The Openness of God
Of all living creatures, man (male and female) alone possesses consciousness.1 This not only includes a consciousness of himself and of the world in which he lives. It also includes a universal consciousness of God — a consciousness placed in man’s mind by God around 10,000 BCE. According to scholars such as Julian Jaynes, this “god-consciousness” was later submerged into man’s subconscious mind during the second millennium BCE.2 Since this profound change was accompanied by a sense of separation from God, mythology has likened it to the “Fall” of man. This change in God-consciousness was associated with the progressive development of language, writing, codified laws and religion. Through religion (re-, back + ligare, to bind, bind together), man has attempted to consciously “bind back” or reunite himself to God.
Man’s Ideas about God
In the struggle to supposedly reunite himself to God, man has tried to define who God is and what he is like. However, in this effort the race has characteristically ignored God’s own revelation of himself to man. Instead, mankind has projected its own definitions of God.
In attempting to define God, some have claimed that God is everything or in everything. These are the animists, pantheists (God is everything; everything is God), or panentheists (God is in everything; everything is in God). Others have claimed that there is no God or that autonomous (self-contained) man himself is the Supreme Being or God. These are the atheists and Gnostics. Still others have claimed that God is the ultimate Nonbeing, Nirvana or Essence toward which mankind itself is moving. These are the Eastern mystics. The ancient Greeks and Romans imagined that gods like Zeus were rapacious, murderous scoundrels who often invaded the world to harass mankind. Deeply offended by these contemporary myths, the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle redefined God as the ultimate impassible, immutable, immovable, all-determining Being. God could not be reached. He could not change. He could not be moved. He could not grant freedom to any of his creatures, including man.
Tragically, all these man-made definitions of God ignore or oppose his own self-revelation. They frustrate his openness and mission to the world. Because they are contrary to freedom, these ideas confine mankind to its own animality and prevent it from reaching the full humanity intended by God and historically revealed in the Person of the Risen Christ.
God’s Revelation of Himself
The fact is that God has revealed himself as the “I AM” (YHWH, Ultimate Being).3 He is the One-and-Only God, who has existed from eternity. He is the Creator of all that is. He is the source of all being and all becoming. Let us briefly consider three aspects of God’s progressive creative activity:
1. Open to the Universe.
“In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) God freely acted to create the universe of time and space. From time and space he created cosmic matter and energy, innumerable galaxies, stars and planets. God is open to the universe. That is, having created this cosmos of time and space, he did not close the “book” on it. Rather, observation indicates that he has allowed the cosmos to emerge, expand, form and change according to definite laws and principles. God did not create a static universe. He created a dynamic, changing universe — a universe with the freedom to respond by growth and development.
2. Open to Life in the Universe.
Next, God created life in the universe. Having created life, God did not close the “book of life.” God is open to life in the universe. That is, he has given living forms the freedom to emerge, grow and adapt to widely different environments. While God alone is the Author of life, he has given his creatures the freedom to respond by development. For example, we are increasingly aware of the process of change in living forms through genetic mutation.
3. Open to Man.
Then God created mankind in the world. He endowed this species with an intelligence, consciousness and nature intended for communion with himself. From this beginning God has been open to man. Though mankind will always be a creature, God has ever intended the race for fellowship with himself. However, true fellowship between God and man is impossible apart from freedom. And human freedom is impossible apart from “contingency” — an existence that is not determined but open to infinite possibilities. Human freedom is thus inseparable from conscious choice and personal responsibility.
It should be noted that the concept of freedom — individual contingency, choice and participation — never occurred to Eastern civilizations. It was never developed in the Judaic system.4 Significantly, however, the concept of freedom was practiced in the Greco-Roman culture immediately preceding the first coming of Jesus Christ. God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ occurred when and where it did in order to further his openness to mankind. That is, it occurred in a chosen historical setting in order to effectively define God’s purpose of freedom for mankind and, in that context, to provide through resurrection the basis for mankind’s elevation to true humanity.
God’s Purpose for Mankind
Christ’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) illustrates God’s purpose for mankind. In his beautiful homily on this parable, Karl Rahner shows the meaning of the “denarius” that the lord of the vineyard gave to each laborer regardless of the number of hours worked. Says Rahner:
What [God] gives . . . is an expression of his own generosity, that free generosity, . . . that incalculable mercy, that grace which cannot be reckoned up in terms of wages and justice, that generosity and mercy which ultimately prevails between God and man. This story does not deal with the question whether any man is rewarded by God’s judgment according to his works or not. In this parable Jesus is saying something else, something far wider, something especially significant in view of the way in which the Jews of that time were preoccupied with rewards; he is saying to us that between God and us there prevails something quite different, something that cannot be calculated, that cannot be expressed in terms of justice, something that is in fact the mercy and free disposition of the eternal God. . . .
The parable teaches us to say: we are those who receive the denarius, we ourselves are the denarius. For we receive ourselves, with our destiny, with our freedom certainly and whatever we choose to do with that freedom, but ultimately what we receive is ourselves. . . . Our great life’s work [is]: to accept ourselves as the mysterious and gradually revealed gift of the eternal generosity of God. For everything that we are and have, even the painful and mysterious, is God’s generous gift: we must not grumble at it but must accept it in the knowledge that when we do so God gives himself with his gift. . . . God is willing to give us everything if we will only accept it — ourselves and himself and life without end.5
God is not merely the phantom of man’s own psychic projections. He is the One-and-Only God, who has existed from eternity. He is not impassibly, immutably, immovably and all-determinably closed to the universe, to life and to mankind. He is defined by his very openness. The openness of God is fully, finally and irrevocably revealed in Jesus Christ — in his incarnation, life, death and resurrection. This open God is present with all mankind now and always (Matthew 28:20). He is present with his limitless love, trust, hope and commitment. He purposes to transform the animality of mankind into full humanity. He purposes to fully give us ourselves. He purposes for us to see him and to be fully and truly human like him in his resurrection. However, because he is the God of freedom, he will not transform mankind into full humanity unless man is “open” to him. At this time of global crisis, God is fully open to the universe, to life and, above all, to mankind. Moreover, this open God is present with all mankind to enable man to freely choose to be open to the world, to his fellow man, and to God.
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- Exodus 3:14. See John 6:35, cf. vv. 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 23, 28; 9:5, 39; 10:7, cf. v. 9; 10:11, cf. v. 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, cf. v. 5; 18:6, cf. vv. 8, 37; Revelation 1:8, cf. vv. 11, 17, 21:6, 22:13; 1:18. (go back)
- There is no evidence that the release of the Jubilee was ever observed in Judaism. However, it is significant that Jesus announced his ministry of freedom by proclaiming the Jubilee (Luke 4:18, 19). (go back)
- Karl Rahner, “The Denarius Stands for Us — and for God,” Biblical Homilies (New York: Herder & Herder, 1966), pp. 22-25. (go back)
This article was originally published May 1994 under the Quest imprint.