Greg on divine aesthetic expression

Alan’s reply in the comments section of the preceding post (check ‘em out) sent me back to Trinity & Process to find a couple relevant passages which I thought would be a good place to start exploring. Anticipating precisely the discussion we’re having, in Ch 3, Greg (Boyd) writes:

We will do well to immediately forestall an obvious objection from a theistic perspective to our argument, an argument which is frequently employed by Process theologians in support of their position. This will not only remove one obstacle from our subsequent reconstruction of Hartshorne’s doctrine of God, but will further lay the groundwork for this reconstruction by articulating the relationship which we perceive to exist between this supposed unsurpassable divine instance of aesthetic enjoyment and the infinite compossibilities of finite relations.

The objection is this: it seems that if God is eternally characterized within Godself as an unsurpassable instance of aesthetic enjoyment, then the infinite compossibility of finite relations can mean nothing to God. It seems that if “God can be neither increased nor diminished by what we do,” then “our action, like our suffering, must be in the strictest sense wholly indifferent to him.” It seems that if we do not increase God’s enjoyment, then all talk about “serving God” is meaningless and “our existence is idle.” In short, it may seem that either our existences increase the value of God’s experience, or our existences are of no value to God.

In response, I believe a distinction can be made between the “subjective intensity” of an aesthetic experience and its “objective expression.” To attempt to make this distinction clear, we might return to our earlier example of listening to a symphony. Though the intensity of one’s enjoyment of a symphony does not increase once the acme of his or her possible aesthetic satisfaction has been attained, this does not render the remainder of the symphony unimportant. Rather, each changing harmonic progression continues to be enjoyed because of the continuance of novel variations it expresses. The aesthetic satisfaction of the listener under ideal conditions is constant (assuming that the acme has been attained and is sustained), but the occasion for its expression and enjoyment is changing—and indeed can, hypothetically, have an infinite variety of forms.

Perhaps an analogy which is more helpful in picturing the relationship between aesthetic satisfaction and aesthetic expression in God is that of an ideal artist. We may conceive of a factitious “ideal” artist who always accomplishes works of art so perfect that her aesthetic satisfaction in response to them is always unsurpassably intense. But this perfection, it seems, would in no way imply that all of her works after her first in which her zenith of aesthetic satisfaction was first attained had to be unimportant to her. They would be important, though not as objects to improve her ideal aesthetic satisfaction. Rather, they are valuable to her as novel expressions of this ideal enjoyment.

Why, one might ask, would such an artist want to arrive at a new expression of her aesthetic enjoyment if it was already ideal (assuming that this ideal artist would naturally sustain this ideal intensity without further works to produce it)? Would not her first ideal work suffice? Does not the production of new works signify that she is aiming at more intense satisfaction? And by analogy, does not the creation of the non-divine world signify that the divine artist is aiming at a more intense satisfaction? Why would God create the world if God had already (eternally) attained an unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction within Godself?

This answer is, I believe, implicit in Hartshorne and Whitehead’s own views of beauty: the spontaneous expression of an aesthetic intensity is an end in itself. It needs no further justification. Fundamental to Process thought—and many other aesthetic theories as well—is the conviction that beauty is the one aim which by its nature is self-justifying. Indeed, as Kant, von Schiller, Valery and many others have recognized, aesthetic satisfaction is distinctly aesthetic precisely because it is wholly non-utilitarian: it is “purposiveness without purpose,” spieltrieb, a “drive-to-play.” If this is so, then it would seem that the on-going expression of an ideal aesthetic intensity would need no further purpose to explain it or justify it. Our ideal artist would, therefore, enjoy a variety of ways of re-expressing her aesthetic delight, even though these novel re-expressions could only re-express, and not increase, this delight.

We may state the matter in a different way, this time in the light of our previously articulated dispositional ontology. Our ideal artist is essentially constituted by the disposition to produce and enjoy with an unsurpassable intensity artistic works. But dispositions, we have argued with Hare and Madden, are not exhausted by their exercise. They are abiding orders of creativity, particularized laws of actualization, structured proclivities of being in its movement from possibility to actuality, and they remain (or at least may remain) even after any given instance of their exercising. What is more, dispositions, aesthetically understood, do not necessitate only one possible outcome. Spontaneity, we have argued for a number of reasons, is an inherent aspect of things.

This being the case, we can I believe, now understand why our ideal artist would be motivated to re-express her aesthetic aim and enjoy her aesthetic satisfaction in novel ways, though none of these ways increases the intensity of her (already unsurpassable) satisfaction. Her essential self is defined (at least in part) as a creative becoming towards an aesthetic satisfaction, and the reality of this self-defining law of concrescence abides so long as she exists. Her enduring self-identity, her “essence,” is thus defined by a futurity of creativity, and her actuality is defined at any given moment (at least in part) by an unsurpassable intensity of satisfaction resulting from this creativity. Thus, this hypothetical artist cannot but create, and she cannot but enjoy with maximal intensity her creativity, though the precise way she creates and enjoys it is in part spontaneously generated.

Her definitional disposition is an end in itself. Correlatively, the creative variety this disposition generates is an end in itself. And, again correlatively, her unsurpassable enjoyment of what her dispositional essence creatively produces is an end in itself. It is all beautiful, and is, as such, its own reason for being. And if Whitehead and Hartshorne are correct about this, we are all something like this ideal artist in every action we perform—and so is God.

Our distinction between the “subjective intensity” and “objective expression,” between the enjoyment of beauty which admits of a zenith, and the expression of beauty which does not, shall play an extremely crucial role in our reconstruction of Harshorne’s view of God. Along with our previous modifications of Hartshorne’s view of what is and is not a priori, this modification of Hartshorne’s system allows us to conceive of God as essentially constituted by an unsurpassable aesthetic experience of God’s own self-relationality. Like our ideal artist, we shall, on the basis of this distinction, argue that God is best conceived of as being at once unsurpassable in God’s definitional aesthetic disposition and actual eternal enjoyment of what this disposition produces within Godself, and yet as being essentially (though not necessarily) interested in, appreciate of, and involved in the creation, preservation, and ultimate salvation of the non-divine world. For this world, we shall argue, is destined to express ad extra, the eternal beauty and joy which characterizes the triune beauty of God ad intra.

We shall, in short, utilize the modification of Hartshorne’s foundational statements, combined with his theistic arguments, to arrive at a view of God which accomplishes what the classical view of God as actus purus accomplished—seeing God as self-sufficient, and thus creation and salvation as acts of grace—while yet avoiding the logical fallacies of the classical view and articulating a view of God which is, like the Process view, in accord with the dynamic categories of modernity.

Then again in Ch 6 (on “Moral and Aesthetic Arguments”), Greg writes:

If God is, as the theistic arguments all attempt to demonstrate, a being “greater than which none other can be conceived,” and if, as Hartshorne has argued, beauty is inherent in the idea of existence itself, then the unsurpassable reality of God must be an unsurpassable experience of beauty. What this means for the supposition that the unsurpassable reality is internally related and self-sufficient is that a) this internal relationality must be most fundamentally defined as an experience of beauty, and b) this experience of beauty must be utterly unsurpassable.

Yet, if God is to be genuinely related to the creation, this beauty must not be “closed in” upon itself. It must be encompassing of the world’s contingent beauty, and thus must be itself contingent in some respects. How then is the world not eternal? And how is God’s beauty not increased by God’s experience of the world?

Our previously argued distinction between the intensity of an aesthetic experience and the quantity of contrasts synthesized in an aesthetic experience renders these implications intelligible and explains their concomitant difficulties. God’s essential and necessary existence is, on this scheme, most basically defined by the unsurpassable intensity of aesthetic enjoyment which characterizes the triune sociality of God. God experiences Godself with an intensity which can under no circumstances conceivably be improved upon. As with Hartshorne, we are here most fundamentally defining God’s transcendence in terms of God’s aesthetic satisfaction.

But against Hartshorne we are also affirming that this aesthetic satisfaction is the same whether or not there is a non-divine world for God to enjoy. God is no “greater” for fellowshipping with the world, for it is God’s fellowship with Godself, not the world, which constitutes and characterizes the necessary unsurpassability of God’s aesthetic satisfaction. God’s gracious fellowship with the non-divine world simply expresses this primordial eternal fellowship.

To use Whitehead’s terminology, it is the “perfection of Subjective Form” defined in terms of “strength” (viz., intensity) which defines God as God ad intra. It is this qualitative category which expresses the necessary perfection of God. But, pace Whitehead, this God-defining intensity is not dependent on the “comparative magnitude” or “massiveness” of what is experienced. It is only Hartshorne’s (and Whitehead’s) insistence that the “perfection” of God must be defined quantitatively— which is itself derivative from their theory of aesthetic satisfaction—which prevents Hartshorne from seeing God’s aesthetic self-definition as being absolute in the same sense as is God’s ethical self-definition.

Once the necessary actuality and aesthetic perfection of God is understood in qualitative terms—once the “subjective form” of God is understood as the necessary unsurpassable intensity of an internally related sociality—the absoluteness and self-sufficiency of God can be asserted apart from any non-divine world. Does this then mean that the multiplicity of the non-divine world which God experiences means nothing to God? We have already seen that this does not follow. It is only Hartshorne’s belief that “intensity” and “massiveness” are necessarily correlated which leads him to suppose that (say) a work of art must be constitutive of an artist’s experience for the work to be genuinely related to, and significant to, that artist. Hence, too, the world, in his view, must be a constituent of God for the world to “matter” to God.

In contrast to this, however, we have maintained that a work of art can be significant to an artist not as a constituent of the artist’s experience, but as an expression of it. If the artist, under ideal conditions, has attained a zenith of his or her ability to intensely experience beauty, then it is as an expression of aesthetic intensity that the work will be experienced. The work cannot constitute an increase in the intensity of the hypothetical artist: it rather constitutes the occasion for the expression of the unsurpassable intensity which is already present.

So we may, I believe, conceive of God’s relationship to the world. Since God has freely chosen to actualize God’s potentiality to be Creator of a non-divine world, God can create and appreciate the aesthetic value (and hence the moral value) of a non-divine world. The world becomes part of God’s concrete contingent experience, and is, in this sense, constitutive of God. To this extent we side with Hartshorne over and against the classical tradition.

But, we further hold, this God-defining zenith of aesthetic intensity has been constituted in the triune sociality of God from eternity. This is necessary, and as such it is neither increased nor diminished by the contingent and temporal affairs of the world. Rather, God’s experience of the contingent world—indeed, the entirety of God’s “contingent pole”—serves to express the eternal divine intensity of God’s triune self-experience.

Hence, God enjoys the world—the world “means something” to God—not as an essential element in God’s necessary self-constitution, but as an expression of God’s self-constitution. The world provides a new occasion for the unsurpassable beauty of God, defined in terms of divine intensity, to be expressed and in a sense “repeated” in a novel form.

The entire process of the contingent, temporal order, then, can be said to be constituted by God’s aim at expressing Godself—the infinite delight of the triune sociality—ad extra. Since God’s deity-defining intensity of aesthetic satisfaction is infinite, the potential for expressing this delightful beauty is inexhaustible.

Hartshorne rightly argues that the possibilities for finite harmonies have no upper limit. But the endlessness of these possibilities does not necessitate the endless increase of the intensity of God’s self-defining experience: it rather necessitates the inexhaustible richness of the contingent ways in which God can express this One’s unsurpassing intensity. An eternity of progress shall not exhaust it.

Does this view that God is eternally and unsurpassably “satisfied” within God’s eternal triune sociality imply that God does not partake in the suffering of the world? Is the portrait of God we have here painted a view of God as insensitively independent in God’s own self-contentment? If God’s self-experience is unsurpassably intense, regardless of the state of the world’s state of affairs, is not the “virtuous mutability” of God undermined? Are we not back in the position of God as actus purus? I do not believe so.

In chapter IV, we utilized the analogy of an experiential subject who was composed of actual occasions with differing “specious presents” to argue that a subject—viz., God—could be both actually necessary and actually contingent in differing respects. Against Process thought, God’s absoluteness need not be only abstract. And against the classical tradition, it being perfect and actual need not rule out it also having contingent elements. We may now expand upon this in addressing this present issue of the relationship between God’s eternal satisfaction and temporal suffering.

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.

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.

Greg’s distinction between “subjective intensity” and “objective expression” of an aesthetic satisfaction is interesting. I understand what’s being said. I may need more time to appreciate it. I have a few ideas that make it plausible to me, but I’ll leave it there for now and invite Dwayne and others to comment on the distinction.

(Picture here.)

13 comments on “Greg on divine aesthetic expression

  1. nelsonct says:

    I want to venture a few thoughts on a very interesting subject. I might be in way over my head, but here goes:

    My disagreement with the way you’re defining God’s impassibility comes from the way you conceive God’s relation to the world. You seem to describe it as a mainly aesthetic relation, like an artist to her artifact. I agree that this illustration communicates one aspect of the God-Creation relation, namely, the contingency of Creation. However, I believe that aesthetic categories fail to grasp what I believe the Bible teaches is the most important aspect of God’s relation to the world: love.

    Divine love is in a category of its own. And it’s my opinion that divine love is what grounds all other aspects of God’s essence. I believe that God’s aesthetic appreciation of Godself, God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss, is grounded on God’s love, and not the other way around. In other words, without love, there’s no truth, no beauty, no goodness and no aesthetic value to speak of. Without love, reality would be vanity, and God might as well not exist.

    Now, I understand love as unconditionally ascribing more worth and dignity to the Other (God, Creation, our neighbor) over myself (…value others above yourselves, Philippians‬ ‭2‬:‭3‬ NIV). Therefore, I believe that once God creates, God ascribes to Creation in general, and creatures in particular, infinite value (worth, dignity). God chose to save us even before knowing if we could be saved because he loves us regardless of the aesthetic satisfaction or dissatisfaction we might cause Him. This is, I believe, how John (of Patmos) understands God’s sacrifice in creating the world when he writes about the “Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (‭Revelation‬ ‭13‬:‭8‬ NIV).

    When love is put in its proper place at the center, then impassibility makes sense. Then we can talk about impassible love’s willingness to suffer. Seen this way, we can talk about God’s differential preference for certain outcomes without compromising his infallible love. Divine love is the impassible passion.


  2. formerlyjeff says:

    I can’t follow how Greg is using language. Take this statement:

    “This being the case, we can I believe, now understand why our ideal artist would be motivated to re-express her aesthetic aim and enjoy her aesthetic satisfaction in novel ways, though none of these ways increases the intensity of her (already unsurpassable) satisfaction.”

    But what does it mean to say God enjoys a satisfaction in diverse “ways” unless the extra-divine “expressions” are the cause of the satisfaction rather than God-self? If God-self is the only cause of the satisfaction, the extra-divine expressions seem to be mere spontaneous occurrences which have no causal role in the divine satisfaction. Motivation as applied to humans makes sense precisely because the human “expressions” play a causal role in human satisfaction.


    • nelsonct says:

      Jeff: But what does it mean to say God enjoys a satisfaction in diverse “ways” unless the extra-divine “expressions” are the cause of the satisfaction rather than God-self?

      Nelson: I can conceive of what Greg says experientially. For example, I’ve sometimes felt so happy, so joyous, that I have to let it out somehow. I might right a poem, or sing a song, or draw a picture trying to express my feeling in an external way. Or I might just enjoy the feeling in silence and stillness. In such moments, my art is the expression of my joy, not the source.


      • nelsonct says:

        I forgot to add that even though my art is an expression of my joy, it is still a source of pleasure for me.


      • tgbelt says:

        I think there’s an important truth in how you said it the first time. ;o)


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: I think there’s an important truth in how you said it the first time. ;o)

        J: There’s no contradiction in the two claims that Jacob is making, though. And in addition to that, we can’t say of God that God has “to let it out somehow.” That would mean, with respect to God, that God simply “has” to create. But that’s what we all deny, and rightly so. The point is that when we say we “enjoy” something other than our own selves, we’re meaning that that “something” plays a causal role in the “felt experience” we call enjoyment. This is what Greg is denying of God, though. And that’s why he needs to define his terms (like “enjoy,” “enjoyment,” “motivation,” “aim,” etc) for God such that the conventional meanings are ruled out. And I can’t think of how to do that. And I’m not sure if he attempts somewhere in the book yet.


  3. Jacob Hunt says:

    “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.”

    Whoa! Careful there, Greg. Sounds a little ethnocentric, eh?


  4. tgbelt says:

    Good comments all around. Thanks!

    Still thinking on this, mulling it over. Some thoughts:

    (1) I think part of my difference with Alan is that (perhaps) for him the notion of (differential) ‘preference’ entails something like preferring good outcomes over bad ‘for one’s own sake’. That tends to be our experience of preference. We prefer this or that end (even when it concerns others) to an important degree ‘for ourselves’ (to fulfill us, make us happy, make us feel safe, needed, important, whatever). We ‘get’ our well-being and life from outside ourselves. That’s just our nature as created/finite. You might say we ‘prefer ourselves’ in this or that outcome. But surely this aspect of preferences wouldn’t apply to a self-sufficient God who derives beauty, goodness and beatitude (that ground our prefereces) from his own inter-personal sociality (ala Greg).

    It takes me back to the analogy I earlier shared about a young girl with a skinned knee who screams bloody murder. He father sees, notices, cares and attends lovingly to her but without any perceived depreciation of his own happiness or comfort. Alan noted that this might not apply to God because none of us (even good fathers) really feels what others feel as God does. But that’s beside the point here. All that’s relevant here is that the Father is lovingly engaged and responsive without any perceived aesthetic depreciation on his part. Unless we’re going to say the father is less than loving or, worse yet, irrational, my point is made. The sort of thing I’m describing does happen and we don’t question it.

    (2) What I’m suggesting is that we think of God’s preferring good (over evil) outcomes in our lives as desiring our well-being utterly for our own sake and then ask ourselves what would have to be true about God for him to truly have us as a disinterested (contingent, free, unnecessary, not self-serving in any way) object of his desire. His experience of the world (in whatever state it is) wouldn’t be ‘self-constituting’ in the essential/necessary sense. That would precede and INFORM his preferences. So what God prefers ‘ex-presses’ the overflow of who/what he is and invites us into it. This would mean his preferences express what God’s desires for us, not particularly for himself. This, I think, ends up giving us a God who is truly “other oriented” (i.e., disinterested) because, as Greg describes, he’s able to have our well-being and happiness (and not his own on any level) as his sole object. It seems to that (some) passibilist interpretations can’t deliver us a truly “other orientation” of the divine life since God’s actions for us, the other always have the restoration of God’s own depreciated experience of value as their object/concern.

    I think this is just hard for us to step into because we are so wired to have ourselves as the object of our own preferences, even when they regard others we love. We are never as disinterested in our preferences as (I’m suggesting) God is, who derives his fullest existential/aesthetic reality from his own necessary (triune) relations.

    The switch in perspective is an experiential one and it comes on the other side of learning to see your worth/value and salvation in radically contingent and unnecessary terms (i.e., our own ‘nothingness’) as ‘expressive’ of a fullness we cannot ‘constitute’ per se and not in terms of the measure to which that fullness is contingent upon us (which is how I read 99% of passibilist argumentation).

    (3) There’s still the question of how to think of God as an already full-feeler still feeling the world (when it succeeds or fails to ex-press his intentions for it). But for the moment let me say that I’d be happy saying God is ‘affected’ by us in either case but that what he feels is relativized by his antecedent triune actuality in terms of Alan’s “drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy.” I understand Alan didn’t intend anything philosophically precise. But it does create conceptual space for us to begin to think in different terms. So what I’m suggesting at this point is only that we default to God’s ongoing, abiding triune beatitude as the object and source of our own beatitude as opposed to defaulting to that particular, affectively depreciated (negated) divine beatitude as if God’s happiness is an obstacle that needs to be overcome/falsified for us to be redeemed or feel cared for. See what I mean? Even if one wants to depreciate that reality infinitesimally by ‘dropping’ in the effects of preferred/dispreferred outcomes, you’d still comparatively speaking have an unimaginable beatitude that would literally consume evil, pain and suffering in the heat of its desire, and it would be THAT reality which would occupy us and not the extent to which we manage to falsify that reality.



  5. tgbelt says:

    I think that’s Greg’s essential point, i.e., that the (divine) self can “constitute itself” (ad intra) via relations of unsurpassable beauty and delight while also being ‘open to’ “expressing itself” (ad extra) via contingent outcomes which may fail to approximate their full potential without ad intra harm or consequence to God. All one needs to suppose is the self’s ability to distinguish the relative importance of different outcomes to the self’s essential identity. And maybe this is where Dwayne and I really do part waves (though nothing of this is essential to open theism per se) with others. We really don’t think the world ever (even in Incarnation) shares in determining the essential triune identity (F, S, and SP). We are meaningless when it comes to THAT.

    You could construe this (returning to the daughter’s skinned knee) in terms as simple as a father whose perspective on his own well-being and happiness is encompassing of his daughter’s (desperately limited) perspective without the truth of the daughter’s self-defining perspective becoming the truth of the father’s self-defining perspective. We’re not saying (as some have supposed) God is so happy he’s giddy and cackles in the presence of pain and suffering (“The Holocaust? Hahaha that’s so funny!”) as if true benevolent joy can’t accommodate its demeanor to the pain of others.


  6. Alan Rhoda says:

    There’s a lot to read in this post, Tom. I’ve only skimmed it, but I like the fact that Greg explicitly grapples with the issues that we’ve been discussing. What he says that

    “There is … no contradiction in maintaining that a being can be self-content on one level, and yet suffer at another.”

    I believe this is the crux of the matter. And I think this (i.e., that God can be self-content on one level, and yet suffer at another) is the right thing to say, provided that there is, in fact, no contradiction here. Making clear *that* and *why* it’s not a contradiction is the challenge. The key question is how these “levels” relate to each other and to God’s *total experience* such that God can be remain in unalloyed bliss on one level and yet genuinely “suffer” on another. At face value, these “levels” seem to be abstractions from God’s concrete total experience.


    • formerlyjeff says:

      It seems to me that self-contentedness is easily reconciled with suffering because it seems to be true of humans, at least by some definition of “contentedness.” But Greg is saying more than that in other portions of the book which does seem to contradict the possibility of divine suffering.

      With respect to the father and the knee, I would say that even if the father’s felt intensity is identical to his felt intensity from an orchestra concert, those two felt experiences still seem different in aesthetic quality. And Greg is claiming in at least one part of the book that God’s felt experience never varies in either intensity or quality.

      That doesn’t mean there’s anything inconsistent in saying God doesn’t feel us and yet acts in ways that benefit us. It just means that God’s felt experience is not functioning in Greg’s scheme as a necessary condition of any divine actions. That seems to explain the importance of Greg’s notion of divine spontaneity to his thesis.

      I think lots of people (myself included) naturally struggle with radical spontaneity for divine action because it seems to mean that the seemingly non-serendipitous correspondence of human desire with the human ability to fulfill desires is indeed serendipitous after all. No naturalistic theory accounts for that correspondence either, as philosophers as diverse as Plantiga and Nagel contend. Rather, naturalists just assume there must be a naturalistic account for it even though they haven’t thought of one yet.

      I think there’s a way to account for the non-serendipitousness of that correspondence with passibilistic theism, but I can’t see how to do it with a mono-substantial theism, myself. Tricky stuff it is. It’s not surprising that so little agreement exists after 2000 years.


  7. tgbelt says:

    @Alan. I agree Greg’s “being content on one level while suffering on another” is what the debate seems to boil down to. And I agree TP doesn’t really work out an thorough answer. TP’s thesis is pretty much all about establishing the need to even suppose there is an essential undisturbed contentment on the radar which creates a problem to solve. Personally, I think the problems involved in solving it, even if finally unresolvable, are far worse than the problems of not positing the sort of divine contentment that creates the problem. I think the “levels” do represent an abstraction of what for God ought to be thought of as an indivisible *total experience*, which is why I think the way forward (which we both seem to take) is to suppose that the contingent suffering is ‘relativized’ as it’s integrated into (experienced by) a necessary aesthetic fullness.

    @Nelson. Your example of being so joyous you had to let it out through some expressive act is great. You ended with noting that the expressive acts were an “expression” and not the “source” of the joy but then added that “though your art is an ‘expression’ of your joy, it’s still a ‘source of pleasure’.”

    I don’t think you meant the qualification at the end to deny what you first said. I didn’t take it that way. Yes, we do find pleasure in the creative expressions of joy. After all, they express ‘joy’. Why wouldn’t there be pleasure in them? They constitute occasions for pleasure and delight. But the more important point I think is that the expressive acts don’t in turn constitute the joy. Whatever joy you express in those moments, the joy’s constituting source is something other than the occasions of its expression. That’s the point.

    @Jeff. Did you mean to say there’s no contradiction in the two claims “Jacob” is making? I think you meant Nelson. But I don’t think I said he’s being self-contradictory, or that you or others that disagree with Dwayne and me are logically contradicting yourself (at least not obviously).

    As for whether “enjoy” must be understood always as proceeding in the way you describe, I just disagree. I don’t think it’s a leap into uncategorical or unfounded supposition to suppose we can ‘enjoy’ or take pleasure in something without having to suppose the occasion of our pleasure in turn ‘improves’ us or ‘increases us qualitatively’. Creation’s relationship to God is certainly ‘causal’ in many respects. I’m not debating that. But if creation is art work in the sense that it’s freely self-expressive of an antecedent reality, it doesn’t follow that the pleasure the artist finds in her work improves upon or increases God qualitatively; but neither does this mean the art doesn’t causally ‘occasion’ pleasure.

    About the father and his daughter’s skinned knee, I think you’re missing the point. All the analogy was meant to show was that it’s conceivable to notice and lovingly respond to someone in pain without having to be motivated by a felt depreciation (caused by the other’s pain) of one’s own overall aesthetic contentment. That’s all. But it doesn’t follow from this (as you seem to suppose when you conclude that “God’s felt experience is not functioning in Greg’s scheme as a necessary condition of any divine actions”), for example, that the father’s overall contentment has nothing to do with motivating/occasioning his response to his daughter. It’s one thing to say he doesn’t need to be ‘aesthetically depreciated’ by her pain to respond. It’s another thing to say his own ‘aesthetic appreciation’ has nothing to do with moving him to respond. On Greg’s view in T&P, God’s overall aesthetic contentment has everything to do as a necessary condition of all his actions.

    @Everyone. I’m very happy to see at least that those who actually read Greg’s T&P come away hearing him say what we hear him say, even if it’s objected to. Dwayne and I aren’t crazy! We’re not seeing things in T&P that aren’t there.

    As surprising as it may sound, in the end what Dwayne and I are recommending is a ‘way of living’ (not just some academic speculative exercise for its own sake, but) a way of living within a particular way of viewing an unchanging truth about God’s presence in the world—in our lives, our pain, our joys, our struggles, our process, our everything). TRY IT. It won’t destroy you or turn you into a zombie. Try—intentionally—to live conscious of the truth of God’s abiding triune delight at all times and places as the deepest truth of your own existence and the source of your joy, your victory, and your motivation to attend to the suffering and despair of others. If it depresses or debilitates you, go back to living in some other truth. If it empowers and sustains you, then congratulations. We can only stand so long debating whether ‘this’ recipe tastes better than ‘that’ recipe. In the end, you have to taste it.


  8. formerlyjeff says:

    T: On Greg’s view in T&P, God’s overall aesthetic contentment has everything to do as a necessary condition of all his actions.

    J: I wasn’t intending to suggest that Greg couldn’t believe as he wished in the matter. Rather, I was merely meaning that the claim that a single, necessary, divine felt experience is a necessary condition of God’s actions is neither logically entailed in nor implied by the claim that there is a single, necessary felt experience of God. The former claim would have to be posited or believed independently (logically, i.e.) of the latter claim as something else necessary of God.

    And I appreciate that you allow that non-divine “stuff” can cause God’s felt experience so long as it doesn’t affect the intensity or quality of it. But that doesn’t logically alter what I’m saying in the paragraph above, does it? To show that, we’d need a syllogism with premises, one of which asserted that God has a single necessary felt experience, that implies that a particular event would occur or has occurred. I’m not seeing how to generate such a syllogism.


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