Classical theism

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On and offline I’ve been following discussions for and against classical theism. Some of these discussions proceed without having established precisely what counts as classical theism. Some make the wild claim that Dwayne and I are classical theists. So if it helps those interested in the question, I’d like to clarify. It’s not that difficult a vision of God to state.

Back a while ago I stated (hear and hear are examples) what seemed to me to be the sine qua non of “classical” theism, and engaging the questions surrounding this has only confirmed things as we’ve focused on understanding and appreciating the classical tradition as best we could. The fundamental conviction of classical theism is:

  • God is actus purus (“pure act,” by which is meant, among other things, that there is no conceivable unrealized potential in God).

Certain things follow from this, most importantly:

  • God is simple (that God is not composed of parts, spatial, temporal, or metaphysical, which any attempt at qualifying would need to be expressed with extreme caution, since no sane theist can suppose God to be assembled from more fundamental parts).

From these of course other traditional affirmations follow:

  • God is absolutely immutable (unchanging in every conceivable way, possessing no accidents).
  • God is impassible (which for the Orthodox, by whom I mean the tradition that produced the Creeds and Fathers, means firstly that God is never passive with respect to knowledge or emotion in relation to the world; i.e. he is never acted upon or determined by creation in any conceivable sense. Typically debates about divine passibility/impassibility proceed as if what is at stake is whether or not God has feelings or emotions at all, but the issue is bigger than that.)

More could be said (about omniscience, essential benevolence, etc.) but not much that a non-classical theist need disagree with. As one pushes beyond these to what is thought to be implied by them the opinions become diverse. But at classical theism’s defining center is the commitment to God as actus purus, admitting no accidents, no experience of temporal sequence whatsoever, and never in any conceivable way being acted upon or determined by creation.

To any working intelligence, Dwayne and I aren’t classical theists. We deny actus purus and its entailments as classically held.

Far on the other end of the theistic spectrum of beliefs is Process theism. If classical theism’s defining center is actus purus (pure act), Process theism can be reduced to the opposite metaphysical claim, namely, that God is processu operis (a “work in progress”). God is “temporal becoming” par excellence. He is the One whose existence and perfections are without remainder historicized, constituted in and as the ever-changing process of ongoing relations with creation, relations which are as consequential and self-constituting for God as they are for the world.

There are theists in both these camps who see these two options as jointly exhaustive of the theistic options. But the vision and burden of this site is to challenge the claim that our theological options are exhausted by these two visions and to suggest that the unchanging perfections of God’s being/existence, those perfections which constitute God’s freedom from creation and creation’s utter gratuity, are absolutely to be maintained, but that these perfections need not be viewed as threatened by temporal experience per se (if carefully stated), but then also to suggest that these traditional perfections needn’t per se threaten or undermine the sense in which open theists view God as knowing and engaging the temporal world.

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26 comments on “Classical theism

  1. Tom says:

    By the way, the picture isn’t mean to represent classical theism as in shreds! It was just meant to illustrate the care one has to take in sorting through the different issues. 😀

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  2. The following seems appropriate to paste.

    I tried to post the following on Alans blog here, about God and impassibilsm (http://alanrhoda.net/wordpress/?p=431#comment-11812) but wasn’t able. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting, perhaps not. Since I typed it all out before I discovered i couldn’t post it I wanted to share it with at least SOMEONE. Haha.

    ***

    Such a fascinating discussion. I am late come to the Open Theism table after having been steeped in Thomism and classical theism. After having some of the traditional notions of God contained in the classical teachings challenged, I have been thinking about precisely these questions. It feels good to see that people actually UNDERSTAND the issues at stake! And this particular issue – between God’s impassibility with respect to his own “emotional” experience – is so closely related to the central teachings of Thomism and classical theism that one could almost consult the Summa if one wanted to shed some light on it.

    I THINK what Dwayne is saying – and what I find myself unable to disagree with – is this. If we are going to name and talk about God, it is necessary to define what God’s essential nature is. Just WHAT IS “God”? None would disagree with us defining that term as “inter-trinitarian love.” Now Dwayne goes on and says, well, if that is the case, then God’s nature is functionally equivalent to “undiminished, uninterrupted satisfaction”because that is what the Trinity is. Unless you want to posit something like sadness or disappointment as an essential aspect of trinitarian life (which is actually quite intriguing if you think about it – a kind of love which is ESSENTIALLY self-sacrificial and self-overcoming), then trinitarian existence must just simply be the greatest experience of beatitude possible (but can you have the most maximal experience of beatitude without some sort of “eucatastrophe”?)

    Now Alan wants to say that he agrees with Dwyane’s definition but that the inter trinitarian experience can change based on God’s free decision and self-imposition. But based on what’s been said above I’m not sure how this can be, because it would involve – it seems to me – a change in God’s essential being which evidently IS experienced beatitude. If God’s essence = inter-trinitarian experience; and inter-trinitarian experience = unalloyed bliss; then God cannot cease being unalloyed bliss, or he ceases to be God.

    But what if we did this. What if we deny that prior to creation God was “essentially” in a state of “bliss”? Why can’t God be in this state contingently? This takes us back to the question of God’s relation to time. If God is infinitely temporal in the past, then the only reason God was not a creator for an infinite amount of prior time is based on his CONTINGENT WILL. Thus, if God is temporal, God could have always been creator, and therefore always have been experiencing emotional change from his creation. On the other hand if we say that God was timeless prior to creation, can’t we still say that this particular state – his “non-creatorness” – was itself dependent on his will, which therefore could have been different, had he willed to create an eternal universe?

    What I’m trying to do is postulate that perhaps God’s “emotional state” is simply an ever contingent expression of his deeper, changeless essential nature as inter-trinitarian love. I’m trying to raise the trinity itself out of change and make the emotional/cognitive states assumed by each person as it were “accidents” of the essential reality of love. Hence when one who is perfectly loving can be moved to sadness when tragedy occurs: love as such does not change in the subject, but the EXPERIENCE – i.e. the emotional and cognitive state – of love does.

    Why can’t God’s experience change of his own nature as trinity, which itself does not change? It seems to me God’s conscious and emotional states (bear the anthropomorphism) is not identical to God’s nature as such.

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    • Tom says:

      Malcolm: What I’m trying to do is postulate that perhaps God’s “emotional state” is simply an ever contingent expression of his deeper, changeless essential nature as inter-trinitarian love. I’m trying to raise the trinity itself out of change and make the emotional/cognitive states assumed by each person as it were “accidents” of the essential reality of love.

      Tom: Hi Malcolm! I don’t see how what you’re describing is possible except in Process metaphysics. It sounds like you’re suggesting that ‘love’ (as a determining moral principle) and the ‘experience of love’ are contingently related in God, that God as love (ad intra) is in a kind of existential (quantum) superposition, an mere aesthetic probability wave, until creation comes along and gives God a context in which he can collapse into some concrete aesthetic experience that expresses his essential character as love.

      Not sure if that’s where you were going, but in any event, you seem to want to say that God is essentially unchanging love but that ‘how it feels’ to be love changes because the circumstances under which God expresses his love in the world simply mean that God’s loving us sometimes feels good and sometimes feels horrible.

      Is that what you’re trying to say?

      Here’s where I am. Apart from any concrete relation to the world, surely the triune relations are concrete. That is, surely God does not require experiencing the world to actualize himself as triune experience (unless we’re going to take the Process route and say the world constitutes the necessary context for God’s actual-concrete experience—his ‘concrete’ pole). But if God is God apart from the world, I don’t know how you conceive of those relations as constituting God as love without also conceiving of them as a self-constituting experience of love, and thus as an experience of aesthetic value-beatitude. If God as love comes to feel as love when he experiences the world, how is it his being love as experienced relations (F, S, and SP) is not an experience of aesthetic value? It would have to be. And once we say God’s triune fullness is antecedent to the world, and aesthetic in nature, we’re talking about God being immeasurable, undiminished beatitude. His beatitude is his being.

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      • Hey Tom, thanks for the reply. Sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you. I’m gonna steal your format for responding, if that’s cool!

        TOM: Not sure if that’s where you were going, but in any event, you seem to want to say that God is essentially unchanging love but that ‘how it feels’ to be love changes because the circumstances under which God expresses his love in the world simply mean that God’s loving us sometimes feels good and sometimes feels horrible.

        Is that what you’re trying to say?

        Sort of, yes. I’m thinking that it may be possible to say that God’s essential nature = love, which also = triune relations. But those triune relations need not essentially be “perfect, immeasurable, undiminished beatitude.” I think THAT expression is only one finite manifestation of love per se. In particular THAT expression leaves out a whole host of aspects of love which God simply could not experience if that’s what his essential nature was – e.g. self-sacrifice, triumph through struggle, reuniting with loved one, compassion, etc.

        So in a sense, I do think that all our aspects of human suffering that occur through love – or rather all the suffering that is suffering simply BECAUSE we are loving beings and that would not be there were we not – already pre-exist in God’s essential nature, prior to the creation. For again, otherwise you’d have to say that humans are capable of experiencing love in ways that God is not, which is impossible if God is essentially/infinitely loving. (All OUR loving experiences participate in his “love” as such.)

        What you seem to want to do is to take one aspect of God’s being – in particular aesthetic beatitude – and make that comprehensive in terms of a definition of God’s essence. But not only does that seems problematic for Incarnational reasons (how could the Son suffer?), but also for the metaphysical ones, as I’ve outlined above.

        I’m basically taking Aquinas’ argument for how we cannot comprehend God’s essence in “itself”, but rather only it’s effects (or it’s effects in our consciousness), and applying it to the concept of “love” as such (though I do think the Trinitarian relations are “real.”)

        In other words, I think God’s essential mode of being as love is much bigger than the definition you want to give it. It’s not that I think your definition is false – just simply incomplete or noncomprehensive.

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      • Tom says:

        Malcolm: I’m thinking that it may be possible to say that God’s essential nature = love, which also = triune relations…

        Tom: I’m with ya.

        Malcolm: …but those triune relations need not essentially be “perfect, immeasurable, undiminished beatitude.” I think THAT expression is only one finite manifestation of love per se.

        Tom: I’m following ya. Couple things come to mind. (1) This would mean that necessarily, God ad intra is not immeasurable, undiminished beatitude. The possibility of such an experience is, a priori, impossible. And (2) it still divorces experienced beatitude from perfect love; God is ad intra perfect, loving relations but these relations don’t entail or yield an equivalently perfect, undiminished experience. This strikes me as mistaken.

        Malcolm: In particular THAT expression [perfect, immesurable, undiminished beatitude] leaves out a whole host of aspects of love which God simply could not experience if that’s what his essential nature was – e.g. self-sacrifice, triumph through struggle, reuniting with loved one, compassion, etc.

        Tom: We could take these one by one. Some of them would probably best be thought of as definitive of God as love. Self-sacrifice, for example. I tend to think the triune persons are fully, personally, yielded and given over to one another. Call it sacrifice is you wish (Bulgakov did). But why suppose this entails pain and privation to be accomplished? Where the persons fully give themselves to the other and are fully received and celebrated, there’s no suffering God has to endure in order to be this. I think at least this much has to be said about the relations ‘as love’ (i.e., they’re relations of self-giving and self-receiving), but you think this not an experience of existential fullness, beatitude, delight, or joy at all?

        Why must “triumph through struggle” be an improvement upon love as such? Seems to me you involve yourself ultimately in requiring a God-World relationship in which God achieves his own personal realization as love in and through creation. If “triumph through struggle” and “reuniting” with estranged loved ones are aspects of love that fulfill or improve love in some ontological sense, then we have a problem, for God now requires “estrangement” and a fallen, struggling context in which to experience dimensions of love without which you feel God is somehow lacking ad intra. That’s how I’m reading you.

        Malcolm: So in a sense, I do think that all our aspects of human suffering that occur through love – or rather all the suffering that is suffering simply BECAUSE we are loving beings and that would not be there were we not – already pre-exist in God’s essential nature, prior to the creation.

        Tom: I don’t understand this. You’re saying estrangement, suffering, compassion for the fallen, and triumph through struggle are all definitive of God’s triune experience ad intra irrespective of the world?

        Malcolm: For again, otherwise you’d have to say that humans are capable of experiencing love in ways that God is not, which is impossible if God is essentially/infinitely loving. (All OUR loving experiences participate in his “love” as such.)

        Tom: I don’t mind saying that. In fact, I do say that. I think it’s obvious that we experience love in ways God does not (and cannot) experience it. We experience love as forgiveness. God doesn’t. We experience love as healing of personal brokenness. God can’t have that experience. I don’t see the problem here. This is good news, not bad news.

        There are modes of being (finite, created, privated, fallen, etc.) that participate in and know God’s love in ways God can’t be said to experience love. The problem here might be at the end of your reasoning there, where you say that if we suppose we experience love in ways God does not, we somehow contradict the idea of God’s being “essentially/infinitely” loving. But I don’t see the contradiction. Speaking of God’s self-constituting love as ‘infinite’ doesn’t mean God experiences love in ‘every imaginable way’ (i.e., all the ways that created, finite, fallen-sinful creatures encounter love). It’s not infinite in that sense. It’s infinite in the positive sense of ‘being’, i.e., its fulfillment doesn’t require privation as a stage upon which to realize itself. So God isn’t more actualized love, by having a world to love (sinners to forgive, cruel people to have compassion upon) than not.

        If I’m following you, you want to avoid saying God is somehow improved by demonstrating his love in novel ways via creation by just separating “loving relations” (which you agree God is the fullness of ad intra) from “experienced beatitude” (which you argue is only a contingent expression of love). But I don’t see how this is possible. You certainly think diminished beatitude is a necessary experience of God when he’s loving a fallen world. But if God can love himself perfectly and eternally apart from the world without that constituting an equally perfect experience of beatitude (because ‘being perfect love’, as God is, doesn’t entail ‘feeling perfect love’), why the heck can God love a diminished world without that constituting a diminished beatitude? You want pain to be entailed in God’s love us, but you don’t want beatitude entailed in God’s loving himself.

        Malcolm: What you seem to want to do is to take one aspect of God’s being – in particular aesthetic beatitude – and make that comprehensive in terms of a definition of God’s essence. But not only does that seem problematic for Incarnational reasons (how could the Son suffer?), but also for the metaphysical ones, as I’ve outlined above.

        Tom: The Son suffers the same way we suffer, by having a created, finite nature susceptible to pain (nails in the hands, whipping, hunger, etc.).

        I’m more interested in really hearing what specifically you mean. So if I’m misunderstanding you, hopefully you can give it another try.

        Thanks Bro!
        To

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      • Tom says:

        Sorry for the length on that response Malcolm. Just to clarify (if I’m understanding you):

        1) You’re saying there’s always an aesthetic dimension to God’s relationship to the world. If I suffer, God feels that and his aesthetic experience is diminished an appropriate degree given the severity of my suffering. Equally, if I full my God-given nature for personal-relational existence, God’s aesthetic experience is increased.

        2) You’re saying changing aesthetic states in God is definitive of God as love in his response to the world.

        3) But you’re denying (2) with respect to the triune persons. God perceives me suffering and he suffers. He perceives me fulfilled and he’s made happier. But the Father, Son, and Spirit perceiving each other (constitutive of their relationships essentially and of God as ‘love’) has no aesthetic dimension to it whatsoever. God feels nothing at the thought of himself. He needs the world through which to have an aesthetic experience at all.

        If I’m wrong on (3) and you do grant the irreducible aesthetic nature of loving relations, then you know what I’m going to ask next 😀 : First, what determines aesthetic quality/intensity in an experience? and then, What must the quality/intensity of God’s aesthetic experience be as derived from the essential relations of Father, Son, and Spirit?

        I’m not denying that God’s experience of the world’s sufferings and joys has an aesthetic dimension to it. That is, I don’t deny that God ‘feels something’ with respect to the world’s sufferings. Lots of people misunderstand us on this point. All experience (in my view) has an aesthetic dimension to it.

        Tom

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  3. Tom: I’m following ya. Couple things come to mind. (1) This would mean that necessarily, God ad intra is not immeasurable, undiminished beatitude. The possibility of such an experience is, a priori, impossible. And (2) it still divorces experienced beatitude from perfect love; God is ad intra perfect, loving relations but these relations don’t entail or yield an equivalently perfect, undiminished experience. This strikes me as mistaken.

    Malcolm: The problem with this dichotomy you’ve set up here Tom is that it seems to me to require that we be able to define COMPREHENSIVELY just what God’s existence as Trinity is. You want to say that that existence is equivalent to “immeasurable, undiminished beatitude,” and while I think that’s good as far as it goes, I don’t find it very helpful insofar as THAT definition EXCLUDES other notions of love that I think God also possesses. In other words, you want to stick me on one horn of the dilemma – i.e. if what I say is true then God is NOT your definition – but I want to say that it is not that I think your definition FALSE, just incomplete. I think God’s triune existence is more than what you are describing, insofar as your definition excludes positive human emotions of love such as compassion, suffering with, being moved by, that I think God, since he is the fullness of love, must essentially possess. (I am not even bringing up the Scripture that is on my side here! :P)

    Tom: I tend to think the triune persons are fully, personally, yielded and given over to one another. Call it sacrifice is you wish (Bulgakov did). But why suppose this entails pain and privation to be accomplished?

    Me: Well, a self-sacrifice which involved no suffering at all seems to me at best meaningless, and at worst a contradiction in terms. The notions of “sacrifice” “yielding” lose meaning if there is no obstacle to be overcome, do they not?

    Tom:…but you think this not an experience of existential fullness, beatitude, delight, or joy at all?

    Me: Again, when I deny your definition Tom I do so only insofar as it is supposedly comprehensive of God’s essentially loving experience. Of course I believe “beatitude” or “joy” constitute existential loving-fullness. But I don’t think these emotions – and they ARE emotions after all – exhaust the full nature of God’s unchanging existence as love as such.

    Tom: Seems to me you involve yourself ultimately in requiring a God-World relationship in which God achieves his own personal realization as love in and through creation.

    Me: If God chose to enter into such a requirement, would that present a problem? Is it a logical contradiction to suppose that God could make his existential experience of love depend on creatures outside himself? (Perhaps you can show that it is, but, if you do, that would mean that God cannot be really related to the world, though I won’t go into that now for time’s sake.)

    Furthermore, I don’t think this notion “requires” God to be in a world-relation to be fully realized in his own essence because I think that all the “love” that is aroused in God because of what goes on in the world ALREADY EXISTS in God’s nature as such, prior to creation. At least, that is what I am proposing and trying to see the problem in affirming.

    Tom: God now requires “estrangement” and a fallen, struggling context in which to experience dimensions of love without which you feel God is somehow lacking ad intra. That’s how I’m reading you.

    Me: Perhaps it is better to think of what Love requires rather than what “God” requires. The latter lets in Greek metaphysical ideas of aseity that muddy the waters.
    I’m not so sure what the problem is in saying that unbounded, unlimited love as such DOES involve the ideas you mention. Perhaps this would present problems for a Platonic God – a “form” of the good that cannot be really related within himself as a plurality of relations. But if God really is in some sense a personal being – or rather a society of fully loving relations – I’m not exactly sure how it is problematic to say that the Trinity requires some sense of struggle in order to be complete. (I do NOT claim that it requires “sin” to be complete.) Perhaps you could clarify for me.

    Tom: I don’t understand this. You’re saying estrangement, suffering, compassion for the fallen, and triumph through struggle are all definitive of God’s triune experience ad intra irrespective of the world?

    Me: I’m trying to see the problem in this – insofar as any of these notions relate to SIN, I disagree with this, but insofar as these notions relate to a full existential experience of love, I want to say yes to it.

    Tom: I don’t mind saying that. In fact, I do say that. I think it’s obvious that we experience love in ways God does not (and cannot) experience it. We experience love as forgiveness. God doesn’t. We experience love as healing of personal brokenness. God can’t have that experience. I don’t see the problem here. This is good news, not bad news.

    Me: I don’t necessarily agree that we experience love AS forgiveness. Surely there is a difference in saying “I feel love” and “I feel forgiven”? Insofar as I feel the one, THAT is what I feel, and not the other. But again, this paints me into the corner of having to maintain that a PARTICULAR experience of love that we have can capture IN TOTO the experience that God has. I don’t think we can. Insofar as forgiveness arouses feelings of closeness to the other, God’s triune nature DOES experience that feeling, but insofar as forgiveness involves the fact that we have sinned against the offended party, I would deny that.

    Tom: You certainly think diminished beatitude is a necessary experience of God when he’s loving a fallen world. But if God can love himself perfectly and eternally apart from the world without that constituting an equally perfect experience of beatitude (because ‘being perfect love’, as God is, doesn’t entail ‘feeling perfect love’), why the heck can God love a diminished world without that constituting a diminished beatitude? You want pain to be entailed in God’s love us, but you don’t want beatitude entailed in God’s loving himself.

    Me: What I’m saying Tom – or trying to say – is that I think pain as such may in fact be a part of God’s essential nature “ad intra.” Exhaustive of it? No, obviously not, but certainly a part of it. I guess I’m wondering why this is impossible.

    Also, it seems to me your view has the following difficulty. If God’s current experience of love cannot be increased by creation, then God must be totally indifferent to what goes on in the world. For as soon as you introduce preferences into God’s being, there comes along the possibility that those will not be met and that disappointment would ensue. Of course, you will (I think) claim that God can be perfectly happy regardless of what comes to pass. But if that truly is the case then God cannot really have preferences for how the world should go to begin. If there was set before me two absolutely equally perfect states of existence, I’m not sure a) how I could in fact prefer one over the other (except “randomly” or without a reason); and b) how the two states would in fact even differ.

    If God cares about the world in any sense – if, in fact, he is “really” related to it – then we must be able to impact his existential experience. But this is not because God has such a necessity imposed on him from outside his own being, which seems to me to make all the difference.

    Could a perfectly loving triune being – that is, is it metaphysically possible – make it so that he required the beatitude of other creatures in order for HIMSELF to be maximally happy? THAT I think is the question.

    It seems to me if this is even possible then all the loving feelings that God would necessarily possibly take on by this decision would have to ALREADY PRE-EXIST in his being. Otherwise he WOULD need the creation to actualize and maximize his own nature. But if that is not true, then it would follow that it is metaphysically impossible for God’s nature to be really related to and really affected by the world (which as you know is actually the position of some.)

    Tom: The Son suffers the same way we suffer, by having a created, finite nature susceptible to pain (nails in the hands, whipping, hunger, etc.).

    Me: So the person of the Son suffers? And how does this fit in with your definition of undiminished beatitude?

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    • Tom says:

      Thanks Malcolm! These conversations gather and grow like a snowball barreling downhill! I can’t respond to each relative point. It’s all rich. I’ll have to pick and choose.

      Tom: Couple things come to mind. (1) This would mean that necessarily, God ad intra is not immeasurable, undiminished beatitude. The possibility of such an experience is, a priori, impossible. And (2) it still divorces experienced beatitude from perfect love; God is ad intra perfect, loving relations but these relations don’t entail or yield an equivalently perfect, undiminished experience. This strikes me as mistaken.

      Malcolm: The problem with this dichotomy you’ve set up here Tom is that it seems to me to require that we be able to define COMPREHENSIVELY just what God’s existence as Trinity is.

      Tom: Not in the least. It’s a purely logical point that doesn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of God. We’re disagreeing over God’s necessary actuality, which by definition is not a contingent matter. If you suppose God not to be unsurpassable beatitude ad intra, then he isn’t this necessarily and you’re committed to the impossibility of such beatitude. I’m likewise committed to the impossibility of such beatitude not being the case (and a good bit of our blog, especially reviews of Boyd’s Trinity & Process, tries to present reasons for viewing aesthetic value as a transcendental a priori.

      ——————-

      Malcolm: Well, a self-sacrifice which involved no suffering at all seems to me at best meaningless, and at worst a contradiction in terms. The notions of “sacrifice” “yielding” lose meaning if there is no obstacle to be overcome, do they not?

      Tom: No, I don’t at all see that yielding one’s self to another necessarily involves pain. It doesn’t “hurt” me or “diminish” my sense of well-being in the slightest to yield to my wife in some respect. It may hurt (and sometimes does) — but only to the extent I perceive her request as a threat to my happiness and well-being. But how do you suppose such a perception to define the triune relations? To divine persons who share a single nature, exist at all through the fullest interpenetration and knowledge, who cannot suffer the kind of limitations of knowledge needed to perceive self-giving as a threat to one’s happiness or well-being and hence as pain, on what grounds would such self-giving manufacture a moment of existential negation or pain?

      ——————-

      Malcolm: I’m not exactly sure how it is problematic to say that the Trinity requires some sense of struggle in order to be complete.

      Tom: Unpack the idea. If a painful struggle to give one’s self to the other defines the triune relations essentially, the either (a) God is essentially, eternally experiencing unresolved pain, or (b) God is ‘essentially’ temporal becoming because at some point in time the divine persons where not fully mutually yielded, chose to be so, then painfully gave themselves to each other, after which time their painful self-sacrifice was resolved in the bliss of fully reciprocated love. Which are you supposing?

      ———————-

      Malcolm: Also, it seems to me your view has the following difficulty. If God’s current experience of love cannot be increased by creation, then God must be totally indifferent to what goes on in the world. For as soon as you introduce preferences into God’s being, there comes along the possibility that those will not be met and that disappointment would ensue. Of course, you will (I think) claim that God can be perfectly happy regardless of what comes to pass. But if that truly is the case then God cannot really have preferences for how the world should go to begin … If God cares about the world in any sense – if, in fact, he is “really” related to it – then we must be able to impact his existential experience.

      Tom: I don’t think any of this follows. And we’ve discussed it quite a bit. Maybe these will clarify our point:

      Divine experience of beatitude the summum bonum

      God as meaning-maker

      ————————

      Tom: The Son suffers the same way we suffer, by having a created, finite nature susceptible to pain (nails in the hands, whipping, hunger, etc.).

      Me: So the person of the Son suffers? And how does this fit in with your definition of undiminished beatitude?

      Tom: I don’t mean to be obnoxious, but do you read our blog? 😀 One person—two natures. One person having two modes of being (an essential, divine mode of being and a contingent, freely chosen non-divine mode of being). The Son suffers personally in and by means of his human nature. He doesn’t suffer in and by means of his divine nature. An analogy that might help: God enters our nightmare

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  4. Tom: 1) You’re saying there’s always an aesthetic dimension to God’s relationship to the world. If I suffer, God feels that and his aesthetic experience is diminished an appropriate degree given the severity of my suffering. Equally, if I full my God-given nature for personal-relational existence, God’s aesthetic experience is increased.

    Me: Yes. God’s being really related to the world entails this, as far as I can see. But I would hesistate with the thrust of this point insofar as it has to do with “change” from God’s perspective (ad intra.) I’m not yet convinced that God is “in” time or how he experiences sequence in himself. So it may be that God possesses all his relations to creation comprehensively in such a way that does not involve him going from “having” one relation to the next and losing the former relation and then gaining the next.

    Tom: 2) You’re saying changing aesthetic states in God is definitive of God as love in his response to the world.

    Me: This is where I want to be cautious. If God experiences no becoming ad intra, then I would deny this statement insofar as his aesthetic states are “changing,” but affirm it insofar as his aesthetic states are really related to the world. In other words, I do think it conceivable that God could possess “all at once” all his relations to the world. Nor do I think this would NECESSARILY introduce passivity or dependence into God ad intra insofar as every relation that he has already pre-exists in his Trinitarian essence irrespective to creation.

    But for the sake of argument, let’s concede that God does in fact experience becoming, and that he also experiences changing aesthetic states in relation to the world (i.e. let’s concede God is temporal.) I don’t see how it is problematic to say God’s essence is “actualized” by creation if that essence takes on no new properties in so relating. That’s why I’m suggesting that whatever relations the creation calls forth from God – such as compassion, grief, pain, etc – must pre-exist in God’s triune nature.

    Tom: 3) But you’re denying (2) with respect to the triune persons. God perceives me suffering and he suffers. He perceives me fulfilled and he’s made happier. But the Father, Son, and Spirit perceiving each other (constitutive of their relationships essentially and of God as ‘love’) has no aesthetic dimension to it whatsoever. God feels nothing at the thought of himself. He needs the world through which to have an aesthetic experience at all.

    Me: I don’t think this follows. In particular I deny that the Trinity perceiving itself “has no aesthetic dimension to it whatsoever” or that “God feels nothing at the thought of himself.” If God does in fact need the world, I am simply saying that he needs it because he has chosen to need it. Moreover, the very fact that God perfectly relates to himself in the triune relations is what makes his ability to relate to the world really possible, for he already contains within himself all the necessary modes of love in which he could relate to the creation.

    The problem is that the actual triune loving relation is impossible to capture intellectually – impossible to exhaust or pin down. Hence when God as love is manifested in finite form to us we see it as different “kinds” of love. But that is simply our limited perspective. I think love in itself encompassess all our finite loves.
    I’m basically taking the doctrine of analogia entis and applying it to the essence of love as such.

    Tom: What must the quality/intensity of God’s aesthetic experience be as derived from the essential relations of Father, Son, and Spirit?

    I actually DO think your definition is a good one Tom (undiminished beatitude), but not if that definition excludes certain forms of love I’ve discussed above from being in God’s beatific experience.

    Tom: We’re disagreeing over God’snecessary actuality, which by definition is not a contingent matter. If you suppose God not to be unsurpassable beatitude ad intra, then he isn’t this necessarily and you’re committed to the impossibility of such beatitude.

    Me: We may be talking past each other at this point. Essentially I would concede that God “is” unsurpassable beatitude but only insofar as loving experiences that involve suffering are included in such an experience.

    I don’t much see the point in either of us pointing out the logical ramifications of affirming or denying a particular combination of words insofar as that combination of words is not entirely agreed upon in terms of content.

    You want to say that God ad intra does not suffer in any sense in his beatitude.

    I want to say that God ad intra does suffer in some sense in his beatitude.

    THAT is the point of disagreement, NOT whether I affirm a combination of words.

    Tom: But how do you suppose such a perception to define the triune relations? To divine persons who share a single nature, exist at all through the fullest interpenetration and knowledge, who cannot suffer the kind of limitations of knowledge needed to perceive self-giving as a threat to one’s happiness or well-being and hence as pain, on what grounds would such self-giving manufacture a moment of existential negation or pain?

    Me: This is a good question. I certainly don’t have an exhaustive trinitarian doctrine worked out. I would only say though that a) I’m not sure I need to have one in order to affirm that if God is love then he can in fact experience ad intra pain and suffering; and b) it seems to me at least conceivable that each divine person, as a person, is also in some sense a self, and so necessarily self-loving, and that this self-loving has a kind of ontological priority over the “other” which it necessarily stands in realtion to. So perhaps part of the very nature of God is the act of sacrificing the self for the sake of the other in such a way where prior to the self-sacrifice, knowledge or mutual penetration are NOT comprehensive.

    After all, “interpenetration” pre-supposes that there are individuals which can interpenetrate one another: i.e. the idea is meaningless if there is no sense in which the individuals are themselves and not identical. And furthermore, the “acts” of each person all imply some process or sequence in themselves (the “begetting” and “proceeding” and “sending” etc) which present the imaginative metaphor of MOVEMENT and ACQUISITION. So I see nothing inconceivable with supposing a similar “process” of self-sacrifice that goes on in the very heart of the Trinity.

    And finally, if you DO say that it is metaphysically impossible for one person of the Trinity to experience pain in self-sacrifice – and all the finite loving emotions that flow from that, like trust, hope, courage, endurance, which are impossible for God to experience ad intra on your view – then I want to claim you simply cannot make sense of Christ’s passion and death.

    Tom: Unpack the idea. If a painful struggle to give one’s self to the other defines the triune relations essentially, the either (a) God is essentially, eternally experiencing unresolved pain, or (b) God is ‘essentially’ temporal becoming because at some point in time the divine persons where not fully mutually yielded, chose to be so, then painfully gave themselves to each other, after which time their painful self-sacrifice was resolved in the bliss of fully reciprocated love. Which are you supposing?

    Me: I don’t see why I have to say that God is “essentially, eternally experiencing UNRESOLVED pain.” If God in fact IS triune fullness his experience of pain would likewise also involve the overcoming of that pain. The resurrection and sitting at the right hand metaphysically follows the crucifixion. Perhaps that is the ultimate Trinitarian pattern. Wasn’t the lamb slain from the “foundation of the world”?
    In terms of God’s essence as love you keep wanting to carve out one piece of the whole and hold it up as the hole itself. I want to say that mentally we can only contemplate one piece at a time, and that we should recognize that no single piece can capture what is in God really something undivided.

    What seems to us a process in God must not really be a process in terms of him “having” at one time part of his essential nature and then “having” at another time another part. Somehow I think we have to say that God “contains” all at once the very process itself: it just IS his essential nature. So prior to creation – or God ad intra – must somehow possess the entirety of all the workings of the Trinity without “going from” one finite experience of love to the next.

    (The problem comes when we try to explain how or if God changed at the moment of creation. Did he “enter into” a new mode of being? But how can what was essentially such and such now BECOME something essentially different without losing its identity? This is where immutability actually DOES come in handy. Only I don’t want to say that immutability entails that God cannot suffer.)

    Tom: The Son suffers personally in and by means of his human nature. He doesn’t suffer in and by means of his divine nature. An analogy that might help: God enters our nightmare.

    Me: I’m aware of Chalcedon Tom, but I want to push you on whether or not you think the Son AS SON actually suffers. It seems I can say yes – because I think suffering as it relates to love is inherent in God’s triune nature. But you evidently must qualify.
    If the Son HAS a human nature, and his human nature suffers, it follows that the Son suffers. It’s neither here nor there that the divine nature does not suffer. (Assuming that is true – the Chalcedonian definition doesn’t actually say that the divine nature does not SUFFER, does it?) But if you have one person with two natures, what happens in each nature happens to the person as person. And if one nature truly suffers then the person truly suffers, unless you want to say that the divine nature simultaneously “sheilds” the suffering that the human nature experiences.

    But that is so foreign to what Christians have actually believed – and indeed the faith of those who first heard about Jesus – that it strains credulity. To say that Jesus was God incarnate, suffered died and was buried, and rose from the dead for my sins IS Christianity. But you take all that back the moment you say “God does not suffer” in Christ.

    At least that is how it seems to me. What you’re saying, I believe, is not only philosophically unnecessary, but also destructive to the heart of Christianity. Tell a child that Jesus suffered crucifixion because he loved them and that will evoke a profound sense of love towards Jesus. But then tell them that actually God in his essence can experience nothing at all like loss or suffering in his being. In fact, he is so perfectly happy that he isn’t moved at all by what happens to the world. See how that makes them feel and what it does to their image of their “Father” in heaven.

    The logical consequences of your view seem to be a God who smiles amidst the Holocaust, Tom.

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    • Tom says:

      Thanks Malcolm. So much to respond to. The length is slowing me down and I can’t devote the time needed to deal with things point for point. So I’ll share this and give you the last word.

      Tom: But how do you suppose such a perception to define the triune relations? To divine persons who share a single nature, exist at all through the fullest interpenetration and knowledge, who cannot suffer the kind of limitations of knowledge needed to perceive self-giving as a threat to one’s happiness or well-being and hence as pain, on what grounds would such self-giving manufacture a moment of existential negation or pain?

      Malcolm: This is a good question. I certainly don’t have an exhaustive trinitarian doctrine worked out. I would only say though that a) I’m not sure I need to have one in order to affirm that if God is love then he can in fact experience ad intra pain and suffering; and b) it seems to me at least conceivable that each divine person, as a person, is also in some sense a self, and so necessarily self-loving, and that this self-loving has a kind of ontological priority over the “other” which it necessarily stands in relation to.

      Tom: I’d need to have some idea of how you make sense of ‘pain’, ‘suffering’, and ‘estrangement’ definitive of the triune relations given the shared nature and fullest mutual knowledge of each person’s well-being. Right now I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re saying. But I’m slow.

      ——————————-

      Malcolm: After all, “interpenetration” pre-supposes that there are individuals which can interpenetrate one another: i.e. the idea is meaningless if there is no sense in which the individuals are themselves and not identical.

      Tom: Right. Nobody’s suggesting they’re identical; only that they don’t suffer the kind of limitations of knowledge required to perceive self-giving as a threat to one’s happiness or well-being and hence as pain (to say nothing of how you imagine the persons ad intra do suffering ‘estrangement’ from one another).

      Malcolm: And furthermore, the “acts” of each person all imply some process or sequence in themselves (the “begetting” and “proceeding” and “sending” etc) which present the imaginative metaphor of MOVEMENT and ACQUISITION. So I see nothing inconceivable with supposing a similar “process” of self-sacrifice that goes on in the very heart of the Trinity.

      Tom: So the timeless view on all this is out, then? You began with what seemed like a preference for thinking all this is timelessly actual. I’m confused!

      Malcolm: And finally, if you DO say that it is metaphysically impossible for one person of the Trinity to experience pain in self-sacrifice – and all the finite loving emotions that flow from that, like trust, hope, courage, endurance, which are impossible for God to experience ad intra on your view – then I want to claim you simply cannot make sense of Christ’s passion and death.

      Tom: Me and the entire Orthodox and Catholic tradition until the 19th century. 😀

      ————————–

      Malcolm: I don’t see why I have to say that God is “essentially, eternally experiencing UNRESOLVED pain.”

      Tom: I was just inquiring which it was – whether God is eternally in pain or only was in pain ad intra for a moment and resolved it ad intra.

      Malcolm: If God in fact IS triune fullness his experience of pain would likewise also involve the overcoming of that pain.

      Tom: But he knows, ad intra, what that unresolved pain is. No pain is ever ‘known’ which is not ‘felt’. So both unresolved pain and resolved pain define God ad intra, timelessly? Just trying to conceptualize it.

      Malcolm: In terms of God’s essence as love you keep wanting to carve out one piece of the whole and hold it up as the hole itself. I want to say that mentally we can only contemplate one piece at a time, and that we should recognize that no single piece can capture what is in God really something undivided. What seems to us a process in God must not really be a process in terms of him “having” at one time part of his essential nature and then “having” at another time another part.

      Tom: OK, what I’m hearing is it’s ALL actual in God ad intra – God both suffering the pain of inter-triune estrangement AND the bliss of compassion and restoration. God’s timelessly feeling it all. God immutably suffers and also immutably enjoys the resolution of this suffering.

      —————————-

      Tom: The Son suffers personally in and by means of his human nature. He doesn’t suffer in and by means of his divine nature. An analogy that might help: God enters our nightmare.

      Malcolm: I’m aware of Chalcedon Tom…

      Tom: Sorry Bro, but you asked me how I imagined him suffering without it involving suffering defining the divine nature.

      Malcolm: …but I want to push you on whether or not you think the Son AS SON actually suffers. It seems I can say yes – because I think suffering as it relates to love is inherent in God’s triune nature. But you evidently must qualify.

      Tom: Not at all. Again, all I should have to say for someone aware of Chalcedon is “Chalcedon” to answer your question. The Son’s human nature is the SON’S human nature and no one else’s. He suffers as SON because AS SON he is incarnate and human. I can only guess that you think that because this ‘person’ of the Son suffers (which is true), both ‘natures’ suffer since both ‘natures’ are united in the one ‘person’, i.e., whatever the ‘person’ suffers, both ‘natures’ suffer. But while it’s true that no ‘person’ suffers apart from ‘nature’ and no ‘nature’ suffers apart from its ‘person’, it doesn’t follow that a person with two natures cannot have experiences unique to a single of his natures.

      As you say, “if the Son has a human nature, and his human nature suffers, it follows that the Son suffers.” Yes. But it doesn’t follow that the Son suffers with respect to his divine nature. That is, the ‘person’ can have experiences relative to one of his ‘natures’, experiences that don’t reduce to the terms and constraints of his other nature. So as you say, “if you have one person with two natures, what happens in each nature happens to the person as person.” Yes, of absolutely. But Malcolm, what’s happening “in each nature”? Not the same thing! One and the same person is having two kinds of experience, one divine and one human. But they’re not mixed to constitute a third divine-human nature, so that the ‘person’ of the Son is reduced without remainder to the constraints of his incarnate, embodied state. As Athanasius and Cyril said, as the Son is in the womb and later nursing at Mary’s breast, he remains the Logos sustaining the universe.

      Malcolm: And if one nature truly suffers then the person truly suffers, unless you want to say that the divine nature simultaneously “sheilds” the suffering that the human nature experiences. But that is so foreign to what Christians have actually believed…

      Tom: It’s what all orthodox Christians believed until Thomasius invented kenoticism in the 19th century.

      Malcolm: To say that Jesus was God incarnate, suffered died and was buried, and rose from the dead for my sins IS Christianity. But you take all that back the moment you say “God does not suffer” in Christ.

      Tom: I don’t say “God does not suffer in Christ.” I say “God suffers in Christ.”

      Malcolm, you realize, do you not, that no Christian denied the impassibilism of the divine nature for the first 1800+ years of Christianity, right? They may all be wrong, sure. But surely you realize that this just was Christianity until the Germans and Brits came up with Kenoticism.

      ———————

      Malcolm: The logical consequences of your view seem to be a God who smiles amidst the Holocaust, Tom.

      Tom: Bro, please read An open apatheia. I’m on record as arguing that the divine nature – the eternal, uncreated, triune relations – is not falsified in its beatitude by the Holocaust, or a hundred holocausts. This doesn’t mean God is “laughing at” suffering people. Divine beatitude is no narcissistic self-absorption. It’s ecstatic self-contentment that seeks the highest good and well-being of all things. It Incarnates (the whole point of creation). I’ve preached it for years now to abused women and addicts in our Recovery program. It brings people to tears and gives them a way out of their pain.

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      • Tom says:

        I wish somebody would write a book on just the existential aspects of integrating apatheia into one’s spirituality and healing. In the end, these aspects end up being very powerful in shaping our belief set. I was there, i.e., I did’t ‘feel’ loved unless it was true that God hurt like me on the inside of being God, to an extend appropriate to my suffering. But in the end, in the deepest healing of my brokenness, I needed someone who wasn’t in pain to rescue me from pain.

        It was as if a wealthy individual whose wealth isn’t fazed because it just keeps growing, compounded interest, wants to rescue me from bankruptcy. He pays off my debt, buys me a mansion, and sets me up for life, all without ‘losing’ any of his own wealth. He doesn’t ‘take a hit’. Am I gonna say he didn’t really help me because he didn’t lose anything, because he’s not poorer, or his principle is undiminished on account of rescuing me?

        Jesus comes walking on the waterto save Peter. Is Peter gonna say, “Sorry, I don’t really feel saved because you’re not threatened by these waves the way I am, you’re not also having to struggle to overcome them the way I am, you can’t drown like I can, you’re not feeling the despair I’m feeling right now. No thanks.”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom – only have a minute for the next couple days so can’t get into the meat of your post, but I will say this.

    The sticking point for me is NOT that I can’t feel healed or close to God unless God himself hurts with me. Rather, it’s that, were I UNABLE to feel hurt from another person – i.e. were I totally invulnerable to what occurred to someone I loved – that would be tragic. For then I really COULD be just fine without them. To not need another, to be totally content with just myself, that to me is the sticking point.

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    • Tom says:

      Malcolm: The sticking point for me is NOT that I can’t feel healed or close to God unless God himself hurts with me. Rather, it’s that, were I UNABLE to feel hurt from another person – i.e. were I totally invulnerable to what occurred to someone I loved – that would be tragic. For then I really COULD be just fine without them. To not need another, to be totally content with just myself, that to me is the sticking point.

      Tom: These look like one issue essentially. “God not hurting with me” and “God being invulnerable.” But OK. It’s the idea that unless God “needs” us, that he is totally content without us, that’s the sticking point.

      At this point we’ll have to part ways on this issue and agree that we have very different views of God. That’s OK. I don’t particularly care for “invulnerable” to describe my view, but with the right qualifications I don’t mind. The point is not that God is self-absorbed and so indifferent to us, but that he already is the fullness of well-being which we long for and which our suffering is a privation of. To borrow a bit from An open apatheia:

      “Just this last weekend I observed a young family enjoying a picnic. I watched one of the toddlers, a daughter, fall and scrape her knee. Unable to world-construct outside her pain, she let the entire park know of her suffering. Her father? As you might expect, his response didn’t include the slightest discomfort or loss of happiness. He turned to his daughter, moved in her direction, and with a big smile called her name and held out his arms. Why not meet her level of experienced suffering with some measure of suffering of his own? After all, love suffers when those loved suffer, right? Where’s the father’s suffering here? Shouldn’t he feel some slight dip in happiness? Some measurable loss of “aesthetic satisfaction”? We all know the answer is no, and we know why. He doesn’t suffer in the slightest because of his perspective on her suffering (assessing its consequences relative to what he believes to be her highest good and well-being).

      “What about other more serious instances of suffering? What about permanent disability? What happens with betrayal or torture? What happens with the chronic pain of a losing battle with cancer? What happens is that what we believe to be our highest good and well-being gets revealed. And it’s precisely here where I invite myself to examine what I believe to be the highest good and well-being of creation and to consider what it would mean to world-construct within the framework of its truth. The question is, What do we identify as our ‘highest good’? More to the point, what is the summum bonum, that supreme and absolute good/value by which all other relative goods and values are measured? I suggest that passibilists are committed to locating the summum bonum outside the beatitude of God’s triune actuality since they admit this very actuality suffers deprivation, and it is good and beautiful and right that it suffer. But what makes it good and beautiful and right? What actual good measures the loss of divine beatitude to be good and beautiful? Indeed, what actual good can be the absolute value which establishes the relative value and goodness of all contingent experiences? It can only be the non-contingent beatitude of God’s own triune actuality. This is precisely where passibilist kenoticists redefine the summum bonum as something other than God’s own triune actuality, and that is a position I’m unable to embrace.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Malcolm,

        If you haven’t already, when you get time, give Boyd’s Trinity & Process a look. You’re looking for logical-metaphysical arguments for undiminished divine delight. This might help. I did a redux of it here for those who don’t have the book:

        https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/trinity-process-redux/

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom,

        Thanks as always for the rich thoughts. I hope to get to them soon. In terms of Boyd’s work – I haven’t yet read it but do you want to comment on why Greg himself (i.e. the guy who thought of the arguments of the book) doesn’t hold the view that God cannot suffer?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        He’s backslidden! Just kidding.

        Greg hasn’t picked up TP since he finished it in 1991 I suppose. It was published in 1992. He moved on and other interests and passions shaped his thinking. The only thing he’s said in public recently about his views in TP (on our blog here) is that he still believes God is essentially triune and beautiful, but that the triune relations are not necessarily an “experience.” (Add all the apophatic qualifiers you want.) Greg now feels that God is necessarily triunely related (good), but only contingently experiences these relations (very bad if you’re a monotheist who thinks the relations are essential and the ground of loving relationality imaged in us). By removing “experience” from God’s necessary, triune actuality, I suppose he thinks he has a way to dismiss experienced beatitude as essential to God. I don’t know. But to remove this aspect of God’s necessary actuality (we’re talking relative to TP) and claim you’ve only tweaked a minor detail that leaves everything essentially in place is like saying you can remove one hydrogen atom from H20 and still have water.

        Tom

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  6. Tom: I’d need to have some idea of how you make sense of ‘pain’, ‘suffering’, and ‘estrangement’ definitive of the triune relations given the shared nature and fullest mutual knowledge of each person’s well-being. Right now I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re saying. But I’m slow.

    Malcolm: Thanks for the softball. 😛 I want to sort of dodge this and say that such a suffering interrelation can be found between Christ and Christ as he hangs on the cross, or even as he prays “if it be possible…” in the garden. That’s a general answer – and admittedly vague – but it’s the best I have for now if you don’t like my point b) above. At any rate my point is that the death of Christ evidently proves that God CAN experience estrangement in his tri-personal relations.

    Tom: So the timeless view on all this is out, then? You began with what seemed like a preference for thinking all this is timelessly actual. I’m confused!

    Malcolm: I want to say, Tom, that the “relations” really exist – the proceeding, sending, begetting, etc. – and yet that they do not imply temporal becoming in God ad intra. All our descriptions of the relations imply movement, but that is (I think) simply in order to convey metaphorically a bigger reality that we cannot grasp in its totality. I said that in reference to God SUFFERING to suggest that the same sort of movement – of suffering estrangement and then experiencing togetherness – is itself such a timeless experience in God: i.e. in the same way that the Son is eternally begotten from the Father without experiencing becoming, so too may be the crucifixion of the Son and the subsequent resurrection exist in God without becoming (or “change”) in him. Hence the lamb being slain “before the foundation of the world.” All this would imply that suffering – and overcoming such suffering – would be an ad intra experience of God himself.

    Here is why I want to affirm this, Tom.

    On second thought– let me point out the main metaphysical problem I have with your theory and see if that helps clear things up.

    You want to claim that God is temporal (I think) and evidently that God experiences becoming. In particular you think he “comes to know” various actualized possibilities as we make them. Now to me, this implies a real relation between God and creatures. That is, God has a different intrinsic metaphysical experience precisely because of what goes on in his creation.

    But I don’t see how this is possible insofar as God is first cause and the fullness of being if he does not have some experience of suffering analogous to our own. This is because if God in fact KNOWS we are suffering, then that has to convey something meaningful such that it causes him to do x rather than y. In your examples you suggest that a father rushes over to his daughter and comforts her when she skins her knee. Now if that father had never himself experienced existential suffering how could he even know what his daughter needed in that moment? What meaningful content does the fact “person x is suffering” convey if “suffering” as such has no human analogue in God’s understanding?

    Furthermore, God, pre-creation, must have set up the laws of the universe such that “such and such, if actualized, will cause suffering.” Say he decided that falling in the playground on a bunch of rocks causes a skinned knee. If that’s true then the divine “blue-print of possibilities” must have pre-existed in God’s mind beforehand. But what possible meaning would God be cognizing then pre-creation, as far the laws of the universe causing suffering go? It’s like saying that God made the sky to be blue but saying the word “blue” is meaningless to God. Obviously blue – and suffering – are meaningful to us. The question then is JUST WHERE DOES THIS MEANING COME FROM? I.e. where, metaphysically, do we ground the existential experience of suffering if not in God himself?

    Now I also actually think that this same argument can be applied to God’s knowledge of facts, which seems equally problematic on your view.

    Your account of God seems to require that God inherently possess POTENTIALITY in his very nature. Every moment God possesses the potential to know – i.e. to begin to stand in some new conscious relationship to – some fact that we make real by our free choices. But the problem is in explaining how the first cause can actually have potentiality in such a way at all.

    Go back to before creation. You have God existing by himself and possessing in his mind all the potentially different realities that we could actualize, if he created. Say then God decides to create and we actualize some possibilty which God comes to know. Well now you have a WHOLE NEW METAPHYSICAL EXISTENCE – a whole new “this is the case as far as the totality of God+universe goes” – that exists. Every statement of truth as it relates to the universe now changes, as does every relation between God and it.

    But how can such a new totality of existence be GAINED by the first cause? Whatever he has had he has always had: his nature has always been eternally the same. He has always been ESSENTIALLY identical and has always possessed precisely the same properties, even if you conceive of him as eternally existing in the past (rather than being timeless.) How then can you explain this change without explaining some ESSENTIAL CHANGE in God himself?

    How do you explain God going from “essentially unrelated to a creation” to being “now related to creation?” Or “essentially knowing the created universe as a potentiality” to “now knowing the universe as an actuality”? Or “essentially changelessly enduring in the past” to “now changing in the future”?

    If you want to define God ad intra you have to spell out just what his essential properties are – or what his essential nature or existence is. But – and there are two problems here – 1) any notion of God which entails that he can CHANGE has the problem of identity I’ve just outlined. Namely, how can God “before” creation or ad intra possess a certain set of essential properties and then acquire new properties without changing his essential nature: i.e. how can he go from essentially “triune-related” to now essentially “triune-related plus universe related”? and 2) any notion which posits some metaphysically real state of affairs – i.e. some meaningful existential experience – must explain WHERE that meaning came from and what grounds it metaphysically. In the case of suffering, God must know “what it feels like” to suffer IF HE IS GOING TO MAKE SUFFERING A TRUE METAPHYSICAL REALITY IN HIS UNIVERSE. It is absurd to think God could create the parameters for the universe to be “such and such” and yet not know what “such and such” meant, for then he could not even know what was occuring when his creation really was suffering – which is a reality he invented could potentially occur!

    Anyway, that is a lot to chew on. I’m inclined to think that all human experience must somehow pre-exist in God. Otherwise, I have no way of explaining how it comes to be real in the first place. Such experiences would be effects without causes. (I’m aware of the problem of explaining sin on this account. I can’t currently explain that. The only light I have is that maybe God, being infinite, contains within himself all finite causes as far as their divine idea defines that they exist and somehow maybe this can help the problem. There’s also the interesting text that talks about Christ being “made” sin.)

    I’m also inclined to think that God in fact has no accidental attributes: that he cannot “go from” existing without creation to existing “now” with it. He essentially is his relations and his actions, even his relation with creation, timelessly. And, finally, I also think that the distinction between the metaphysically “necessary” and “contingent” may not be in fact real, in God or in us, but may be only imaginary.

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    • Second paragraph should read “between the Father and Christ” .

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    • Tom says:

      Thanks so much Malcolm. Certainly a lot to chew on. I’m gonna offer just a few ideas in response and then let things simmer.

      (1) With all that’s going back and forth in conversations like this, I need to remind myself repeatedly that the only theology or truth about God I’m interested in is the truth that makes best sense of our experience of salvation in Christ. I’ve moved toward a qualified impassibilist view because that’s what’s saving me. If I speculate or try to chase down analogies that seem to over-psychologize God, it’s simply because I have language up on the anvil hammering away. I don’t suppose God to be just a very large disembodied human being. But soteriological relevancies are paramount for me.

      (2) I sometimes read back through speculative engagements like this one and laugh out loud at how sure we are of ourselves about what God *must* be like in himself, in his freedom from creation, as if we’re sitting inside God taking notes. I wanna exercise humility in this and be tentative, but I don’t think that means we can just say anything we like.

      (3) All our explanations—all of them—are bailing water. Nobody enjoys an airtight perspective on how the truth on such matters fits together coherently for us, not the Orthodox, not the Catholics, and certainly not the Protestants.

      That said, let me share a couple things:

      (4) I don’t interpret the Cross as the Father “rejecting” his Son as personal estrangement somehow defines God’s essence. I don’t think Jesus understood his own Cross in those terms either. This might help (cf. John 16.31-33; Heb 12.1-3) So we’ll differ here.

      (5) I don’t suppose God’s essential necessary actuality is subject to ‘temporal becoming’. See God’s Infinite Specious Present. That might help with your ‘identity’ problem. I don’t suppose God’s self-constituting relations and fullness “take time” to achieve.

      (6) If God’s knowledge of the world’s actualities changes with sustaining those actualities means God changes intrinsically, OK. If that means the truth about God’s self-understanding with respect to his relations to the world involves a near infinite menu of changing truths, that doesn’t bother me. He can handle that. If this means we have to rethink God’s intrinsic (ad intra) reality, so that God’s essential ‘necessary’ actuality is not subject to temporal becoming (again, see God’s Infinite Specious Present) while God’s essential ‘contingent’ actuality effects the temporal changes we call the world, fine. I think that’s possible to do (in ‘dispositional’ terms; that’s another discussion) without supposing God to be assembled from various, discrete, metaphysical ‘parts’. Does this mean there is potential in God? In terms of his free and contingent self-expression (an intrinsic dispositional property), yes. In terms of his essential self-constituting relations (also an intrinsic dispositional property), no.

      (7) I don’t at all think all the contingent ways the world suffers constitute ‘meanings’ that must define what God means to himself eternally. This is especially so when it comes to the experiences of sin and evil. Perhaps God as Meaning-Maker will help with that. I don’t think “hatred” is an “alternative meaning” that “being” can have. I think hatred is a form of “meaninglessness” not a “meaningful” form of existence. Pre-existent in the Logos are the logoi of all things — all the diverse, contingent forms of the Good, not of alternatives to the Good. These logoi are forms of “being,” not of “non-being.” Hatred, estrangement, lust, greed as “privations of being” are not alternative meanings, they’re alternatives to meaning and are hence meaningLESS, and I think it unimaginable that the experiences of meaninglessness which we suffer must pre-exist in God eternally.

      Peace,
      Tom

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      • Tom,

        Thanks for the engaging exchange. I certainly got a lot out of it. I hope you did too!

        Your last note is a good reminder to stay humble and stay aware of our finite grasp of the infinite. At the end of the day even reason will tell us that if God exists at all he must almost certainly be beyond our complete intellectual grasp. (As soon as you’ve “captured” God via conception you’ve essentially limited him, in which case what you’re conceiving cannot be God!)

        I want to end though by stating what I still think the puzzle to be. I do not have a solution to it, though my mind on the issue has expanded considerably through our exchange. Here it is:

        If God has a certain state of existence “ad intra” and also a certain state of existence “ad extra” then it seems in transitioning from the one to the other he changes in his essential properties, in which case he doesn’t maintain identity. For instance, if God ad intra is independent, but then BECOMES dependent, it seems to me either a) his independence ad intra is not an essential property of his; or b) God ceases being God afterwards.

        My initial thought on this – which sort of resembles Boyd’s current position as you’ve outlined it – is that maybe even God’s ad intra nature, as we conceive it, is something accidental to him. That is, what God is ESSENTIALLY is something we cannot get at, except by way of analogies derived from God’s ever changing accidental properties as we understand them. I’m not sure if this is heretical or not, or if it can be construed as making the relations of the Trinity “not real,” but it seems if we can take the analogia entis and apply that even to our conception of God’s existence ad intra, we may find some relief from the paradoxes.

        But then again, maybe we won’t. As CS Lewis said in one of my favorite lines of his: though there is much to be PUZZLED about, there is nothing to WORRY about.

        Peace.

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      • Tom says:

        Specious Present!

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      • Tom says:

        LOL! It’s so hard to stop thinking about this stuff.

        Malcolm: If God has a certain state of existence “ad intra” and also a certain state of existence “ad extra” then it seems in transitioning from the one to the other he changes in his essential properties, in which case he doesn’t maintain identity. For instance, if God ad intra is independent, but then BECOMES dependent, it seems to me either (a) his independence ad intra is not an essential property of his; or (b) God ceases being God afterwards.

        Tom: If you get Greg’s Redux (pp. 16-21), focus on the way he develops the category of ‘dispositions’, and two kinds of disposition: (1) definitional dispositions that are exercised invariantly and whose exercise constitutes the definitional or necessary-essential properties of a thing (analytic thinking like is can be SO uncomfortable when we move over to talking about God), and (2) constitutive dispositions (that’s what Greg calls them but it’s probably an unhelpful word to use), i.e., powers which a thing essentially possesses but which it may or may not exercise and remain the essential thing it is. God’s infinite specious present is God’s essential-necessary disposition to be the triune related beatitude he is. This dispositional essence can’t be the product or outcome of “temporal becoming” (as I try to describe in that post on God’s Infinite Specious Present). But when we move to ad extra self-expressive divine acts, these are not (as your comment seems to suppose, not sure) a “transition from the one” (necessary-essential disposition to be triune fullness) “to the other” (freely exercised disposition for creative self-expression). God doesn’t shut down the exercise of his definitional disposition to be the God he is so that he can rewire or re-constitute that disposition to be something else. The latter disposition (for freely creative self-expression) is possessed essentially-necessarily; it’s only exercised contingently. God’s ‘identity’, then, is the abiding, unchanging, disposition to be the loving triune God he is (specious present). This ‘identity’ gets “expressed” (not “constituted” or threatened) through the ad extra work of creation, but only (and this is important to our passibilism question) through the world’s ‘being’ (i.e., the extent to which created natures conform to their God-intended logoi), not through its ‘failure to be’ (i.e., its sinful misrelation and suffering).

        This is all pretty much heresy as far as Orthodoxy is concerned. 😀

        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Haha this IS hard to stop thinking about! Been at it all day.

    It seems we are saying very similar things.With one caveat, which may be the source of the disagreement.

    It seems to me if what you say is true – that God can contingently express his unchanging disposition – then if the triune relations existed “before” the universe temporally, such a disposition must itself be only a contingent expression of an unchanging disposition. Hence the triune relations as they exist in this temporally prior mode would not be essentially changeless in God (at least as they exist before the big bang.)

    This is because if God is temporal in that sense – i.e. if he existed temporally prior to the creation – then you would have his ad intra existence equal to his state of existing alone without the universe. But this state of affairs would CHANGE once the universe came into being. So obviously God existing temporally prior to the creation of the world cannot be equivalent to his changeless, ad intra existence.

    However, if you held that God was timeless, or if you held to a view like William Craig’s where you speak of a logical rather than a temporal before concerning God’s essential nature, I think what you say works better. Namely that God would have a changeless nature which is at the moment of creation expressed contingently in such and such a way by being related to the creation.

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    • Or I suppose you could even hold to a view like Boyd’s now as you describe it, where God has for eternity in the past contingently displayed some aspect of his unchanging nature, even as regards the experiential relations of the Trinity existing before the universe.

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    • Tom says:

      Malcolm: It seems to me if what you say is true – that God can contingently express his unchanging disposition – then if the triune relations existed “before” the universe temporally, such a disposition must itself be only a contingent expression of an unchanging disposition.

      Tom: Dude, look at God’s Infinite Specious Present. Specious presents are not ‘timeless’ in the sense people typically take that word to mean. They’re ‘temporally fat’. They have temporal content (that’s the best way to say it) to them, but the are not instances of temporal becoming. Secondly, they can contain within themselves specious presents that come and go. Given the relationship, there’s no “before” to speak of. There’s a “before” that’s intelligible to speak from the perspective of any finite moment of becoming. But this “before” wouldn’t reduce the perspective of the all-embracing specious present to pre- or post- relationship relative to itself.

      As for the disposition for creative self-expression, it doesn’t ‘come to be’ as a disposition. It’s always there. It’s only exercised contingently. We ourselves are dispositions for creative self-expression. We may or may not exercise this disposition. It’s needn’t be exercised to be a disposition.

      I know several people who are reading this and thinking, “They’re crazy!” Maybe I am.

      Tom

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