Naming God

7burning bushI’m always intrigued by readings of Exodus 3 that see the divine name “I am” as revealing God to be timeless. God, so I’m told, didn’t reveal himself as “I was” or “I will be.” He is the “I am,” meaning, among other things, the timeless One. That God is self-existent can’t be reasonably doubted. That God is the source, ground and sustainer of all things is, also, just the Christian view of things. But that Scripture offers us a ‘timeless’ God seems much less certain. That said, I’d like to offer a couple of comments on Ex 3.

You know the context. Moses. Burning bush. God commissions Moses to return to Egypt. Moses is disinclined to accept the job offer. He wants to know who he’s working for, so he asks (Ex 3.13-15):

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’. Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you’. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

Precisely what does the name “I am” tell us about God? What’s it tell us about God that he gives himself to us to be named? And what specifically is revealed about God in his answer (“I am”)? I confess I simply don’t see what exegetical or other contextual clues the Orthodox and other advocates of divine timelessness see here that convince them we here have the timelessness of God being revealed in the name “I am.”

Moses: “If they ask me ‘What is his name?’ what shall I tell them?”
God: Tell them, “I’m timeless” sent you.
Moses: “What?”

I don’t see it. And contextually I don’t know how others see it. It looks like a classic case of eisogesis, but I could be wrong. In one recent conversation it was suggested that Ex 3.14 settles the question of the temporal status of God’s existence (as timeless) since God is always “I am” (never “I was” or “I shall be”). And this is bolstered by Ex 3.15’s “…this is my name ‘forever’ (the Hebrew supposedly implying timeless eternity). The logic escapes me, that is, if we’re just attempting at this point to understand the text on its own terms. “I am” is as ‘temporal’ as “I was” and “I will be.” The Hebrews ‘olam’ doesn’t inherently imply timeless eternity. Things that come into being and pass out of being are called ‘olam’.

Why couldn’t a (qualifiedly) temporal God always be “I am”? And what of Rev. 1.8’s “the one who is [“ho on”], who was, and who is to come.” I’m told this is easily reconciled to divine timelessness because in context, Ex 3 is describing God’s being as God (and thus timeless), while in Rev 1 we have Jesus who is God in his incarnate (and thus temporal) state as the subject of “is, was, is to come.”

I still don’t see it. I can see how somebody already committed to the belief that God is timeless can construe these passages to confirm a view they already hold. But to argue these passages inform such a belief? That’s my struggle.

However, it doesn’t seem a stretch to me to read Ex 3 as having nothing whatsoever to do with an ontology of time or the temporal status of God’s being/existence per se. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the ‘timeless’ interpretation of the name “I am” would be a relevant piece of information to share with Moses and Israel given their context. Names in ancient Israel weren’t just place-holders or means of commanding someone’s attention. I’m “Tom” because that’s just what you ‘say’ when you want to get my attention. In English that’s all names are. We don’t really invest names with any significance beyond that minimal utility.

In ancient Israel a name was more than just a thing to say to get somebody’s attention (though undoubtedly in non-religious contexts names take on that function too). However, when it came to God, names were extremely important. But what’s evident from looking at the names themselves is that they describe an event or an experience that reveals who God is and what his character and intentions are. The divine names name a place and a time where God showed up and acted on someone’s behalf. It makes perfect contextual sense to read “I am” simply as God declaring this truth about himself, namely (no pun intended): God gives himself to us to be named as the one who is _______, and the blank is God’s invitation (and promise) to discover him in the specific terms of our finite needs. This name stands behind a dozen or so extensions of its truth in such terms: Jehovah-Heals, Jehovah-Hears, Jehovah-Sees, Jehovah-Justifies, Jehovah-Provides, Jehovah-Defends Us, Jehovah-Our Banner. These all describe our relationship to God, our experience of him.

One can go through the “Jehovah-Present-tense verb” names and discover who God is and what kind of God God is. The names of God name the place and conditions upon which God is experienced. That makes sense of the function of names in Israel’s ancient Semitic culture and the more specific context of Moses’s question and Israel’s needs. But the divine names also reveal us within that relationship. When we learn something about God we see the truth about ourselves. When we get clear on who he is, we see ourselves in proper perspective. If God is Jehovah-Provides, for example, what’s that make me? It makes me dependent upon him, in need of him. I come to see the truth of my finitude and need. If God’s name is Jehovah-Sees, what’s that make us? It means we are not alone. We are known to God. We’re not abandoned, not forsaken.

Another interesting way to approach the “I am” of Ex 3 is to consider the religious Canaanite and Egyptian context. It helps us understand why Moses even asks God what his name is. The Canaanites had Anat (virgin goddess of war), Dagon (god of crop fertility), Molech (god of fire), Resheph (god of plagues/healing), Baal-Haddad (storm god), and a dozen others, including El (the most high god) who is shared by Israel. The same thing can be said for the Egyptian gods. The function of naming among pagans identified finite deities with limited responsibilities within the cosmos. You might say pagan deities derived their identities from the cosmos through their roles in maintaining it. This undoubtedly lies behind Moses’ question. “What’s your name?” essentially means “Which god are you? Where do you fit in the scale of deities? What’s your rank? Which part of the cycle of life and death are you responsible for?” That, I suggest, is what’s going on in Ex 3, and it has nothing to do with speculations about God and time. “I am that I am” is well-suited as an answer to Moses’ question as revealing the categorical difference between the One who is addressing Moses and all the other pagan deities. That difference isn’t that they’re all temporal while this One is timeless. What is Moses supposed to do with that? But there’s great benefit in being told that this One does not derive his identity from any earthly function, or even all of them together, that this One isn’t to be found in a police-like line-up of local deities who just are their relationship with the world’s cycle of seasons, births, deaths, marriages, fertility, etc. Unlike these deities, this One’s identity is not reducible to a function within the finitude of the world. That, I suggest, is grounds for a covenant relationship to build a nation upon. But “I’m timeless”?

I’m suggesting that in Ex 3 God grounds future covenant with Israel by stepping out and away from membership in the rank and file deities of Canaan and Egypt and how people related to deity per se. God (“I am that I am”) names the place and time where he is experienced and worshiped and is categorically unique in possessing the fullness and freedom of his own existence and identity in himself, not deriving from nor reduced to any function within the cosmos—unlike the competition. But none of this says anything about time.

But if the covenant name of God just means “I’m timeless,” I don’t see any easy way to connect this meaning to how the name is actually used in Scripture to describe God acting in concrete ways to speak, call, heal, save, etc. I don’t doubt that advocates of divine timeless believe God acts on our behalf. I’m saying I can’t see the logic that requires us to understand the name as asserting ‘timeless existence’ to get into the concrete world of the names.

(Picture here.)

God at War in Ithilien, Part 4

Tunel1
Following on our previous comments regarding time, we’ll draw our series on Tait’s review of Greg’s warfare theodicy to an end with two concluding comments. They have to do with (a) the supposed providential use of God’s (timeless) (fore)knowledge and (b) how we’re to understand providence in general.

The providential uselessness of simple foreknowledge
In his Post 5 on Greg’s open theism, Tait acknowledges the force of the argument Greg and other open theists make for the providential uselessness of simple foreknowledge (of the sort defended by David Hunt and Bruce Reichenbach). This view of foreknowledge claims God “simply” (i.e., without the complication of qualifications, exceptions, speculations, etc.) knows the future. Such knowledge would be of no providential use. Hunt attempts (unsuccessfully) to avoid this consequence. I won’t repeat the arguments here.

A view not (in our opinion) significantly different is divine timelessness (and so the timelessness of God’s knowing), the view Tait prefers. But the same criticism of simple foreknowledge applies. A timeless God, i.e., a God whose knowledge of the world is eternal/timeless, would of course be timelessly, not temporally, related to all created events in their actuality. Leaving aside the question of whether this is even coherent and the implications this might have for the question of the temporal nature of creation (A-Series vs B-Series, presentism vs a block universe), it nevertheless follows that timeless knowledge of created events is also providentially useless to God. A timeless God would be eternally and unchangingly present to all events within the created order. What could providentially be done on the basis of such knowledge which is not already timelessly known? To act “on the basis of” some knowledge is to act in an “informed” way. But this presupposes an order in knowing and acting precluded by timeless existence. All events in creation would be (if I could risk using the word) simultaneously present to God and by definition already the result of whatever God did or didn’t do to prevent or bring them about.

One Orthodox attempt to defend the providential use of such timeless knowledge is Gregory of Nyssa’s On Infants’ Early Deaths in which Gregory argues that infants who die are brought to death by divine mercy based on God’s (timeless) (fore)knowledge of the great evil these infants commit in adulthood. So (and the “so” is important; it expresses the sense in which Gregory holds God’s foreknowledge of their evils to inform his providential choice to foreclose upon these infants reaching adulthood) God determines to prevent their actualizing such evil. Don’t rush by Gregory’s arguments. Let them soak in.

Timeless knowledge of the world would already eternally be knowledge of a world in which the infants in question die (not live to do great evil). How is the death of infants the providential outcomes of God acting in response to foreknown evil those same infants do in adulthood? In what world do they commit their evils? A Molinist might be interested in exploring Gregory’s proposal, but it doesn’t seem compatible with timeless knowledge.

However, Fr Aidan and I were chatting about this recently, and he brought up a point he makes via McCabe re: God and time. The point is that divine transcendence of the world means that God transcends both contradictory positions—temporality and atemporality. To say God is ‘timeless’ (used apophatically) is just a way to say, “Look, God’s reality can’t be reduced to these contradictory positions, as if God is either one or the other.” So not only should we not conclude God is ‘temporal’, we ought also to avoid saying God is ‘timeless’. God transcends the contradiction; i.e., the reality we call ‘God’ isn’t reducible to a single option among contradictories within the scope of our categories.

We tried to explore this here, here and here.

I think there’s something importantly true in saying God isn’t exhausted by the truth of a single of contradictory options. At the same time, we’ve suggested that while this apophatic qualification may be true, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t cataphatic truths we ought to affirm and their contradictories we ought to deny. For example, cataphatically speaking “God exists” is true and “God does not exist” is false. But God, we’d like to say as well, transcends the disjunct. God’s existence isn’t just a grand instance of our existence, as if he is another being alongside all the other instances of being, just a very large and perfect occasion of it. But he also transcends the falsehood of “God does not exist” since the sense in which God doesn’t exist is not just another instance of the failure of some created being to exist.

I’ve wondered for some time whether this strategy wouldn’t apply equally to the sense in which we use temporal/atemporal language of God. That is, there is a truth to be affirmed cataphatically here which marks God’s positive reflection in the created order (e.g., “God is temporal”). And the contradictory of this (“God is timeless”) would in this sense be false. However, God isn’t an instance of temporal becoming in the way created entities have their being temporally. Nor is his ‘not being timeless’ just an instance of what atemporality is on our scale of being (which is what I tend to hear from advocates of divine timelessness). In this sense, God’s reality would transcend the disjunct between ‘temporal’ and ‘timeless’ by virtue of necessary being, infinite beatitude, etc.

So what about divine foreknowledge then? Well, if God is (qualifiedly) temporal he would relate to the world’s past as past and to its future as future—but not in anything like the derivative, dependent sense in which created things lose something of themselves to the past or in which they derive something of themselves in a future becoming. None of that kind of experience could be the case with God. And that’s different enough in my book to use these terms very carefully. But what typically happens is this apophatic qualified sense of temporal language gets used as a means of defending God’s eternal knowledge of all events within the temporal world. I see this as problematic. If it’s transcendence, why assume the knowledge of the world would be unchanging knowledge of the world’s actualities? Why should transcendence default to the assumption of timelessness? If God creates freely, and if the scope of all creaturely choice remains within the embrace of providence, and if there’s no providential advantage to be gained from simple or timeless knowledge, then there’s nothing a timeless God (traditionally conceived) can do that a qualifiedly temporal God cannot also do with respect to bringing about his final ends for creation.

If God truly foreknows future possibilities as possibilities, the sense in which this is different from our foreknowing is as important as is the sense in which it’s similar. Future possibilities aren’t apprehended by God via third party mediation (as with us). God is the sustaining ground of all possibility. God can foreknow creation’s possibilities by knowing himself. There’s no guess work per se. No unforeseen surprises. No shocks. God doesn’t “learn” truths he was formerly “ignorant” of. My point is, there are ways to articulate a temporal apprehension of the world’s actualities and becoming that don’t assume God is just another temporal item on the inventory of things that have their being temporally.

Providence as God-given desire
Over time I’ve been drawn to aspects of the Orthodox tradition. I’m still in process on a lot of things, but I tend presently to view providence first and fundamentally as the scope of possibilities for created beings established by our God-give, natural desire for the Good. That is, God can know that humanity will reach its end because the dispositional essence of human beings is irreducibly oriented in an appetite for the Good, even if only implicitly (as Hart describes). The same is true of Boyd’s metaphysics in Trinity & Process which we’ve discussed at great length on this site.

We suspect this can be integrated as well with Maximus’ own view of the logoi of created things (minus timeless actus purus of course). The logoi of created things can be viewed as God’s providential governance of creation. Providence, I’m suggesting, is hardwired into our dispositions (grounded in our logoi as divine subjective aims) by virtue of their aesthetic orientation. We may have freedom to contradict our telos on occasion. We do not have freedom to redefine our telos or dispose ourselves out of all possibility of achieving it. Ultimately, that’s the providence that matters, because it means nothing God creates and invites into union with himself can possibly find a permanent end anywhere else. There are no other teloi (ends) which created beings can land in irrevocably. That’s providence enough to guarantee the final end of things.

And as far as we may stray from God’s good intentions for us (from our logoi) we nevertheless remain in God, grounded in the inescapable gravity which both grants us a measure of say-so and defines itself into all our options. As David Bentley Hart says (“Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence”), “Nothing the creature does exceeds those potentialities God has created….” We may contradict our dispositional essences on occasions or for a season. That essence is just the God-defined limits of desire which, like magnetic north, attract all things toward it—not with irresistibly Calvinistic force, but as the inescapable truth of our ground. True, there is more to discuss about God’s action within the world to prevent or bring about specific outcomes and that’s to be conceived alongside creaturely agency. For now, however, we thought the question of ultimate ends might provide a way to back into the question of more immediate actions.

(Picture here.)

It’s that time again

god-in-time-3-001Tait’s series on Greg and Fr Aidan’s recent post prompted some thoughts on God and time. I can’t think of a more mind-bending and frustrating topic. My thoughts are entirely those of a novice. I am neither professional philosopher nor professional theologian, but here are my musings nevertheless. I’ll present these in the form of conclusions, though there is reasoning behind them, much of it discussed on our blog over the past three years. But for brevity’s sake I’d like to offer them as is.

Let’s start with something non-controversial: God is uncreated and as such exists necessarily. By necessary I don’t mean that God’s existing is the ‘product of necessity’ or even that God ‘fulfills’ or ‘conforms to’ some metaphysical principle of necessity that ‘prescribes’ existence for God. I simply mean God is self-existent. He did not come into existence, cannot fail to exist, and alone is that without which nothing would exist.

If God were temporal (in some sense—not speculating right now), what might that not mean? Well, God would certainly be unlike created-temporal beings in that God wouldn’t suffer the ravages of time as we do. God would not age or forget. In addition, we’ve argued here that God cannot suffer ‘existential loss’ in the sense of pining for some past good experience of good or, for that matter, with respect to some future good. Why not? Because “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” Whatever past goods there may be to God (on the assumption the creation’s past is past for God as well), God remains the goodness they were, and whatever good is to be redeemed for the created bearer of such goodness, God is always already the source and fullness of it. Hence, there can be no loss of experienced goodness for him whose necessary life is the fullness of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In short, the passage of time (assuming for the moment that it’s real for God) could mean nothing to the existential fullness or beatitude of God’s being. Here I don’t mind Boethius’ phrase: “Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life” by which all I would mean is a fullness of life which is not a temporal achievement. That is, I wouldn’t historicize the fullness of God’s triune being as if that fullness is ‘temporally derived’. That just seems to follow from necessary existence. (Boethius had more than just this in mind though.)

I also don’t see how God could relate to time (as we must) as an ontological presupposition for his existence. Indeed, I don’t see how in the case of necessary existence there can be any ontological presuppositions at all. God’s existence doesn’t require time as we do. God is the presupposition for all else. So I’m happy to say God transcends time in this sense.

I don’t know this with any certainty, but I suspect that if just this much were contemplatively engaged by open theists, they might have built more bridges and be enjoying fruitful conversation with folks on the Orthodox side of things. And let me just say that if there’s any desire to employ ‘timeless’ language apophatically to prevent uncritical, crude, or extravagant projections onto God of whatever we find to be the case with our own existence, to encourage us to a greater humility and epistemic reservation—count me in.

That said, however, I disagree that any of this implies that God is actus purus (pure act) in the classical sense, i.e., absolutely void of all potential. Obviously it would rule out the potential of aesthetic or existential improvement achieved or derived temporally. God’s self-constituting beatitude as such is infinite and unsurpassable. But it doesn’t follow so far as I can tell that this implies God cannot be a subject of temporal experience in ways that are not self-constituting (but which are, for example, contingently self-expressive).

How then might we say God is temporal (in a qualified sense that doesn’t hold him to “becoming” in any of the objectionable ways referred to above)? One simple way we might begin thinking of God as temporal would be to consider what it means to say God knows (indeed, God sustains) the distinction between possibility and actuality within creation. How would a God who is pure actuality (in whom there is no potentiality even in states of knowledge) know when something merely possible becomes actual? And wouldn’t knowing things in their temporal becoming at least suggest a temporal knowing? On the assumption that the world’s temporal becoming is real (in an A-Series sense), the distinction between merely possible-Tom and actual-Tom would be objective. Surely an omniscient God would know the difference between the two. But while the former (possible-Tom) can arguably be said to be eternal (as a possibility grounded in and always known by God), the latter cannot be said to be so. Actual-Tom is an irreducibly temporal actuality. How God’s knowledge that Tom is actual eternal? I don’t want to suggest that just because I don’t get it, it can’t be true, but to suggest that contingencies which “become actual” are eternally known to God as actual (i.e., God does not “come to know” as they “come to be”) is, as far as I can tell, self-contradictory. And I further suspect this is not the sort of apophatic mystery that God’s being uncreated and necessary asks us to embrace.

Why cannot God experience changing states of knowledge of contingent events and truths without jeopardizing his self-constituting perfections and fullness? This is not to make God an ‘item’ within the inventory of created things, to uncritically project anthropomorphism onto God or to trap God “within time” (any more than it is to trap God “outside of time” by denying his temporal experience of the world). It is simply to say that the truth of the world’s non-eternal/temporal actualities are known to God in their non-eternal/temporal truth. Things don’t become other than they are just because God is the one knowing them.

(Picture here).

I Have Four Children

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I Have Four Children
(Iraq, 2009)

Talker-Healer, Beauty-Maker,
Piano-Player, Earth-Shaker;
Leader, Reconciler,
Etch-a-Sketcher, Praise-Compiler;
Caregiver and Traveler,
Move-Maker, Song-Writer;
Analyzer, Palletizer,
Synthesizer, Equalizer.
Each is a child of mine so able,
It’s their parents who are less than stable!

Once upon a funeral

lazarus-by-anna-cuypersJesus attended funerals. He mourned the death of friends and family just like we do. In John’s Gospel we find Jesus attending the funeral of his close friend Lazarus. Upon hearing Lazarus was sick, Jesus postponed returning to Bethany, and when he finally arrived Lazarus had been dead for several days, survived by his sisters Mary and Martha. I’d like to recall part of the story for you from John 11.19-26:

Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

What’s astounding here is the claim Jesus makes about himself:

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

Think about that for just a moment. Think about what it even means for Jesus to say he is the resurrection and the life. And what an insensitive thing to say at a funeral — unless of course it’s true. Point is, Lazarus isn’t dead. His body lies in the tomb, yes, but ‘he’ is not dead. Why? Because “whoever believes in me lives.”

Martha thinks she understands. “Yes of course,” her correct doctrine spilled out, “He’ll live again at the last day. I learned my catechism. Satisfied?” But Jesus isn’t saying that. He’s saying something far more radical. He’s saying that Lazarus lives now, as he and Martha speak, even though the grave holds his body. And Lazarus lives now because of who and what Jesus now is — resurrection and life in himself.

The resurrection isn’t out there somewhere, an event in the future, as Martha thought. It’s right here, Jesus says. “It’s where I am. It’s who and what I am. Life, real life, indestructible life, is right here, Martha, speaking with you. I am where Lazarus is.”

The life we dream of, the joys we chase, the hopes we sacrifice so much for, the fears and pain we medicate with drink or success or religion, all the pleasures and fulfillment and assurance we try to squeeze out of the few moments we have in this fleeting thing we call a lifetime — that life isn’t out there in our future, Jesus says (I must use the present tense to honor his meaning). Nor are those dreams fulfilled in what we think fulfill them. Those moments, those achievements, the good times, the parties, the friendships and pleasures we pursue — “All of it,” Jesus says, “is standing right here in front of you. I am what you’re dreaming of. I am that pleasure you’re chasing. I am the success you seek. I am the fulfillment you long for. I am the refuge you’re searching for. I am the resurrection and the life.”

The implication of Christ’s words will kick your kenotic rear-end, because the person of Christ, the Son, is presently responsible for Lazarus’s living, his existing, while his body lay in the tomb. What actively sustains all those who believe in Christ though their bodies lie in the grave isn’t a Star Wars ‘Force’ or metaphysical principle or eschatological event. It is the Son. Christ — not the grave — is where Lazarus is.

Just let it simmer.

(Lazarus by Anna Cuypers here.)

Open theism not essentially essentialist

barthcigarAn offline conversation took me back to check out our earlier response to McCormack’s essay on open theism. Thought I’d repost the links to annoy you all.

McCormack’s Barth & Open Theism—Part 1 (Summary of McCormack’s essay)

McCormack’s Barth & Open Theism—Part 2 (Response to McCormack’s arguments)

McCormack’s Barth & Open Theism—Part 3 (Actualisism doesn’t preclude the open view)

(Picture here.)

God at War in Ithilien, Part 3

angel_of_entropy_by_jflaxman-d6iz278My thoughts here aren’t directly related to comments Tait makes in his series on Greg’s warfare worldview though I’m posting them underneath our series interacting with Tait’s review of Greg’s proposal because they have to do with Greg’s view. We’ll have some closing thoughts to make with respect to Tait’s series in a subsequent post.

Just today Greg posted an abbreviated version of a longer 2008 essay. There’s a lot to the essay, but I’d like here just to respond the following comments from it:

“A fourth possibility is the one I at present find most plausible. In his book Genesis Unbound (Multnomah, 1996) John Sailhamer presents a compelling interpretation of Genesis 1 that sees it as a historical narrative (viz. not mythic poetry) but that is nevertheless compatible with the standard scientific understanding that nature was full of violence and suffering for millions of years before humans arrived on the scene.

“To put the matter succinctly, Sailhamer argues that when people read the Genesis account as though it were an account of creation as a whole, they are reading the account anachronistically. When ancient people thought of the earth (eretz), they thought of the land they knew or of a particular parcel of land that was under consideration. They had no concept of the earth as a planet. Sailhammer further argues that the various things that are formed over six days of creation (light, sun, stars, vegetation, etc.) are spoken of phenomenologically – that is, from the perspective of one situated in this land. And it is the finished production of this specific land– not the whole of the cosmos –that is declared “good” by God. [Interestingly enough, a number of earlier conservative Bible commentators, such as Merill Unger, held this view].

“If this interpretation is accepted, we should see Eden as a newly formed beachhead of God’s rule on an otherwise corrupted planet. God populated Eden with newly created, non-carnivorous animals (Gen. 1:31) that reflect his creational ideal of non-violence. As his intended viceroys, he put humans in charge, commanding them to guard (samar) the garden (Gen. 2:15) and subdue (kabas) the earth. The goal was to gradually advance their rule by overcoming forces of evil and restoring creation. Our commission was, and yet is, to carry out God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). When the earliest humans rebelled, however, they opened the floodgates of demonic forces into Eden and it quickly became part of the corrupted creation. On this interpretation, this is what Paul refers to when he says sin and death entered the world (eretiz) through Adam.”

At this point I’m just thinking out loud to voice questions and problems I have with this:

(1) Greg holds to an evolutionary view of human origins. Given this much, he knows there is no single, historical pair Adam and Eve. The evolutionary origins of our race mean things are a bit more spread out (geographically and temporally). So the creation of human beings can’t be viewed as insulated from its violent/fallen context in a way that his proposal seems to ask us to imagine. So it’s difficult to see how this “beachhead” gets fashioned by God within and materially continuous with the fallen, infected world.

(2) Is not God in Greg’s (via Sailhamer) view as clumsy and bumbling a fashioner of the world and its creative capacities as is God in the views Greg levels this same criticism against? Eons of violent, predatory flesh-eating animals are a clumsy and unbenevolent way to go about it, but quarantining Adam and Eve and some non-violent animals in a garden in the midst of a violent planet confronting a cosmic intelligence of unspeakable powers who, in spite of the quarantined safety of the beachhead, has full access to Adam and Eve—this is not clumsy and inefficient? We’re supposed to believe that two pre-modern human beings in a garden in Mesopotamia had a fighting chance against a cosmic warring intelligence whose powers shape matter?

(3) Exactly how were human beings without powers at all equal to Satan’s supposed to subdue Satan’s powers and reverse its effects outside the garden? Just grow the garden? Expand the garden outwards into the violence and death that surrounded while always remaining within the protection of the garden? By what means, seeing that human beings don’t possess the power to “affect matter” on a molecular or quantum level in an abiding and permanent way as Satan supposedly does?

Consider the nature of Satan’s powers on Greg’s view. They extend to the molecular and even sub-atomic world. The 2nd law of thermodynamics itself is Satan’s work. He has the power to pervert nature’s God-given capacities for creative becoming on an evolutionary scale. Humans have only very recently discovered the molecular world and DNA, and even now our genetically modified organisms and cross-bred animal species don’t have the inherent power to procreate their changes naturally to the next generation. Exactly how were Adam and Eve and their children to arrest and subdue the decaying effects of Satan’s misused powers without equal or greater powers? By what natural endowments does Greg suppose human beings had the power to reverse entropy?

(4) Is there not an internal contradiction within Greg’s own premises? Consider—Satan was originally contracted to be CEO of all matter. And this covenant is inviolable (presumably) until the eschaton. And per Greg’s arguments, Satan’s contract extends to all matter, not just planet Earth. That’s how (Rom 8) “all creation” falls into decay and death with Satan when he falls. The problem here emerges in supposing God then refashions part of this fallen created order to exclude everything violent and all death and entropy into which he places Adam and Eve. On what contractual grounds did God wrest matter from Satan—the same matter whose maintenance God gave Satan in a covenant not even God can rescind before the end? And if God can refashion matter to its original goodness (i.e., void of violence, death, disease, decay and even free from the 2nd law of thermodynamics) without violating his covenant with Satan, then that covenant obviously has some major loopholes. God may intervene and restore matter, as he does in Genesis 1-2. But in that case the whole value of Greg’s proposal for theodicy (and theodicy is what this is all about) fails. Why not a bigger garden? Why not quarantine Satan (death, decay, etc.) and give humanity the main lot to work with? At least even the odds. There are conceivable scenarios that render Greg’s proposal implausible without having to abandon freedom and responsibility to embrace the Blueprint worldview.

(5) Lastly, the whole notion of an original blissful state which it was our job to ‘return to’ and which redemption ultimately ‘restores’ is, I think, a mistaken starting point. Creation was from the get-go not what it was intended to finally become. Our original primeval goodness was supposed to go somewhere, to become something. Our destiny, apart from sin and evil, was always in our future and always dependent upon the ultimate incarnation of the Creator. If creation is for incarnation, as we’ve argued, then only the Incarnate One could both be and fulfill creation’s telos. This rather weakens the appeal of Greg’s proposal which asks us to imagine human beings in their natural state endowed with inherent powers capable of healing the world and fulfilling it but falling into incompetency. On the contrary, even apart from our being sinful, we’ve always been a part of the world needing to be fulfilled.

There’s more to discuss, but we’ll have to leave it there for now.

(Angel of Entropy by jflaxman)