Monthly Archives: October 2016

On God’s Immutability and the Vessels of Wrath

“It is misleading to think of souls being ,as it were, “cast” for evil roles. If the Iago-element in Shakespere did not choose, there would be no Iago in the play.” CSL – De Bono et Malo, the Great War Letters

Since the start of this blog I’ve been arguing for the following facts:

1) That God in his essence has all his life and action at once, timelessly and changelessly.

From whence it follows:

2) All things that change do so because of Gods eternal, changeless, creative will. God creates everything precisely in the mode it exists.

From whence it follows:

3) God, being actus purus, is not in himself conditioned by or dependent on anything outside himself. Rather his action is what causes things to be conditioned by him and to depend on him.

From whence it follows:

4) God’s knowledge and will are not themselves changed by the creation. Rather, God’s knowledge and will are the cause of the particular changes and modes of existence of the things in creation themselves.

I have thus been defending the “classic” conception of God propounded by the traditional doctors of the church. The facts above are simply the necessary deductions of the fact that God is the eternal “I AM” and that God alone is absolutely unconditioned and timeless.

Yet from this classic conception seems to follow the consequence that God is the cause of sin and that he creates certain beings intentionally to damn them – to make them, in fact, objects of his wrath. This seems so because on the model presented above where God is actus purus, every fact about creatures gets its facticity from God’s predetermining and all creative will. That is, since God is immutable and pure actuality, it is impossible that his will and knowledge are themselves conditioned by a contingent creation. It is not the case that he must “wait and see” what creatures will freely do “before” he decides what to do with them. The classic picture of God entails that he is not up against the insurmountable obstacle of creaturely freedom, as if such an obstacle could exist independently of his own creative will. Rather, creaturely freedom itself is a creative production of the intellect and will of God; for if it did not come from these, it would not exist. As Aquinas says somewhere, it is God’s will itself which “prepares contingent causes” in order to fulfill that will; not vice versa. Gods will is not fulfilled just in case contingent causes happen to go a certain way.

Now again, this classic conception would seem to imply that God is not perfectly loving insofar as he creates beings specifically to destroy them or cause them misery. For to love is to will the good of the one loved. Yet in what sense would God, by predeterminately creating vessels of wrath fitted only for destruction, be willing their good? Why would an all perfect God need to display anger and hatred; why wold he desire or enjoy making a creation, which of its own need not even exist and which only does so by God’s creative act – why would a God whose essence is love purposefully make a universe filled with sentient beings who will suffer misery forever?

This is a good objection, and is really the ultimate critique behind the Calvinist picture of God. A God who arbitrarily creates certain beings as objects of love and others as objects of hatred is a God who is not essentially loving. He is divided in the sense that his attributes are really not all aspects of His love. One cannot say that Calvin’s God’s nature “is love and only love.” Where God wants to love but instead hates, he is divided against himself. On the other hand, where he does not even want to love but desires to hate, he lacks love towards what he is hating, and therefore is not infinitely loving. There would be an object in the universe which God created not out of a desire for its good – not out of the love in his own heart for it – but out of a desire to see it destroyed. Either way – through either an intentional lack of love replaced by hatred, or an unintentional absence that is desired to be filled – either way, God still somehow is less than perfectly loving.

Now, in fact I think this whole problem can be corrected by adjusting our notion of God’s creative activity. It is not the case that God first makes a bunch of beings, and then goes on to either damn or save some. Rather, in God’s intellect he creatively knows divine ideas of, as it were, the “particular characters” of his creative story. Each character is only itself – in fact can only be itself – and has a particular set of properties that are essential to it and make it what it is. If it lacked such properties, it would cease to be this particular character and would instead be some other character, just like a shape which lacks three sides is no longer a triangle but something else, say a square. So to imagine God as forcing a character to be what it is is simply wrong. That is to imagine that there is some other, deeper character that God is violating in creating the initial character to begin with; as if “before” Iago was made there was some pre-Iago that would be violated if it were turned into Iago instead of, say, Hamlet. But again this is wrong: Iago is Iago. Insofar as he is not Iago, he would not be some other character (for that character is that character). He simply would not exist at all. The truth is that we simply are God’s divine idea of us: his creation of us is simply his bringing to be our true self. Thus insofar as he wishes to create US then it is WE who must be created. That is a tautology.

And when viewed at this way I see no issue regarding God’s love. For one could say that God made every character in order to bestow his love and goodness on it insofar as it is capable of receiving it. He does not create those who are damned simply to vent wrath. Rather, he creates them because in doing so even they receive the most good that they are able to, given what they are. In that sense God loves the saved and the damned the same: he creates both for maximal happiness. It’s just one set of beings do not react to God’s gift of existence the same way.

You could, of course, ask why God creates such beings at all. But it seems you could also answer by saying that he did so because it is better for those beings to exist and enjoy the goods of existence than not to exist at all. (Even Hell may have a sort of twisted pleasure for the damned. As Lewis said, everyone gets their desires in the end.)

What you could not ask, however, is why God made such and such a character to be this character, rather than another. For this question is really meaningless, equivalent to asking why God made triangles with three sides or why he made marriage consist in a husband and a wife. For the truth is these things just are what they are; and insofar as they exist, they must be what they are, or they wouldn’t be at all. It makes no since to ask why God made triangles not squares or vice versa. He has simply made both kinds of beings, and that’s because he is the Creator of all.

With this authorial model of Gods creative actus purus in mind one can see too how God, in creating beings who sin, does not himself sin in doing so. For it is the creatures who sin, not the creator. He simply creates them in a state of sinning. There is, as it were, an integrity – a completeness – to each rational being in the story of creation that God has made. As its author, God stands outside of and gives life to every point of the story. Yet he makes it for all good, all loving, all beautiful reasons: to bestow infinite love on all that he makes, AND also glorify himself. The love for each particular character is only fully evident at the end of all things, in the eschaton, when God becomes fully all in all. Yet such a claim, as bold and unreasonable as it may appear given all the suffering in this life, is nevertheless the Christians belief: that God loves all his creation infinitely and will give to all justice and mercy and recompense. Therefore we cannot say that God “does” evil, even in creating evil characters – or characters who themselves do evil – for God’s act of creating does not have an evil motive or evil as an end. It is not evil to create finite beings who themselves do wickedness if your goal is to bestow as much good on each finite being as its nature, given what it is, is capable of receiving.

I can’t help but end this post with a point back to my last one on modality. It should always be remembered that since God simply IS his eternal action, and since he is eternally the fullness of being and infinite perfection, it is meaningless to talk about what he “could have” done. There are no possible worlds that exist outside of God’s eternal act of creation with which to compare his actions. His creative action, which is Himself, just is what it is. There is no cause further back than his intellect and will that could explain the way things are. He alone is the first cause, the source of all being, the self-generating creator, the eternal I AM, the limitless source of all limits themselves.

On Modality

“I suspect it is really a meaningless question. The difference between Freedom & Necessity is fairly clear on the bodily level: we know the difference between making our teeth chatter on purpose & just finding them chattering with cold… When we carry it up to relations between God & Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical?” CSL Letters, Vol 3

Modality is an abstract and scary word. There is, however, no reason to be intimidated by it. I take it simply to mean “the modes of being which are either contingent or necessary.” In other words, there is this distinction in things between what we think could have been otherwise and with what we think could not have been otherwise. For instance, it is contingent that Obama is president; and it is necessary that 1+1=2. In the first case there is a fact that is possibly different. In the second there is a fact that could not be otherwise. Thus we have two examples of contingent and necessary things. But notice that contingent and necessary things presuppose the Contingent and Necessary as such. Now, insofar as we are talking about the Contingent and Necessary as such, we are talking about modality. And this modality will be the subject of this post.

For reasons I have stated elsewhere, it seems to me reasonable to say that these terms – Contingent and Necessary – do not actually apply to God’s action. For to suppose they do is to imagine God as a temporal object who is “faced” with a set of possible worlds over and against himself. But for God there can be no possible worlds – no possibilities at all – which do not spring from his own creative mind and nature. How could God be faced with a reality that he did not create? In other words, things are only possible insofar as God has first made them possible. Therefore (to horribly condense the argument), it is God’s very creative action itself which imparts possibility to the things themselves, rather than vice versa.

What this amounts to is that it is meaningless to talk about God’s action using Contingent and Necessary language. We can rightly describe what God makes in these terms; but God’s very act in making them is not either contingent or necessary. It simply is what it is, and that’s all there is to say about it.

This may sound like an abstract and unnecessary point, but to me it is crucial, for two reasons. First, without this in place God’s sovereignty and creativity are limited. For insofar as God is faced with these metaphysical laws of the necessary and the contingent “out there” apart from his own creative will, he must therefore work with and around them. But again, if God is the First Cause and source of all being whatsoever, there can exist no such laws or limits of reality independent of his creative action. Second of all, with this distinction in mind (that the necessary and contingent do not apply to God’s creative act or essence itself), we can better explain how God knows future free (i.e. contingent) acts. If God himself has created the free acts or if he will create them in their very contingency, then he can know them simply on the basis of his knowledge of his own will to create them. However, if God himself is, as it were, subject in his very being and knowledge to the contingencies of the free acts themselves “out there”, then his being and his knowledge would be determined by the contingencies themselves which exist independently of his will. They would exist outside God and so therefore determine him. Since they are over and against him his knowledge would become what it was based on their own reality. Thus, he could not know  contingent free choices until they came to pass and determined his knowledge.

In light of these issues it seems to me best to view modality as such as part of the conceptual realm only: i.e. to view the difference in the Necessary and Contingent to be basically equivalent to the “unimaginable” and the “imaginable.” We say it is “necessary” that 1+1=2, but that is only because it is unimaginable to us that it could be otherwise. We don’t mean that, as considered in God’s changeless and immutable act of Pure Existence, which itself encompasses everything that exists (since he eternally causes all that exists) – we don’t imagine that viewed from this angle it makes sense to say 1+1=2 “could not have been otherwise.” There is no “otherwise” to speak of: there is nothing outside the Everything that is both God and his eternal action with which to compare things to. There is really only one universe and one history and future. There is nothing else to set it against. For “anything else” could only exist were God to will it to exist, in which case it would itself be part of the Everything that we are now talking about, which God has always and eternally caused to be.

Now, the conclusion that modality does not apply to God’s essence does not imply that God was fated to create nor that he spontaneously created for no reason. Both conceptions really just smuggle in the idea of modality and attach it to God’s own action, rather than the things which God’s action produces. To say that God “had to” create is meaningless. And to say that God “could have refrained” from creating is also meaningless. The truth is, God simply IS and DOES; and what he IS is a creator and what he DOES is create. Period.

God’s freedom need not be thought of as his “ability to do otherwise.” Why not simply construe his freedom as the fact that all God’s act come from himself, without movement or dependence from some prior cause? Why is it so essential to think that God “could have” done other than he did, if the opposite – that God “had to” create – is also false?


On the Atonement

That Christ died for the sins of the world is so obvious a truth of Christianity it is almost a truism. Somehow, Christ’s death and sufferings have “made us right” with God and this event bridged the unbridgeable gulf between finite, sinful humanity and infinite, pure God. But what are the actual mechanisms of this event? What is going on that makes it so that “because” of Christ’s crucifixion, God now stands in a different relation to humanity?

There are several theories of the atonement that I simply cannot square with the notion of a perfectly good God. One is the idea that Christ was punished – in the sense of becoming a guilty party – instead of humanity itself. No matter how you spin it, in the end you have a God who deems an innocent person guilty, and who punishes an innocent person in the place of those who are guilty. This theory is often touted as one that upholds the justice of God, but to me it destroys it. To punish the innocent instead of the guilty is precisely the definition of injustice. On this view the guilty get no justice, and neither does the innocent. The way I see it, to imagine God pronouncing an innocent person guilty is simply to imagine him making a misjudgment and misusing his justice. Obviously an all wise and all just God could do no such thing.

Besides the problem of attributing an immoral act to a perfectly moral being, there is an additional problem in thinking that Jesus stood in our place as a substitution. It is this. If Jesus bore all the consequences of our sin in our place, and if God’s wrath was fully satisfied by Christ’s death, why do any consequences of sin still remain? In other words, if death and suffering were the consequences of the sins of humanity, and Jesus took away these consequences by bearing their full punishment, why do people still suffer and die? It would seem that either i) Christ’s death was not fully satisfactory to God; or ii) death and suffering were not the punishment for sin. But if i) is false then the whole penal substitution theory of the atonement itself collapses. And if ii) is false then just what were the consequences of sin that Christ alone bore for us; and how, if these consequences are different than suffering and death, do they remain?

Finally, there is one more problem I see with this model of the atonement. If God’s justice was in fact fully satisfied by the death of his Son (who has an infinite value), what sense is there saying God actually forgives us? To forgive and to show mercy imply, not that justice is fully satisfied, but that, where justice could be satisfied, rather than it being so, it is set aside. But if Christ’s death appeases the infinite justice of God, in what sense is God’s justice set aside such that he exercises mercy and forgiveness?

Now it is undeniable to any reader of the Bible that Christ certainly died because of our sins. Verses abound which say that his death has healed us and reconciled us to God; that his it atoned for our sins; that Christ was a propitiation for our sins and that he even “became” sin for us even though he did not know sin in himself. So I certainly believe that Christ’s death has caused some real metaphysical re-orientation between fallen mankind and God. The question is, again, how do we understand the mechanism by which this occurs? If it really happened it must have some real inner working that is coherent. If Christ’s death really did something that “something” must be a real thing – a true reality. That does not mean we will necessarily understand in all its fullness what is going on but it at least suggests that it is possible to get some glimpse of what is.

I want to suggest the following model as a possible theory of the atonement that avoids the problems in the penal substitution model. But before I do this I want to make a point about how our theories of the atonement should be guided in the first place. Even if my particular suggestion is not really in the end a workable theory, it is built on an assumption that I think is non-negotiable about the atonement in general. That assumption is this: no theory of the atonement can be true if it presents a picture of Christ and God the Father as having different concerns or agendas regarding us as human sinners. In other words, all theories which posit Jesus as saving us from God – where God simply hates us and fervently wishes to vent his full wrath upon us until Jesus steps in and coaxes him into changing his mind – all these theories I think are fundamentally flawed. The main reason for this is because they posit a fundamental disconnect between the essence of the Father and the essence of the Son.

Christ says “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” and the New Testament speaks of Jesus being “the image of the invisible God.” Even if you disbelieve in the Trinity, I’m not sure how you could still be a Christian if you thought that Jesus did not manifest in an exemplary way the character and nature of God. But as soon as you believe that you have to conclude that whatever Jesus did in terms of his life and the sacrificing of himself for others, these same acts and feelings must somehow be present in the Father’s heart as well. That is, anything good that Christ did on earth must have an appropriate analogue in the Father’s nature too. To deny this is not only to deny that Christ was a unique manifestation of God – what the New Testament calls “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”– it is also to deny that God is perfect love. In fact it is to suggest that a mere human being could be more loving, more merciful, more giving than God himself. Do we think the man Jesus – or even a very good human person who has sacrificed his life for an enemy – can be more loving or merciful than God? Yet if God himself is not able to self-sacrifically forgive without needing or having to extract justice, then it would seem some humans could be more loving than He is.

So, with all that said, how am I suggesting we understand the atonement? I want to suggest we look at it in the following way.

Imagine a time when someone has done you wrong. Perhaps someone has lied to you or treated you unfairly or stolen from you or made fun of you. Imagine, further, that whatever this person did, it was something truly inexcusable. You had not first lied to them or treated them unfairly. There was no “just retribution” they were fairly repaying against you. They were not “getting even.” They had simply, inexcusably, done you wrong; and because of this you had all the reason in the world to be angry with them and to hold them accountable.

Now, how do you forgive such a person? How do you get over what they did to you and become reconciled with them? You cannot make up an excuse for their behavior, for there was no excuse. Their selfishness came from their deliberate, freely chosen act of will towards you. Strictly speaking such a person does not deserve to be forgiven. For to be forgiven is to be given something that is not by right earned.  How then, if you are committed to doing what is purely right and fair can you forgive such a person? As far as pure morality goes, you are in the right in being upset with them and they are in the wrong for what they did to you.

It seems to me that if you are in this situation there is only one way to forgive the person who offended you, if indeed you are going to forgive them and not sever your relationship with them. You must die to your own self, your own desires, your own justified offence.

All forgiveness – if it is true forgiveness, often we simply “cool off” and are only pretending that we are forgiving – all true forgiveness involves a sort of death to self, a suicide of the ego. You must in a sense just let go of whatever wrong has been done to you and kill the justice inside that is holding the other guilty. The voice that retorts “but they are at fault; they have done you wrong!” has to be just destroyed. It cannot be rationally argued with: indeed, rationally speaking it is correct: you do have good reason to be angry. Yet, if you want to forgive and to be loving, this cry of justice has to be simply suffocated, killed… crucified.

I want to suggest that that is how we at least begin to think about the atonement. Since Christ is the manifestation of God, we can understand God through the acts of Christ. Therefore Christ’s sufferings and death, I believe, can be seen through the lens of a God sacrificing his own ego, his own natural being of holy, just, lovely perfection, in order not to hold sin against those who have freely and inexcusably offended him. To put it in an analogy: the crucifixion is the pattern and manifestation of God killing that voice in his head that is saying that there is no excuse for sin. He is rightly and therefore justly offended by it. Yet God still chooses to love us, which means that in forgiving us he is letting his self and his ego and his justice go. He is in fact crucifying it – for the sake of the one who has wronged him. He is sacrificing his own self, insofar as he really does have a righteous, grounded case against us. Part of his self is there crying out “but this is not right. the fact they have sinned is wrong.” Yet, his love says, “even so, I will kill that part of myself, for I love them.”

On God’s Freedom

“The idea of that which God “could have” done involves a too anthropomorphic conception of God’s freedom. Whatever human freedom means, Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them. Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it.” CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain

There are a host of problems that attend thinking of God’s relationship to the created world that come from, what seems to me, incorrectly imagining God’s power and freedom. To put it shortly, many people think of God as being either “able” to do other than he does or “having” to do what he does. Thinking this way leads people to ask things like “couldn’t God have stopped such and such tragedy” and “couldn’t God have made a universe in which such and such wasn’t possible.”

Imagining God this way is problematic, for this reason. It presupposes that God is, at one point in time, faced with a plurality of options “out there” in front of him which he must choose between. God can perhaps put earth here in this bit of space and put just this many humans on this patch of land and so on. He can make this many stars, this many animals, this many primary colors. He can choose to have Jesus come at this time or that time, die this way or that way, offer salvation in these means or those means. You see the point.

The reason this is problematic is because it really reduces God not to the absolute source and creator of all that exists, but to something that is itself conditioned by outside “possibilities.” But where would such possibilities come from? For God, there can be no such independent possible worlds, existing as brute facts on their own. He is not “confronted” with outer “possible worlds.” Neither does he have “options” (even an infinite number of them) which,  as it were, confine him or hem him in. For again, just who, if not God himself, would be setting up these options; who would be creating them?

The truth is that it is God’s creative and omnipotent will which itself gives possibilities to things. Hugh McCann put it like this: “de re modalities” do not apply to God. That is, the words “possible” and “necessary” describe, not God’s true being and action, but rather the created things which God makes. God himself transcends the categories of Possible and Necessary in the same way he transcends the categories of everything else he has made. God himself created kangaroos, peach cobbler, dandelions, and the color red. Yet he himself is not a kangaroo, a peach cobbler, a dandelion, or the color red. In the same way it seems to me we should think about possibilities and necessities as applying to the created order; not to God’s very essence and action. For it is his very action which imparts possibility and necessity to the world. He alone is what causes the Possible and Necessary to exist.

With this in mind we can simply side step a whole host of theological problems. In particular any one that begins with “could not God have…” we can say is meaningless. God is not and has never been a temporal being who at one point of time faced options. Thus to speak of him as deliberating or weighing choices is meaningless. He simply Is what He Is and does what He does. So also, when we conceive of God’s freedom, we are to think not in terms of him “considering” what he “will” do; but rather in the fact that he alone is the source – the sole generator of – his own action, which he is always timelessly doing. His action is not imparted to him by some other thing; nor is he moved by anything outside himself to do as he does. He simply Is his Action, eternally.

Therefore there are two errors we must avoid in talking about God’s creative will and his causal relationship to the world. The first is in supposing that God “necessarily” created – as if the logic of possibilities compelled him to do as he did. And the second error to avoid is in supposing that God “could have” not created – as if there is some conceivable state of affairs other than God acting as he always is acting eternally. Both of these options reduce God to a temporal being faced with options and then picking something. But God, in his eternal essence, is not like that. He never “was” faced with anything other than what he has been doing timelessly and always. Again, to end with McCann, “If de re necessity does not apply to God then neither does de re possibility apply to God… The foundational reality is simply this: God is.”

On Divine Simplicity

“Even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of the sky, and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness.” CS Lewis, Perelandra

First – “pellucid” means “allowing the maximal passage of light, as glass.” If you knew that already, brovo. I didn’t. I had to look it up. Anyway, on to the post.

Any time we posit God in time or in sequence or undergoing change, we must also imagine a) some common medium in which he moves that can accommodate that change; and b) some reason outside of God that accounts for the change that “happens to him.”

Now a) cannot be true because nothing can so “contain” God. He is what contains all other things, not vice versa. To therefore presuppose some medium that contains God’s changing states one would have to posit something over and outside God which limited him. But then God would not be God, the first cause and creator of all.

If God were simply one more object in a class of other objects he would cease to be God, for there would be explanations prior to him that conditioned him. The cups and cans and cereal boxes are where they are in space because of the cupboard  which holds them. But the cupboard itself is not where it is because of the cups and cans and boxes inside it. Likewise we temporal things pass through space and time and these realities unite all our states of change. In that sense they are “greater” than us and so “contain” us. But nothing can so  encompass or contain God.

And b) cannot be true for the same reason: nothing can act on God. Nothing can “happen” to him for the simple reason that that presupposes some other, equal metaphysical reality over and against God that he is up against. But again God creates everything else that is not himself. Therefore there can be no Absolute Other over and against him. He therefore cannot be passive (for just what thing could act on the source of all other things?) Rather God must be purely active and changeless. He is the one setting the limits to other things and causing them to be what they are.

With these points in mind one can more easily grasp the argument for the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. God can have no “parts” because every part presupposes some whole or overarching medium which itself contains the parts themselves. To split a pizza up into pieces you must first have a pizza. Similarly each individual slice of pizza is the one thing called “pizza” rather than something else, and this is because of the single, encompassing reality of the Pizza as such. But notice, while many pieces of pizza presupposes a single pie from which they were cut, a single pie does not necessarily presuppose many pieces. The singular can exist alone; but the many presupposes the single.

Every division, therefore, presupposes something whole and singular that contains the division, and every set of similar things implies something overarching the set which contains it and gives an explanation or ground for why the set can coexist as a collection of similars. Likewise every contrary implies its opposite: black implies non-black, up implies down, right implies left. And yet again, although parts themselves presuppose something single and whole, something single and whole does not have to presuppose parts. The pizza need not be cut up into pieces. It can remain a single pizza if it wants to. As Aristotle said, that which is Primary has no contrary or opposite. Neither does it have parts, division, undergo change or gain and lose reality. It simply is what is it, and imparts division, change, and becoming on other things.

Therefore God’s being is not divided and is not in any way acted on by some overarching thing above or outside him. For any division would simultaneously imply that there is some larger system – some metaphysical force – which allowed all the diverse parts to work together with each other. Such a “space” or “principle of cohesion” would then by the ultimate explanation and limiting factor for why God was divided the way he is. It would set limits for why one of God’s parts existed in just such and such amount over and against his other parts. But God as the Supreme Being can have no such limitation imparted to Him. Rather, he is the one setting the limits: they all flow from him.

On the Eternal I AM

“The simplest experience of ABC as a succession demands a soul which is not itself a mere succession of states, but rather a permanent bed along which these different portions of the stream of sensation roll, and which recognizes itself as the same beneath them all.” CSL, The Problem Of Pain

I keep coming back to the idea that a temporal God – or a God that undergoes unending sequence – is not fully satisfactory. There are two reasons why: i) aesthetically, my heart yearns for and even demands the eternal, the changeless, the absolute; and ii) philosophically, a state of mere successiveness cannot adequately meet the demands required of the First and Ultimate Cause. My first point you either feel and therefore agree with or you don’t. If you don’t, I don’t wish to convince you. Indeed it seems incoherent to try to compel a desire. You either long for the realm of Eternal Day and feel empty without it of you do not. But if you do not see the second point – that is the philosophical and metaphysical difficulty in supposing that God is in an infinite state (process?) of sheer succession – I would like to show why I think it is problematic.

Picture God as in time “going from” from one state of conscious experience to the next. He knows, for instance, that now you are reading this sentence. He also knows now that you were earlier making your coffee as you pulled up this blog site. And finally, he knows that you will eventually exit this page (and hopefully not think the author had a brain as full of holes as Swiss cheese.)

Now you will notice that in this thought experiment each of God’s “nows” exclude one another. That is, each of his conscious experiences – such as his knowing such and such at a particular time – exists in isolation. And not only that, but each one passes away as soon as the next comes to him (but where does it come from?) This to me, however, presents a problem. For just what is it that allows you to attribute all these changing conscious experiences to a single subject, God? If you say God simply just is his changing experiences, then far from positing a single, unified subject to which the different experiences apply you have split God up into trillions of ephemeral experiences existing in insolation. On the other hand if you say that God is not just his various conscious experiences, but is, deep down and further back, something more that unites them all, in what sense can you say God is in this way temporally changing?

Picture it like this. All who think that God is temporal or experiences becoming suppose it makes sense to imagine that God at some point existed “alone” or “without the world.” If God has no becoming – if in fact he is Pure Being itself – then there never was such a state with him, for “was” is a temporal word implying passage. But to those who think that God in himself changes, nevertheless there is such a state of him existing by himself, alone, without the world.

Now here you have God experiencing two conscious states: him existing alone, and him existing in relation to the world. In one state he knows that he exists alone; and in the next he knows that he exists along with the world. But here comes the difficulty: just what is the subject behind both of these experiences that stays the same throughout the transition? Again, if absolutely everything has changed from the one scenario to the next, then the two subjects cannot be the same. If God is purely temporal, just what is changeless? God’s will has changed, for he went from not willing a creation to willing one; as has God’s knowledge, for at one moment he did not have knowledge of an existing creation, and the next moment he did. God’s experience of his own being must also have changed. For in the first moment he was not a creator and experienced his own fullness, unrelated to any creation. But then he created and thus took on a new conscious experience. So again, I ask, just what “essential” aspect of God has not changed?

Do we want to say his Love? At first this seems plausible. God has remained changelessly loving, both when he existed alone as a Trinity, and then as he existed as a Trinity in relation to the creation. But does the creation itself add any new dimension to his Love? It would seem to, for without creation there can be no sin, and without sin there can be no forgiveness, or self-sacrificial cross. Therefore apart from creation God cannot be forgiving or self-sacrificial. Are we then to think that creation drew forth new dimensions of Love from a being who is the foundation and source of all Love whatsoever? If so, then Love itself has changed, from existing alone in the Trinity without creation, in a pure delight which knew no suffering, sin, forgiveness, endurance or difficulty. It has changed from this sort of Love (which seems more akin to our intuitions of Bliss rather than Love) to a sort of Love which now contends with the creation – which now grieves, has empathy, endures rebellion, suffers and dies on a cross.

And here again we come to a cross roads. Either we say that Love essentially is (that is Timelessly) these very things which it has in relation to creation. That is, we say Love is timelessly all of God’s experiences in relation to creation, such as his grieving, his forgiving, his triumphing, his enduring, his enjoying. Or we say it is not essentially this; and we say that it is rather God’s pure “bliss” that he had alone or before creation. Which one is essentially Love? Which one could still be Love itself, while lacking the other experience?

To take the first path is to conclude that Love really is Timelessly changeless and comprehensive or “containing” all God’s different temporal conscious states. God does not “become” more lovely in creating and then stooping in Human form to suffer with and for us. Rather, that just IS what God’s eternal love looks like. It is, as it were, a timeless diagram of essential Love. We describe this Timeless state imperfectly or incompletely: God is grieved at this time, delighted at this time, suffering at this time, and angry at this time. Yet somehow all these varying descriptions must really be describing what in itself is a single, unified Event or Experience: God’s Timeless I AM. As Lewis said somewhere else, “He came down from Heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.

On the other hand, to take the second path is to say that Love as such – Love qua Love – can change; can become more or other than what it is. Yet this seems absurd. For if God is all Good, and if, indeed, he is The Ultimate Good, it must be good for Love to change. It must be good for God to exist first, alone, loving only himself, and then to exist along with creation, loving himself and it. Yet here we can come back to precisely the same problem. If there are different states or experiences of God – him existing alone and also him existing with a creation – then you must give some unifying principle which makes both of these states “Good.” Indeed, if we can call these two different states both good, that presupposes that Good is bigger than both states individually. Each state would somehow share in or take part of the bigger reality of Goodness itself. Neither one, however, would be the full, absolute Good itself. The same point can be ran using the word “love” instead of “good.” If both God’s state of existing alone without a creation and his state of existing now with one are “loving,” then Love as such must be something further back than either state that God exists in. For both states participate, as it were, in the bigger reality of Love as Love, which itself is Eternal and Changeless. In which case we are led right back around to what I said in the previous paragraph: such a Principle or State of Being must be a) singular and unchanging; and b) comprehensive of all our descriptions of it which are different and refractory.

In other words, it seems we are led even by pure reason to a being who at its core is simply I AM – a being (a reality? a supra-person? a trinity?) who just IS his own act of being, which gets nothing from anything outside himself, and never passes away in any respect. Tolkien says in a letter I cannot now find that the revelation given to Moses on Mt. Sinai is enough to convince a rational person that it was given by, if not God, some super human intelligence. For how extraordinarily odd it is that the Supreme Being, whose existence was reached only after hundreds of years of Greek philosophy, was actually already revealed in the same profundity on a desert mountain when It told Moses his name: “I AM.” No primitive people could make up something so abstract and also so metaphysically and explanitorily powerful. The I AM is so radical that the Hebrews barely even reflect on it. Their Scriptures are not Platonic commentaries on God’s essence being equivalent to His existence; they are not deeply metaphysical speculations about how God is not one more thing that comes into being and passes out if it but is Pure Being, Pure I AM eternally. And yet, there it is: the I Am, recorded by a people who may not have been able to read, a people who were mere years before slaves in Egypt, a people who worshiped a calf made of gold. There, however many hundreds or thousands of years ago, from a people totally unconnected to philosophy, came the same revelation reached, imperfectly and only after much struggle, by the Plato’s and the Scorates’ and Aristotle’s – by some such great minds who gave their lives searching for Truth:

God is He Who Is: His name is “I Am Who Am.”

On God’s Foreknowledge of Possibilities

“God willed the free will of men and angels in spite of His knowledge that it could lead in some cases to sin and then to suffering…” CSL, Letters 6/7/49

To the degree that we are free to do x, it is genuinely possible that we do x. Therefore the fact that we do x cannot be settled before we do it, or that would remove the genuine possibility from our doing x in the first place, and we would not be free to do x. In other words, if our doing x is true before our doing it, then the possibility of x happening would not really be something that we had control over, and performing or not performing it would not be something really possible for us. The genuine possibility of x occurring or not would rest somewhere further back – perhaps in Nature or God’s will – but it would not be found in our free choice.

Many people grant this. In fact all who believe in free will will say that the coming to pass of certain possibilities is genuinely up to us. But at the same time many of these people still hold that God can know, before a possibility is settled, how that possibility will in fact be settled. But I don’t see how this can be.

It seems to me a contradiction to say that God can know a fact as both possible and settled, for to be both possible and settled at the same time is contradictory. What sense would it make to say that I am both “potentially” married and “certainly” married? In fact, to the degree that a thing is possible means that that thing is just so much not settled. And vice versa: for a thing to be settled means that that thing is just so much not possibly different. I am only potentially married if I am not, in fact, actually married. And I am only possibly a father to the extent that I do not actually in the present have any children. In other words, insofar as something is possible, it is not settled; and insofar as a thing is settled, it is not possible.

Here is what follows. If God is in time – and it may be possible for him to be in time in a way that does not exclude his timelessness – then God’s foreknowledge about possible future free choices would itself be knowledge of things possible. This is because what he knows are possibilities, not certainties.

If we have free will, that means we can go either this way or that way. Hence both ways are possible to us. Therefore neither way is settled ahead of time. And if this is so then God’s knowledge of our free will and the matrix of possibilities connected to it would not be of realities that are already settled. This does not mean his knowledge is imperfect or uncertain, anymore than his decision to create free beings makes his omnipotence imperfect or weak. It is just that to the extent that we free (however small or great that is), the what God knows is different than it is regarding things to which we are not free. For what God knows just are free possibilities themselves. Therefore they cannot be settled realities, for that would exclude him knowing them as possibilities. 

This point really comes down to whether or not you think God is able to know possibilities qua possibilities. If he is, then he must know them as open ended realities, as true forks in the road which can either one be taken. He cannot know the same thing as both possibly true and certainly true, for those two metaphysical modalities exclude one another just as right excludes left and good excludes evil. This – along with the grounding objection – is one reason Molinism is an unsatisfactory theory. For if God knows all possibilities ahead of time, even before free creatures exist to actualize them, I can’t see in what sense the possibility is known as a genuine possibility. The facticity of the event is settled from before the foundation of the world, and so never existed as a possibility in the first place.