Negotiated happiness

dramaWhat are the implications of God’s happiness (the felt quality of his experience, his “aesthetic satisfaction”) being the difference of an equation, that is, of its being the case that God’s happiness is the difference between his reasons to be happy and his reasons to be sad? Let me suggest that if this be the case then the integrity of the sense in which God is believed (by this view) to be happy and to rejoice over righteousness is undermined. The same righteous act would meet with various degrees of joyous response on God’s part depending on the level to which God’s joy is diminished by evils in the world. Were the evils in the world less (and God’s experience less diminished by them), God would experience greater joy over my loving act. His ability to rejoice over an unselfish act of sacrificial love performed at Christmas 2004 was diminished by the death toll of the 2004 Christmas Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. God could be happier about your selfless act of love, but he has the victims of a tsunami to grieve for in addition, and he has only so much emotional wherewithal to divide among them.

Similarly, as I follow this view, God’s compassionate suffering with the victims of that same tsunami could not be as deeply felt as it might have been were it not for all the reasons God had to rejoice in the world. God would have felt worse for the tsunami victims had some loving person elsewhere not loved his neighbor sacrificially and provided God a reason to rejoice. But this is what one gets with defining divine happiness as the difference of an equation — reasons to rejoice minus reasons to sorrow. It means that…

“…how joyous God finds himself in the face of any particular good as well as how grievous he is in relation to any particular evil are not a measure or reflection of the good or the evil relative to anything absolute about God; rather they are a measure of God’s sense of well-being distributed among competing demands, each demand determining a ‘share’ of the divine.”

Something is desperately wrong here.

What to do? Well, one might suggest that there’s no need to do anything. This is just the way things are. God really would feel better than he does over your goodness were it not for some evil in the world that diminishes the joy God would otherwise feel on your account, just as he would be sadder for victims of evil than he actually is were it not for the presence of some goodness in the world.
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If this seems unacceptable, one could suppose that God has a self-generated reason to rejoice which, though finite because diminishable by worldly evils, is nevertheless greater than all combined imaginable reasons to sorrow. In this case God is never in danger of (as Marilyn McCord Adams describes it) “having his mind blown” by overwhelming worldly sorrows. God can’t have an emotional break down because he has a supply of reasons to rejoice that derive from his own being and identity which can never be exhaustively spent on worldly suffering even if they can be diminished.

This is definitely a move in the right direction. However, it leaves unaddressed the objection to God’s being too sad (on account of some actual evil) to rejoice as he might over the salvation of a single sinner, and also too happy (due to salvation of the sinner) to grieve as deeply as he might over the actual evil. Something seems amiss with this consequence.

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9 comments on “Negotiated happiness

  1. Jacob says:

    Indeed.

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  2. Jeff says:

    You’re conflating the exhaustive awareness of various simultaneously experienced feelings with the particular feeling caused by a particular event or state of affairs. There is no reason to assume God’s feelings for particular events/states of affairs ever differs from one occurrence to another, regardless of what else He’s feeling at the time. What can conceivably change, however, is God’s consciousness OF suffering and different simultaneous amounts OF it.

    In other words, the particular experiences of pleasure God experiences from my many similar praises of Him may be identical regardless of what other suffering He’s experiencing. The question is, does God prefer to not suffer at all? I would think that should be a rhetorical question.

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  3. Jeff says:

    Humans differ from the explanation above in the sense that a given feeling can incapacitate the ability of a human to be conscious of much else. God need not be like that. He might be capable of feeling greater and greater amounts of total feeling, distinguishing each of them and their causes perfectly. Note this doesn’t even imply that God is infinite in His capacity to feel. But it seems intuitive to say that God doesn’t like suffering any more than we do. And God has joy about the future IN His suffering even more perfectly than we do.

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  4. tgbelt says:

    Jeff: You’re conflating the exhaustive awareness of various simultaneously experienced feelings with the particular feeling caused by a particular event or state of affairs.

    Tom: Correct. That’s standard Process thought. For us to know X (or be aware of X) is to feel X (to know it in terms of its contribution to or diminishment of overall beauty). Nothing is knowable apart from its aesthetic value. To perceive is to feel–pure and simple.

    I prefer to accept this Hartshornian conclusion, but am less than sure how to apply it to God. Hartshorne concluded (as does Greg presently) that God is the supreme instance of a unified aesthetic assimilation, perceiving and thus feeling all things and thus fluctuating in the overall felt quality of experience. But Dwayne and I (following Greg’s older argument in Trinity and Process) agree with the classical conviction that God is an undiminishable beauty of infinite value which relativizes all created/contingent instances of beauty. So the question for us is how to suppose God integrates his experience of the (ugly) world in aesthetic terms with his God-defining previous and undiminishable enjoyment of Godself.

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    • Jeff says:

      First of all, I think we can talk about knowing independent of feeling. I know 2+2=4, But that bare knowledge doesn’t cause me to feel anything apart from a larger context. And maybe that’s what you’re meaning by “perceive.”

      As for how God’s experience of the ugly relates to their previous social/aesthetic bliss, I’d say that God has entered into a teleological loving relationship that is unique in that sense. Do we have any reason to believe that God has to choose between mutually exclusive impulses to love prior to creation? But to create and love that creation, ugly or no, is to choose (over not creating) in just such a way. For those are two very distinct histories that affect a sympathetic/compassionate being quite differently. If God did indeed chose prior to creation, it would have always been a greater of goods. With an ugly creation, lessers of evils can be required for love. Indeed, I don’t think a theodicy is possible without recognizing this possibility.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Jeff: I think we can talk about knowing independent of feeling. I know 2+2=4, But that bare knowledge doesn’t cause me to feel anything apart from a larger context.

        Tom: Hartshorne would dismiss your claim to ANY experience of knowing which doesn’t cause you to feel anything. I can try to track down some references, but he’s well known for this view, as are all Process theists I think. But I think we can set it aside, since the point of my post had to do with those occasions on which we (open theists especially) insist God ‘does’ feel. If one knows 2 + 2 = 4 with no aesthetic perception at all, that’s irrelevant to my point, since we want to maintain that God’s knowledge of human suffering is an occasion for sympathy and compassion unlike his knowledge of 2 + 2 = 4.

        Jeff: Do we have any reason to believe that God has to choose between mutually exclusive impulses to love prior to creation?

        Tom: I’m not sure God has “impulses,” and I’m not sure I find the notion of “contrary impulses to love” meaningful at all. That is, I don’t think love is ever contrary to love. More to the point, I don’t think the choices to create and not to create are contrary with respect to love. In my view, all creation can be is a free, unnecessary and finite expression of the love which the infinite God is, an expression which can’t in turn diminish the being of God.

        Jeff: But to create and love that creation, ugly or no, is to choose (over not creating) in just such a way.

        Tom: I don’t dispute that ‘creating’ and ‘not creating’ are contradictory states. What I question is whether these two constitute “contrary impulses” in God in the sense that either deprives God of some measure of good or beauty to be had in the other. That’s just the point.

        Jeff: For those are two very distinct histories that affect a sympathetic/compassionate being quite differently.

        Tom: Again, there’s a lot going on here. One understanding of divine transcendence suggests that what you find to be the “difference” which constitutes a “conflict of impulses” is no conflict at all and thus, in an important sense, no difference at all. It becomes a challenge indeed to understand divine compassion and sympathy in terms which don’t require some ‘diminishment of pleasure’ to occasion their motivation, but that kind of loving disinterestedness is precisely what interests me.

        Not sure we’re understanding each other though, Jeff. My point in the post was simply to object to (not to promote) the idea that God’s joy was the sum of an equation: reasons God has for feeling pleasure or joy MINUS reasons God has for feeling displeasure or grief EQUALS how happy God is, as is the case with us. I don’t subscribe to such a view of divine happiness or bliss, but many do. In fact, as far as I can tell it’s the standard open view understanding of divine love, viz., if you can’t suffer, you can’t love.

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  5. Jeff says:

    Tom: If one knows 2 + 2 = 4 with no aesthetic perception at all, that’s irrelevant to my point, since we want to maintain that God’s knowledge of human suffering is an occasion for sympathy and compassion unlike his knowledge of 2 + 2 = 4.

    J: But am I correct in thinking you’re saying God can not experience suffering at all, and that therefore God doesn’t really have what we conventionally MEAN by sympathy/compassion? Because if that’s what you’re saying, are you saying God’s will/preference amounts to only qualitative and/or quantitative differences in pleasure? If God never feels distinguishably different at all, on the other hand, in what way can we define God’s will, since in that case it’s indefinable in terms of any conceivable preference?

    Tom: Tom: I’m not sure God has “impulses,” and I’m not sure I find the notion of “contrary impulses to love” meaningful at all. That is, I don’t think love is ever contrary to love.

    J: But one can only love what exists. If God doesn’t create, there are still multiple persons, right? And the only sense in which we could say they don’t leave sans creation is in the sense that they might not act voluntarily. Regardless, forget “impulses.” Think of my point in terms of contemplated possibilities that are known to entail diverse divine feelings/risks/etc.

    Tom: What I question is whether these two constitute “contrary impulses” in God in the sense that either deprives God of some measure of good or beauty to be had in the other.

    J: That’s precisely my point. We don’t have to posit any such deprivation. God might very well feel all the world-caused-pleasure in its fullness while SIMULTANEOUSLY feeling all the world-caused-displeasure in its fullness. God’s so-called over-all “happiness” at any given time may be what it is for us — an over-all contentedness of a sort. We suffer all the time, but we’re still happy. Unhappiness is due to over-WHELMING suffering, not suffering per se.

    Tom: My point in the post was simply to object to (not to promote) the idea that God’s joy was the sum of an equation: reasons God has for feeling pleasure or joy MINUS reasons God has for feeling displeasure or grief EQUALS how happy God is, as is the case with us.

    J: But you’re creating an unnecessary problem there. It’s conceivable that God feels ALL feelings FULLY simultaneously. The only remaining issue is whether God can feel two or more DISTINCT feeling simultaneously. If He can’t, we have bigger explanatory/definitional problems than you’re discussing here.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Hi Jeff. Always thoughtful and challenging!

      J: We don’t have to posit any such deprivation. God might very well feel all the world-caused-pleasure in its fullness while SIMULTANEOUSLY feeling all the world-caused-displeasure in its fullness. God’s so-called over-all “happiness” at any given time may be what it is for us — an over-all contentedness of a sort. We suffer all the time, but we’re still happy. Unhappiness is due to over-WHELMING suffering, not suffering per se.

      T: As I understand open theists (Greg as the most prominent example), they feel this “over-all” contentment is, in God, precisely what it is in us, i.e., a fluctuating intensity of aesthetic satisfaction. God is sometimes “overall” less happy than he might be. In this sense open theists all suppose God to be more or less deprived of an “open-all” happiness that could be greater than it is. But Jeff, if you’re with me in thinking this is not the way to think about God, then we agree. I don’t think the intensity of God’s aesthetic satisfaction (to use Greg’s phrase) is “deprived.”

      However, though we simultaneously feel ‘distinct feelings’ (feelings which are distinct from each other) none of us ‘feels distinctly’, that is, none of us has ‘distinct and simultaneous experiences’ of distinct feelings. Experience is always integrated. If I get a bit of good news an hour after my mother’s death, I don’t experience this news in the same way I would experience it had my mother not died the hour before. Yet you’re suggesting that my mother’s death has absolutely no affect my experience of good news. I feel my mother’s death “in its [own independent] fullness” and the subsequent bit of news “in its [own independent] fullness.” I don’t see that at all. At the very least I need an INTEGRATED experience, a consummate feeling of the whole, which ‘integrates’ without ‘negotiating’, and the only way I can presently do it is to interject into the negotiation an ‘infinite’ variable which by virtue of being infinite can be added to and subtracted from without either ‘being improved upon’ or ‘deprived/diminished’.

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      • Jeff says:

        Tom: Experience is always integrated.

        J: It is for us, for sure. But that’s not because we can’t conceive of the contrary. It’s because we know from experience what we are like. However, we DON’T know from our own experience what God is like in that respect. God is non-analogous us to us in respects just as He is analogous to us in certain respects. We explain as analogically as possible, but sometimes we have to posit the non-analogous to explain at all. I’m thinking we may not be disagreeing as much as I first interpreted.

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