God’s creative options


Just thinking out loud here. No commitments. Just speculating.

In the immediately preceding post I noted Hart’s criticism of those who imagine God’s choice to create in terms of a deliberation among infinite options. There are some, for example, those of a more analytic bent, who revel in talk of ‘possible worlds’, logical constructs depicting God’s creational ‘options’. Most suppose these to be infinite, since God is infinite. But certainly they’re innumerable. God could have created, say, a world with no sentient beings in it at all. Or he might have created a world populated with beings capable only of doing his bidding, or he might have — and on and on the possibilities go.

I think talk of an infinite number of possible worlds other than this one is mistaken. I do think there are innumerable possibilities this world faces, possible futures this world’s own inherent dispositions and capacities might or might not realize in time. So talk of possible ways this world might be or become is certainly meaningful. But fundamentally other initial states? A pre-creational slate of infinite and contrary ‘options’ of which our world was but one? This all seems impossible talk to me now. Not only does God not choose from a menu of innumerable possible worlds after deliberating the pros and cons, but there are no such possible worlds, and certainly no (Leibnizian) ‘best of all possible worlds’.

I know this is a big claim. So why make it? The main reason to think God either creates this world or none at all lies in an Incarnational metaphysics of participation. Consider non-human (specifically, non-hypostatic or non-personal) creatures and entities. How do they achieve their end or telos in God? How is God “all in all” (1Cor 15.28) in them? Paul taught (Rom 8.22) that all creation groans “waiting for” the children of God to be revealed, that creation is only finally liberated when it is “brought into the freedom and glory” of humankind. Non-hypostatic realities find their telos not immediately in God, but mediately through human beings. That is to say that creation’s perfection is implicated in humanity’s perfection. I take this to be a fundamental metaphysical principle definitive of created being per se. Romans 8 describes a mediated teleology: all things other than human beings are implicated in humanity’s perfection, and all humankind is implicated in the perfection of the Incarnate One. I want to suggest that this defines the scope of possible worlds because it defines the path of perfection which any creation must take. Why think this?

The word Options on a cork notice board

Certainly no creation is conceivable that is not loved. And nothing is loved by God that is not intended for the greatest possible union with God, i.e., that does not have its end in God, its share in and contribution to God’s being “all in all.” For if God is the summum bonum, all possible worlds end in God’s being “all in all.” But none of this is possible apart from Incarnation. God would not create that for which he would not will himself as end, and as no non-hypostatic reality has its end in God immediately but only through implication as an aspect of the hypostatic existence of another (Rom 8), such created hypostatic reality becomes essential to any conceivable creation as the means by which God brings that order in its entirety to fulfillment in himself. Essentially then,

…there’s only one possible creation—Incarnation. Creation and Incarnation are one and the same possibility in God.

God either creates to bring all he creates to fulfillment in/through Incarnation, or he doesn’t create at all. All other varieties and created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between; rather, they are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation, that is, this world. It should then be impossible not just to speak of this creation apart from Incarnation/Christology, but to speak of God’s creating at all apart from the intention to incarnate. Indeed, I’m suggesting that all possibilities for creation derive from and return to the one possibility of Incarnation.

What of Leibniz? We talk of the logic of infinite possible worlds and whether there is a “best of all possible worlds.” But God is the best possible world and whatever God creates has its best possible end in him. When God is viewed as summum bonum defining the end of every world (which must be the case), there can be no one best possible world among an infinite number of possible worlds (if we multiply worlds for the sake of argument) since every candidate possibility has God as its end. And thus,

as the value of anything created ex nihilo derives entirely from God and has its end in God, no world-order God brings into being can be better or worse than any other order God brings to be. Hence, there is no ‘best possible world’. Anything God does is as good as anything else God does.

In the end, there is in fact only one possible world to create—an initial state suitably fitted and sustained for the emergence of sentient-hypostatic/personal life for the sole purpose of Incarnation.

Prayer: Be all in all in me today, Incarnate One. May all I do—my seeing, my thinking, my touching, my speaking be your home.

8 comments on “God’s creative options

  1. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Good thoughts as to the cosmic telos of/for the incarnation.

    There may be a more fundamental reason to reject (as I think does Hart) a divine process of choice – such denotes bad/good/better/best deliberation which is an anthropomorphic projection of the gnomic will (i.e. our present human condition and constitution) onto the divine will. The Greek Fathers generally posit the gnomic as unique to fallen humanity. The position then is based first and foremost on a consideration of theology proper (i.e. the nature of God), rather than a consideration of the telos of creation. Of course these are not absolute unrelated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      I’ll try to find that exchange I had with Hart (at Fr Aidan’s place) over this.


    • Tom says:

      Here’s that question I put to DBH and his answer:


      (The exchange in the comments on May 13, 2015):

      Prof Hart,

      Forgive my incessant probing, but I have to ask you about something (related to created agency) which I’ve had on my mind since reading your The Beauty of the Infinite. On p. 320, with reference to Michel de Certeau’s “Authorités Chrétiennes et Structures Sociales,” you concede the possibility that in our final fulfilled form Christ offers (in Certeau’s words) “a style of existence that ‘allows’ for a certain kind of creativity and that opens a new series of experiences” as opposed to, say, Christ specifying every particular of our continuing existence without remainder (even if, as you say, Christ comprises the fullness of every contingent expression).

      My question (possibly related to your comment above on the gnomic will) has to do with created agency as fulfilled in Christ and enjoying a ‘scope of loving possibilities’ within which to freely/creatively determine how it shall reflect divine beauties. Going with Certeau’s suggestion, might we imagine the logoi of created beings as embodying or specifying a “range” or “scope” (a palette?) of beautiful expression and not the particular of every form? The divine will (or logoi) would terminate not in the final form of creaturely expression but in the range of creative possibilities offered to creatures to uniquely shape their expressive form (unique not in the creation of beauties not already comprised in Christ as the summum bonum, but simply as the creature’s contribution to the consummate beauty of ends synergistically achieved). Would the gnomic will retain a unique function in this case?


      D. B. Hart says:
      13 May 2015 at 11:46 am

      Sure, works for me.

      I know that Maximus often speaks of the gnomic will as simply the sinful and deviating will. Something tells me–more a phenomenology of consciousness than a moral metaphysics–that it might be better to think of it as the “third moment” of the conscious act, so to speak, the first two being the primordial intention of the natural will and the power of intellect (both being rational). Then the gnomic will is that supremely rational moment of (ideally) assent or love or creative liberty that completes the “trinitarian” movement of the mind and makes it genuinely rationally free.

      That is obscure. Sorry. But yes, I prefer to think that, healed, it remains, and that it makes each soul’s reflection of and participation in divine beauty a unique inflection or modulation of the whole, which makes each individual indispensable, of course, to that glory.


      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        It may be one thing to posit that the gnomic will “survives” in its perfected state as it is harmonized with the natural will (although this is not without problems as it would seem to permanently identify person with gnomic will), it is quite another to read the gnomic deliberation into the divine nature.

        It seems to me the issue is a lingering analytic concept of libertarian freedom. of desire and necessity which is projected onto the divine, to wit God selects from a menu of possible worlds in order to maintain or assert His freedom or goodness. But, in contrast, God is understood as the very ground of desire, of freedom and of goodness who is without necessity of choice as only the Good that exists, there’s nothing beyond from which to make a choice.


      • Tom says:

        “It is quite another to read the gnomic deliberation into the divine nature.”

        Agreed. I don’t see how we can imagine God in such terms.


  2. Tom says:

    Reblogged this on An Open Orthodoxy and commented:

    Still feeling this deeply. Do “best world” semantics collapse within the all-encompassing truth of God as summum bonum? I still think so.


  3. This is it, baby.
    Let’s embrace it!

    Liked by 1 person

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