Pannenberg wants to explain how one can affirm the freedom of God, the integrity (freedom) of creation, and the eschatological coming of God in his doctrine of creation. He does so with the ontological priority of the future. Hopefully I don’t ruin this part, since it is one of my favorite parts of Pannenberg’s entire theology.
By philosophically giving the future ontological priority all events are understood to occur contingently. Pannenberg notes how this thesis is supported by quantum physics and chaos theory. Contingency is not opposed to natural law, because the sequence of contingent events can demonstrate uniformity and these sequences can in turn be described as natural laws. All processes in history, observed to be irreversible, originated in the contingency of history and the development of observable and testable patterns that are described as laws are not contrary to the contingency of natural events. The ontological priority of the future means that the future is the source of contingent events, but beyond this the future is also the source of creaturely identity.
As finite beings it is only our death that gives the possibility to speak of our complete identity and until its coming it is the future that holds its completion. Natural laws assist but do not determine each event, because it is the openness of the future that gives birth to each event. Determinism philosophically does not have the future as its ontological ground, but the past. It understands the preceding event to be the product of the previous events and conditions and this pattern of relationship makes an indefinite chain from the beginning to the end of creation (or an infinite chain).
Pannenberg’s affirmation that in the eternal God’s act of creation its completion was assured could be misunderstood as a form of determinism. Since the contingency of history must necessarily lead to the establishment of God’s rule one could argue that Pannenberg’s contingency is not truly contingent, but this is to again misunderstand the ontological priority of the future and slip into an anthropomorphic trap.
To imagine God standing at the beginning of the world determining its end is to forget about the eternity of God. First, it must be said that Pannenberg differentiates between the eternal God’s perspective and a perspective from within space and time. When God chose to create the eternal God took a risk by creating a world separate from the monarchy of the Father and in doing so, made God’s lordship debatable within the movement of history. It is then in the future, in the end and through his action in history that the God in whom we believe will have demonstrated his lordship and identity as the eternal God and Creator. As the eternal One God remains in front of all creation, the infinite beyond all finite, and the future of all futures. As the future belongs only to the eternal God, God is able to sequence the events of history toward the good and in doing so, operate non-coercively.
As the future and not tyrant God ultimately directs the course of history through contingent acts, making the duration of time and space open with an anticipated end. If God, the eternal immanent Trinity, is the world’s future, then it exists to God only as possibility at each present becoming past as the future becoming present. Since God is eternal, God remains the future of creation, while simultaneously God is actively present in the contingency of each event, making finite contingency part of the world’s future until the fullness of God’s coming. Time is then the effect of the infinite eternal Creator willing a creation with independent existence and as such it has the form of “duration as an overarching present” and a simultaneous relation and distinction to others in space (II, 96).
God can then know the future as the field of possibility, while remaining history’s ultimate future. The possibilities of God are then those that cooperate with the temporal passage of time and not simply those that correspond to the present. God is actually the power of the future, the power of the possible, who comes to each present with the light of New Creation. By giving ontological priority to the future over the actual, Pannenberg is able to meet his difficult goal of affirming the freedom of God, the integrity of creation, and the eschatological coming of God in his doctrine of creation.