himself.) If God is further opening up this system to allow humanity to either partner with him or rebel against him, then that is the creation he has chosen to give.

    One of my biggest frustrations with the critics of Open Theism (not that they all fall into this category, nor are they without some good challenges) is that they seem to give God less freedom than God has given himself, here demonstrated by the world God has (freely) chosen to create. As is typical with the divine-human relationship, we are far less comfortable with his choices than he is.

  • dopderbeck

    :mic — great comments. I think, however, that you’re confusing Open Theism and other kinds of kenotic theologies. I might agree that God limits Himself by giving some creatures, notably humans, free will. This would be a strong kenotic claim. But it’s a few notches further to argue that God inherently cannot know the future because the future ontologically is unknowable — which is the Open Theist’s claim. This would mean that God is not “free” to limit Himself with respect to the future, because not even God inherently knows or has control over the future.

    Open Theists think the ontoloigcal unknowability of the future helps with the theodicy problem, but I don’t get it. It seems to me to make God culpable for negligence: He unleashed forces that He couldn’t forsee or control, the result is the mess we’re now in, and all this is supposed to be made better because God Himself is suffering along with us. Doesn’t ultimately seem that comforting to me. If God voluntarily limits Himself knowing what will happen and also knowing the ultimate good — a more Augustinian sort of theodicy — that seems to me more comforting.

  • I like John Hick’s answer here. God made a world which temporarily experience natural evil because natural evil is outstanding at maturing a human soul. In a world without natural evil opportunities for genorsity, self-sacrifice, and compassion would be far more rare.

  • Tim


    I agree that Genesis 1 in no way implies a perfect state of affairs, just a state of affairs that God considered “good” (and really, he could have meant anything by that). Rather, the idea that humanity enjoys some kind of innocent, sinless, harmonious state of existence starts with Eden in Genesis 2:8. I would like to hear a bit more on your exegesis of Genesis 2:8 – Genesis 3:24.

  • Ron Friesen

    I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘subdue’. Is cooking a vegetable a form of subduing? Or what about domesticating an animal? I think he thinks that a good creation wouldn’t need cooking or domesticating.

  • Tim Seiger

    doperbeck; Just a clarification. I don’t think that most open theists and especially the leading thinkers like Boyd, argue that the future is ontologically unknowable. They argue that the future choices of free individuals are unknown and ontologically unknowable. The God of Open Theism is not powerless in the face of any or all future states of affairs rather it is the omnipotence and not the omniscence of God that enables him to not simply predict the future but control the future if he chooses. You may disagree but I don’t think the theodicy question goes away entirely for the Open Theist nor do they argue that it does and you set up a bit of a straw man to knock down a little earlier.

  • T

    Also, I think we can have a better discussion here by following dopderbeck’s distinction. The argument here, as far as I can tell, needn’t be that God lacks power. The better, clearer conclusion from Genesis and the rest of the scriptures is that he shares it. That’s the question: Does the Genesis narrative lead us to a view of God who creates a world which requires work from day one, and does God envision that work being a God-man project? I think we can answer both questions in the affirmative. Again with dopderbeck, this picture of a world that needs “work” and “subduing” from day one needs to shape our idea of what God calls “good” and even “very good.” Discussions of perfection only muddy the waters.

    I agree with Scot as well: if “cooperation” is the heart-beat of liberal theology, then we may have to accept that agreement with liberals on some points is inevitable and okay. 🙂 Co-operation, co-labor between God and man is a thematic biblical reality. That liberals agree isn’t really relevant, though I’d call it a bonus, if anything.

    My take away: I think we evangelicals have overly romanticized the “goodness” of the creation (as part of building back from our gospel narrative), and missed what’s right there in the text, namely, that the creation needed some kind subduing from the beginning, which at least begs the question of how “wild” creation was even before any Fall at all. I don’t think we’ve asked that question fairly in evangelicalism on the whole.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#11) — I’m taking my understanding in part from John Sanders’ definition on the Open Theism Information Site, which says the following:We believe that God could have known every event of the future had God decided to create a fully determined universe. However, in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the “future” is not a present reality-it does not exist-and God knows reality as it is.

  • dopderbeck@7 – Thanks for your feedback. I am not confusing Openness on this point, I know the Open Theism system quite well, actually (and many of its writers).

    The future as being EXHAUSTIVELY unknowable (there is a distinction) is a result of the system which God freely created. And that is part of my point, he could have made a more deterministic system, which is the contention of the Openness position, but he created this one . . . one which would render exhaustive divine foreknowledge an impossibility.

    Also, I know that some proponents of Openness will concede the point of EDF . . . OK, so God knows the future. So what? Is he free to alter it? Is it changeable at all? Do our prayers have any impact on God? His plan?

    Does God respond? (That’s a big one.)

    My point is that Open Theism does not rest entirely upon the debate of EDF, and this discussion of Genesis needs to be seen in the larger light as well. We are talking also about the level of control which God exercises on his creation. I repeat my prior assertion: We are more disturbed by God’s choice in the way he runs his creation (just like Job) than God himself is. Perhaps that is why we are looking more for a theology in which we might find the most immediate comfort.

  • David Himes

    The Greek word for perfect means “complete”, it does not mean “without flaw”.

    But what is really troubling about this discussion from my perspective, is the imposition of a human frame of reference on an evaluation of God’s creation.

    The only reason we have “disasters” is because men have chosen to live in places where huge natural events are likely to take place. On top of that, many natural events, such as floods, have a very positive effect on the ability of land to sustain agricultural pursuits.

    Katrina was a disaster in New Orleans, because we stupidly chose to build a city below sea level. Is that God’s fault?

    We need to get over ourselves

  • Tim Seiger

    doperbeck: Fair enough but even that statement does not imply an entirely unknowable future. It does not follow that because something is not entirely knowable that it is therefore entirely unknowable. I guess it would be fair to say that since human agency plays a role in how the future unfolds there is much about the future that cannot be known in the strictest sense. But it seems to me that the more critical question, for this discussion especially, is “does this mean God is powerless?” I and I think most open theists would argue that the answer to that question is no. What God does or does not know about the unfolding of future events does not impede any exercise of power God might choose to employ. The question of why God does or does not choose to exercise his power in particular ways means the theodicy question remains a live one even in Open Theism.

  • There are some important problems here that in some ways parallel the “Adam and the fall” debate generated by RJS’ posts.

    Seems to me that the Bible presumes creation at a fixed point in time. Adam and Eve, animals, floura and fauna, etc., were brought into being. They did not evolve from something else and they do not evolve into something else. Their natures are static in that sense. From the God’s “book of nature” we now know that this not how the created order came to be. I won’t recapitulate here what headaches that brings for dealing with Adam in the text. We’ve been all over that here. But what does our present knowledge of the “book of nature” to our understanding of the cultural mandate?

    Contrary to an evolutionary model, the biblical narrative has the material world appearing at a fixed time, largely as it now appears. It is in some way incomplete and needing human dominion. The fall occurs and it seems that creation is somehow touched by this, although it is not clear how. Redemption is not just about humanity but also about creation … returning creation to the path of fullness that humans will somehow bring.

    God’s “book of nature” reveals a different tale … a tale of an evolving world in which there have been several eco-systems and many now extinct species, sometimes brought about calamitous natural events. It is only existence as humans in a very narrow sliver of time that prevents us from seeing ourselves in a dynamic evolving reality. That brings up several important questions for me:

    Why protect this natural order at this sliver in time? What does it now mean to “redeem” creation or bring creation to it is “fullness”? What is the standard by which we measure “redemption” and “fullness”?

    Too many Christian environmentalists, most of whom embrace evolution without batting an eye, seem also to embrace the ancient view of a static world to be protected as is because this is the way God created the world. It would nice to achieve some intellectual coherence.

  • Alan K

    Scot, Dopderbeck, T,

    Co-operating is entirely what the German theologians who signed on for WWI were doing. To them, going to war was the living out of the cultural mandate. What I’m pushing back against is a reading of Genesis 1-2 that locates humanity faithfully acting apart from Jesus Christ (I’m very Barthian on this). Thus, Barth hated words like “co-operation” and “co-creators” and “co-laborers”–sinful humanity has a way of thinking ahead of God and drawing lines from ideas to divine intent. Instead Barth always used the word “correspondence” because this is how he understood the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in relation to God.

  • phil_style


    I’m not sure that an unknowable future means that God has “unleashed forces that He couldn’t forsee or control”. This is where some science can, I think, influence our philosophy.

    Now, sureley, we humans cannot know the “future”. But we can know the present, and we can know the likelihood of future states based on the various operations and interactions of physical laws. I know that dropped coin will fall to the ground. It’s predictable. With enough sutdy and investigation, I can even know what makes it fall to the ground.

    Without going so far as to assume some kind of newtonian determinism, surely the more knowlegde one has of the existing states, and the interacting forces/objects/systems one can make fairly good assumptions about the future. Now I would posit that an open theist’s God knows at least all there is to know now, including the minds of all the actors, the plans made by protagonists, organisations, the movements of the objects and the processes/laws/systems by which things interact. That would put God in a pretty strong position to have a significant amount of knowledge about the future, whether or not the future is set in stone, or a matter or probability.

    Far from being a hamstrung or negligent God, this one seems like a god who must be constantly interested in the state of all things, intimately aware of all decision making, systems and processes that are going on at any moment, also with the ability to revise the immediate present (intervention)knowing the likely impacts (and “indirect consequences”) of such interventions and also self confident in being able to carry out other revisions at any time in the future. . .

  • dopderbeck

    Michael (#17) — I don’t think the text necessarily has creation suddenly and statically appearing as is, and not even all ancient interpreters read it that way. And I don’t think that’s at all fair comment on creation care advocates. Creation care isn’t just about preserving something static, it’s about stewarding something dynamic. No conflict at all with understanding the creation humans inhabit as having developed over deep evolutionary time, particularly if God allowed us to develop just at the right time.

  • dopderbeck

    @ :mic and Tim — here’s where my understanding of Open Theism gets hazy — or maybe where Open Theism itself gets hazy. I don’t see any conflict at all between classical theism and the notion that our prayers affect God and so on. There are lots of resources in classical theism for this sort of Divine-sovereignty-and-human-free-will question, such as the notions of primary and secondary causation. Unless you want to make the move regarding the ontology of the future that many Open Theists make, I’m not sure what it buys you, and it seems to me that it gives up too much.

  • dopderbeck

    phil_style (#19) — but what you’re describing sounds to me more like classical theism with primary and secondary causation than open theism.

  • Scot – Since it is a theodicy, is Fretheim’s point that human beings have a responsibility to “subdue” earthquakes, hurricanes and the rest which they have failed at?

  • Brandon Blake

    Not all open theists are in agreement with regard to the question of God and evil. For instance, some will say that God is not responsible for evil (Boyd and Pinnock) while others will say that God is. It doesn’t help the open theist case (with regard to evil) to say, as Greg Boyd does, that God has “infinite intelligence.” That seems to bring the omniscience question down a notch but is still problematic none-the-less. In other words, sure, God may be in a genuine chess game (assuming an open theistic METAPHYSIC here) and he may know a number of moves his opponent may make, but that is no less problematic for the question of evil for the open theist as God would have to be an complete idiot to not win the game.

    Either way, we had a long discussion on this several times several years ago on the Open Theism Discussion board. The question of natural disasters in a genuine give and take scenario (again, working with an open theistic metaphysic) puts the ultimate responsibilty for evil squarely with God. One doesn’t need to have a deterministic view to posit such. It can be posited within an “open” understanding of the universe.

  • smcknight

    Jeff, we’re not there yet.

  • #20 Doperdeck

    “… and not even all ancient interpreters read it that way.”

    I tried to get specific without writing a dissertation. I’ll go deeper.

    I’m fully aware that not all ancient interpreters believed things came to be in an instant, or in a six day period. Some believed a day could be a thousand years. Creation could have occurred over many generations. All of this is irrelevant to my point.

    My understanding is that the ancient interpreters believe that at some point God said “Monkeys be!” and there were monkeys. They did not evolve from something else into something else. In Genesis 1 things are made and reproduce “according to their kind.” My understanding is that some of the purity codes were about not confusing the order God had created.

    According to biblical authors, the natural world is dynamic in that the various things God created according to their kind interact with each other but it is not dynamic in that things over time morph into other things … that eco-systems die and morph into new echo systems.

    Are you saying their were ancient interpreters who anticipated evolution … who perceived that in ages past God had created entire eco-systems only to wipe them out by, say, slamming an asteroid into the Yucatan Peninsula? I don’t think the any ancient interpreter perceived that kind of dynamism.

    And that drives back to the question of why protect this particular eco-system?

    (And while I would hope I would not have to make it explicit … no, I don’t believe we are free to do whatever we want with the environment. What I’m driving at is the specific ways we reason from Scripture to specific application.)

  • DRT

    David@15 – I don’t buy the “it’s our fault we live in bad places” argument. When the next big meteor or severe ice age hits we won’t be able to say that.

    Many (not limited to religions) have postulated that man is defined best by the struggle and not by the success. It seems to be inherent in our being as much as anything else. In that sense this world is very good for us. We are given ourselves and our world to tame.

    Why did God create us? I know my RCC upbringing says because he loves us. But what do you all say? Wouldn’t that give a direction to how the world fits us?

    As far as the preservation of this environment or creation care, I don’t believe it is our job to preserve anything. We can do what we want with this world including purposefully filling it with green house gasses to change the climate. However, I believe that many of the changes we make have disparate impact on poorer and more fragile people, animals and environments. If we were able to change the world (not preserve) without hurting all the poor and under-privileged then I don’t see a problem with that. I used to drive my Dad nuts by saying I thought global warming was fine, until I saw that much of the bad impact is on people and environments that don’t have a voice.

  • T

    Alan K,

    Yes, it’s what some KKK folks would say they were doing to, and Mother Teresa to boot. I think I understand your concern; certainly we all are prone to tagging God’s name to our projects and concerns. But that doesn’t really change the reality that God has chosen to do much of his work, even work that needed doing from the beginning, through and with people. I’ve not read Barth on this issue, but “correspondence” seems honestly well short of what we see in the biblical narratives, vocations and examples. Yes we correspond with God, and Christ did with the Father, but it went further than that and still does. We act in his name (for good and for ill) via his Spirit. And we work, (yet not us, but the grace of God within us). It might be a difficult road to walk, but co-labor with God, in Christ, via the Spirit, is our road.

  • Percival

    I’m finding this discussion interesting. Good post and good comments so far.

    I think the efficacy of prayer is a genuine problem for traditional theism. Whether we try to talk about primary causes and secondary causes or middle knowledge or whatever other semantic devices we find useful to preserve our view of foreknowledge, I think the reality is that most people find these distinctions to be sophisticated ways to pretend they make sense to us.

    Prayer is part of our partnership with God. He is so committed to it that He limits His action depending on our prayers. (You have not because you ask not.)

    We are His co-workers. (I Cor. 3:9) Subduing the land is another example of work yet to be completed. He could have done everything Himself but he gives us dignity by allowing us to do real work alongside him. I believe Peter Enns would say that the “image of God” language is language that speaks of coregency. Creating us in His image is what indicates to us that he intends to have us work on His behalf.

    David Himes #15,
    There is literally nowhere you can live to avoid natural disasters. Certainly our choices can make things worse, but we gotta live somewheres!

    Also, the Hebrew is relevant here rather than Greek. But I believe the Hebrew word for perfect also means complete.

  • Years of study of J.R.R. Tolkien have moved me toward a kind of openness that looks like this:

    ** God created a “good” environment (heaven & earth and all that is in it) — one that is “complete” in that it has all the elements necessary for survival.

    ** “Good” is a powerful word … let’s not underestimate it in favor of something like “perfect”.

    ** In creating humans, God gave a final “very good” cap to his creation … and “rested” from his work.

    ** Enter Tolkien, who believed that humanity (God’s Eikons) were, in face, sub-creators under God. God created both the basic elements and the environment in which the Eikons could advance basic creation by mimicking our heavenly Father.

    ** God is always at work, Paul in Romans tells us, making good come out of the actions his children undertake. He is the potter that continues to work with the “clay” …

    ** Tolkien’s life-long “history” for Middle-Earth, The Simlarillion, has the most amazing beginning — with The Music of the Ainur … where God creates a theme in song and bids those around to make harmonies with the theme. When things got too chaotic, God brought in another theme, and even took the few discordant lines and wove them into beauty. Don’t make the analogy bear more than it’s meant to….

    As a result, I have distilled this “rule” for balancing the challenge of chaos versus order:

    Enough organization for relationships to thrive.
    Enough chaos for creativity and communitas to emerge.

    Relationship is key, and if there is too much chaos, there is no space for anything but barest survival … but too much organization stifles relationships.

    Creativity is part of our DNA as Eikons. If there is no chaos, the opportunities for problem-solving creativity are stifled. Not only that, the bonding that takes place when people must band together to survive and/or solve problems is stifled, as well. We may have a form of community, but the communitas (a concept well worth understanding) that fosters movements will not emerge.

    Like the giant sequoias, full human potential needs fire to sprout….


  • Alan K


    I think we are missing one another here. I’m not sure how “correspondence” is inadequate to encapsulate what we see in the NT. Are we not baptized into Jesus Christ and his baptism? Is not our faithfulness in reality the faithfulness that Jesus Christ offered to God? Are not our prayers actually joined into the prayers that Jesus offers at God’s right hand? Is not our mission to the world actually the joining of Jesus in his mission to the world? “Correspondence” is the true NT language–the trinitarian language that you alluded to in your final sentence. We are pulled into what God has accomplished in Christ by the Spirit. Our “work” is never ever a work that is not first and foremost by Jesus Christ.

  • DRT

    Per others:

    Also, the Hebrew is relevant here rather than Greek. But I believe the Hebrew word for perfect also means complete.

    That’s good, because perfect also means complete.

    perfect adjective “Having all of its parts in harmony with a common purpose”

  • T

    Alan K,

    You’re right; I’m failing to see what “correspondence” could mean that cooperation does not say better. What do you mean by “correspondence” and how would it contrast to cooperation with Christ?

  • dopderbeck@21 . . .

    I apologize, but I’m having a difficult time following your sentence, “Unless you . . .” Could you clarify on this so that I catch your point? It is probably my denseness, but I want to make sure I follow.

  • dopderbeck

    @:mic — if the future is inherently unknowable because it hasn’t happened yet, that’s one thing. But if the future is inherently knowable by God, then how does it help if God chooses not to know it?

  • @dopderbeck 35

    I don’t believe that the assertions put forth from the Openness side is that the knowable future is being ignored by God. The belief is that God created a world system in which the future is unknowable in the sense of EDF. Divine power is not inherently limited in this view, nor is divine omniscience. This is the type of world which God chose to create, in which he has freely chosen to restrain himself of what he could and could not know so that there might exist a genuine otherness, leading to genuine relationships.

    My earlier question was simply to pose this: If God did know the future in an exhaustive sense, then what good would it serve him in a classical sense? Could he change that which he knows to be true? There is a philosophical problem there, because if divine omniscience is always right, and God knows with certainty what choices we will make . . . are we free to do otherwise? Further, can God change that future action without making his divine omniscience incorrect? (But I digress . . . And I defer to W. Hasker’s great “cheese omelet” argument in ‘Metaphysics’ (IVP).)

  • Percival

    DRT #32,
    I guess I didn’t make the point I was trying to make. In English, perfect and complete are closely related, but in some languages they are synonymous.

    We see a baby as good but s/he will develop into someone more complete in a sense. As English-speaking parents, we might even call our baby perfect, but s/he is in no sense a finished product.

    So creation can be called very good without the implication that it is a finished product. That’s all I was trying to say.

  • Wow. I didn’t even see this posting until now.

    Michael Kruse, Assuming evolution is true, and I myself accept it, then wouldn’t that mean that it also needs to be preserved? Nature needs to be preserved wherever it is at. Aren’t humans in danger of driving themselves to extinction within such- on a level of considering this apart from God’s revelation to us in scripture?

  • John I.

    How can creation continue to be creative if reality is actually decretive? That is, if all that happens occurs because it has been decreed, what then is actually relational or creative or cooperative about it? If God created the universe to be relational and a context in which there is creaturely change and subcreation, then there must be some sort of freedom. As for the various open theist understandings of freedom (there is not a one size fits all), see Alan Rhoda’s article “GENERIC OPEN THEISM AND SOME VARIETIES THEREOF” at

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    @:mic — I still think you have to distinguish between Open theists who (1) think EDF is impossible because the future is ontologically unknowable; and (2) think God lacks EDF because he chooses not to know a future that is in theory ontologically knowable.

    View (1) possibly helps with the theodicy question because you can say suffering is not God’s “fault” — God couldn’t have know for certain that the future would involve great suffering because the future is inherently unkowable. But to me, this makes God a big gambler. Even without EDF, after all, God would have known that there was a high probability of great suffering inherent in creating the kind of universe he created. So, it seems to me like God let it all ride on red, but the house won.

    View (2), it seems to me, at best helps with the theodicy problem not at all, at worst puts even more blame at God’s feet than classical theism. God could have chosen to know how much suffering would be involved in creation, but he chose to blind himself? He let it ride on red when he could’ve known the wheel would come up black?

    If God does have EDF, then at least we can refer to the “best of all possible worlds” theodicy, along with the “it all works out for good” theodicy.

    Re: foreknowledge and freedom: I think the Open Theist arguments against compatibilist free will ignore the long tradition of primary and secondary causation, and that this tradition offers a reasonably satisfactory account of compatibilist free will.

    So, for me, Open Theism as I understand it doesn’t provide much gain and gives up too much.

  • Percival

    So, it seems to me like God let it all ride on red, but the house won.

    my response:
    I think they prefer the chess match analogy because the game is not over yet. Also, the idea of the crapshoot makes it a game of chance instead of a game of intelligence.

    In view(2) – I don’t think that the idea is that God knew there was a high probability of failure and the requisite suffering involved, but rather, He knew He could win (make things right) no matter what people choose to do. We see this throughout the scriptures – “You meant it for evil, but God …”

  • dopderbeck

    Percival (#41) — ok, but if we have to make God the player in a game, a game that he could conceivably lose — that doesn’t seem to me like the Triune God of the Bible and the Christian tradition. If the chess game is rigged so that God can’t lose, then it’s not really a game — and Yahweh seems much more like the mischevious Enki. If the Bible’s creation narratives tell us anything, it seems to me they tell us that Yahweh isn’t Enki.

  • Percival

    It’s very unsatisfying to think of our lives as a game. Both analogies fall short. Their point is that God counters every move without knowing for sure what move is coming. He can foresee every possible sequence of moves, but how He will counter the moves is open – He may, for instance, decide to move a certain way in response to our prayers.

    By the way, is it even possible to rig a chess game?

    You’re right though, that it is certainly not the God of Christian tradition. They feel they are going back to an earlier Hebrew tradition and offering a correction to Greek traditions of thought.

  • dopderbeck

    Percival — why does it matter “when” God decides His “sequence of moves”? If God has EDF his sequence of moves is know from eternity past. If not, He makes some moves in “time.” How does His making moves in time help with the theodicy problem? Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t get it — and it seems to diminish God by binding Him to time.

    On the Hebrew-Greek thing — I hear that argument, but I suppose I have a higher view of Tradition in my understanding of the construction of doctrine, so I’m also a little suspicious of that kind of argument.

  • dopderbeck @40

    This is my last go at this. Openness is not confined to the two options of EDF that you list. As I stated in my previous post (@36), the possibility of EDF is constrained not by God’s choice to be ignorant of things he could know, but by the world he chose to create in order to achieve genuine otherness and relationships.

    Openness does not ignore primary and secondary causation. The question still remains to the philosophical logic of foreknowledge – if God foreknows then is there genuine freedom?

    Again, I think that your premise is flawed in thinking that Openness must conform to the static categories of the Classical model. If the Classical model had the categories to handle this line of thought, we wouldn’t have had Openness as an alternative.

    My parting question is: Why do we aim for the ‘least’ in our theology? If EDF is a benefit in order to get to ‘at least’ having the best possible world theodicy, then we are aiming far too low. The notion that Openness gives up shares this sentiment, in my opinion. The model of Open Theism emphasizes God’s risk in creating a world in which he might lose, in order to share the full expression of his love in a genuine relationship. Although you see it as too much lost, God evidently thought it was worth the risk.

  • Tim Seiger

    @dopderbeck: you continually assert that open theism argues for an entirely, ontologically unknowable future. I am not aware of any open theists who argue this. Rather the crux of the issue is that the future choices of free individuals are ontologically unknowable until those choices are actually made. So, in so far as the future is determined by the aggregate consequences of those choices the future is unknowable in exhaustive detail. However, God is an agent as well and he is an agent who is omnipotent and thus able to bring about any state of affairs he chooses in the present or the future and so in this way the future, is at least in part, knowable. As an example I could say to my small children, “you will be going upstairs at 8:00pm” and someone might think that I was making a statement based on some special knowledge of the future when in fact what I am doing is making a statement based on my ability to bring that state of affairs about in the future by physically carrying them up the stairs if they choose not to walk, I can override their freedom by my power. So, the theodicy question does not disappear for the Open Theist because God does have power to eliminate all suffering from the world but obviously has not. So, you ask, “what is to be gained?” and I reply that what is gained is true freedom and dynamic relatioship. There are many, myself included, who find the tools in classical theism that you reference inadequate to resolve the tension between Human Freedom and EDF. What is the functional/practical difference between actions that are exhaustively known and unchageable in the future and actions that are exhaustively determined in the future? Again I am aware of the numerous attempts to resolve the tension but find them wanting as the result always is that I can not do anything other than what is known, i.e. I am not free to truly choose.

  • Randall

    #46 is as good explanation of Open Theism as you often see and includes the reasons I find it more reconcilable with the testimony of scripture. I cannot honestly see that exhaustive forknowledge and free freedom consistent with true accountability are reconcilable and all the attempts I’ve seen lack something persuasive. Real relationships involve real risks and intuitively everyone knows this in their hearts. But, if God deemed His goals worth it, I’m not going to argue otherwise.