“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.”