Who touched me?

who-touched-me-51846

I love this beautiful work of Ed de Guzman depicting the healing of the woman who suffered 12 years with an issue of blood (LK 8). I’ll get to her as an illustration toward the end  of my thoughts, but I first wish to make a few comments in light of discussions with Malcolm (Comments section) regarding God and time, something about which it seems all any of us can do is speculate. But I appreciate the opportunity that challenging conversation gives me to clarify and grow. Malcolm asks:

You say the reason you prefer the temporal view is because you can ‘posit changing states of knowledge in God’. But that seems to me precisely the problem, isn’t it? That would make God mutable, insofar as I can see, and don’t we both want to avoid that?

In answer to Malcolm, the only problem I see here is attributing to God self-constituting becoming. I don’t see a problem in attributing to God “changing states of mind” that are not self-constituting. I think the objection to this comes from understanding divine simplicity in a way that views everything we say about God as expressive of his ‘self-constituting’ plenitude, whether we’re speaking about the Father’s begetting of the Son or the procession of the Spirit (on the one hand), or the creation of the world and God’s relations to it (on the other), whether we’re speaking about God’s knowledge of himself as fount, as begotten, as proceeding (on the one hand), or his knowledge of the world in its changing actualities (on the other). If divine simplicity means that what God does freely in creating a contingent world is as self-constituting of God as the Father’s begetting the Son, then I can’t espouse divine simplicity.

I don’t think I’m dragging God “into time” when I say the possibility (but not the actuality) of what we call the creation’s experience of “becoming” is a feature of God’s abiding, unchanging specious present. The analogies I shared explain how we ourselves are familiar with extended specious presents that are not in themselves defined or interrupted by tacit awareness of other specious presents that come to be and cease to be. True, for us it’s never the case that any specious present is infinite. All our conscious experiences are subject to temporal becoming, even if we sometimes have “specious presents” that do, without loss or change, contain other specious presents that come and go. But it’s not obviously incoherent to suppose that a specious present can be infinite and eternal and also accommodate tacit specious presents which, we might say, mirror or reflect the eternally actual truth, beauty and goodness of God’s essential, self-constituting present.

I don’t think of God’s eternal “specious present” as an unblinking cosmic stare or the temporal equivalent of a knife’s edge, an atemporal point with no width or content. That kind of timeless instant is an abstraction pure and simple. What I’m trying to imagine is more like a ‘saddle’ than a ‘knife’s edge’. (Language strains!) It has content to it but no history of becoming. It is not a temporal “process,” i.e., not an actuality possessed of some unrealized self-constituting potential which in actualizing it becomes (and so forth). I agree God cannot be thought of as “taking time” to become the triune God of hypostatic/personal fullness. It seems to me that the classical tradition supposes that if this much is true about God, that’s all that can be true about God, i.e., if God is actus purus (in a personally, self-constituting sense) there’s no room left in that plenitude for God to freely, contingently “contract” (like fractals contract their infinitude in a self-same way across finite scales) into real relations with, and changing states of knowledge of, created realities.

If God does not “take time” to become the triune, self-sustaining God, I don’t think it follows that God cannot “make time” for us. Let me give an example that functions as an analogy or illustration. In LK 8 we have the story of the woman who suffered with an issue of blood for more than a decade. She had seen doctors and spent all she had but never improved. As the crowds press around Jesus, she manages to push her way through and touch the hem of his garment and be healed. What she did could hardly be noticed given the crowds. But what does Jesus say? He questions, “Who touched me?” A bit surprised, Peter responds, “You’re being touched by dozens of people pressing in on you. What do you mean?” (Perhaps Peter can stand in for all analytic philosopher-theologians!) Jesus basically answers, “Somebody’s faith touched me. I know it because I felt power leave me.”

Jesus-heals-the-bleeding-woman-157251Interesting. Jesus felt healing power leave him. My question is this: Was there less healing power available on account of power “leaving” Jesus? Was the healing virtue present in Christ partially depleted or used up on account of having “left” him? Is that divine relation some scarce commodity that gets used up as our needs spend it in acquiring the healing we seek? Obviously not. What then? Power really left, but it also really didn’t make a difference. It left in one sense, and didn’t leave in another. There’s a real relation, a real going out of divine power to heal, but no determination of measurable loss in return. The relation can be known ‘in its going out’ without being known ‘as a going out’ (i.e., as a lessening of itself). We might liken all of creation, and God’s changing knowledge of and within it, as ‘interest’ paid out into and as creation on an immeasurable ‘principal’. Creation enjoys the interest but never spends the principle, and there is real expenditure even if no loss of principle.

Analogously, I’m (doing a very poor job at) suggesting that God can experience the world as tacit contractions of his plenitude—in his ‘going out’ in sustaining us—without the relation in turn depleting/lessening him. But if the simplicity of God’s plenitude is taken to mean that any ‘going out’ (temporal or otherwise) constitutes a depletion or loss, is not this view as guilty of viewing divine plenitude in ‘competitive’ terms as is typically thought to be the case in reverse? If God has a changing thought in knowing the changing world, divine plenitude is thus “depleted” like a finite commodity? To answer ‘yes’ seems to assume a competitive view of God’s presence and activity in the world.

Let me wind things down. Malcolm asks how it can be that God comes to know created realities contingently without it being the case that this potential to know is, like all contingent possibilities, grounded in some antecedent actuality. For on my view only God’s specious present can be the required actuality. So how can God also be open to contingent experiences and states of knowing? How can what is necessarily actual be the ground for its own unrealized potential? That seems obviously self-contradictory.

The short answer, I think, is that it is self-contradictory if we’re talking about an openness to self-constituting potential. I don’t think there can be any unrealized self-constituting potential in God. But neither do I think all change is self-constituting. As I suggested above, if one views divine simplicity as a totalizing proposition that means everything we say about God must express what is ‘self-constituting’ of God, then I agree there can be no unrealized potential in God—no changing states of knowing, acting, or sustaining the world.

It’s not a question of supposing such immutability to be in competition with the world. It functions on another level altogether. I don’t suppose for a tiny temporal instant that David Hart would agree with my appropriation of him on this point, but he made an interesting comment last summer at Notre Dame in arguing on moral grounds for the absolute incompatibility of divine benevolence and eternal conscious torment. I can only hope others see the similarity. Hart writes:

The golden thread of analogy can stretch across as vast an apophatic abyss as the modal disjunction between infinite and finite or the ontological disproportion between absolute and contingent can open before us; but it cannot span a total antithesis. When we use words like “good,” “just,” “love” to name God, not as if they are mysteriously greater in meaning than when predicated of creatures, but instead as if they bear transparently opposite meanings, then we are saying nothing.

Precisely.

In the same Notre Dame piece, Hart says, “It must be possible to speak of God without mistaking him for a being among beings.” And if this applies to moral categories, and by extension generally existential ones, what of temporal categories? Are these neatly separable? I don’t know. But I get the sense that in supposing God to be absolutely atemporal/timeless (in the sense of precluding all conceivable potential to act or know freely in relationship to contingent creatures in ways not essentially self-constituting of God) we use words such as “know,” “act,” and “create” of God “not as if they are mysteriously greater in meaning than when predicated of creatures,” but instead “as if they bear transparently opposite meanings” and end up saying nothing.

I don’t see the obvious reduction of God’s infinite plenitude to mere finite becoming in supposing an unrealized possibility to create to be a necessary feature of God’s unchanging perfection. That is, God’s triune perfections are—necessarily—more than necessary. The divine disposition by which God constitutes himself in triune fullness is itself a disposition for self-constituting and freely self-expressive modes of being, his freedom to do other than constitute himself in triune bliss. In this sense, to act and to know contingently in relationship to the world are a free and contingent exercise of the disposition to be God in ways that express the divine identities without determining them. As Hart said on another occasion, and I freely appropriate his words knowing he intended them in some other way I don’t understand, “God even transcends his own transcendence.”

Prayer: Created by you I am all desire. Called by you I am all response. Received by you I am all at home.

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2 comments on “Who touched me?

  1. Tom,

    Great post – I love it. And I especially love the picture. In fact I love all the artwork you post. I have been very moved by your images and believe I have been spiritually nourished in a sense from viewing them too.

    Now about your post. Well, we are certainly treading on the borders of comprehension, aren’t we? I’m not even close to thinking that I have these things figured out. I want to say that up front. I’m navigating these waters as best I can and (sometimes) I am just HOPING I am going the right way.
    But it seems my boat has pulled up next to yours. And since two heads are better than one I do think it’s a great idea for us to compare our maps and – to give a plug to my own blog – share our NOTES.

    As much as I hate to cut apart your post I find that that may be the best (only?) way to ariticulate where our differences lie. Hence it may be the best strategy for us (or at least me) to make any headway and clarify my own thinking.

    You say “If divine simplicity means that what God does freely in creating a contingent world is as self-constituting of God as the Father’s begetting the Son, then I can’t espouse divine simplicity.”

    Why can’t you? Could you spell that out a bit more? I am tempted to think that right here in this last sentence of the opening paragraph is the root of our division. For I DO think it possible that God’s simplicity is consistent with the fact that all his “contingent” acts are, as you say, expressive of his “self-constitutive” plenitude. For again, if God is the ontological basis for everything that exists – if he is outside time such that he does not exist metaphysically “along side” anything else and if his existence is in no way PARALLEL to the created order – it seems to me impossible to divide up God’s ACTUAL acts into some sort of sequential, orderly process. (Of course you can do so conceptually but I mean God’s own acts in his own being.) How can you in REALITY divide God’s action in terms of how he is “in himself” and then when he “goes” to being related to creation without making him mutable or putting him in time?

    It seems to me that as soon as you segregate God’s inner plenitude of life – his totality of experience, as it were – you posit some sort of transition which makes God temporal and divides up that very plenitude you’re trying to protect in the first place. It seems to me that God’s own inner being, so to speak, cannot be really divided into self-constituting relations and non-self-constituting relations for the simple reason that if these are REAL RELATIONS then you’ve i) divided up the very essence of God (are there two Gods?); and ii) you’ve put him into time and made him mutable and hence existing “along side” creation.

    And in fact I think your view actually demands that we not do this. For instance you say:

    What I’m trying to imagine is more like a ‘saddle’ than a ‘knife’s edge’. (Language strains!) It has content to it but no history of becoming. It is not a temporal “process,” i.e., not an actuality possessed of some unrealized self-constituting potential which in actualizing it becomes (and so forth). I agree God cannot be thought of as “taking time” to become the triune God of hypostatic/personal fullness.

    Now that’s exactly what I think we must suppose: not a God who is undergoing a temporal and changing process but a God who has within himself all temporal and changing processes at once and that he is eternally and changelessly always related to. In a sense you could substitute the picture of a “still, motionless” God with one moving at infinite speed. For perhaps we’ve been dulled by the EMOTION that we attach to ideas of impassibility and atemporality instead of the pure LOGIC of an eternal, all-comprehensive, simultaneously whole God. What I want to maintain is that God is eternally, changelessly relating and related to all created things. I think you could even say that he is “eternally beocming” (is not the Son “eternally begotten”?)

    So I actually agree with your assessment when you say: It seems to me that the classical tradition supposes that if this much is true about God, that’s all that can be true about God,” That is, I do believe that is what the LOGIC of divine timelessness and impassibility entails: i.e. that God cannot experience a sequential relation in his very essence or being, and that he cannot have division or parts in his “conscious”, plentiful life. But I do not agree with what you think follows from this, which is: “ i.e., if God is actus purus (in a personally, self-constituting sense) there’s no room left in that plenitude for God to freely, contingently “contract” (like fractals contract their infinitude in a self-same way across finite scales) into real relations with, and changing states of knowledge of, created realities.”

    What I want to suggest is that God’s being actus purus actually involves this free “contraction” (or “entering” into relations) as well. It simply is eternally the case that he wills such a form of existence in himself – which, since he is free, springs not from a necessity of his being but from his own free action. I think this is possible because – as I say in my post on Leftow, Stump, and Clarke – God’s being pure act only implies that he does not change across time. It does not imply that he does not change across POSSIBLE WORLDS. Again, think a God who moves at infinite speed concerning all parts of time.

    Thus I agree wholeheartedly with you when you say that “God can experience the world as tacit contractions of his plenitude—in his ‘going out’ in sustaining us—without the relation in turn depleting/lessening him.” I simply do not think separating God’s expressive acts or relations to himself and creation is coherent if God has a single experience of plenitude and is impassible. It is incoherent to me to say that God’s inner life is essentially divided – for again that posits some overarching metaphyical SPACE or STRUCTURE that supersedes God himself. WHO or WHAT created such a division? Whatever it is, the “act” of such a thing must itself be singular and undivided, or else you go on ad infinitum until you find such an ultimate unconditioned reality.

    Im not going to engage much in response to your claims about Christ, for that opens a whole nother can of worms, but I will say that I think a timeless, simple, immutable view of God does allow us to say that God, through Christ (and through “becoming” human), does “feel power leaving him.” I would say that God, since he is ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING in all movements at all times (through all that he is eternally creating at those times), is not only eternally feeling this very physical sensation that Jesus experiences, but that he is also eternally “knowing” and “experiencing” all the changes that take place in creation at all times too. Yet with that said it is also important to note that all “feelings” we have must, in some sense, have pre-existed in God’s inner plenitude of being FIRST. That is, God is not getting new ideas from US. We are not inventing up new pleasures, new joys, new experiences, new ways to love (new evils? Interesting thought). These I think pre-eminently exist in HIM, in some harmonious, simultaneous singularity that we cannot imagine and that can only be possible in a metaphysical reality that is infinitely BIGGER than ours. (Much like God’s love and mercy and justice all being one in him, even though we experience these qualities as different things.)

    I know in the end this is simply a re-iteration of divine simplicity theology. I guess I am only saying that I see no incoherence in that idea, and I also see it as offering us advantages that other views (such as that God is divided in his being or that he is in time or that he changes) do not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Malcolm! Appreciate the conversation.

      Malcolm: You say “If divine simplicity means that what God does freely in creating a contingent world is as self-constituting of God as the Father’s begetting the Son, then I can’t espouse divine simplicity.” Why can’t you? For I DO think it…

      Tom: Because I think creation is gratuitous and the triune relations are not. Who God is is complete without determination to create or reference to creation. To say creation is gratuitous is to say it’s gratuitous ‘with respect to’ that which is not gratuitous, and what is not gratuitous is the Father’s begetting of the Son (as self-constitutive of God essentially-necessarily).

      I also think that whatever exists timelessly is by definition necessary/not gratuitous or contingent. So a view of divine simplicity that holds what is gratuitous and contingent to God’s identity (i.e., creation) to exist timelessly/eternally just violates, it seems to me, the gratuitous and contingent nature of creation. I hold creation to be contingent and gratuitous to God, so I can’t hold it to be eternal and timeless to God. It’s that simple.

      Malcolm: How can you in REALITY divide God’s action in terms of how he is “in himself” and then when he “goes” to being related to creation without making him mutable or putting him in time?

      Tom: It seems obvious to me that how God is in himself (self-contitutively) is a different mode of relation than how he relates to us (non-self-constitutively). I don’t understand the difficulty here. Are you sure we mean the same thing by ‘self-constituting’? I mean the Father’s begetting the Son and the proceeding of the Spirit (and the loving beatitude and plenitude this is). Any knowledge God has of created realities would have to be radically other than his knowledge of himself as uncreated, begotten, etc. This difference just is God’s freedom from creation and the ground of creation’s contingency.

      Malcolm: It seems to me that as soon as you segregate God’s inner plenitude of life – his totality of experience, as it were – you posit some sort of transition which makes God temporal and divides up that very plenitude you’re trying to protect in the first place.

      Tom: Have you thought through the notion of “specious presents”? They’re verifiable aspects of our experience. We really do have present moments whose narrative fullness includes tacit awareness/experiences that come and go within its “totality” without “segregating” the fullness of the specious present. Is there a transition from infinite specious present to finite specious present? Well, there’s no transition ‘out’ of his infinite specious present, but there is a transition into created realities. (A bit like Jesus perceiving power leaving him without perceiving himself any less empowered. Is there a transition from ‘power not leaving him’ to ‘power leaving him’? Yes. Does this “segregate” power in Christ? No.)

      Malcolm: It seems to me that God’s own inner being, so to speak, cannot be really divided into self-constituting relations and non-self-constituting relations for the simple reason that if these are REAL RELATIONS then you’ve (i) divided up the very essence of God (are there two Gods?), and (ii) you’ve put him into time and made him mutable and hence existing “along side” creation.

      Tom: What’s self-constituting or self-expressive is entirely a matter of perspective. God has a perspective upon himself (his self-knowledge as Father, as begotten Son, as proceeding Spirit) which he does not have on created realities (and the latter do not participate in constituting the former, though the former will always be revealed in the latter). We have to say this much or be pantheists.

      Malcolm: What I want to maintain is that God is eternally, changelessly relating and related to all created things.

      Tom: Good luck! 😀 You’ll be closer to Orthodoxy than I am.

      Malcolm: I simply do not think separating God’s expressive acts or relations to himself and creation is coherent if God has a single experience of plenitude and is impassible.

      Tom: “God’s expressive acts or relations to himself and creation”? I’m not following that. I mean to distinguish between the self-constituting act by which God is the triune God he is (on the one hand) and (self-expressive) acts in creation which I cannot view as constitutive of God essentially, i.e., they don’t share in determining the divine relations Father, Son, Spirit (though I know some go that route—evidently Robert Jenson, et. al.) That’s all.

      That said, you (and I and others) do have a single experience in which self-constituting and self-expressive modes of being are distinct. So that much can’t be incoherent. And it’s perfectly possible (because the testimonies of the saints establish it) to approximate greater growth in apatheia while maintaining the distinction between self-constituting relations and self-expressive ones. In fact, this distinction is the only way human beings are even able to make progress in theosis. The Individual’s relationship to God is “self-constituting.” All other relations are (or may be, if they are not) “self-expressive.” If every relation we had “constituted” who we are, we’d be royally screwed. Theosis wouldn’t be possible and a fallen world would remain irrevocably fallen. Only God can tell you “who” you truly are, i.e., “constitute” who you are (Rom 8.15). No other relation can function that way in your life, though every other relation can become a venue for “expressing” who we are.

      But what has apatheia to do with it? A person may know an experienced beatitude and fullness of joy in Christ which no other relation may rob him/her of even when all those other relations are aligned against him. Even created, finite, temporal beings can become impassible. That’s theosis.

      Malcolm: It is incoherent to me to say that God’s inner life is essentially divided – for again that posits some overarching metaphyical SPACE or STRUCTURE that supersedes God himself. WHO or WHAT created such a division?

      Tom: I don’t think I’m dividing God’s inner life. But I respect you’re seeing it that way. I just don’t know what to say to help. Again, the immediately previous response of mine in this response—we already make distinctions of self-constituting and self-expressive modes of relation within our own undivided life. It can’t be incoherent.

      Who or what creates that space or structure in God? Well, I don’t know Robert Jenson’s work that well, but the little I’ve read is interesting. He links it the structure to creation in ways I don’t like, but he argues for a narrative view of divine temporality. That is, the defining acts of the Father’s begetting the Son, the Son’s receiving his identity from the Father, the Spirit’s procession within the embrace of Father and Son, all constitute (essentially-eternally) the structure that grounds the very possibilities of temporal creation; i.e., the movement of desire that ‘gives’, that is ‘received’, etc. What is creation but unfulfilled desire seeking fulfillment? In God this movement is always accomplished, but in relating to temporal perspectives driven by desire for fulfillment, God wouldn’t have to become unfulfilled desire. I think the trouble here is that you may attribute “time” per se to the experience of unfilled desire and finitude. But “time” is a divine gift, a grace, an energy of God that flows from him.

      Malcolm: I would say that God, since he is ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING in all movements at all times (through all that he is eternally creating at those times), is not only eternally feeling this very physical sensation that Jesus experiences, but that he is also eternally “knowing” and “experiencing” all the changes that take place in creation at all times too. Yet with that said it is also important to note that all “feelings” we have must, in some sense, have pre-existed in God’s inner plenitude of being FIRST.

      Tom: Dude, I can’t even begin to conceive of it. I suppose if you were talking a B-Series “Block” universe. But if created realities (choices, feelings, etc.) really do come to be and cease to be in their actualities, then their being eternally, timelessly in God is out of the question (for my mind).

      I’m gonna chill for a while, Malcolm. My brain hurts! I’m too tired to even check for typos!

      Peace,
      Tom

      Liked by 2 people

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