Dr. Phil: God as most unhappy parent imaginable

Dwayne put this up on his FB recently but I missed it. Dr. Phil reminds parents:

“As parents, you are only as happy as your saddest child.”

Seems logical, right? Dwayne and I are each a father of four kids whom we love immensely, and we’ve experienced the sort of dependency Dr. Phil describes. You can certainly see the givenness of his description in every family born out in the experience of parents in every culture. Trouble is, it describes a codependent and dysfunctional relationship. I admit to having been there myself, and I still am tempted to outsource my happiness to my children. But I think I’ve grown enough spiritually and come to perceive my happiness as defined by God alone to say with relative confidence that what Dr. Phil is describing is unhealthy and despairing (in the Kierkegaardian sense; had to bring in SK next to Dr. Phil!). It’s not true that parental love is only love if it makes its own internal happiness dependent upon the happiness of one’s children. This does not mean you don’t care about your children, pursue their highest good, respect their freedom to make their own choices, and rush to their side when they suffer. But that I am no more happy than my saddest child? Not anymore. That we can hardly bring ourselves to imagine things differently than this (in the codependent sort of way Dr. Phil describes) attests to the power and influence of the dysfunctions that define us.

The problem here is that this same psychology attends much of Protestant Christianity, something we’ve talked about here before (see God’s Green Mile and Negotiated Happiness). If you believe you can’t be any happier than your saddest or most miserable child, naturally you’re going to view God in similar terms. That is, if you can’t conceive of your own happiness as independent of the happiness of those you love, indeed, if you conceive of love as the sacrificing of happiness as Dr. Phil describes, and you’re convinced God loves us, then naturally you’re going to conceive of God’s happiness as dependent upon us. And so it is that many Protestants and Evangelicals, truth be told (as my experience working in the Recovery community and helping people through the years have provided overwhelming evidence), view God as no more happy than the saddest of all the creatures he loves. By my math that would make God the saddest conceivable being.

(Picture here).

4 comments on “Dr. Phil: God as most unhappy parent imaginable

  1. Alan Rhoda says:

    And clearly, the “saddest conceivable being” isn’t the greatest conceivable being, and hence isn’t God.

    Dr. Phil’s notion is that of a co-dependent God, one whose emotional well-being depends on His creatures and not on His inherent qualities.


    • yieldedone says:

      Exactamundo, Alan. Such a being ISN’T God…but wait! From ReKnew.org. Greg on “When God Abandoned God”. http://reknew.org/2013/05/when-god-abandoned-god/

      “…as Moltmann has in particular emphasized, only by affirming the authenticity of Jesus’ God-forsakenness can we affirm that God has fully entered into, fully experienced, fully embraced and fully redeemed the God-forsakenness of the world. Because the Son experienced the horror of God-forsakenness, and because the Father experienced the horror of forsaking his Son, we can affirm that “even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit.” In the nightmarish separation of the Father and Son, he writes, we can see that “the whole uproar of history,” with all of its unthinkable atrocities, is embraced “within God.” In other words, the authenticity of the Jesus’ abandonment on the cross means that God is a God who is entering into and embracing our hell. And its only because of this that we can be confident that God has poured himself out completely in working to redeem us from our hell.”

      Greg follows Moltmann in saying that the grief of the Cross is taken up into the Father, into the very depths of the triune life itself. It specifically says that the only reason we can be confident in what God has done for us by love is by knowing that God sympathetically felt our pain of God-forsakenness in Jesus such that it disrupts the felt bliss of love, joy, and peace of the INNER LIFE of the Trinity.”

      How is this not saying that divine empathy *requires* sympathetic pain with Creation (via Jesus) actually defining the very TRINITY’S sense of inner well being?

      How is this not saying that the Father is only as happy as his incarnate Son is at any given time? Yep.

      This “saddest conceivable being” is ******NOT****** the true and living God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob!


      • yieldedone says:

        I like the 1992 Greg better! Greg from Trinity and Process:


        There is, it seems, no contradiction in maintaining that a being can be self-content on one level, and yet suffer at another. For example, a person need not sacrifice their self-love, their contentment with who they are, their own internal “fullness of life” in order to genuinely enter into the sufferings of another. Indeed, it seems that the person who enters into the sufferings of others with a sense of internal fullness is in a better position to genuinely enter into these sufferings than one who lacks such “fullness.”

        To speak more specifically, a person who suffers for another because she needs the other—e.g., needs this other to make her “feel good” about herself, to feel loved and needed, etc.—is more inclined to yet have herself as the object of concern, and thus more inclined to be, to that extent, shut off to the real needs of the other. In contrast, one who enters into solidarity with a sufferer but who is self-content, who loves herself, who possesses an internal fullness which is not destroyed by the suffering, is free to have the sufferer as the sole object of her concern. She is free, in a sense, to “forget herself” in devotion to another.

        In the case of the former person, one who “needs” the other to arrive at her self-love, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her deficiency. In the case of the latter person however, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her wholeness. And the more whole she is, the more perfectly she can suffer with and for the other. (62)

        There are, of course, millions of humans who hold to a superficial form of self-contentment to the exclusion of, or even at the expense of, others’ happiness. In fact, the instances of an opposite disposition are unfortunately rare. The prevalence of this attitude, especially in first world countries, is no doubt one of the reasons why we have such difficulty in seeing God as being both eternally self-satisfied and also temporally self-abased. But, as we have argued, there is no necessary connection between self-contentment and insensitivity.

        We may, then, conceive of God as one who is both unsurpassably self-content in God’s essential sociality, while being, at the same time, fully incarnated in the sin and suffering of the world in God’s expressive sociality. Indeed, implied in what we have argued thus far is the supposition that God is free to enter into and redeem the sufferings of the world fully precisely because God is eternally self-sufficient within Godself.

        Note 62:

        The analogy has, of course, a limited application to God in that all humans need other humans to be full within themselves. Their social nature is actualized only in relation to other humans. God too is social, but this sociality is satisfied within Godself. But the analogy does articulate that, as a person may enter into selfless solidarity with another out of fullness—a fullness derived from this person’s other relationships to humanity and to God—so God can enter into selfless solidarity with suffering humanity out of a fullness “derived” from this One’s “other” sociality—the eternal sociality God has within Godself.”


  2. Jeff says:

    Even what Greg says there is a bit confused. Contentment, fullness, and such terms as those don’t really mean what is conventionally meant by unsurpassable bliss. So they don’t address the real issue being debated here. That’s one of the reasons why I couldn’t hang with that book. It’s full of equivocations and non-sequitors.

    When we talk about happiness, much of the time we just do mean a contentedness. It doesn’t at all mean in those cases mean that we’re simultaneously experiencing sentient bliss. Spiritual joy that comes from being filled with the Spirit, however, includes both. It includes the peace within the storm that comes from the certitude of ultimate redemption (a kind of contentment with the present sufferings due to their perceived relative triviality) and a bona-fide blissful feeling that arises from the full awareness that you’re thereby loving Him who loves you perfectly– that you’re accomplishing His will. And who doesn’t take great sympathetic satisfaction in satisfying those we have great affection for?

    Co-dependent parents are truly dependent on their current this-worldly sentient state for their assessment of their happiness rather than on a perceived alignment with something age-abiding and mind-bogglyingly more wonderful than any momentary pleasure derived from this world-system causality. Those momentary pleasures are not per se wrong, of course. But neither they nor momentary sufferings are “anything” in the scheme of things.

    Psychologists say (and some of us may have experienced it) that there are persons with certain cognitive and emotional styles that are just over-sympathetic. I.e., they can’t seem to be motivated by that sympathy entailed in justice more than that sympathy induced by the momentary discomfort of those they are in some relationship with. There are bosses, e.g., who will allow a departmental team to completely disintegrate due to systematic unfairness just to act sympathetically in the moment with any one willing to jerk their “sympathy” chain. This is what God is not like, even if He is sympathetic.

    God’s sympathy aligns with justice. Neither the Father nor the Son is a respector of persons in the sense that justice will be not compromised by them for an over-sympathetic coddling of some over others, and he who does wrong will receive for the wrong, just as Colossians 4 tells us. This is the sympathy constrained by justice–i.e., that which truly and knowably (which is the key to differentiating it from secular utilitarianism) does result in the greater long-term good for the most. This may even imply universal reconciliation.

    Ultimate and utter reconciliation with God for eternity renders all momentary sentient states utterly insignificant when relativized over the long-term. And God sees this perfectly all the time. So, at least in that one sense, He can probably never truly regret a creation with libertarian free-will in it in that sense. But that doesn’t mean He can’t also know that had He known up front how poorly a particular creation would fare that He could have FREELY chosen to create AT THAT TIME.

    Because once you know exhaustively up front what both of 2 optional future scenarios will involve, there is no risk. And where there is no risk (i.e., uncertainty about options) , a perfectly and essentially loving being can’t act with libertarian free-will in the matter where other sentient beings are involved, if indeed love requires sympathetic-sentience for its conception. This is why scripture says things like God can’t lie and can’t be unfaithful. He doesn’t have that kind of freedom. IOW, scripture is already coherent on this matter of the gratuity of creation in the sense being discussed here because of open theism and the diversity and sympathy of the persons of the godhead. No approach contrary to the inductively-exegeted-scriptural approach is necessary to account for it.

    If, on the other hand, love doesn’t require sympathetic-sentience for its conception, the conception of lover doesn’t require the attribute of compassionate/sympathetic. What does that leave us in the definition of lover? Lovers can be non-sentient since the effects of their actions are the only relevant qualifiers? Lovers have non-diverse, equally-intense affection for all beings whether those beings sentient or not? Lovers have diverse affection for beings, but distinguished in a way we can’t make sense of analogically? How do I get that definition after eliminating the attribute of justice-oriented (when, as in creations like the one we inhabit, libertarian free agents can choose other than sympathetically) sympathetic sentience from a lovER. I would need help with that definition. Because at that point, I’m defining with no regard for already doable analogy. Alan?


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