16 Problems that Arise From Libertarian Free Will

Given libertarian free will, the following difficulties emerge

  1. It is possible that every single person God created could have been lost and that the number of the elect be zero.
  2. It is possible that every human being can live a perfectly sinless life.
  3. It is possible that some people do not need forgiveness of sins, for each person is able to perfectly conform to God’s law.
  4. It is possible that Christ’s death on the cross would not save anyone.
  5. It is possible that God is eternally sorrowful over the lost and that they did not choose him.
  6. God becomes temporal and changing, since he must wait on events in time to determine his knowledge. This makes God finite, since he cannot possess his entire being at once.
  7. Prophecy of future free actions become conditional – but Christ’s death, which itself depends on the free actions of humans, then becomes conditional. Therefore it is possible that Christ not die. Yet Scripture says the lamb was slain “from the foundation of the world.”
  8. God’s providence becomes conditional and how God wants to steer events in the world can be frustrated. God cannot guarantee that an event will occur that comes from a particular free willed action. But many events depend on particular free willed actions. Therefore God cannot guarantee that such events occur.
  9. It is impossible for God to have foreknowledge of future free actions, since he must wait on the future to arrive in order to know what will occur.
  10. It is impossible for God to have timeless knowledge of free actions and also use that knowledge to be provident, since if he is timeless he would become a single eternally passive receiver, and any reaction or response on his part to acts in time would destroy his timelessness and make him temporal himself.
  11. God, since he cannot be timeless if he relates to libertarianly free people, becomes just one more changing and temporal being, which cannot explain its own existence. For a temporal being cannot itself produce time and space. Thus a temporal being cannot create ex nihilo and God could not have created the entire space-time manifold itself.
  12. Do choices presuppose motives, or motives choices? If the former, then we do not choose our motives, and libertarian free will is false. If the later, then libertarian free will is irrational, for we would lack a ground for preferring one motive rather than another in the choosing of our motives.
  13. How do we explain the universal testimony of human experience that all people do and will sin? If libertarian free will is true, this becomes an instance of the greatest case of bad luck in history (literally).
  14. If God passively receives something (say knowledge, or a fulfilled desire) from a source outside himself, then he is essentially dependent on something outside himself for his existence. But God as first cause is outside the whole order of created things and does not require something else to exist the way he does. Thus God cannot depend on the creation. Rather the creation depends on him. But then God cannot receive being from libertarian free choices, and so they cannot exist.
  15. If libertarian freedom is necessary for human goodness, then in order to have human goodness Christ as man could have sinned. But if it was possible for Christ to sin then it was possible for the second person of the Trinity to be in disunion with the first person. But this is impossible. Thus Christ as man could not have been libertarianly free.
  16. God’s salvific will, even presupposing libertarian freedom, is still qualified or limited, insofar as God only desires to save those who do such and such (believe, trust in him, do good, et al.) Thus, God still only conditionally desires salvation even granting libertarian free will, otherwise he would unconditionally give eternal life and joy to even those who did not meet a particular criteria for salvation.

24 thoughts on “16 Problems that Arise From Libertarian Free Will

  1. Tom

    OK, I’ll try. And I’ll use PL for proponent of libertarian free will. I can only comment on No. 1 right now.

    Re: 1. Three things:

    (1) Assuming it’s conceivable that every will reject God, it is not rational grounds for worry. Look, if I place in a bucket just those Scrabble letters required to lay out Psalm 23 and toss them from the Eiffel Tower, it really is “possible” that the letters fall such that Ps 23 is correctly formed on the ground below. That possibility generates no contradictions however unlikely it is. But no rational person would bank anything on its occurring. Given that God’s got plenty of time, and is infinitely patient, and unconditional love, and immeasurably wise and resourceful – I can’t see granting this first worry of yours any weight.

    (2) That said, a PL can very plausibly deny that any sentient beings are irrevocably lost to God by positing the impossibility of irrevocable foreclosure upon all possibility of Godward movement. It is not entailed in a libertarian view of the will that it be absolutely free from all antecedent teleological constraints. That is, it doesn’t follow from libertarian free will that I have it within my will to foreclose upon all possibility of moving in God’s direction.

    (3) Finally, what are your options? Assuming the truth of your No. 1, is the infinite unlikelihood that all are irreversibly lost really any more morally objectionable than any of the non-libertarian options one is left with in which a God who doesn’t depend upon any libertarian metaphysical constraints whatsoever to secure his purposes, nevertheless inscrutable consigns the vast majority to an eternal hell? You No. 1 can easy rephrased to constitute an objection to benevolent theism itself once you adopt the traditional view on hell.

    I hope 2-16 are more substantial than 1!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      Point 1 assumes the possibility of eternal damnation. If you don’t accept that possibility, then it won’t resonate. We can talk about that another time maybe. But if one DOES accept a traditional picture where people can be lost, comparing the eternal fate of souls to “scrabble letters” trivializes God’s project in creation, both from his perspective and the creatures.


  2. Tom

    Re: 2. Ditto No. 1. Assuming it’s conceivable (abstractly, in terms purely of definitions and mathematics) that creation might have moved from beginning to final perfection in God without any hitches – so what? What theological problem does that generate for you? Doesn’t generate any for me. For example – it doesn’t entail a Pelagian denial (if he actually denied it) of the necessity of grace for human perfection; nor does it negate the necessity of Incarnation and its role in bring created nature to fulfillment. We need grace and incarnation because we’re created and finite – not JUST because we’re sinners.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      If you’re admitting it’s possible – abstractly or no – that every human could live a perfectly sinless life, then that’s all the work I’m trying to do here. It just strikes me as fantastic, in the sense that the whole role of God and Christ in the world could have been so absolutely different than it in fact was. Point 2 is not a logical problem: you could hold it. It would just totally change God’s intent in sending Christ – to such a degree that the lamb wouldn’t have been slain “from the foundation of the world.”


  3. Tom

    Re: 3. It doesn’t at all follow that IF we sin libertarianly that we wouldn’t need the grace of forgiveness. We would. But if (to go with the your number 3) one were to “make it” without such failure, all that follow is that they don’t require “forgiveness.” It doesn’t follow that they achieved their perfection apart from grace. Grace invites and enables created finitude into perfection. One doesn’t have to be a “sinner” to know one is nothing without God and requires God’s grace and empowerment to achieve the perfection of nature.

    Re: 4. These are repeating the same fundamental view of grace and perfection. If nobody is a “sinner,” then the Incarnate Christ isn’t “crucified” by anyone. So? I mean – so long as we’re imagining things that didn’t happen. So what? But if your point here in No. 4 seems to be that in the event there are sinners for whom Christ died and none of them come to faith that a moral or metaphysical catastrophe has occurred? Why think that? Again, what are your options Chris? You want to hand hell and the possibility that none are saved around the neck of libertarianism but not call non-libertarian models to account –as if they fair any better. So Christ dies for people who reject him eternally? This is more morally offensive than that God, not constrained by libertarian metaphysics to secure anyone’s destiny, should create on the condition, or positively will, that vast numbers of people for whom Christ died suffer forever? Or that those who need his death to secure their perfection should not be intentionally embraced within the scope of those “for whom” Christ died?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      3: I’m not denying we need grace. I’m just pointing out that the universal message of “repent” and “be baptized for the remission of sins” could perhaps fall on the wrong ears. A few could pipe up (and how would you refute them?) that they had never sinned and so didn’t need any forgiveness.

      4. It does appear to me a metaphysical catastrophe (awesome phrase btw) for 2 reasons: a) the crucifixion cannot be guaranteed to even occur on a view in which God is not omnicausally active; and b) Christ could have died for potentially no one. He could have failed to accomplish what he intended re his act of crucifixion. Why was Christ crucified? Was that purpose absolutely and entirely accomplished? Was it part of his humanly perfect will and desire to save? And was that desire frustrated? Then is he eternally sorrowful? Was he just really upset, but now is better? The question is, what was the will of the Father and Son in the crucifixion in terms of its efficacy?

      I’m not convinced the traditional doctrine of Hell is false. (I don’t want it to be true emotionally, but logically I haven’t seen any convincing arguments.) You don’t really present one above, except to say you find it unappealing emotionally that God permits some to be lost that he could save. Now, that is a good question, but I don’t see how God is obliged to give beatitude to any being. Remember, on the classic doctrine things are good – they have goodness – just insofar as God first gives it to them. So it is not as if he is looking at some being that is necessarily deserving of some blessing which he has to give to it. There are not otherwise good people that are lost that really actually deserve beatitude. Why can’t God create beings “on the fringe” of non-being – give them only rudimentary goods – and permit all the evil (privation) that he chooses to permit in them?


  4. Tom

    Re: No. 5. Libertarian free will implies absolutely nothing about the (im)possibility of the divine nature. This has nothing to do with LFW per se.

    Re: No. 6. Chris, you have to know that many libertarians would dismiss this immediately. There’s no straight-unambiguous line from LFW to divine temporality. But even if it were true that presentism does implicate God’s knowledge of the world in change (and I agree it does), it doesn’t follow that God sits waiting to find out what happened so that he can then conform his knowledge to the past.

    Re: No. 7. This begs the question. If one assumes actus purus such that anything God knows about the temporal world God must immutably/eternally know – i.e., if God’s knowledge of the contingent world constitutes God’s metaphysically necessary essence, then yes – then sure, you’re right. But Chris, it’s not like God’s having eternal-immutable knowledge of temporal contingencies is ANY LESS problematic. So far, non-libertarians are bailing water on all the points you’re described. Everybody struggles with conceiving of necessity/contingency in God. If you stick your finger in the LFW hole, you expose at least an equally (if not more) frustrating apporia elsewhere along the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      5: If God’s desire re creation is our salvation, and our salvation depends on our free choice, then insofar as our free choice is not securing our salvation God’s desire is frustrated. I don’t understand what God actually desires re recreation on your view Tom. He is impassible, and so his experience isn’t diminished by what goes on. How then can he have any desire or care regarding what happens to us? Does he just desire our freedom per se, and since that is always attained on your view he is always getting what he wants?

      6. They may dismiss it, but I’d ask them to substantiate why. How can God know what a free being “will do” in the future without himself causing (in some sense) that being’s act? You’ve admitted presentism makes God temporal and changing. But even timelessly, God would just be one eternally passive receiver of knowledge. And I’m not saying God has to wait around to know what he “would do.” You could say he already has stored up in his mind all possible reactions he could make (but when did he decide on these?) Rather, I’m saying that God’s *own knowledge of his present actions* would itself be changing – and thus God would be essentially temporal and changing. No view that maintains libertarian freedom can escape either God being a) temporal and changing, with respect to his OWN knowledge of his temporal and changing relation to the world or God being b) an eternally passive receiver. If you disagree I’d like to see how either a) or b) can be avoided.

      7. But I don’t think actus purus is equally problematic with respect to this problem of futuribles. In fact it’s the only way I can see to ground God’s perfect foreknowledge of contingencies: he knows them by knowing his own causal action at every moment of time. Now there – that at least suggests how God could know future free choices. But so far I’ve seen nothing to actually address the “problem” with LFW here, which is that God can’t ensure or foreknow them. You either think God can know them or that he can’t. If you think he can know them, then you can’t hold a metaphysic which makes that impossible or contradictory. If you think he can’t know them, then you have other (scriptural and providential) problems.


  5. Tom

    It’s so interesting to observe how other people connect the dots and are influenced by different possibilities. Almost everything in your 16 points strikes me as inconsequential, but I completely respect the force they have with you. I know my own positions mystify others too, so I’m not gonna judge.

    I’ll not continue through your whole 16 then. I think they all boil down to a few issues. Maybe we can discuss those. But we’d never get through all 16 if we had to pick through each line. And I do wanna engage some of your responses if only to clarify my position, and my numbering isn’t related the order of your 16.

    (1) On probabilities and the systematic weight of concern we given them. Obviously I’m not comparing the worth or fate of souls to Scrabble letters. I was just conceptualizing the probability (as a probability or likelihood) that meant so much to you. I was granting the possibility for the sake of argument. Personally, however, I agree that this probability, as you say, fantastic. My point is that libertarianism being true doesn’t make that possibility (of evil never arising) other than fantastic.

    Expand the math a bit when deciding what you mean by “historically possible” (which is what we’re talking about). Just because some imagined possibility is definitionally or “logically” conceivable doesn’t make its historical probability other than fantastic. It would be completely irrational to think that possibility has to undermine believing and living contrary to the math. That’s what the Scrabble letters were about (not reducing the worth of human beings to Scrabble letters).

    Take a parallel example – quantum mechanics. Given quantum mechanics, it’s possible that the tennis ball I strike with my racket pass through the racket instead of rebounding in the opposite direction. Likewise my foot may ‘possibly’ pass through the brake pedal of my car when I want it to stop. Claiming these ‘might’ happen generates no contradiction of physical law. But nobody affords these possibilities any role undermining our dependence upon the regularities of life.

    So let’s expand what we take future possibilities to account for in deciding what a rational, justified expectation is. That involves more than just extending a mathematical indeterminate probability out into the future. We have to contextualize the math in terms of other factors – finitude, mortality, ignorance, amoral physical suffering, etc. There’s a lot that a libertarian world has to manage which – even if one can imagine certain possibilities when focused on a single factor – when you back up and take in the whole, the probability of evil not arising is so infinitesimal one would be irrational to afford it any concern. On an emotional, systematic, or providential level the possibility is equivalent to an impossibility. God knows – I think – that where everybody has LFW, things are gonna go south eventually. That’s a foregone conclusion.

    The crucial point on your first point, though, is that once you reject LFW, you’re left with a God who doesn’t have to accommodate achieving his ends for people to a libertarian metaphysics. But strangely, you find it less fantastic to ground the vast numbers of people who are irrevocably lost to the mystery of divine will. I can’t help but feel at this point it’s not about the math of libertarian outcomes anymore.

    (2) You seem to have an understanding of “slain from the foundation of the world” which you suppose is problematic for a libertarian because it “might” have turned out that Christ was not slain. But he was slain before the world began, so it must be impossible that he not be slain. I don’t see a problem here. On the one hand, some prophecies we know to be conditional (because they never occurred as foretold – take the prophecies regarding Tyre in the OT) are nevertheless originally stated in unconditional, matter of fact terms. It’s only after events don’t conform to former predictions that we conclude any contingency qualified the event. But it doesn’t follow that had the events gone according to prediction that they were other than conditional. Conditionality permit both outcomes. My point is, it doesn’t follow from Peter’s statement that the actual events of Christ’s suffering manifested a “plan” antecedent to creation that history could not have unfolded differently than it did. This is just definitionally true.

    Consider any contingent commitment of love you make. Take the vows you made to your wife the day you got married – to love, to cherish, protect, etc. Let’s say (hypothetically of course) that you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of choosing to give your life for your wife. Let me ask you, Chris: On the assumption that the love that grounded your vows is the same genuine love that empowers you to die for her, is it not the case that you were “slain before the foundation of your marriage”? I’d argue yes. You vowed to do whatever it took to protect her when you married her. You didn’t ONLY decide that loving her equated to dying for her when you stood deliberating giving your life for her. No – the commitment to die for her ‘should it be necessary’ was made when you entered upon the vows of marriage. The point can’t be dismissed by sleight of hand. When you offer your life for her you are manifesting the same love that motivated marriage to her in the first place, and the sacrifice of your life is completely and fully entailed in love’s pledge. I don’t imagine the Triune Persons sat around deliberating it, but if we were to unpack it in such crude terms, we could imagine something like this: “If we create, and endow sentient beings with freedom to resolve themselves with respect to love, we might be called upon to demonstrate our love by surrendering ourselves to the worst forms of violence this freedom is capable of? Are we OK with that? Yes!” What is Peter supposed to say? “God never saw THAT coming, but I’m sure glad he found it within himself to die for us!” No. He says, “No expenditure of love was not contemplated and thus enfolded in the primordial choice to create.” When it came time to pay the price of love, God does not THEN concoct a plan. He enacts a primordial plan whose wisdom and love contemplated and accepted every price.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      A lot I could comment on here.

      1. You want to claim that God knows “everything will go south eventually” is a practical certainty, even if it is logically possible that that not occur. You use quantum mechanics to show how it’s possible for my tooth brush to miss every tooth in my head while I brush my teeth (like the image?) I get all that. My point is that every possible outcome – say that there are this many sins at time 1 or this degree of sinfulness at time 2 – every possible matrix you come up with is as equally fantastic. Now, as I said before, there’s nothing logically wrong with this. You could hold (as Open Theists do) that God is so intelligent he factored into his creative process (both natural laws and his own responses) every possible creaturely scenario that could arise. But that’s very different from saying that God has a particular plan he is bringing about through an ordained means. The question is whether or not God ever relies on libertarian choices to serve as the means towards whatever end he is trying to bring about. If he does rely on these, then his end is to *that degree* subject to failure. If, however, he will ensure his end irrespective of creaturely causation acting independently of his ordination and omnicausal power, then I can’t see what work libertarian freedom is doing in the first place. That’s all I’m saying. I concede your point insofar as that God would not be any less prepared, etc.

      2. I get the analogy. It’s a good one. The lamb slain could be interpreted as “the lamb that is *hypothetically* slain, if it comes to that.” I concede if you interpret God as omniadaptive then he could pre-consider all possible reactions to all possible choices (though this view leads to miracles becoming arbitrary exercises of power.) But again, if this is so then God cannot have a specific end in view that he can guarantee will occur, at least if it depends on a (or some combination of) libertarian choices.

      If, in order to acquire C, A depends on B doing X, and B may or may not do X, then A may or may not acquire C. On the other hand if in order for A to acquire C it doesn’t matter if B does X, then A does not really depend on B for its outcome of acquiring C. In which case B being able to do X or not becomes irrelevant, insofar as A’s desired goal goes.

      For God’s outcome in creation – whatever you hold that is – to attain it does he depend on something else, which may or may not occur (this could even be one single libertarian choice that doesn’t go his way)? If so, then how does it not follow that God’s purpose can be thwarted (even once)? And if God’s purpose can be thwarted, how does this not disturb God in any way? On the other hand, if God is not disturbed when his purpose is thwarted, then why does he attempt to attain the goal, since he is indifferent to its outcome (how could he have a goal that he does not desire will come to pass)? But if failing does in fact disturb God, how is he a se, impassible, independent and first cause?

      3. About the lost. I’ll get to that in my next comment.


  6. Tom

    Following up on my previous responses:

    (3) While I take Incarnation to figure into creation’s purpose definitionally (that is, Incarnation and Creation constitute a single, indivisible possibility), I don’t take crucifixion for sin due to the spread of evil as inhering in the possibility of creation the same way. Why? For precisely the reasons you point out – creation’s history is (however infinitesimaly) conceivably distinguishable from the possibility of evil. But creation is not conceivable as distinguishable from grace and Incarnation.

    Re: the possibility of a world full of people who are evil and given to sin and others who “just happen” to have employed their LFW rightly and so are sinless – you’re imagine something along the lines of a tennis ball passing through a number of rackets sufficient to stretch from one end of the universe to the other. You can imagine preaching the gospel to the wrong people, and that seems unimaginable to you. This feels more like Science Fiction to me, Christ. I don’t know how to reasonably bring such concerns to bear upon theological commitments. As I say, God knows that given the indeterminacies of created will, the finitude of our cognitive capacities, the limited perspectives that inform our choosing, our mortality, etc. – thing will go south very soon. And when they go south – the whole gets implicated and goes south for. The probability of them not going south at all is more imaginable (and it’s unimaginable to me!) than the probability of them going south and remaining south only for some.

    (4) You ask why Christ was crucified. Not to “pay” for the actual sins we commit, or “buy” back our souls from Satan. Christ died to demonstrate his love for us, to declare that we are in fact already loved and forgiven. Forgiveness isn’t consequence of the Cross. Quite the opposite. Forgiveness motivates the sacrifice of love on the Cross. Was that purpose accomplished? I think so. Ask yourself whether the Cross embodied a demonstration of God’s love sufficient in its power and narrative to heal the worst we can make of ourselves. How do you answer? If yes, then there’s your answer. The Cross remains God’s definitive declaration of love and abiding provision of healing presence. But what if someone by their LFW manages to live sinlessly and not need the redemption the Cross provides? Dude – will then not need the grace and love displayed in the Cross for the wicked? Jesus never sinned – Did he not depend upon the Spirit’s love and gracious provision? That that grace should offer itself to the sinful in ways the sinful require doesn’t mean the righteous don’t equally require it – and the truly righteous KNOW this.

    (5) You ask: “Why can’t God create beings ‘on the fringe’ of non-being – give them only rudimentary goods – and permit all the evil (privation) that he chooses to permit in them?”

    If you don’t find problematic God’s insuring such privation by withhold grace that (on this view) he knows is sufficient to secure their highest good in him, then we’re evaluating things from a set of very different moral intuitions and perceptions.

    (6) You ask: “I don’t understand what God actually desires re creation on your view Tom. He is impassible, and so his experience isn’t diminished by what goes on. How then can he have any desire or care regarding what happens to us?”

    Wait a sec. On your new Aquinian view God is impassible and absolutely immutable. So whatever problems you have with my impassibility, they’re your problems too. I’ve explained how undiminished beatitude is compatible with willing and pursing the highest good of what God creates. [https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/divine-experience-of-beatitude-the-summum-bonum-part-2/] God doesn’t need our pain to first diminish him so he can THEN be motivated to pursue our highest good. His beatitude IS our highest good. In my view, God desires our highest good in him. That his creative venture is gratuitous in the sense that God isn’t achieving HIS OWN personal fulfillment in the venture doesn’t mean he wills for us (or COULD will for us) a good for us other than the good he wills for and as himself.

    Forgive any typos! They’re each ‘contingent’ by definition but ‘determined’ when you consider how much I type over a period of time. I’m GONNA make mistakes!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      3. I concede what I conceded above and push the points I pushed above.

      4. I would hold Christ’s death both sufficient AND efficacious to save. Do you not think holding it only sufficient but not efficacious is seriously problematic? You speak of impassibility. But Tom, on your view, God’s main mission in the Incarnation – if in fact you think that was to die on a cross (which was an eternal contingency that somehow became settled at some arbitrary point in time when enough people sinned?) – God’s main mission in coming to earth and dying on the cross, which was to actually *secure* salvation — to REALLY SAVE people — that could have failed on your view. If all he’s able to do is just make that salvation possible but not actually bring it about, how is God not the biggest failure every time Christ’s death is ineffectual? It’s like the question I posed above. Just what, specifically, is God trying to attain in Christ’s death? The actual salvation of sinners, or only their potential salvation? If the former – omnicausality can give that to you. But if the later – well, you’ll have to explain how God can have a desired end that he can fail to obtain (for any random number of people any number of times) which still somehow doesn’t upset him or cause any defeat in, any lessening of, his fulfillment. If God has set himself this task to pursue and he can fail at it, how do the failures not detract from what he’s trying to bring about, and how are they not opposed to his will, and thus his desire? If Christ’s death is rejected even just one time for a tiny moment by someone, how is God not upset with respect to that rejection?

      5. The distinction on the Thomistic view Tom (irony?) is that between sufficient and efficacious grace. God gives all – even the lost – sufficient grace. But that grace will not blossom into efficacious grace unless it is so moved by God. “Sufficient” is a true mode of being – just like “contingent.” It need not pass over into whatever it is in potency towards to actually BE in potency towards said object.

      Now, as to why God does not give efficacious grace to all beings he makes, as I’ve said, I’ve seen no argument to suppose that God needs to give efficacious grace to any beings at all. On the classic view God does not need creation period. He is not enriched by it, so it is not the case that he is under some obligation to it. Nor is there any contradiction in supposing he in fact creates beings and allows whatever manner of privation he wishes to allow in them. He could if he chose allow hellishly rebellious creatures to exist, all the while supplying them various rudimentary goods, such as existence and whatever bent desire that exists in their twisted wills.

      Your argument presupposes that there are innocent people just out there independent of God’s causative power that have some sort of inherent goodness, and that God, not recognizing that goodness, is unfair to them or cruel. What you’re actually doing is imagining an innocent creature who loves God and who truly desires salvation – i.e. a creature who God has actually already begun to justify and impart such a goodness into. There is no being who really WANTS God who will not get him. The key is to know that that very wanting and craving of the divine light comes first from God himself.

      6. I think I’ve addressed this in questions earlier on, which ask how God could be undiminished by the world if he requires or depends on libertarian choices to bring about his own goals in creation. On my view, God is impassible JUST BECAUSE he imparts all goodness omnicausally in creation proper, so I don’t think I suffer from the same problems you do.

      7. I’m still not totally clear on your conception of God, so perhaps you could answer a few questions for me which will help me understand better.

      a) Do you think the Scriptural writers understood God’s foreknowledge to mean that he did not know futuribles that depended on free choices?
      b) Do you think God changes in any respect – i.e. do you think God is a species of becoming?
      c) Do you think creation ex nihilo is compatible with a temporal God?
      d) Do you think Christ in his human nature possessed libertarian freedom with regards to “love”?


    2. malcolmsnotes Post author

      You know, in thinking about your view it seems you could say that God does desire and depend on creaturely actions for his created outcome of the universe but that he doesn’t depend on the created outcome of the universe for his own happiness. So you could say something like “God creates free beings so that they will become such and such, but that they become such and such, or even that they are free at all, is not something God does to enrich his happiness. Why then does he do it? Not for any good of his own, but for the creatures own good.”

      And if you say this I think we’d basically be saying the same thing. However, you want to put God’s desires back into creation by saying he “has” to make a universe in which every creature reaches beatitude. This obligation on God’s part is inconsistent with his impassibility, aseity, etc.

      (And also, of course, the whole timeless thing, where God is a species of becoming, would be a point of disagreement. That is another seeming inconsistency to me, insofar as whatever becomes already presupposes some bigger reality that is able to ACCOMMODATE the becoming itself. But maybe we can talk about that later.)


      1. Tom

        Yes, I’d say God’s desires for creation depend in different ways upon creation while God’s desires for God’s own triune identity and fullness don’t at all depend upon creation. So as you say, God creates free creatures but that constituting or fulfilling God’s own triune happiness is not among the purposes for which God creates. I imagine there is, as you note, a sense in which we’re saying the same thing (though I’m not seeing that sense so clearly), but let me just clarify a couple of points:

        (1) I wouldn’t at all know how to affirm the creative gratuity of the God’s triune benevolence were I also to say, with you, that God freely wills to bring some to loving union with him and freely wills something else for the rest who suffer forever.

        (2) I don’t at all suppose that God “has” to, or is “obligated” to, make a universe in which all are fulfilled in him. The necessity by which God loves what he freely creates fulfills no “obligation.” God doesn’t love us “in obedience to” or “in conformity to” any metaphysical rule or law that prescribes for God what “the Good” is. But that God’s love does not conform to any law or reality external to his own essential goodness does not permit us to suppose it’s perfectly consistent for him to will the efficient salvation of some and not of others. God doesn’t “have” to create a world whose consummation is union with him, but it doesn’t follow from this that he can will himself as the end of only some of those he creates. I think it just happens to follow from the unconditional loving nature of God that all possibilities grounded in that nature are equally embraced and defined by the goodness and benevolence of its intentions.

        (3) I don’t think God in his essential triune identity or the plenitude of his beatitude is a subject of temporal becoming.


      2. Tom

        I hate typos.

        “(1) I wouldn’t at all know how to affirm the creative gratuity of THE God’s triune benevolence….” Take the “THE” out. Grrr.


  7. Tom

    Chris, I’ll try to offer brief, insufficient, and confusing answers to your questions! :o)

    (1) “Do you think the Scriptural writers understood God’s foreknowledge to mean that he did not know futuribles that depended on free choices?”
    I don’t imagine biblical authors were explicitly open theists, no. But I don’t think they’re entirely consistent either. I imagine Paul comes as close to anyone to having reflected on such possibilities. But for the most part, no. But you commented on my answer to this previously!

    (2) “Do you think God changes in any respect – i.e. do you think God is a species of becoming?”
    Well, that’s hard to answer since I don’t think it follows from God’s “changing in some respect” that God is therefore “a species of becoming.” Had you asked, “Do you think God changes in any respect?” I would’ve answered ‘yes’. But if you define “change in any respect” as reducing God to being “a species of becoming,” I’d have to answer ‘no’. I think God is an infinite specious present, but you already knew that as well! https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/gods-infinite-specious-present/

    (3) “Do you think creation ex nihilo is compatible with a temporal God?”
    I think it’s compatible with God’s being infinite specious present.

    (4) “Do you think Christ in his human nature possessed libertarian freedom with regards to love?”
    I incline to answering ‘no’ on that, but I’m open to considering arguments for the peccability of Christ’s human nature. I haven’t run across any convincing arguments. I explore it in relationship to Greg here:


    1. malcolmsnotes Post author

      Reading over my previous comments is fun. I don’t pretend to be completely consistent! I’m trying to think through these things as best I can.

      I need to think more about your view Tom, in particular the specious present. It’s hard for me to understand how God can have ends he is trying to bring about (the salvation of all) without being invested in his project such that he is upset or emotionally negatively impacted by what the creation does. Do you think of God as a sort of eternal optimist? I.e. no matter what happens, his perspective is one that necessarily grasps onto all the good (or potential good) that exists at a given time? He’s so intelligent he knows being upset is a waste of time, sorta thing?

      I admit, thinking that God has created souls that he could have just as easily saved (since he infallibly moves the will however he wants) but that he chooses to be lost is a depressing, cold thought. Life is certainly less warm, less colorful when I think this way. I don’t WANT the Thomistic doctrine to be true. It just has a structure that can make sense of other data – absolutely providence, foreknowledge, aseity, impassibility, Scriptural language on predestination/hell, etc.

      Also, if creatures can “impact” God (at least in terms of his knowledge and interaction with them, not in terms of his intra-trinitarian plenitude) I need to get a better understanding of what this means regarding God’s nature/properties/essence apart from creation, and the subsequent change that took place in light of creation. This is one of my main obstacles to being able to hold an Open perspective: I can’t connect God’s being apart from creation (before?) to that being alongside creation, for it seems like I’m talking about two beings. William Lane Craig believes God was timeless “sans” creation and became temporal at the moment of creation. I would like to read more about this and weigh it’s positives and negatives but can’t find much engagement with the idea. If God was timeless “sans” creation, would that not mean “before”, and if so, is God not already in some sort of time sequence that stands at least in a relation to “leading to” what is “after”? And if it does not mean “before” – is it false to say that sans creation the proposition “God will create the universe” is true? But then if that is false, how can God create the universe?

      By the way – you’re awesome. And I’m gonna ball all over you in the afterlife.


      1. Tom

        Thanks for the great convo Bro. I’m always challenged by our back-and-forths and I come away grateful.

        Chris: It’s hard for me to understand how God can have ends he is trying to bring about (the salvation of all) without being invested in his project such that he is upset or emotionally negatively impacted by what the creation does.

        Tom: I’m not saying God isn’t “invested” as such. Incarnation is investment. But you’re right, I don’t explain it “such that” God’s beatitude is diminished in any measure. But we do experience this in our own way too: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/divine-owie/.

        Chris: Do you think of God as a sort of eternal optimist? I.e. no matter what happens, his perspective is one that necessarily grasps onto all the good (or potential good) that exists at a given time? He’s so intelligent he knows being upset is a waste of time, sorta thing?

        Tom: Precisely. The above analogy shows we also sometimes relate within such a perspective in the presence of the suffering of those we love. In our case the “perspective” that supplies “joy unspeakable and full of glory” is given to us – we don’t generate that experience within our own resources. We can’t. But for God, by definition that experienced beatitude is generated within his own triune resources, and it already is the good to which all created things tend. So God has a perspective on himself and us that no suffering can deconstruct Evil and suffering can’t become a narrative more fundamental that the narrative of necessary, triune plenitude.

        Chris: I admit, thinking that God has created souls that he could have just as easily saved (since he infallibly moves the will however he wants) but that he chooses to be lost is a depressing, cold thought. Life is certainly less warm, less colorful when I think this way.

        Tom: I take this aesthetic dimension very seriously. I know we’re imperfect, so we can get a perverted sort of pleasure out of sick things, but the truth is supposed to empower our living the Kingdom. And the Kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” If I look at the truth of God as I best perceive it and I admit it’s depressing, that’d be tough!

        Chris: I don’t WANT the Thomistic doctrine to be true. It just has a structure that can make sense of other data – absolutely providence, foreknowledge, aseity, impassibility, Scriptural language on predestination/hell, etc.

        Tom: I’m not understanding something. Above you say you can’t imagine God ‘not’ being negatively impacted in his experience on an emotional/aesthetic level in the presence of evil and suffering – i.e., you can’t imagine impassibilism. You expect that if God loves and cares about the world, he hurts when it hurts. So my take on apatheia is a problem. But you’re solution is not a stronger passibilism, but just doubling down on impassibilism (Thomism). How is God’s experienced beatitude diminished in Thomism?

        Chris: This is one of my main obstacles to being able to hold an Open perspective: I can’t connect God’s being apart from creation (before?) to that being alongside creation, for it seems like I’m talking about two beings.

        Tom: Totally agree. I can’t get with WLC’s view there. The ‘specious present’ view (for me, inspired by Boyd, Bulgakov and Balthasar – three B’s!) isn’t Craig’s view. For Craig, God’s abandonment of an atemporal mode of being for a temporal mode is so absolute God becomes a subject of becoming on every level once he creates. That’s problematic for me.

        Chris: …do you think he has a perfect knowledge of what he would do in any situation that’s brought about by creatures? And if so, does this rob him of freedom in any respect? (I.e. since it is a problem for God to foreknow free creaturely actions since it would remove free will is it a problem for God’s freedom that he foreknows his own actions?)

        Tom: I do think God knows all possibilities, and those include what God would do in various contingent situations. But I don’t think God is libertarianly free with respect to the good, so there are no such options to consider for him – though there are for us. So the future is open for God to that extent, but not in the sense that whether or not God will be good and loving is ‘open’. So what God as the good will do ‘should I choose A and not B’ can be foreknown.


    2. malcolmsnotes Post author

      Also, Tom, if you think God is in time, do you think he has a perfect knowledge of what he would do in any situation that’s brought about by creatures? And if so, does this rob him of freedom in any respect? (I.e. since it is a problem for God to foreknow free creaturely actions since it would remove free will is it a problem for God’s freedom that he foreknows his own actions?)


    3. malcolmsnotes Post author

      I can’t reply to your latest post. Since you don’t buy WLC’s timelessness sans creation, do you go the route of Swinburne and say that God existed changelessly in unmetric time (i.e. he endured infinitely into the past) before creation? Or do you think it makes sense to say that God has eternally (without beginning) existed in a changing triune relation, prior to creation? Or, do you think it possible that God has eternally created, and that ex nihilo applies only to THIS universe but that God has eternally been creating universes forever?

      The problem I have is figuring out where to “start” with God re his ad intra existence. It seems if you start with him alone, without creation, then you introduce some cataclysmic (essential) change in him once he creates. He has to undergo a complete mental change, insofar as his decision to create would establish all new parameters as regards the propositional content of his knowledge. For instance, before creation the following would be true, and God would know it: “I am not related to a created world.” After creation that would be false, and God would know that. So now you have two bits of consciousness, both attributed to the same being. But don’t you have to posit some unchanging medium that can itself accommodate these two changing states? Would we say that that is just God’s nature – itself beyond and grounding his own conscious being? Thus could you say that God’s unchanging nature has eternally “encompassed” his eternally changing conscious states which involve volition, knowledge, creative love, etc?


      1. Tom

        All good questions! Pretty much all of them have come up now and then in my own posts.

        I start with a positive affirmation and the rest flows from that. The positive affirmation is the triune plenitude: the ontological plenitude of Father, Son and Spirit in their mutual knowledge, love and infinite beauty (experienced beatitude). I don’t pull that out of my hat as a purely philosophical conclusion (I don’t think), but I get that starting point Christologically – from the grace and love of the gospel. So if we want to say the grace and love of Christ are the starting point, fine.

        Other things follow, I think, from infinite graciousness, love and beauty of the Father, Son and Spirit that have to do with your questions:

        – affirming ex nihilo absolutely (i.e., not an infinite series of ex nihilo worlds),
        – denying that God in his triune fullness is subject to temporal becoming (i.e., God doesn’t “take time” to “become” the triune God of infinite beauty and goodness),
        – denying that the triune experience of beatitude is contingent upon anything created (i.e., apatheia as “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” or “experienced beatitude”).
        – affirming a minimal notion of divine simplicity (i.e., the triune relations in their absolutely fullness and beatitude are not constructed or composed of metaphysical parts more fundamental to that fullness).

        What I’m not at all convinced of is that this triune beatitude precludes the possibility of all conceivable temporal experience. Certainly the triune relations in their self-constituting fullness can’t be subject to temporal becoming. But that this God cannot have temporal experiences that are not self-constituting (relative to the triune relations) is not at all obvious. I think once you have a creation (and we obviously do), God’s knowledge of the world changes.

        And that’s about it. I can’t produce for inspection an instance of God’s self-constituting fullness which is not temporal becoming but from which time flows, but that it is so seems to me to be implied in every other experience we have. I don’t know if Swinburne’s approach can accommodate my affirmations and denials. Certainly Craig’s view can’t. Nor can Oord’s view or other standard Process views. The traditional “Eternal Now” (God timelessly present to and throughout the entirety of our temporal process) makes less sense to me than Process’ eternally temporal God.

        The most helpful way I have to imagine it is to identify God’s antecedent triune actuality in its fullness as an “infinite specious present” which, though it is not a moment of temporal becoming (its present is not constituted as memory of its past and anticipation of its future), can nevertheless accommodate temporal experience WITHIN its moment of fullness, experiences that contingently and gratuitously express (rather than constitute) that fullness.

        I start with this antecedent fullness because to the extent we read the determination to create into that moment of triune fullness we compromise that fullness. It’s not ‘self-constituting’ in a triune sense if what constitutes that fullness in its actuality includes what we call its free and gratuitous determination to create. I’m not sure how “cataclysmic” an event creation is, however, if it is perfectly expressive of the goodness it reflects. There’s no “disturbing” of God’s triune peace to shake a piece of it loose, or shake it out of its metaphysical slumber and inactivity, so it can muster up the momentum to create. But I think the whole classical tradition compromises the divine fullness as surely as Process does on this point by making God’s creative decision as eternal and actual as the begetting of the Son. There’s nothing contingent about God’s creative act on the classical view.


        Liked by 1 person

      2. malcolmsnotes Post author

        Yes, I really like that Tom. Awesome stuff.

        I’m going to think out loud a little bit about this. You tell me if what I say is compatible with what you think is possible.

        God’s conscious experience, insofar as it is an expression of the fullness he eternally and necessarily has as Trinity, may well possibly be eternally becoming and changing. Hence the Father could be constantly experiencing new, lovely, creative emotions and thoughts towards the Son. Yet back behind God’s conscious experiences (his experiential becoming) lies his changeless nature or being. Could it not be that this being functions as it were as a kind of actus purus or unmoved mover insofar it throws up into God’s consciousness various existential experiences? This could help explain how the idea of creation “came into God’s mind.” For on an open view of God, it seems there must be something in God that is at least like our “subconsciousness” – some source of creativity, some reality or beingness that throws various thoughts into his mind which his mind THEN does something with. God cannot be at all times consciously willing in such a way where there is no element of experiencing new thoughts. His nature or unconscious being may be purely active, insofar as nothing is acting on IT or moving IT, but God’s conscious experience cannot be immovable in that sense, or it could not be going through a process of becoming, thinking, choosing, creating, relating to a changing world, moving from one moment to the next.

        So, for example, do you think the following is possible. You have God existing alone, in Triune relation. And all of a sudden he gets the idea to create a world. This is something he’s never thought about before – literally it had never entered his conscious experience. How is this possible? Well, why can’t we say that God’s unchanging nature – which functions as a first mover – actualizes this particular potency in God’s mind? In anthropomorphic terms: the thought comes into God’s conscious mind by an instance of divine creativity, from his subconscious mind/being.

        If Jesus really is God there is no such thing as being TOO anthropomorphic, is there?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s