Another look at Whitehead.

The world was veering crazily between the evils of two world wars when A. N. Whitehead argued that evil was explainable within his “process” view of reality. His proposal so impressed Daniel Day Williams that he could promise:

“A radical new possibility has opened up for theology. This is the interpretation of the love of God in relation to a new metaphysical doctrine in which God is involved in time and becoming. In this conception of God’s being it is possible to reconceive the relation of love to suffering and to consider what it means for God to act in history” (The Spirit and the Forms of Love, pp. 90, 91).

How radical, really, is this possibility? And now that it has been with us for more than a generation, how successful has it been?

In Whitehead’s day, theodicy—the attempt to justify the ways of God in the face of evil—had come to a tired standstill. The argument that evil is merely the absence of good tended to pale amid the atrocities of war. Something more powerful than nothing, than the mere absence of something, seemed to seethe beneath mankind’s evil acts. And do the evils of existence—“natural disasters” such as earthquake, famine, and flood—spring from nothing? For some, such facts of life have always pointed to malevolent being, not to a vacuum; to something like C. S. Lewis’s “hideous strength,” not to the absence of power.

Evil as the result of man’s freedom, and in punishment for his wrong choices, had met with greater success but had not really won the day. “God wills the good but allows the evil” offered comfort of sorts. But it was more difficult to explain why we choose evil when we know the good. And Calvin’s highly logical “dreadful decree,” that God’s sovereignty requires ...

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