In Part 4 I suggested (with McFarland and Eikrem) that mortality (entropy/decay) per se is not an evil consequence of creation’s fall from a primordial perfection but that it constitutes the minimal basic necessary context in terms of which conscious embodied beings such as us must negotiate the choices necessary to becoming what God intended – one with God in love and partnership in the cosmos.
My friend John (comments section) writes that he recognizes that our finitude “might conceivably require…epistemic distances and ontic privations in order to be exercised and realized.” Precisely. But he asks “But what length of distance? And what depth of privation?” Good questions.
A few weeks ago I found myself in conversation with an Eastern Orthodox believer who, strangely, insisted that God’s purposes for us (i.e., our union with him in love and our partnership with him in the cosmos) include not only our mortality, but also our actual moral depravity, and that evil itself is required for creation to find its home in God. I got the feeling this gentleman was speaking from the edge of the edge. In any case, it’s fatally (pun intended) overstating the context in terms of which we must travel the pathway to our end in God, and it’s certainly not reflective of Orthodoxy’s general vision. John’s questions, though, got me to thinking again about the necessity of mortality.
Why think mortality (by which I mean entropy and decay, and thus death) is the necessary context in which human beings find their way to fulfillment in God? To risk offending readers with a needless repetition, let me repeat what I’ve said:
For the rather simple reason that there is (for us) no coming into the fullness of being which is not a coming into to the truth of being, and part of our truth is our absolute contingency, gratuity, and dependency upon God. This entails, of necessity, embracing the truth of the nothingness out of which God calls us into being. This is a truth we cannot comprehend apart from an experience of mortality. So, mortality is the possibility of our relating the truth of our finitude to the immortal God, and this is the truth we must come to terms with en route to fully participating in the grace of eternal life. So to the extent it is true that we are nothing in ourselves – mortality is a grace, however temporary a mode of being it was meant to be. Mortality becomes death “the enemy” (in the existential/theological sense of Heb 2.14) when we choose to misrelate despairingly to our finitude….
To John’s questions then: What length of [epistemic] distance must define the space in which we make our way Godward? And what depth of privation must define our existence for that existence to arrive to the fulness God intends? For me the answer is bound up with the nature of created finitude, on the one hand, and privation, on the other. Finitude is no privation, obviously. If finitude were a privation, then creation would come privated and evil from God, and we don’t want to say that. When we are all God created us to be, in the full light and enjoyment of God as our end, we shall remain finite. Privation is another matter. Privation is privation of the good. And if finitude is the nature of creation in its goodness, then our privation is misrelation precisely to the truth of our finitude.
What of the epistemic distance that qualifies our finitude? Well, it can’t be that believing falsehoods and lies is a good thing, or even a necessary thing for us. But the ignorance of finitude is no privation. The question is what kind of epistemic distance has to define the context in which we make responsible choices Godward? We have to know enough to choose rightly, not step into it accidentally. But if choice is to be the means of a responsible self-determination toward our end, then we can’t be so overwhelmed with the obvious truth of things that deliberation becomes rationally impossible. The epistemic distance has to be greater than 0 but less than 1.
The end of such distance, its purpose, is its own final closure achieved over time through the exercise of the will. We experience this tendency now as habituation, the solidification of the will. But we’re talking here about the necessary starting point, about what has to be in place for us to make the journey toward final union with God. We can’t start out at the end – obviously – but the beginning, though less than the end, also cannot be “privation” or evil. This is where we locate mortality as entropy and decay. Apart from the experience of mortality (entropy, decay, death) we would have no grounds upon which to perceive the truth of our own finitude and our movement to final union with God would be impossible, for that union is predicated precisely upon our choosing to relate rightly as created, as finite.
So – how much “epistemic distance”? Necessarily, enough to make truly responsible choice possible. That varies. But to what depth of “privation”? If by privation we mean privation of the good, then none at all necessarily. Finitude is the goodness of being created. Privation is the evil of refusing to acknowledge our finitude.