Divine experience of beatitude the summum bonum—Part 3

I’m thankful for several comments (public and private) made regarding Part 2 of this series. I thought I’d like to respond by way of clarification. One friend’s comment, representative of several others, wondered whether what I’m suggesting regarding a strictly passibilist interpretation of motivation, if applied to God, would undermine the sense in which God’s love is truly disinterested. I do think this would be the case.

But in the hope of clarifying, let me offer two convictions to serve as bookends—

(1) It seems an obvious failure of love to have no regard for the good of those who suffer. And it seems especially reprehensible if this lack of regard is due to being preoccupied or obsessed with the enjoyment and ease of one’s own wealth and luxury.

Whatever else we might mean by supposing God’s beatitude to be undiminished, we certainly don’t mean to say that God’s beatitude preoccupies him or that he is so self-absorbed with his own beauty and happiness that he either doesn’t notice or, if he notices, has no regard for the well-being of others. That would fail as an understanding of ‘love’. God never fails to notice us, never fails to will our highest well-being (in him), and never fails to fully intend and pursue that well-being. The question we’re asking is: Must God be ‘moved’ to do so? And our answer to that question is ‘no’.

(2) While it’s right to criticize the above disregard for the well-being of others and to value as benevolent those who give themselves to pursue that well-being, we also praise that form of benevolence the motivations of which are free from regard for self-preservation and self-interest as well as from self-absorbed co-dependence

Point (2) takes us in the direction of that form of disinterested benevolence we’re ascribing to God here. If the self-absorbed disregard for the pain of others is a failure of love, so is a self-absorbed regard for the pain of others. The latter (in its varying degrees) springs from a certain codependent way of possessing one’s self. One thinks of those who chase fire trucks to appease their sense of duty or obligation. God doesn’t chase fire trucks, so to speak, nor does his benevolence fall along a continuum of that sort of motivation.

Given (1), God is not preoccupied or self-absorbed with his own beatitude. He has regard for our highest well-being and never fails to desire or pursue it. I think all theists (except for Calvinists) would agree. Given (2), as a necessary and blessed being who is the summum bonum of infinite and unimprovable value, God is neither co-dependent nor emotionally needy, nor can he stand in need of us for any of what constitutes the essential beatitude which is his necessary existence as infinite beauty. I don’t need to appeal to a classical theistic text to argue this much (though they have it as well). Greg Boyd’s Trinity & Process will do.

So my point in Part 2 below was that if divine benevolence can only act on behalf of the highest good of suffering individuals by first being moved to do so by a felt diminishment of its own experience, then it’s arguable that the virtue expressed in (2) above is sacrificed, for it would be with reference first to Godself that God acts on behalf of others, in which case God’s love would not be free from self-interest. God, arguably, would be less than fully self-possessed in terms of his aesthetic value.

A profitable question might be what would fulfill the virtues of both (1) and (2)? On the one hand open theists are well-known for championing (1). Whether they have in fact secured (2) is debatable. Classical theists are famous for championing (2), and whether they have in fact secured (1) is debatable. This looks like a conversation starter to me, not a conversation stopper. At the very least nothing about the nature of the future as open, nor about God’s knowledge of it as open, nor creaturely freedom as such, nor the contingent nature of how the future unfolds is jeopardized by differences of opinion on the question of God’s experience of aesthetic value or beatitude.

Eventually I’d like to bring James Loder into the conversation, particularly his description of ‘the Void’ and God as our rescue from it, and make my way to suggesting (controversially of course!) that:

(a) all failure of experienced aesthetic value (i.e., all failure of experienced beatitude) is a version of Loder’s ‘Void’ and, indeed, only possible for created persons (limited as we are, in virtue of being created, by both finitude of perspective and surpassability of beauty) and that

(b) no necessary being of infinite value (facing no limitation of perspective and being unsurpassable in beauty) could conceivably be defined in its essence by any measure of the Void, i.e., could conceivably fail to experience its true value in aesthetic terms, experiencing the fullest possible meaning and value of its being and existence. Aesthetic failure (of any measure) would be a consequence of the need to world-construct in the context of the Void, not something imaginable for God (essentially/ad intra), a necessary being of infinite value.

(Picture here.)

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