Vulnerability: the capacity of finitude to bear God’s glory—Part 1

treasure_in_jars_of_clay_by_saireba-d4pjkw2I love the picture! “We have this treasure in jars of clay,” Paul celebrates. I’ve been thinking on this all day (while reading Kristine Culp’s Vulberability and Glory), and the thought finally presented itself to me — the vessel is fragile and vulnerable — the treasure is not. Vulnerability is finitude’s capacity to bear the glory of God. Well, that thought led to another and, as you might guess, there I was again thinking about divine transcendence.

Our main philosophical reasons for arriving at a view of God in terms something like Boyd’s unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction come from his Trinity & Process. The conclusion of those arguments is that God is infinite beauty, this beauty is the experienced triune relations, and this experience is the definitive act of God’s essential existence. This much about God is not vulnerable. More of Boyd (Trinity & Process, p. 386):

“God’s being is defined by God’s eternal disposition to delight in Godself and the eternal actualization of this disposition within the triune life of God. It is the unsurpassable intensity of the beauty of the divine sociality—their shared love ‘to an infinite degree’—and God’s eternal ‘inclination’ to eternally be such, which defines God as God and thus most fundamentally distinguishes God from creation, for this divine sociality needs no other sociality to be what it is.”

This contrasts with Greg’s present belief that Father, Son and Spirit don’t essentially or necessarily experience one another. We’ll champion the earlier view. And as we’ve been thinking about the various objections to this on the part of our fellow open theists, here’s what those objections seem to boil down to (in block quote for emphasis):

Of course nobody wants to deny that God is infinitely beautiful. But we don’t want to suppose that God’s triune beauty is an unsurpassably intense delight to behold or even that the divine persons behold this beauty essentially. Why not? Because we believe that if God is that, there’s no room for us; no room left in God to upload our pain, and we need God to feel our pain. Nor is there room in God to upload our joys, for they can only mean something to him if they improve him. So it needs to be the case that the felt quality of God’s experience decreases or increases according to the fluctuating well-being of the world. This is so because “God is love” and it’s inconceivable that love should not suffer some diminishing of satisfaction in the face of another’s suffering.

Moreover, love must be motivated to act in the best interest of one who suffers by some loss of joy/pleasure. This loss just is one’s love prior to acting, for love can only act in another’s best interest if it is ‘moved’ (motivated) to act by the loss of satisfaction brought about by another’s suffering. Without suffering this loss of satisfaction, God literally couldn’t act on our behalf in any loving way because he wouldn’t be moved to act by first having suffered some ‘disturbance’. God has to be affected in this way by us or God isn’t love, and if God were to act on our behalf without being motivated in this way, it wouldn’t be love.

Vulnerability-Management-for-Dummies-2ezku89As far as I can tell, this is the heart of the objection. We want to suggest that if true, this a real problem, for it would mean that God is not disinterested love. What’s so bad about that? “Disinterested” sounds bad anyway. Why would anyone think God isn’t interested in us? That should seal it right there. Not quite. “Disinterestedness” (in philosophical and theological discourse) isn’t “not being interested in” others. On the contrary, it’s a particular kind of interest in others. Disinterested love is love which needn’t suffer to be interested, love whose interest in another has no self-interest in play in its movement toward the other. It’s not disinterested because it’s not ‘other-interested’. It’s disinterested because it’s not ‘self-interested’. There’s no self-interest mixed in with its other-interest. What’s amazing about this is how uninterested people are in being loved this way.

If God is not disinterested in this sense, then he requires some inner disturbance to rouse or move him to action in our regard. But don’t we typically condemn those who only help the needy when they are moved to do so by some inconvenience to themselves? But in this sense God acting in our best interest is about restoring his own loss before it’s about attending to us. Something is wrong with this. But we didn’t come to think so by reading it in a Church father. We found that later. It was Greg Boyd who pointed the way in Trinity & Process, without any appeal to patristics. It’s only because God doesn’t need us to share in constituting his own essential happiness that he is free to love us in truly disinterested fashion, free to enter into our situation in the only way that can genuinely be said to be—from beginning to end—in our best interest.

And though the world does not yet express God’s ad intra delight, it shall do so one day when all created things each in its own proper measure expresses the infinite and inexpressible delight that God is. The question is — does this diastema, this ‘space’ between the imperfect ‘not yet present and the future consummation of creation, also include God? Is God also presently awaiting future fulfillment? Does God get glorified along with creation? Is God to be caught up in the incomparable glory to which our sorrows and his will “not be worth comparing”? And is God presently subjected to groaning alongside creation (Rom. 8)?

(Picture here).

Advertisements

7 comments on “Vulnerability: the capacity of finitude to bear God’s glory—Part 1

  1. fenoglios says:

    Hey y’all,

    I’m a little more sympathetic to y’all’s view now, after having read Creel’s book. But there are some things I think need working through. Perhaps I’ll get to them on my blog, but I’d be curious to see what y’all would come up with after some focus.

    First, it seems to me that God is *empathic.” Creel seems to give an account of impassability of feeling that may be compatible with empathy. He says God never acquires another’s feeling *as his own,* but rather, God’s experience is *textured* by the feelings of another.

    Second, both from experience and from the bible, there seems to be a good in something you might call *sympathetic feeling.* That’s my term… but it has something of a use in our language. Examples: my roommate has gotten a new job and hasn’t been himself since. It’s really hard for him, and he’s really stressed out. His wife has been a bit under the weather since, and when she told him, he was like “awwww…. sympathy pain.” It was very cute. Something seemed very sweet about it. Another example: say my roommate gets another position at this same employer and his wife feels relieved. She is genuinely happy for his good, and says, “Hey, we should celebrate. Let’s pop open some champagne!”

    From the bible: “blessed are those who mourn.” “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” “Jesus wept.” “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”And the well of Jacob was there, and Jesus was weary of the journey.”

    The above experiences and verses seem to me to imply that there is something good about these emotions. So what’s going on?

    Also, y’all seem to want to draw a distinction between codependency and other forms of relational-emotion experiences. That seems to me to be an honorable task. I’d love to see how y’all would do it. I’d also love to see what role empathy plays in God’s experience.

    I haven’t read the following, but I may soon. Could be a good place to start:

    http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1b.htm

    Jacob

    Like

    • tgbelt says:

      Jacob,

      I’m on this same journey, i.e., finding a way to honor the Bible’s description of God as experiencing the world, feeling it, as well as its description of God as transcendent. I liked Creel’s book a lot. Paul Gavrilyuk (and Eastern Orthodox prof at St. Thomas here in the Twin Cities) had good things to say about Creel’s book too. As I’ve asked folks with the Orthodox tradition (just to get clear on what they actually instead of depending on Protestants to tell me), I’ve several times been told that their real burden is to maintain that the divine nature is always ‘intentional’ and ‘free’ in what he feels; i.e., that our actions never force themselves upon God and ‘cause’ him to feel this or that as an ‘effect’ upon him. It’s a bit like Choice Theory in counseling. We always hear somebody say, “You made me angry!” Choice theorists say, “No, you chose to get angry. Nobody ‘makes’ you angry.” Enlarge that sort of approach with respect to God. Fr Behr at St. Vladimir’s says God is never made to feel something, as if we can reach into God and pull this or that emotion out. God is always perfectly intentional. There’s something worth exploring here.

      Like

  2. Jeff says:

    I don’t have a problem with the notion, per se, of disinterestedness. It’s just that we have no analogy of a free action resulting from zero motivation. But motivation is the opposite of disinterestedness. So the philosophical problem seems to be this: No interest, no libertarian choice. No libertarian choice, no validity of induction even. In short, no interest, no way to account for warranted belief of the kind there is a consensus for amongst people who believe in a rational moral order.

    So given that scripture never talks that way in the first place (indeed, it talks just the opposite), I’m not seeing the reason to embrace a huge philosophical problem while additionally rendering scripture of no value in terms of authorial-intent hermeneutics. Without authorial-intent hermeneutics, we don’t even have historical evidence for the best (only?) otherwise explanation of the rapid rise of Christianity in a resistant Roman empire. History is a science that uses warranted belief when it says anything pertinent at all.

    At the other extreme of “motivation,” you don’t want a motivation that requires us to believe that God is continuously creating from a non-regulated motivation to expand His bliss creation-ward. Because then you basically have a necessary God-world relationship which is necessary BECAUSE of His seemingly necessary motivation. How, IOW, do you explain a contingent ORIGIN of such a motivation such that we can still conceive of a pre-first-creation God? For without that, the Christian godhead isn’t/aren’t the only necessary being(s).

    Divine risk of sympathetic suffering with created, sentient beings is what coheres with authorial-intent-exegeted scripture as well as renders creation analogically-explicable as a free act (which renders explanation of our experience finite/final and therefore consistent with the existence of bona-fide distinguishable warranted beliefs about explanations qua explanations).

    Like

    • Hey Jeff… I’m not sure I’m following you correctly. You are right that there is no analogy of a free action resulting from zero motivation but I am not sure that motivation is the opposite of disinterestedness. I understand God to be self-motivated, that is moved from within by divine bundance. But once again, there
      is no good analogy because nothing truly human can be completely altruistic… That doesn’t mean it is sinful, however, only finite. God was not moved by anything external to
      God’s Self to create the world. Perhaps the term disinterested is a difficult term to introduce into the discussion of Open Theology.

      Like

      • Jeff says:

        Hello, helluvaguytoo. By the way, I’m an open theist. But I think open theism is part and parcel of what renders warranted belief to be distinguishable from unwarranted belief in a non-arbitrary way–i.e., consistent with much of what humans have considered pretty intuitive and with the validity of inductive criteria for explanation plausibility, etc. But once you deny, as I think negative theologians do, so much of God that God explains nothing about our experience, I see no reason (i.e., that an atheist or any rational person could actually understand) why an atheist should embrace theism, much less why a non-Christian theist should embrace Christianity. If you see that as consistent with your own theology, then we are in full agreement about the implications of your theology.

        By the way, do you mean by “bundance” “abundance?” If so, would you agree with me that a quantity (i.e., an abundance) of something that is not definable as causal of any particular effects can’t possibly explain anything about my experience? On the other hand, if you are speaking of an abundance of something that is, by definition, causal of something about my experience, what pray is that something, and how does the quantity of it come into explanatory play?

        Like

    • T. C. says:

      “Divine risk of sympathetic suffering with created, sentient beings is what coheres with authorial-intent-exegeted scripture as well as renders creation analogically-explicable as a free act”

      “…once you deny, as I think negative theologians do, so much of God that God explains nothing about our experience, I see no reason (i.e., that an atheist or any rational person could actually understand) why an atheist should embrace theism, much less why a non-Christian theist should embrace Christianity.”

      Loved these comments Jeff! Thank you for posting them. 😀

      Like

  3. […] Divine risk of sympathetic suffering with created, sentient beings is what coheres with authorial-intent-exegeted scripture as well as renders creation analogically-explicable as a free act (which renders explanation of our experience finite/final and therefore consistent with the existence of bona-fide distinguishable warranted beliefs about explanations qua explanations).” Jeff, in the comment section on Tom & Dwayne’s post “Vulnerability: The Capacity of Finitude to bear God’s Glory.” […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

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