Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Suchocki's Eschatology: Resurrection & the Justice of God

In this second post on Marjorie Suchocki’s excellent book God-Christ-Church, I want to show how she develops her eschatology.  We have discussed process eschatology before on the blog, but Suchocki argues for probably the most famous version of such a doctrine through a slight modification of process metaphysics - which gets very technical, so we will not concern ourselves with the fine details that philosophers argue about.  Here I just want to show the basics of Suchocki's approach.  For those interested in a deeper discussion, see her book The End of Evil.   

Is it possible to go beyond the minimalist eschatology of Whitehead and Hartshorne within a credible, coherent process philosophical system?  Suchocki believes that we can and most definitely should if we truly believe in the justice of God.  Only resurrection can bring justice to history's victims.  Suchocki's views are obviously speculative - but from a perspective shaped by Christian faith, they are nevertheless highly significant for many believers. Suchocki sees her form of process eschatology as answering questions of justice in history that other process eschatologies are unable to do.

Suchocki points out that Christian faith affirms two eschatological realities when it speaks of the ‘reign of God’: “to participate richly and deeply in this life through personal and social structures of love, and to participate everlastingly in the life of God.” For her, rather than a God who intervenes at the end of history, we see a dynamic model of eschatology in which resurrection happens all the time as events in the world are transformed in the divine life and then, in a sense, pass back into the world through God's ongoing creative-redemptive work. There is a circular motion in this view where historical time continually passes into God’s own experience, is judged and brought into a reconciled relationship with all things, but then qualifies the possibilities that God can offer to becoming occasions in history. And this 'cycle' continues on and on. So these two eschatological realities that Suchocki says are implied in the symbol of the reign of God are interdependent: “in God, beyond all histories, there is a fully actualized reign of God in which the world participates. But once again, the dynamics call for the return of motion toward history.”
Marjorie Suchocki

In the framework of process theology’s dynamic God-world relationship, we can then think of eschatology in terms of a ‘world without end.’ There is no possibility of even imagining an apocalyptic end of history here – however, following Suchocki, one can also talk meaningfully and plausibly about a resurrection, judgment, and everlasting life. There is even a sense in which we can speak of traditional ideas like heaven and hell, although hell for Suchocki is more like purgatory and thus all will eventually be reconciled into the divine life (yes, she's a dogmatic universalist). For her, God is heaven: through the ongoing prehension of the world process and integration into the divine life, the world becomes “partakers of the divine nature.”

While Cobb and Griffin place more emphasis on the existential struggle of meaninglessness, Suchocki is also concerned to show that great historical injustices like genocide are not simply tragic ends to valuable lives that God is only able to address by 'remembering' those persons in the consequent nature (objective immortality). On the contrary, she affirms subjective immortality, a process whereby God saves every finite occasion in the world in their full subjectivity, resurrecting them into the divine life for an everlasting intersubjective relationship - not merely a subject-object relationship as in Cobb and Griffin. She argues that those Christians who do not affirm a more robust resurrection theology such as this to instead focus on things like social and political progress ignore the reality that “those who have fallen victim to the earlier modes [of injustice] do not participate in the new order…such Christians frequently fail to see the tremendous issue of justice that stands or falls on the reality of resurrection.”

So Suchocki is clearly motivated by issues of justice, refusing to believe in a God who would lure a world into existence that has created so much suffering – as Hegel famously said, history is a "slaughter-bench.” But Christian hope rejects this as the inevitable reality, affirming a God who does not give up on her creation, who is powerful enough to reconcile injustices through resurrection. For Suchocki, God resurrects the ‘new creation’ into the divine life, reconciling it into the primordial vision of beauty, bringing healing to the relationships of oppressor and oppressed in a complex and dynamic movement in God’s life. As Suchocki writes, “In the center of God, the many are one everlastingly.”  This eschatological reality in God then acts as a model and lure towards the reign of God in history, passing back into the world. For example, Suchocki points out that the ecological crisis should be seen in the light of a renewed and resurrected nature in God, which therefore “has its own earthly analog as we incorporate responsible care for the earth…"