We place flowers in Auschwitz. Why? Just to pay respect? Or to express hope? Perhaps hope in what David Hart calls an ontology of peace — that ‘being’ is itself an indestructible joy, a repose of self-existent peace in which no evil or suffering can fabricate a moment of negation. This belief—that God’s life is illimitable in its beauty and joy—fell on hard times outside of Orthodoxy for, well, centuries, but it has recently been enjoying (no pun intended) a revival.
Might placing flowers in Auschwitz reflect an innate hope that before, during, and since the occasion of every evil there is an all-encompassing and transcendent joy which cannot be disturbed by whatever evils abound? Might it be that our pain and suffering have defined us so completely that we insist our salvation be purchased by God at the expense of his own joy? Have we come to believe that God has no right to be happy when there is sadness in the earth, that our salvation is in knowing that our suffering hurts not only ourselves but God as well? Somehow we think that our joy in suffering is increased if God’s joy in suffering is diminished. Something just seems terribly off with that.
Discussing with Jeff whether and how God ‘experiences’ the world in aesthetic terms (i.e., whether and how God ‘feels’ the world) got me thinking again about analogies of (a rapprochement of sorts with?) the doctrine of apatheia, which we take to mean not that God is unfeeling or without all emotion or aesthetic appreciation, but rather (as I understand the Orthodox the more I read and talk to them) that the fullness of his aesthetic appreciation (his joy, his delight, his sense of well-being) cannot conceivably be diminished or improved upon. This view of God is rejected with peculiar passion by open theists, but the necessity of this rejection to open theism is something Dwayne and I have been questioning for some time.
Let me mention two convictions (one here and one in an upcoming post) I’ve come to share, as an open theist, with the Orthodox on this. One seems to follow from ‘divine unity’ and the other from the ‘freedom’ implicit in necessary being.
The FIRST conviction regards the integrity or unity of God’s experience, however we’re to express it. I’m having a difficult time conceiving of (Jeff’s suggestion of) fully distinct experiences of contrary emotions in God such that God fully grieves and sorrows over our suffering and simultaneously rejoices over good.
I used to argue something like this myself. I once thought that what was true of God intellectually was true of God emotionally in that just as God’s intellectual powers are not divided among the all the distinct facts or states of affairs he knows, so God’s emotional powers are not divided among all the distinct occasions of evil and good which he feels. The more facts I have to attend to the more my cognitive powers are divided among them. I can give all my attention to a single matter of fact, but as I attend to two, five or more facts my intellectual capacities are divided among them. So each one gets a bit less attention the more I have to attend to. But with God this doesn’t occur. God can attend to any number of matters of fact without having to divide his intellectual capacity between them. If God perceives a million facts, each fact gets 100% of his attention, as if it were the only thing he had to attend to. This is pretty non-controversial I should think.
I once explored thinking about God’s emotional capacity in this way and supposed that God can experience a perfectly appropriate sorrow or grief or anger over occasions of evil or suffering while experiencing a separate and perfectly appropriate joy over some occasion of goodness. I’m still unsure how to articulate exactly why this doesn’t appear to work for me, but among the reasons is the fact that while knowing different matters of fact without deprivation of intellectual capacity is conceivable (because no contradiction exists between any two actual states of affairs), it seems to me having independent experiences of contrary emotions does generate a contradiction. Just can’t put my finger on it.
Later I sought an analogy for God’s feeling the world’s joys and sufferings in the concept of an infinite set. Take the set of all numbers—an infinite set. It’s ‘infinitely intense’; its membership is unsurpassably ‘intense’. But we can also imagine making ‘withdrawals’ from this set. I can remove all odd numbers, for example, and we’d still have an infinite set. Similarly, I often imagine God’s ‘aesthetic satisfaction’ (his joy, his sense of well-being and bliss) in this way, God being infinitely satisfied with the unchanging perfections of his own necessary being and yet able to accommodate real withdrawals which the world’s suffering makes without himself suffering the loss or deprivation of the any intensity of joy. I’m not sure this works. As I mentioned in a previous note, God’s unity presupposes “an integrated experience, a consummate feeling of the whole, which ‘integrates’ without ‘negotiating’, and the only way I can presently do that is to interject into the negotiation an ‘infinite’ variable [God’s experience of his own essential, triune beauty unconditioned in the intensity of bliss it produces by the world] which by virtue of being infinite can be added to and subtracted from without either ‘being improved upon’ or ‘deprived/diminished’.” If such ‘withdrawals’ are conceivable, then we may have a way forward.
Conviction TWO to come.