O Magnum Mysterium

I’ve been falling to sleep each night this past week with Morten Lauriden’s rendition of “O Magnum Mysterium” playing on my laptop. So beautiful.

There are several amazing online versions you’ll want to catch. Start with the King’s College Cambridge 2009 Choir (search it on Youtube) and be transported. I’ve included here a clever multi-track version because the Latin pronunciation is clear and I’m trying to commit it to memory. You’ll complete it by minute 3:19. It repeats after that.

Latin text (adjusted to match the lyrical rendition of the song)
O magnum mysterium (2x)
Sacramentum et admirabile, et admirabile sacramentum
O magnum mysterium, O magnum mysterium
Viderent Dominum ut animalia, viderent Dominum natum
Iacentem in praesepio
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera me ruerunt
Beata Virgo, portare Dominum Christum

English translation
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament
O great mystery
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger
Blessed Virgin whose womb was worthy,
Blessed Virgin, worthy to bear our Lord Christ.

“And death shall be no more” – comma

I’m ending 2016 with another viewing (I’ve stopped counting how many) of one of my favorite films, favorite because of its sobering and ultimately simplifying effect, Margaret Edson’s play “Wit” produced and acted by Emma Thompson (2001). The film is built around Donne’s Holy Sonnet X (incorrectly referred to as Holy Sonnet VI in the movie, I’m sorry to say). It is a morbid film in all the right ways because it sobers and simplifies the way the Void is sobering and simplifying when faced honestly. The right questions about death are always about questions about life.

Holy Sonnet X
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppie, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.

Living, moving, and having being in God—Part 2


Fr Aidan has a nice review of the (Thomistic) classical position on God’s relatedness to the world. I’d like to pick out a portion of it for comment. He summarizes:

Of every being and of the universe as a whole we may ask why? but of the One who is the answer to that question, why? may not be asked. It may not be asked because God can only be the answer if he lacks all the features of finite being that raises the question to begin with. And that, I think, is what actus purus effectively means. God is the infinite plenitude, fullness, and perfection of being and thus the ultimate and final explanation for why finite beings exist. He does not contain potentiality, because that potentiality would in turn evoke the metaphysical question. Potentiality requires the action of another agent to bring it to fulfillment. A rubber ball cannot realize its potency to bounce unless someone throws it against a wall; a stick of butter cannot realize its melting potential unless someone spreads it on a hot slice of toast. “Potency does not raise itself to act,” explains Thomas; “it must be raised to act by something that is in act” (SCG I.16.4). If God were not the infinite actualization of existence, then not only would we find ourselves wondering “Why does God exist instead of nothing?” but so would God! We might even imagine Deity as enduring an eternal existential crisis: “Why do I have all of this unfulfilled potential?”

There’s a lot to agree with here. I like the explanatory approach centered on asking ‘why?’ and seeking answers that explain our actual experience (including our finitude, temporal becoming, aesthetic appetite, consciousness, etc.). ‘Why’ is an intuitive and clarifying question, and Aquinas understood (as did all Christian thinkers before him) that neither any particular thing in the universe, nor the material cosmos as a whole, is sufficient to account for why there is anything at all rather than nothing. Given the nature of created becoming, some explanation is required – some reality that is its own reason for being, not requiring an explanation for its existence from outside itself, a self-sufficiently transcendent reality that explains both itself and all else – i.e., God.

We can and must ask ourselves ‘why?’ of God as well. But with God we get a different answer because a God capable of answering why the material-sentient universe exists without begging the question of his own existence is unlike the universe in profound ways. Where the ‘why?’ question asked of the universe derives its answer outside itself, God – properly understood – is the answer to his own ‘why?’. In this sense every sane theist agrees with Aquinas. It is a point I have urged open theists to explore at greater depth with seriousness and an open mind.

compassionOne could (and probably ought to) for the sake of argument ask whether the cosmos itself can be its own explanation. After all, if theists can posit God as uncreated and self-sustaining, let’s just suppose (as Carl Sagan asked us to) that the universe is self-sustaining and exists necessarily. Why multiply explanations beyond necessity?

By all means, one ought to explore this option. We won’t do that here, but it’s been done at great length by others, and we agree the cosmos does not give evidence of being self-sufficient/self-sustaining. My comments here are directed to theists who already grant this and who agree that God is the world’s transcendent creator.

The question that continues to be debated today by some, and which we here are most interested in, is: What sort of relations might a transcendently self-sufficient God have with the world he creates and knows? Certainly there would be a certain asymmetrical relation. That’s already entailed in God’s being the end-of-the-line sort of answer to our question ‘why?’. God explains why there is anything at all rather than nothing. Creation does not, however, explain why there is a God. Obviously, a non-mutual relation obtains: God creates and sustains the world, gives it being, and explains why it is at all. The world cannot explain God in any such respect.

For some, this is all there is to say about the manner of relations that might obtain between God and the world. However, while divine aseity (as self-sufficient transcendence) is true and essential, many don’t feel that it follows that God “does not contain [any conceivable] potentiality.” The reason some, like me, think this doesn’t follow is because it doesn’t seem that all potentiality evokes the specter of a mover other than the agent. We can imagine the realization of unrealized potential in God which does not require that God, like created beings grounded in him, “be moved” by a power outside himself. In our view it is false, as Fr Aidan argues (following Aquinas), that “[all p]otentiality requires the action of another agent to bring it to fulfillment.” That rule would follow for created beings certainly, but it’s conceivable, we think, that some potentialities (namely, divine potentialities) may be self-sufficiently motivated and actualized from within, freely and contingently.

Examples that demonstrate Aquinas point with respect to creatures are innumerable. Fr Aidan describes a few – rubber balls, sticks of butter, etc. With respect to created entities, Aquinas has to be right when he says “Potency does not raise itself to act; it must be raised to act by something that is in act.” But does it follow that a self-sufficient reality (God) – a reality whose essence is self-sufficient act – cannot be thought to have any unfulfilled potentiality since it must them be dependent upon something outside itself to raise any supposed potency to actuality?

It depends on the potency. If we mean a self-constituting potential, then God would require some reality already in act to bring his potential to fulfillment, and obviously we do not want to say that. But not all unfulfilled potentiality need be self-constituting. Potential may be self-expressive and not self-constituting. We think there are good reasons to suppose, given the existence of the kind of world we live in, that God is more than necessary (i.e., God transcends his own necessity), and as such his essential, antecedent, triune actuality both determines the scope and nature of his potential for self-expressive acts and that this antecedent actuality is the only realized ‘act’ we need to reference in explaining the movement of such potentiality to actuality.


Such contingency in God would be of a peculiar kind. It would realize self-expressive, not self-constitutive, potential, and it would do so unlike created potentialities which require ‘being moved’ by some actuality other than God. There seems no a priori reason to suppose that a God self-sufficient to explain why the world is at all could not himself possess unrealized potentialities for a contingent expression extrinsic to the necessary plenitude of his essential triune act, and that these potentialities would require nothing outside this plenitude to raise them to actuality. Like the classical tradition, God would not be subject to finite, created becoming (he would not become a mere ‘god’ who requires a mover other than himself), but unlike the classical tradition God would possess potential for duration without loss, duration that includes contingent, gracious, wholly self-expressive relations.

Would those relations with the world be “real”? If ‘real’ relations are defined as relations that affect or determine what a thing is essentially, then I’m happy to say God is not so affected by his relations with the world, because I do not suppose God to be essentially affected by us. But if ‘real’ relations are defined simply as relations one truly has (i.e., relations that involve one in acts of mind and will vis-à-vis what one is related to) but which remain extrinsic to what one is essentially, then I’m fine with positing God’s real relations with the world. Does this commit me to a notion of divine simplicity unacceptable to classical theists? I’d be surprised if it did not. I know these terms (“real” for example) have long established meanings and many are loath to adjust/expand meanings and vocabulary to accommodate new insights. I don’t have any pretenses about affecting the conversation at that significant a level. I confess, I’m more interested in working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

Jesus, Savior, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Christ El Dorado


Got more love in my heart than Lucy had for Ricardo,
My heart goes astray, He stops me cold like an embargo,
I am the Masked Monk, theological desperado,
Searchin’ till I found the Hidden Treasure, El Dorado.

Never gold, I’m ever bold, his story’s been told,
Never sold, staying cold, for the young and the old,
Preacher like a creature with the Word in his mouth, and his
Feature as teacher will remove any doubt—that the

Logos is reality, like death and taxes
People claim to know the Savior, but they don’t follow his praxis
So they wobble in the Faith, unstable axis
Using power instead of love, using unstable tactics.

It’s time to repent, come back to reality,
Transcend the animality, annihilate brutality;
Awaken. I am you and you are me, we are all one.
Unity in Zero, made relevant by the Holy One.

(Dwayne Polk)

Living, moving, and having being in God—Part 1

insidegodsheartii2074pxI’m just thinking through the metaphysics of being and becoming. It’s not something I’ll ever finish (pun intended). For the moment I’d like to express temporal becoming in Process terms because I think in some respects PT articulates ‘becoming’ fairly well (even if Process has no real concept of transcendence).

We (irreducibly temporal creatures that we are) ‘become’ in that we possess our being and existence as an unending process of negotiating between the perceived data of past occasions (memory) and the perceived possibilities of the future. That determination, our present experience, is a “creative synthesis” (Hartshorne) between past occasions and future possibilities. In PT these future possibilities are God-given. They are “divine subjective aims” (Whitehead) for things – their ideal states of becoming. God provides all things (from the small, simplest ‘actual occasion’ to larger societies of occasions) an ideal state in light of which it freely determines itself. This process continues without end. (To briefly stand on the classical side of this conversation, Dwayne and I agree that God cannot be a subject of such becoming.)

Several thoughts come to mind.

(1) For beings that ‘become’ temporally in this way, as classical theism observes, their ‘essence’ is not their ‘existence’. That is, the actual existence of temporal beings is always changing. We are always a ‘becoming’ toward some end, whereas our ‘essence’ (to the extent process theists posit an ‘essence’ to things) is just an abstraction that supervenes upon the ever-changing process of becoming.

(2) Since the possibilities that ground our becoming are God’s “subjective aims” and do not derive from the actualities for which they are ‘ends’, in an important sense temporal becoming is asymmetrically related to God. Our existence as such, even the possibility of our becoming, are “given” to us. We do not generate or constitute the possibility of our existence, however free we are to determine ourselves within the range of God-given possibilities we enjoy. For us ‘possibility’ and ‘actuality’ are distinct, however inseparable they are.

(3) This distinction, in an important sense, cannot be the case for God as it is with us. Any necessary being has in some sense to be his own possibility and that possibility is convertible with an essential-necessary actuality. For God, the possibility of his existence and his actual, essential existence are identical, since (a) God is possible, (b) God is actual, and (c) God is self-sufficiently necessary. It follows that nothing other than God can give God the possibility of his own necessary existence. God’s essential actuality is not another instance of a temporal ‘process’ of becoming.

(4) We must, then, posit some antecedent necessary actuality (call it the divine ‘essence’) which is convertible with God’s essential existence, some divine experience not the subject of temporal becoming, not a process of creative synthesis which negotiates between its own past occasions and its perceived possibilities of becoming in the future what it presently is not. God cannot be reduced to such a process of temporal becoming, for there are no candidate possibilities for God to consider outside his own actuality which would fill the necessary role of “subjective aims” to define his future possibilities. Every act of ‘becoming’ requires a telos, and every telos is grounded in some actuality which does not itself become in this created sense. We’ve discussed before (from Greg’s Trinity & Process) why Whitehead & Hartshorne’s view of God failed in this sense – neither posited an antecedent divine actuality as the ground of the divine perfections, perfections which on their view were simply logically assumed abstractions that supervened upon the divine actuality (entirely a process of becoming).

ingod(5) Even if we posit a necessary God-world relationship in PT fashion, or even a necessary God-series/of/worlds relationship as Oord does (though his ‘series’ reduces to a single world), it’s still the case that non-divine reality cannot provide God subjective aims for God’s becoming, nor can a God who is irreducibly temporal provide himself his own subjective aims for his own future, for possibilities by definition are what a thing is not yet but which it may become. Thought through consistently, it follows that not only can nothing other than God provide an irreducibly temporal God of becoming the “subjective aims” or “end” for his own becoming, but neither can such a God be his own subjective aim, for no merely temporal God can be in the present an actuality sufficient to offer itself possibilities to become what it is not.

If God, like created things, is essentially subject to temporal becoming, then he determines himself in the present in light of past occasions and future possibilities, possibilities guided by subjective aims which, on Process terms, have no antecedent actuality in God. Whence these possibilities for divine becoming? Who or what can offer God the “aims” for his idea states of becoming? It seems that neither any created being nor God’s own process of becoming at any given ‘present’ moment of becoming can define the perfections in light of which God determines himself as creative synthesis. I’m being brief and to the point, but as our Christmas gift to those reading, we’ll just say that the Process view of God doesn’t make it to the end of the runway. God must in some essential sense be an antecedent actuality that is not subject to becoming. In this essential sense, we have to say God’s necessary essence and his essential actuality are one and the same.

(6) This brings up the most interesting question – What about contingency in God with respect to his knowledge of and relations to the contingent world he creates and sustains? If there can be no contingency intrinsic to a necessary being’s essential actuality, is it possible to conceive of God as capable of freely expressing himself in ways that are not constitutive of him essentially-intrinsically but merely expressive of him contingently, extrinsically?

Concluding uncataphatic postscript

fcf8887ec79f01f31a1b9dde88c120edThis Christmas I find myself pondering the wise men. The past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of competing emotions as I’ve been closing up shop at one place of employment and preparing to take off in an entirely new direction the first of the year. Such changes, I now know, are processed very differently by a 20-something than by a 50-something. I’m the latter. Some time ago I passed the midlife mile marker, that place in life of which prisoner of war Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness in one of the greatest films of all time, The Bridge on the River Kwai) said, “There are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents, what difference your being there at any time made to anything.” It’s a place that’s entered, not passed by, and it offers a unique and painful – but curiously freeing and empowering – perspective from which to live.

As if life wasn’t already intense enough a mystery to unravel the past couple of months, I managed during this time to land again upon the temporal status of God’s existence as my theological conundrum of choice to work on. All this brings me to a fabulous discovery I stumbled into last night while punching out my frustrations to a friend in an email. Ever get that feeling of being exhausted from thinking about a problem so incessantly you can’t disengage? You become stuck in it and obsessed with having to resolve it. It’s the drug of choice for theologians who can’t stop chasing white rabbits down holes. I feel that way about several theological issues – ‘God and time’, ‘necessity and contingency in God’, actus purus, ‘divine epistemic openness’.

As I was going through my list of theological interests, it dawned on me that most of them exhaust me. But there is one thing about God I never tire from contemplating, and as obsessed as I am with it, it never detracts from other things I have to give my attention to. What might this obsession be? Divine beauty, God as the Beautiful, and that beauty as the summum bonum. The more intensely I contemplate God as the Beautiful, the more inspired I feel and the lighter I become. Indeed, divine beauty isn’t really a ‘topic’ of discussion at all – though I can talk ‘about’ it with others on that level. Divine beauty is more like the sun’s warmth and light that make possible viewing and engaging everything else. I don’t always do a job of living in light of this reality, but last night I remembered, and theology is a kind of remembering.

The point of talking about God is to end up talking with God, to change the fundamental nature of the discussion from whatever it is you’re processing or debating with others to addressing and being addressed by God, from 3rd to 2nd person. No truth about God can reorient me this way like contemplating God as the Beautiful. I can discuss, say, ‘God and time’ for weeks and never make this switch. Same is true with almost any other aspect of theology. And it’s exhausting. You feel it after a few hours of trying to ‘figure things out’. But 5 minutes of contemplating God as the Beautiful changes and reorients the conversation. God steps in (or rather we wake up to his presence) and we find ourselves confronted with an invitation to talk with God, which of course is just prayer – theology’s truest form. And the perception of beauty is arresting. It will not remain objectified as 3rd degas_blue_dancersperson topic of discussion. It calls. It beckons. It transforms ineffably. You can sit in front of Degas’ chalky “Blue Dancers” and reduce its masterpiece to a competency of brush strokes, or the care taken in blending hues, or the perfect capture of light and shadow – or – you can lose your breath in ineffable rapture. Opening your mouth to ‘say it’ immediately dispels the experience of it because it is a territory, a landscape, that will always escape the cartographers (as necessary as having to talk about it may be).

My own experience is that this moment of aesthetic rapture is also inseparable from divine apatheia and our participation in it. There’s healing to be had in theology when it finally becomes a face to face conversation with God. I haven’t found the same thing to be true of investigating or debating whether or not there is contingency in God, or whether believing that God’s knowledge of things changes turns one’s faith into idolatry. But I can’t contemplate God as the Beautiful without actually engaging God as the Beautiful, i.e., without being drawn into an experience of ineffable beauty that is in some measure transforming and redeeming by the silence it bestows. Divine beauty is the one thing the sincere contemplation of which is inseparable from participating in.

Wise men, all ways of knowledge past,
To the shepherds’ wonder come at last:
To know can only wonder breed,
And not to know is wonder’s seed.

This Christmas I’m going to take my cue from those wise men and shelve every interest in me which tends to objectify God and look simply for the beauty – beauty in the condescension of Incarnation, in the trusting surrender of a teenage girl, in the risky choice of a Jewish man to marry that girl – instead of looking for beauty behind my having figured out some knotty perplexity (if I can just figure out divine necessity/contingency, or God’s relationship to time, or come up with a formula that explains evil). The healing power of beauty will find us if we want to be found. But part of wanting to be found means letting go the rush, nearly pornographic in its spell, that we get from having constructed the best ‘map’ around, in favor of the naked intimacy of the uncharted territory of being addressed by God.

Dancing debris

0320c07f49bcc209af673b9e6c210231I happened upon this portion of a David Bentley Hart interview and it brought me back to the center – to the truth of God’s immeasurable and undiminished delight accessible in and to all things.

Question to Hart: So where was God in the tsunami?

Where was God? In and beyond all things, nearer to the essence of every creature than that creature itself, and infinitely outside the grasp of all finite things.

Almost all the reviews of The Doors of the Sea that I have read have recognized that, at the heart of the book, is a resolute insistence upon and adoration of the imperishable goodness of creation, an almost willfully naive assertion that it is the beauty and peace of the created world that truly reveal its original and ultimate nature, while the suffering and alienation and horror of mortal existence are, in an ultimate sense, fictions of fallen time, chains and veils and shadows and distortions, but no part of God’s will for his creatures. This is why, at one point in the book, I grant the Gnostics of old the validity of their questions, though I go on to revile the answers at which they arrived.

To see the world in the Christian way – which, as I say in the book, requires the eye of charity and a faith in Easter – is in some sense to venture everything upon an absurd impracticality (I almost sound Kierkegaardian when I say it that way). But, as I was writing the book, I found myself thinking again and again of a photograph I had seen in the Baltimore Sun. The story concerned the Akhdam, the lowest social caste in Yemen, supposedly descended from Ethiopians left behind when the ancient Ethiopian empire was driven out of Arabia in the sixth century, who live in the most unimaginable squalor. In the background of the photo was a scattering of huts constructed from crates and shreds of canvas, and on all sides barren earth; but in the foreground was a little girl, extremely pretty, dressed in tatters, but with her arms outspread, a look of delight upon her face, dancing. To me that was a heartbreaking picture, of course, but it was also an image of something amazing and glorious: the sheer ecstasy of innocence, the happiness of a child who can dance amid despair and desolation because her joy came with her into the world and prompts her to dance as if she were in the midst of paradise.

She became for me the perfect image of the deep indwelling truth of creation, the divine Wisdom or Sophia who resides in the very heart of the world, the stainless image of God, the unfallen. I’m waxing quite Eastern here, I know, but that, I would say, is the nature of God’s presence in the fallen world: his image, his bride, the deep joy and longing of creation, called from nothingness to be joined to him. That child’s dance is nothing less than the eternal dance of divine Wisdom before God’s throne, the dance of David and the angels and saints before his glory; it is the true face of creation, which God came to restore and which he will not suffer to see corruption.

Has Tom Oord solved the problem of evil?—Part 1


Somewhere along the way I started calling Tom Oord “TJ” to distinguish him from myself in online discussions we were having. So I’ll just stick with that for now. I’ve had it in mind to post why – given TJ’s own Process (or quasi-Process) metaphysics – his preference for God being, necessarily, the creator of an infinite series of worlds, each created out of the previous, rather than a single world, in fact reduces to a single world and that any advantages TJ might think his series of worlds has over a single world disappear upon closer examination, and that in terms of his own assumptions.

But that post will have to wait. Instead, I’d like here to add a reflection or two to the ongoing conversation between Tom Oord and John Sanders. Recently, Sanders posted a response to Oord’s overall project, and today Oord published a response. The point I’d like to add is simple: Given the constraints of the Process metaphysics at work in TJ’s work, on his own terms he’s far from having solved the problem of evil. If you’re unfamiliar with Oord’s work, or Process theism in general, he reviews the essentials of his approach in his response to Sanders.

I like initially to see if a person’s proposal is consistent with its own fundamental assumptions. And without introducing my own beliefs about God or evil or the world into the mix, it seems to me that Oord’s proposal is unimaginable on its own terms. Even if TJ is right that God doesn’t exhaustively control/coerce any created entity (be it the simplest “actual occasion” or a complex “society of occasions” – and, for the record, such less-than-exhaustive determination of things is a claim I tend to agree with in an important sense), one can still make a case that the problem of evil remains. If God can exercise a level of influence great enough (near total but not exhaustive – and TJ grants that divine influence may be very great indeed) to get a miracle as historically unique as the resurrection of a dead person, and achieve it on the predicted day of his choosing, then we’re talking about a kind of relating (even if not ‘exhaustively determining’) that essentially reintroduces the problem of evil – even for Oord. A divine way of relating to the world capable of achieving physical resurrection would, arguably, be able to prevent a great deal more of the evil that occurs in the world that it does, even if it wouldn’t reasonably prevent every evil.

Let’s grant TJ the kind of non-exhaustive coercion/influence that is a chief claim of his project. Even so, if God can effectively relate (kenotically, i.e., less than exhaustively determinative) to dead cells and raise them on cue, it’s easy to see how the problem of evil essentially remains. Why isn’t a God whose way of relating to the world includes achieving resurrection more successful generally? True, how much God is able to achieve in any given circumstance depends upon the level of cooperation from created entities. But this doesn’t get us much because it doesn’t prevent us from concluding in general that a world in which God can resurrect the dead would certainly be vastly better than ours is.

41ogx8m9aul-_sy344_bo1204203200_TJ supposes that Jesus’ spirit/soul cooperated with God in re-animating the cells of Jesus’ dead body. I’m not sure what sort of reality Oord supposes this ‘spirit’ to be. He describes it a bit. But it’s certainly not convertible with a conscious, functioning brain in the dead Jesus. Some other sort of volitional influence, distinguishable from a functioning brain, seems to be in view. But positing a level of influence on the part of Jesus’ spirit doesn’t solve the problem in TJ’s terms because the “dead cells” of Jesus’ body (apart from all other influences – divine or those attributable to Jesus’ own spirit) must contribute their own freely self-determined surrender to the possibility of resurrection. Is that imaginable within Process metaphysics broadly construed? I think not.

Consider the Process metaphysics at work. All “actual occasions” retain some inviolable measure of self-determining/self-organizational capacity. Outcomes are always cooperatively achieved in light of God’s “subjective aims” for entities and the free exercise of the creative capacities of those entities. That is, actual occasions are free to self-determine within a scope of possibilities provided by God’s subjective aim for that entity’s ideal state of becoming. So far so good. However, those subjective aims are also relative to that entity’s present state. Salt can dissolve in water. Water can freeze in sufficient cold. Salt isn’t going to produce a rose bush as its next creative step of becoming. Why not? Because the complexity of a rose bush lies outside the scope of the possibilities that define salt. Will Process metaphysics allow us to suppose that “dead cells” have it within their natural capacities as societies of actual occasions (i.e., “as dead cells”) to reanimate themselves into a conscious state? Supposing they do involves a leap of faith that resurrects the problem of evil along with Jesus.

Why do I say this? Because in Process terms, a dead body is a complex system of actual occasions incapable of the kind of free cooperation Oord needs them to be in order for those dead cells to play their Process part in becoming a conscious subject. I don’t confess to being an expert in Process metaphysics (Hasker, Rice, Greg Boyd, and others can confirm my point), but Hartshorne, I believe, showed that some outcomes (say, conscious, self-aware, rational subjects) require higher forms of consciousness to begin with. The higher, more beautiful, more complex events we call conscious subjectivity and aesthetic perception, require sufficient complexity as their immediately antecedent data. No mysterious quantum leaps allowed! A rock cannot perform calculus. Why not? Because its present reality “as a rock” isn’t sufficiently complex enough a state of awareness to begin with. A non-conscious, non-rational, society of occasions (say, a dead body) does not enjoy the same scope of possibilities as does a conscious, rational, subjectivity. Oord is asking Process metaphysics to support the claim that dead cells in themselves are sufficiently complex a state as to be capable of cooperating with God’s subjective aim for its reanimation.

This seems too much to ask of Process metaphysics. Per Process, the “divine subjective aims” offer possibilities that lie within the capacities of given actualities (all other divine contributions aside). That’s hardly imaginable in the case of dead cells, even if we view those cells in Process terms as a society of actual occasions which on a fundamental quantum level of existence still contribute something to their possibilities of becoming in the next nanosecond. The metaphysics doesn’t get you the kind of event we have in Jesus rising from the dead.

I appreciate that it may solve the problem of evil for Oord or for those disposed to Process cosmologies who are already theists convinced on other grounds that God is the Good, the Beautiful, the True. But it seems incredible to others. In particular, it seems incredible to imagine an that atheist who thought seriously about Oord’s proposal, who appreciated the problem of evil in its most acute forms, and who understood the inherent limitations of the Process metaphysics at work in Oord’s project (whatever its advantages), would feel the problem of evil was “solved” by the supposed good news that God raised Jesus’ dead body miraculously but couldn’t stop (to go with an example Oord frames his model around) a stray rock from striking a woman’s head and killing her because the “cells” of Jesus’ dead body cooperated with God’s subjective aims for them while the “molecules” of the rock didn’t cooperate with God’s subjective aims for them. This is where Sanders is spot on in his criticism of Oord – to the extent Oord succeeds at articulating a view of God’s relationship to the world that has room for “miracles,” it fails to solve the problem of evil.

Beautiful day, beautiful man—Tom Oden

odenMy daughter texted me yesterday morning that Tom Oden had passed away in his sleep a few hours earlier. I won’t rehearse his amazing career for you. I only want to express extreme gratitude for being able to get to know this wonderful man, if even slightly. His grandnephew (Tom’s brother Tal’s grandson) Tuck Oden is my son-in-law (married to my oldest daughter Mila). The entire Oden clan are wonderful people, and it’s been a pleasure to enjoy their company now and then upon visiting Oklahoma City.

I saw Tom Oden last this past June at Tuck and Mila’s home where we were gathered to celebrate my grandson Tommy’s (named after both Tom and myself) 2nd birthday. As his brother Tal sat at the upright banging out old hymns in stride fashion, Tom and I enjoyed the day on the sofa talking about what we both love – theology – and our very similar journey toward and appreciation of Orthodoxy. We chatted about family, love of books, the Fathers, and of course his amazing library. Tom was quite the collector. It was a beautiful conversation on a beautiful day with a beautiful man.

Back to basics


Gathering a few lines here and there from key previous posts, here are a few basics I’ve come to embrace and in light of which I strive to live. As I transition out of MN and to a new life in CA, I’ve been trying to boil down some of our more important lessons here. Most of what Dwayne and I explore here can be reduced to one or more of these basic convictions. I don’t know why theologians feel it necessary to say things in Latin, but I’m sure the Latin of some of these phrases is horrible. Feel free to offer corrections!

God’s beauty is his beatitudedei pulchritudo eius est beatitudo
God is the Beautiful, and that beauty is an experienced beatitude. Nothing outside of God makes him beautiful. He doesn’t derive his beauty from anything outside his own self-relations. If he’s the transcendent ground of ‘beauty’, nothing other than his own experience of himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) can be that which makes God beautiful, and that beauty is the experienced fullness of trinitarian love.

God’s beatitude is the summum bonumbeatitudo dei est summum bonum
The beauty of God which is his beatitude is itself the summum bonum (the ‘highest good’ or ‘supreme value’) and that from which all created experiences derive their value. This, we think, yields what we take to be a metaphysical rule: the greatest value in the universe is the greatest beatitude. All value is aesthetic value or beatitude. God’s value is just the sheer beatitude of his triune experience. And an infinite value would be an infinite(ly intense) experience of beatitude. If I were pressed for a definition of the much debated apatheia (as I understand and employ it), I’d say it is just the infinite value of the beatitude of God’s triune experience.

Incarnation or nothing at allincarnatio aut nihil
God either creates to bring all he creates to fulfillment in/through Incarnation, or he doesn’t create at all. Varieties of creation or created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between. They are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation. It should then be impossible not just to speak of this creation apart from Incarnation/Christology, but to speak of God’s creating at all apart from the intention to incarnate. Indeed, I’m suggesting that all possibilities for creation derive from and return to the one possibility of Incarnation. In the end, there is only one possible world to create—an initial state suitably fitted and sustained for the emergence of sentient-hypostatic/personal life for the sole purpose of Incarnation.

Creation from nothingcreatio ex nihilo
God creates freely and gratuitously.

Living from nothingvivera ex nihilo
We want to mean something, to be something permanent. That’s our ‘natural’ will/desire at work. But for passibilist believers, this natural desire precedes rather than follows the truth that grounds it, and when that happens we misconstrue our ‘meaning’ as the difference we make to God rather than the difference God makes to us and so misinterpret our God-given desire to make-meaning. We may recognize that we “live and move and have our being in God” (Acts 17.28), but we live by construing our fullest meaning otherwise, partly at least, as the sense or measure in which God lives and moves and has his being in us. So to be in the presence of a beauty and delight that doesn’t need us, that isn’t improved upon or completed by us, ends up being viewed by passibilists not as the fulfillment of desire but as its denial and so as a kind of torment.

God wills our improvisationdeus vult nostros _____ [Latin for ‘improvisation’?]
If the logoi of created beings can be analogously understood, then the divine will ends in defining the ‘scope’ without prescribing or determining the actual creative expressive ‘form’ which Truth, Beauty, and Goodness take in us—as us. But this means, I believe, that God’s will in sustaining creation as such embraces created improvisation on our part, which means—I’m afraid to utter it—the divine will (viz., logoi) is given to us to improvise upon. I mean, if you want to retain mystery, there you are. The endless possibilities are God’s, their final arrangement is ours. But if this is his will, then it seems to me that the mode of God’s knowing creation would reflect the mode of his willing; that is, God would know the improvisational form which divine logoi finally take in us as a knowledge of form ‘apprehended’ or ‘received’ and not only a knowledge of created being as ‘given’. What the world gives to God is what it gives back to God in improvisation upon and within the grace of being.