Does God Grow and Develop? What about Open Theism?

This is the next installment in a series following up on the article, “How did the Incarnation Change God’s Relationship with Us?

In a comment on that article here, a reader named Seeking to understand said:

But let me see if I’m understanding correctly in gathering from everything you’ve said, that in the way that God interacts with us humans through the Divine Humanity, when entering into our time and space and so forth, to work directly with us . . . there can be some degree of growth and development, yes? Could this explain the observations that have led some to the idea of Open Theism? Could it seem, for all intents and purposes, as if the Divine Humanity with which we interact is growing in knowledge and experiencing events with us in a sequence rather than simultaneously in an eternal now (as you say is the case with God’s core)?

This article is an edited version of my response, originally posted as a comment here.

It is correct to say that Jesus, during his lifetime on earth, experienced growth and development in knowledge, understanding, love, and power over time.

It is not correct to say that God experienced that sort of growth and development over time.

Within the arrow of time God is able to express more and more of God’s love, wisdom, and power. Still, all of this is present simultaneously in the conscious awareness and experience of God, who is above and beyond time and space.

Jesus was not fully divine at birth

On the first point, Jesus was not fully divine during his lifetime on earth. Rather, he had both a finite human part from his human mother Mary and an infinite divine part from God, his divine Father. This is why in the Gospels Jesus is never called “God” during his lifetime, but only after his resurrection—such as when Thomas addresses him as “my Lord and my God” in John 20:28.

During the course of his lifetime on earth Jesus progressively separated from, and put out of himself, the finite humanity that came from Mary, such that there was none of it left at the time of his resurrection and subsequent ascension to God. But Jesus never separated from the divinity that was his divine soul. Instead, he became progressively filled with it and one with it, such that by the time of the Resurrection, and especially at the time of the Ascension, he became completely divine and one with the Father, which is the divine core, or Divine Love. (See: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”)

Jesus grew and developed

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus didn’t always have full and infinite knowledge, but grew in knowledge as his life progressed. This is stated explicitly in the Gospel of Luke:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:52)

In other words, Jesus went through a growth process, including a mental growth process, just as we ordinary humans do. That’s because at conception and birth Jesus was the Divine Humanity only in potential, not in full actuality. Jesus’ experience was of continually growing in knowledge, love, and power, as he progressively laid aside the finite humanity from Mary and replaced it with a divine humanity that was God being expressed in human form.

All of this, though, took place within the physical universe, which is subject to space and time.

It also took place within the spiritual universe, which, though it does not have space and time in the usual sense, does have a passage of events that happens because the angels are continually growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The spiritual universe also has an analog of space, which is the closeness or distance of various angels and spirits from one another due to differences in their “ruling love”—their greatest love, desire, and motivation in life—which is the core element of their character, just as it is of ours.

Unlike created humans, though, since Jesus’ soul was not from God, but was God, his process of development had an entirely different result than ours. The result of our going through the process of “regeneration,” or spiritual rebirth, is that we become angels living in heaven, which is part of the spiritual world. The result of Jesus’ process of glorification was that he became the Divine Humanity of God, which is itself infinite in love, wisdom, and power because it expresses in infinite human form the core divinity of God, which is the origin and pattern of our humanity.

Open theism has a time-bound understanding of God

Open theism sees the progressive development of the divinity of Jesus within the arrow of time as presented in the Gospels, and also sees the development of God in relation to humanity in the Bible as a whole, and it extrapolates these to the Godhead. It errs in not seeing that God, including the fully glorified Divine Humanity, exists outside of, above, and beyond time and space.

Yes, within time and space Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in divine and human favor. But from the eternal and infinite perspective of God, who is beyond time and space, this is not a progressive development in the temporal sense, nor is it experienced as such. Rather, it is an “expanding outward” of the Divine into the realm of time and space through adding a Divine Humanity that expresses the Divine Love and Wisdom, and is itself also God.

From God’s perspective, there is no increase in love, wisdom, and power. Only an expression of the already existing divine love, wisdom, and power into the created spiritual and physical universe. From the perspective of angels and humans, this necessarily appears to be progressive in time or in sequence. That’s because angels live within a sequence of developing events, and humans live within the unfolding arrow of time. Humans and angels can experience God in no other way than as a progressive development.

But everything that is progressive and sequential to angels and humans is present simultaneously in the being of God. It is experienced in the eternal present in which God exists. This includes the Divine Humanity, which could only “develop” within the arrow of time and the particularities of space, but which is always present in the experience of God because God is present in all time and space simultaneously from a vantage point outside of time and space.

God’s relationship with time and space is hard to understand

I realize this is a brain-bender. That’s because we humans simply don’t have the capability of raising our minds entirely outside of time and space, and their spiritual analogs. About the best we can do is to think of God expanding outward from the divine core into all time and space, rather than developing sequentially “sideways” within the various layers of spiritual and material reality. It’s hard to hold onto mentally. We do not inhabit the mind and consciousness of God, nor can we.

Concentric CirclesOne helpful analogy that Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) offers in a different context is that it is like a pillar that subsides down into a circular flat surface in which the top of the pillar becomes the center and the bottom of the pillar becomes the circumference. What is “sequential” vertically in the pillar now becomes vertically “simultaneous” in the concentric circles within the overall circle that the pillar has become.

We can also think of someone traveling across the country sequentially, but God seeing the entire trip laid out as if in a road map seen from above.

Open theism sees God from a human point of view

Open theism is correct in seeing the “development” of God from a human point of view. But that is a human point of view.

God sees and experiences all of that “development” simultaneously as a single oneness from outside of time. This means that God also sees and knows everything that to us is the past, present, and future. We still make the choices that determine our own individual and collective future. We are still free. But God sees, from outside of time, the entire extent of time from beginning to end. (If there is a beginning and an end to the physical universe. In our current scientific understanding of cosmology, the jury is still out on that question.)

Open theism errs in thinking that God does not entirely know the future, but learns conclusively what happens as a result of our choices only as they unfold. That’s because its proponents are thinking of God as existing and developing within the arrow of time.

However, though God has entered into the arrow of time specifically in the life of Jesus Christ, and universally in God’s unfolding Providence throughout human history and throughout the entire unfolding of the physical universe, the Divine Being of God exists above and beyond the physical universe, its expansion in space, and its unfolding within the arrow of time. Therefore God’s knowledge is indeed infinite, encompassing everything that we experience as past, present, and future.

These questions push the limits of what we time- and space-bound humans can grasp and understand. For a better resolution of the paradox that Open theism attempts to resolve by positing that God’s knowledge grows and develops, and for more on some of the other points raised in this article and in the previous one (“How does God Speak to Us, Before and After the Incarnation?”), please see the articles linked below.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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2 comments on “Does God Grow and Develop? What about Open Theism?
  1. Ihagh G. T. says:

    interesting post… many people seem to behave like Jesus was automatically divine on earth

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ihagh G. T.,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Yes, there is a lot of confusion among Christians about exactly who Jesus was. This comes especially from many centuries of thinking (falsely) that there are three Persons of God, and that Jesus was the incarnation of one of them. This can’t help confusing the minds of Christians about Jesus.

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