God always the same


Aidan Nichols, O.P. has the wonderful ability to condense the complex works of brilliant thinkers into simpler terms that make those works accessible to non-experts like me. Besides his primer on Bulgakov from which I quote below, Nichols has similar introductions on von Balthasar, Aquinas, Pope Benedict (to name a few) as well as primers on the Catholic Church, the Byzantine Church, Anglicanism, and other helpful guides. Thank God for original, pioneering thinkers who stretch tradition in new ways, but thank God also for gifted people who can re-present that thinking in more accessible terms for the rest of us.

In light of conversations about God and time we’ve been enjoying, I wanted to share a passage from Nichols’ primer on Bulgakov. Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a brilliant Orthodox priest-scholar whose career began in Russia and, after a short stint in Prague, ended in Paris. Anathematized by some Orthodox and tolerated by others, Bulgakov continues to be a controversial figure within Orthodox circles. Some offer high praise of aspects of his work. David Bentley Hart, for example, praises the Christoloy of The Lamb of God as “the most remarkable and impressive work of Christology produced in the twentieth century.” I think of Bulgakov as an example of the kind of synthesis Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) recommended when he wrote:

Orthodox theology must keep its patristic foundation, but it must also go ‘beyond’ the Fathers if it is to respond to a new situation created by centuries of philosophical development. And in this new synthesis or reconstruction, the Western philosophical tradition…rather than the Hellenic, must supply theology with its conceptual framework. An attempt is thus made to ‘transpose’ theology into a new ‘key’….

Among Bulgakov’s more controversial speculations are his thoughts on God and time. Consider this Nichols passage (from his primer):

Eternity and time
Time is not of course eternity. In one sense, it is opposed to eternity, and this is how we commonly think of it. But in another sense time is put in place by eternity, has eternity as its foundation and its final cause, the goal to which it is moving. And in this second sense, time only has coherence because it reflects eternity. Bulgakov compares it to a mosaic, where individual moments are like so many individual pieces of coloured glass that, taken together, nonetheless make up a whole. It becomes easier to grasp this this is we realize that what we are talking about is creaturely wisdom—which is in time—on the one hand, and divine Wisdom—which is eternal—on the other. Time is full of eternity, and tends to approach eternity while never becoming eternity, precisely because these two wisdoms are one. They have one content.

Of the two, however, only divine Wisdom exists in God. Shall we say, then, that for God time has no reality, that he is not engaged with temporal realities as such? Is it true to say that for God only eternity exists? Bulgakov answers with a resounding ‘No’.

The entire Christian religion presupposes for its truth-value the reality of time not only for the world but also for God, and the one conditions the other.

To treat God’s relations with the temporal as merely a human way of speaking would be to “shake the entire content of our faith.” It would mean transforming the biblical God, the “Creator, all-might, living, merciful, saving,” into the “immobile Absolute of Hinduism in which all concrete being is snuffed out and the whole world becomes illusion.” It would make nonsense of the Incarnation where earthly events happen to One who was God. But what about the way that Scripture and the doctrinal tradition speak of God’s immutability, his unchangingness? Bulgakov replies by drawing a distinction which we also find in such modern Western Catholic theologians as the German Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984). He [Bulgakov, not Rahner] distinguishes between God as he who is changeless in himself, in eternity, and he who can be involved in change in another, in time. He writes:

In himself, God is eternal by virtue of the divine everlastingness, the plenitude of his life, by virtue of immutability, and total happiness. In himself, God is eternal by virtue of the divine everlastingness of his tri-personhood which is the eternal act of love of the Three in their reciprocal relations.

That is certainly a plain statement. But there is another side to the question which also requires stating. Bulgakov says:

God is also the Creator, creating life outside himself and himself living there outside himself. The reality of this world is determined by God. The reality of this world is determined by God. The reality of the time of this world is also valid therefore for God, since it is his own work, and, taken as a whole, his own ‘placing’ of himself. Going out of himself in the kenosis of the creation of the world, the love of God puts time in position even for God himself. It brings it about that God also lives in history and shares in this sense in the world’s becoming, for the sake of the world.

…Bulgakov emphasizes that in no way does the Creator’s relation with time in the creation lessen or limit his eternity. Temporality—the time dimension—is on a different ontological level from eternity, so the two are not in any kind of conflict. Time has its roots in eternity, is nourished by eternity, and penetrated by it.


I’m no Bulgakov expert, but some who know him well agree that his position on the qualified sense in which God experiences and knows the temporal world is not merely a restatement or re-presentation of traditional Orthodox views. That is, Bulgakov makes novel and controversial claims about God and time. Personally, I think there is room here for the sort of qualified sense in which I think we can say God ‘temporally’ knows and experiences the world. And though I want to spend more time in Bulgakov before resolving on a firm opinion, I suspect I could agree to what Bulgakov is here describing. For example, I recently speculated with a friend:

There is neither ‘past’ nor ‘future’ to the Father’s begetting of the Son and the Spirit’s proceeding. It cannot “take time” for God to be the triune, self-existent, God. And without such a past and future, there can be no corresponding ‘present’ if by present we mean the metaphysical sibling of the sort of past and future just ruled out, an instant where the past as ‘what was’ and the future as ‘what might be’ meet and dialectically constitute God’s being as ever-becoming. With respect to God’s self-existent trine reality and beatitude, I don’t see how there can be beginning, end, or succession in God.

And I earlier suggested:

In addition, we’ve argued here that God cannot suffer ‘existential loss’ in the sense of pining for the good of some past experience or future good. Why not? Because “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” Whatever past goods there may be to God (on the assumption the creation’s past is past in some sense for God as well), God remains the goodness they were, and whatever good is to be redeemed for the created bearer of such goodness, God is always already the source and fullness of it. Hence, there can be no loss of experienced goodness for him whose necessary life is the fullness of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In short, the passage of time could mean nothing to the existential fullness or beatitude of God’s being. Here I don’t mind Boethius’ phrase: “Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life” by which all I would mean is a fullness of life which is not a temporal achievement. That is, I wouldn’t historicize the fullness of God’s triune being as if that fullness is ‘temporally derived’. That just seems to follow from necessary existence. (emphasis mine)

Or again, more explicitly:

What would ‘past’ and ‘future’ be for [God] whose very existence is satisfied in every self-constituting way? The ‘past’ couldn’t be remembered with any sense of regret, longing, or pinning for what was or what might have been. The past would cast no shadow upon the present by suggesting a correction or alternative to it that would increase God…Likewise the future could not interpose itself into the satisfaction of the present by casting upon its bliss any expectation or desire for a satisfaction not present. The future (so far as it might be conceived in the present) would be entirely the product of present bliss, a realm of possibilities that express (but do not constitute an improvement upon) the present. (my emphasis)


daliThis all agrees, it seems to me, with Bulgakov’s concern that time not “lessen or limit his eternity.” God’s “eternity,” as Bulgakov describes it, is God’s self-constituting fullness. That fullness has neither beginning, end, nor succession. I not only have no problem (as one who advocates the ‘open view’) affirming this, I view it as essential. My problem is with thinking this precludes there being succession in God’s knowledge and experience of that which does not constitute God in this essential way, that all the world’s temporal realities are, in their actuality, eternally-immutably known by God. I think Bulgakov saw this problem as well and attempted to stretch our thinking in this regard. I could be wrong, but I don’t know how else to take his statements in this regard in The Bride of the Lamb.

Denys Turner suggests that our understanding of God can’t be reduced to the scope of the contradiction held out to us in the either/or of conventional ‘temporal’ vs ‘atemporal’ options. Both terms (David Bradshaw suggests) should reveal God, say something truthful about God, without either negating the other. An analogy of this, as I recently shared, is Moses’ encounter with God in the Burning Bush. We have established understanding of both ‘fire’ and ‘bush’. We know what they are and what the do. We know that fire depends upon what it consumes for fuel. We know that bushes are consumed by fire. But we have no concept of ‘fire’ or ‘bush’ or the possibilities of their meeting that explains bushes on fire without being consumed. And yet there before us is the burning bush.

Now, some Orthodox urge such transcendence upon me as a reason to hold that God cannot change in his knowledge of and relationship to the changing world. They might take the ‘burning bush’ to be the analogical equivalent to God eternally-immutably knowing the world’s actualities in their temporal, free, self-determined becoming. As far as I can tell, this is indistinguishable from the sort of negating ‘timelessness’ one gets with the either/or option thinking. But why should transcendence not as obviously incline us to suppose God may change in his knowledge of and relationship to the world without compromising his essential, immutable beatitude and triune identity? That is, we are not only to suppose God is not reduced to the world; we also suppose that the world is not reduced to God; nor that God’s knowledge of and intimacy to the world undermines the world’s becoming. It seems to me that to think that any change in God’s knowledge of the changing world would turn God into a temporal, finite ‘being among beings’ is perhaps to forget that God is transcendent; i.e., perhaps transcendence can embrace such change without undermining God’s ‘eternity’ (as triune fullness of beatitude).

Bulgakov: Open Orthodoxy?


I ran across a piece on Bulgakov (SJT 58[3] 2005) this week by Orthodox theologian/philosopher Paul Gavrilyuk (here at St. Thomas U in the Twin Cities). I read the paper some time ago and still don’t know how I missed this particular aspect of Bulgakov’s views. Gavrilyuk explores Bulgakov’s very complex kenoticism, not your crude Protestant versions, but what looks to be a kenotic view of the Incarnation nonetheless. However, it’s something Gavrilyuk says unrelated to Bulgakov’s kenoticism that I find interesting (pp 258f). Bulgakov (d. 1944), by the way, was a Russian Orthodox priest/theologian/philosopher. Gavrilyuk writes:

In addition, Bulgakov maintains that God also limits his knowledge of the future in order to enable genuinely free human choices. In his eternal being God is and remains omniscient, knowing himself and all things in eternity in one supratemporal act. This eternal and perfect knowledge must not be confused with foreknowledge. Bulgakov criticises the claim that God knows all things ‘before’ they come to pass for providing a misleading idea of the relationship between eternity and temporality. Eternity, Bulgakov rightly points out, cannot be ‘before’ time in a temporal sense, as the prefix ‘pre’ seems to suggest, but rather eternity is the very foundation of temporality.

God knows all things in eternity and all future possibilities. For example, God foreknew the possibility of the fall, but God did not know that the fall was bound to happen, for this would entail that God caused the fall. God chooses not to know what exactly will come to pass in any temporal sequence ahead of time, because this would entail, Bulgakov believes, a strong doctrine of the divine causation of all things, which in turn would undo human freedom. To put it briefly, God chooses not to know future contingents in order not to determine the future and take away human freedom.

Wanting to find out for myself, I opened up Bulgakov. There are several passages in his chapter “God and Creaturely Freedom” from The Bride of the Lamb. You’ll see the relevant comments in the following passage (pp. 237f):

All this brings us to the central question of God’s omniscience in relation to creaturely freedom and its works. Does God know the works of our freedom “before” they are accomplished on the basis of His omniscience? The question is answered in the affirmative by predestinationism in its various forms…But to say that God knows in advance the works of freedom is a de facto annulment of freedom, its transformation into a subjective illusion. The acceptance of this supposition therefore places all the difficulties of predestination before us…

If God created man in freedom, in His own image, as a son of God and a friend of God, a god according to grace, then the reality of this creation includes his freedom as creative self-determination not only in relation to the world but also in relation to God. To admit the contrary would be to introduce a contradiction in God, who would then be considered as having posited only a fictitious, illusory freedom. And then one would inevitably have to accept Calvin’s conclusion that man fell not freely but because God desired it, for only God’s will and freedom exist. In other words, God could not or did not wish to create creaturely freedom or, more precisely, its subjects or bearers who presuppose it. Therefore, to unite creaturely freedom with divine omniscience, one must say not that God foresaw and therefore predestined the fall of man (a statement that is something encountered in handbooks of dogma) but that God, knowing His creation with all the possibilities contained therein, knows also the possibility of the fall, which, however, did not have to occur and can occur only by human freedom. Otherwise, the contrary assertion of Calvinism would be right…

Let us repeat, all the possibilities of creaturely being, having their roots in the Creator’s knowledge, are open to this knowledge, since they belong to the world created by Him and are included in this world’s composition, not only in the form of “integral wisdom” but also in the form of a distributed multiplicity. In this sense, creation – in both the spiritual and the human world – cannot bring anything ontologically new into this world; it cannot surprise or enrich the Creator Himself. But the very choice and creative actualization of these possibilities, that is, the domain of modal freedom, remain entrusted to creation and to this extent are its creative contribution. Although creation cannot be absolutely unexpected and new for God in the ontological sense, nevertheless in empirical (“contingent”) being, it represents a new manifestation for God Himself, who is waiting to see whether man will open or not open the doors of his heart. God Himself will know this only when it happens.

The synergism here is a mutual self-determination that has an element of novelty, actualized in different modes for the two sides in the interaction. The ways of the world are therefore not predetermined as a single causal connection in which there is no place for contingent causes…On the contrary, the determination of creaturely freedom must be understood according to a series of infinite variations, actually as non determinatum ad unum, but with these variations remaining subordinate to one plan, to one ontological possibility, multiply actualized. To creaturely freedom it is given to participate in the destinies of all of creation and, first of all, in the proper ways of man. If, in God’s eternity, the world’s being is uniquely and totally determined, on the contrary, we have the incompleteness, the under-determinedness, the still-continuing self-determination of the world. Veiling His face, God remains ignorant of the actions of human freedom. Otherwise, these actions would not have their own reality, but would only be a function of a certain divine mechanism of things. (Bold emphasis mine.)

There is more. For example, Bulgakov addresses the question of prophetic prevision and the conditional nature of prophetic fulfillment, appealing to Jer. 18.7-10; 26. 3, 13 in precisely the way open theists have; that is, the conditionality described in Jer. 18 entails divine epistemic openness with respect to future contingencies. In objecting to his Sophiology, Lossky and others (so I’m told) commented on Bulgakov’s position regarding divine foreknowledge as well, which leads me to believe I’m not misunderstanding him here. He makes the same core claim as the open view makes: divine epistemic openness with regard to future contingents. He seems to believe this by supposing God ‘chooses not to know future contingents’, which itself is a contradiction of the indeterminate, unformed nature of the future which Bulgakov insists upon earlier in the passage. But that aside, I thought it interesting to see the open view advocated by an Orthodox theologian.

It’s that time again

god-in-time-3-001Tait’s series on Greg and Fr Aidan’s recent post prompted some thoughts on God and time. I can’t think of a more mind-bending and frustrating topic. My thoughts are entirely those of a novice. I am neither professional philosopher nor professional theologian, but here are my musings nevertheless. I’ll present these in the form of conclusions, though there is reasoning behind them, much of it discussed on our blog over the past three years. But for brevity’s sake I’d like to offer them as is.

Let’s start with something non-controversial: God is uncreated and as such exists necessarily. By necessary I don’t mean that God’s existing is the ‘product of necessity’ or even that God ‘fulfills’ or ‘conforms to’ some metaphysical principle of necessity that ‘prescribes’ existence for God. I simply mean God is self-existent. He did not come into existence, cannot fail to exist, and alone is that without which nothing else would exist.

If God were temporal (in some sense—not speculating right now), what might that not mean? Well, God would certainly be unlike created-temporal beings in that God wouldn’t suffer the ravages of time as we do. God would not age or forget. In addition, we’ve argued here that God cannot suffer ‘existential loss’ in the sense of pining for the good of some ‘past’ experience or, for that matter, with respect to some future good. Why not? Because “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” Whatever past goods there may be to God (on the assumption the creation’s past is past in some sense for God as well), God remains the goodness they were, and whatever good is to be redeemed for the created bearer of such goodness, God is always already the source and fullness of it. Hence, there can be no loss of experienced goodness for him whose necessary life is the fullness of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In short, the passage of time (assuming for the moment some such passage for God) could mean nothing to the existential fullness or beatitude of God’s being. Here I don’t mind Boethius’ phrase: “Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life” by which all I would mean is a fullness of life which is not a temporal achievement. That is, I wouldn’t historicize the fullness of God’s triune being as if that fullness is ‘temporally derived’. That just seems to follow from necessary existence.

I also don’t see how God could relate to time (as we must) as an ontological presupposition for his existence. Indeed, I don’t see how in the case of necessary existence there can be any ontological presuppositions at all. God’s existence doesn’t require time as we do. God is the presupposition for all else. So I’m happy to say God transcends time in this sense.

I don’t know this with any certainty, but I suspect that if just this much were contemplatively engaged by open theists, they might have built more bridges and be enjoying fruitful conversation with folks on the Orthodox side of things. And let me just say that if there’s any desire to employ ‘timeless’ language apophatically to prevent uncritical, crude, or extravagant projections onto God of whatever we find to be the case with our own existence, to encourage us to a greater humility and epistemic reservation—count me in.

That said, however, I disagree that any of this implies that God is actus purus (pure act) in the classical sense, i.e., absolutely void of all potential. Obviously it would rule out the potential of aesthetic or existential improvement achieved or derived temporally. God’s self-constituting beatitude as such is infinite and unsurpassable. But it doesn’t follow so far as I can tell that this implies God cannot be a subject of temporal experience in ways that are not self-constituting (but which are, for example, contingently self-expressive).

How then might we say God is temporal (in a qualified sense that doesn’t hold him to “becoming” in any of the objectionable ways referred to above)? One simple way we might begin thinking of God as temporal would be to consider what it means to say God knows (indeed, God sustains) the distinction between possibility and actuality within creation. How would a God who is pure actuality (in whom there is no potentiality even in states of knowledge) know when something merely possible becomes actual? And wouldn’t knowing things in their temporal becoming at least suggest a temporal knowing? On the assumption that the world’s temporal becoming is real (in an A-Series sense), the distinction between merely possible-Tom and actual-Tom would be objective. Surely an omniscient God would know the difference between the two. But while the former (possible-Tom) can arguably be said to be eternal (as a possibility grounded in and always known by God), the latter cannot be said to be so. Actual-Tom is an irreducibly temporal actuality. How is God’s knowledge ‘that Tom is actual’ eternal? I don’t want to suggest that just because I don’t get it, it can’t be true, but to suggest that contingencies which “become actual” are eternally known to God “as actual” (i.e., God does not “come to know” as they “come to be”) is, as far as I can tell, just self-contradictory. And I further suspect this is not the sort of apophatic mystery that God’s being uncreated and necessary asks us to embrace.

Why cannot God experience changing states of knowledge of contingent events and truths without jeopardizing his self-constituting perfections and fullness? This is not to make God an ‘item’ within the inventory of created things, to uncritically project anthropomorphism onto God or to trap God “within time” (any more than it is to trap God “outside of time” by denying his temporal experience of the world). It is simply to say that the truth of the world’s non-eternal/temporal actualities are known to God in their non-eternal/temporal truth. Things don’t become other than they are just because God is the one knowing them.

(Picture here).

God at War in Ithilien, Part 1

sistine-chapelLove the name of Edwin Tait’s blog. Isn’t Ithilien a province within the Kingdom of Gondor? Some hidden meaning there I’m guessing. If you understand it, do tell.

As we said, Tait is in a series on Greg’s warfare worldview which we won’t be able to avoid engaging, not because of any misunderstanding on Tait’s part. His review is spot on. Our issues are with the substance of Greg’s proposals. What we’d like to do is offer a few comments on Tait’s posts. If you haven’t read through them, we encourage you to do so. I think the way Tait is attracted to a consideration of open theism through Greg’s warfare worldview as opposed to John Sanders’ emphasis upon divine relationality or Bill Hasker’s philosophical/logical arguments is very interesting. He makes great points about a proposal which, he agrees, deserved more debate than it received. We totally agree. What’s surprising is that while Greg’s warfare worldview initially appealed to Tait over against Sanders’ or Hasker’s different approaches, the deeper metaphysical underpinnings of Greg’s cosmology (not the more benign claim that there are malevolent beings who oppose God’s purposes on earth, something we agree with) are, we think, completely unworkable. We’re grateful for Tait’s series because it’s a perfect meeting place to explore the strengths and weakness of Greg’s cosmology.

I love Tait’s clear and concise style. To the point and doesn’t miss anything. He doesn’t get into the ‘warfare worldview’ specifically until Part 2. His opening post is more about defining open theism and explaining why Greg’s warfare worldview is for Tait a better starting point that Sanders’ divine relationality and Hasker’s logical coherence as. He gets into summarizing the warfare worldview in his Posts 2 and 3 about which we’ll have something to say in an upcoming post.

Tait begins by summarizing:

“Open theism is the view that God does not know future free actions with certainty. God knows everything that exists, but the future does not exist yet, so God only knows the future insofar as it follows necessarily from what exists already.”

This is fair enough, though a few important qualifications might be helpful. From the beginning of his involvement in the open theism debate, Greg preferred to describe God’s knowledge of the future in positive terms as what God knows, not negatively in terms of what God doesn’t know. (Though the latter expression is found, it’s not where or how the chief argument is made.) The positive mode of expressing things far better isolates the issues, because as soon as you say the words “God doesn’t know ____” it doesn’t much matter what you follow with. Many minds will start shutting down. Why? Because there’s nothing that God doesn’t know. His knowledge is limitless, infinite, etc. Of course, upon further inspection what this means is there’s nothing which is the case, nothing that is true which God doesn’t know to be the case or know to be true, etc. But the open view of the future has no problem agreeing with this. And stating things positively in terms of what God knows helps expose the relevant question which is ‘What is the temporal nature of the created order and its truth?’ and not ‘Are there ‘things’ God doesn’t know?’ We’re not saying Tait doesn’t see this. We just want to emphasize the point.

Secondly (and Tait acknowledges this in a subsequent post), the open theist affirms God knows all possibilities and probabilities. I meet non-open theists who agree. This is good news because again it encourages us to describe God’s knowledge of the world in terms of the nature of the things known and not just as something God doesn’t know. However, to agree that God knows the relevant probabilities of what might/might not be is just to affirm something about the open nature of the future and to invite further questions regarding the temporal status of God’s knowing the temporal world. Perhaps a better way to begin to define the open view of the future would be to state positively the open/indeterminate nature of the world’s temporal becoming, then to affirm God’s perfect knowledge of it, and only lastly to explore what God would then know (and not know) about such a world.

Thirdly, as Tait points out, for the open view “time is a reality for God as well as for us, so that the future really is future for God.” This is a crucial point of difference with classical theists, and it would take more time than a closing paragraph here to explore the issues. Open theists, being presentists with respect to the ontology of time, have made this a central point, and so they must. For open theists, God isn’t absolutely timeless actus purus, timelessly knowing creation in all its temporal becoming in a single, timeless unchanging act of knowing, an act of knowing which is one with God’s own essential self-knowledge. There’s just no getting around the difference with classical theism on this point. However, open theists could have, and perhaps should have, explored the ways in which God — on the assumption that he knows the world in its actuality by experiencing it (don’t read a ton of anthropomorphic assumption into the word “experience”) in its actuality — remains unlike us, however his experience/knowledge of the world may rightly be said to be temporal. But this would require a richer appreciation of God’s transcendence of the world than open theists have thus sought. It’s still worth exploring. As we’ve suggested, we think it’s possible to affirm the essential divine freedom and triune fullness as well as creation’s absolute gratuity and the temporal nature of God’s experience of the world without historicizing that transcendent fullness by assuming God becomes God in all the objectionable ways process theology (on the one hand) and Jenson or McCormack (on the other) advocate.

(Picture here.)

No Moore tug of war

Some months ago after extended debate, there seemed to be a consensus regarding what open theism pretty much stood for nearly two decades after the publishing of The Openness of God. At that time open theist Philosopher Alan Rhoda suggested a few key, central beliefs that propel this ship (perhaps ‘barge’ is better). We summarized them at the time here as follows:

P1 Monotheism.
P2 A causally open future grounded in a multiplicity of self-determining agents.
P3 Divine epistemic openness regarding the causally open future.
P4 CEN (creation ex nihilo).

John Sanders then mentioned that divine “vulnerability” was an essential. And for some time now the question of a P5 regarding divine (im)passibility has been front and center. Alan referred to this debate and offered some constructive thinking. At the heart of the question over (im)passibility are other key questions each one of which can easily generate its own full-length conversation:

  • What the nature of God’s aesthetic experience is.
  • How the two key terms employed in the debate (‘passible’ and ‘impassible’) are contextually defined and whether there are communities/contexts in which either term might be the more appropriate term to use in a qualified sense or, on the other hand, whether these terms possess a single fixed, unqualified meaning.
  • How the insights of modern psychology regarding emotion(al intelligence) might help inform the debate and provide new ways of approaching traditional questions.
  • How open theists might approach the hermeneutical questions (re: anthropomorphism) involved in those passages that describe God in strongly passibilist terms and strongly fulfilled, undisturbed terms (the latter systemically ignored in pro-open theist literature).
  • What means, mechanisms and/or authorities open theists have at their disposal to adjudicate theological differences and identify adiaphora.

On the one hand, there’s no question that impassibility understood in actus purus terms as absolute divine immutability is out of the question. There’s no way open theism even gets off the ground within such a view. But just how open God is to ‘affective determination’ by us? How are we to understand what ‘difference’ we make to God or what ‘meaning’ we have for God in terms of ‘effects’ we occasion in God? And what qualifications is an open theist free to make about God’s essential aesthetic disposition? These are more complex questions that were not (at least not obviously) a part of The Openness of God (1994) and which no open theist work other than Boyd’s PhD dissertation Trinity & Process (1992) remotely treats. John Sanders points out that ‘impassibility’ in 1994’s Openness of God refers exclusively to the classical understanding of God’s absolute immutability as actus purus, and in his revised edition of The God Who Risks he qualifies a more diverse range of possible understandings which the term ‘impassible’ might legitimately have. That at least is a fruitful avenue for discussion.

We all appreciate the need for boundaries. There is no boundary-less faith or worldview. On the one hand, for example, some are uncomfortable with the attempt to blur the lines between Process and open theism, a blurring which in Nazarene scholar Tom Oord’s recent opinion is expected to increase over time making the distinction between the two increasingly difficult to maintain. I can appreciate ‘soft’ lines too. And yet worldviews inevitably have some definite, defining shape to their content. Greg Boyd comes to mind as someone who is concerned to clarify those same lines, arguing that Process theism is “hostile to the Christian faith.” I don’t pretend there are any easy answers to the ‘boundaries’ question, but where open theism is concerned it’s a question Dwayne and I no longer wish to engage. We’re finished playing tug of war over ‘defining’ open theism. What is it anyhow? A ‘movement’? A conversation with fixed boundaries that polices itself to identify violators who don’t advocate the party line on precise issues? An open conversation that’s more motivated by where it’s going theologically than where it’s been? It’s looking more and more as if nobody knows or is qualified to render a verdict on questions like these.

This means Dwayne and I are officially disavowing all group labels and names related to this debate. You guys (whoever you are) figure it out and let us know sooner or later. Any who are so inclined and want to do so can identify us as ‘open theists’ only inasmuch as we affirm P1-P4 above. That’s it. If there are open theists for whom P1-P4 are not enough, feel free to identify us as you see fit or not at all. If our vision of God essentially as immeasurable and unimprovable triune delight is incompatible with your vision of God within ‘open theism’, you should do what your conscience dictates and refrain from considering us open theists. Fine by us.

Regarding a P5 expressing a position on divine ‘vulnerability’, there’s not a chance in hell we’re going to reduce divinity in its essence to:

  • what can be exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints of a zygote (as modern kenoticists must do),
  • the tragic deconstruction of the essential triune identities,
  • the dissolution of the essential experienced oneness of the Father, Son and Spirit, or
  • a passibilism which defines God’s aesthetic fullness as the ever fluctuating difference of an equation: reasons to cry or get “pissed off” minus reasons to rejoice and be glad = how happy God is.

If any of those is essential to open theism, then Sayonara. Whatever sense we affirm God’s being ‘affected’ by us aesthetically, for now it’ll be in terms analogous to examples we’ve rehearsed here many times and which we derive in large part from Boyd’s Trinity & Process. That’s where we are. If an Open Theism general council or a TC Moore led Gestapo manage to produce a position on divine passibilism that can’t abide us, then we’ll bid you all a final good-bye and wish you well. In the meantime, anyone interested in what we’re up to here is invited to listen in, contribute, debate and share respectfully without having ever to wonder or ask whether this or that ‘qualifies’ as open theism. We are no longer advocating our view on God’s well-being as compatible or incompatible with anything called open theism. That’s simply no longer our concern.

(Picture here.)

What difference can passibilism really make?

Just thinking out loud on this one. I’m running through models/scenarios trying to make good on passibilist conceptions of divine suffering that avoid key objections passibilists commonly make to non-passibilist views of God. I can’t get it to work. I’m unable to conceive of a passibilist model of divine suffering that really delivers. So let me describe the models I’m thinking through for comment. Mind you, I’m working through these in non-apophatic, non-traditional terms (because that’s a given for passibilist theologians). That is, heavy on univocity and anthropocentrism and light on transcendence and apophatic qualification.

First, consider a contrast that I think any passibilist has to deal with in understanding aesthetic experience in general and divine suffering in particular. The contrast is between experience which is  integrated (synthesized) or segregated (non-integrated). I’ll try to describe what I’m getting at and if you have better terms, suggest them. With a segregated (non-integrated) divine experience, no divine experience of any subject is affected or shaped or otherwise determined by any other experience God is having of any other created subject. God experiences each subject in its subjectivity and appreciates its pleasure or suffering without integrating or synthesizing that experience with any other creaturely experience God is on the inside of to yield a single, overall, consummate aesthetic experience. Thus each non-divine subject affects God fully, as if there were no other created subjects God was experiencing.

On the other hand, an integrated (synthesized) divine experience of all our discrete, individual experiences would yield a single, undivided aesthetic experience to which all created subjective experiences would contribute their “meaning” or “difference they make.” They would by definition be experienced by God as relatively pleasing or displeasing given the overall, consummate determinations of all the experiences God would be having.

With this distinction made, let me describe passibilism in terms of each and ask whether either is capable of avoiding its own objections to non-passibilist models.

(1) Segregated (non-integrated) divine aesthetic experiences of the world.
Here discrete occasions of creaturely joy and suffering are each experienced fully and non-relatively by God. There is no ‘overall’ divine aesthetic experience which integrates all the world’s joys and suffering into a single aesthetic valuation for God. On this view God has no consummate experience of the world’s joys and sufferings.

This is the strong passibilism I described in the comments section elsewhere. Here God experiences every instance of suffering fully and without existential refuge (we might say) via integration. The depth of divine feeling for each particular occasion of evil or suffering is not alleviated or qualified by other experiences God is having. This is the passibilism that objects to God being happy on some level when Zosia is having her eyes plucked out or when a tsunami sweeps 100,000 lives away in a day. Here you meet with the standard passibilist objection that it’s morally objectionable for God to be happy on such occasions or in the presence of suffering persons. God’s being love must mean God is shaped/determined by our pain and this divine suffering must have a depth and intensity equal or proportionate to the human experience given the human perspective.

In response I would suggest that this is not a passibilism that can deliver the kind of divine suffering that overcomes its own objections to non-passibilist models, for it would remain the case on this construal of divine passibilism that while Zosia is having her eyes plucked out over ‘here’, God is experiencing some joy over ‘there’ which is not defined, shaped or relativized by Zosia’s suffering. True, God is feeling Zosia’s suffering from the inside, even to a depth and intensity Zosia cannot experience given her finite capacities. But it remains the case on this non-integrated view of divine experience that God is elsewhere, existentially speaking, sharing the inexpressible joy of some beautiful experience that Zosia’s suffering simply does not touch or qualify (precisely the sort of thing passibilists object to). Here God is able to so segregate or partition his capacity for aesthetic experience as to offer every individual an opportunity to determine the divine experience as if there were no other individuals God had to experience (something like the aesthetic equivalent to Greg’s infinite intelligence argument).

Besides the philosophical problems of arguing for such segregation, the passibilist objection to impassibilism would hold for this passibilist model. There would be that joy in God which was not defined by the Christmas Day Tsunami that swept through Sri Lanka. God would be in possession of delights unaffected by occasions of creaturely suffering. But passibilists are on record as believing this to be morally objectionable. It would be less than benevolent, even wrong, of God to be happy on some level while we experience horrible suffering. There must be nothing to God’s divine experience which is not affected by our pain. That’s what strong passibilists require, and it’s what this model cannot deliver.

N31-960x727(2) Integrated (synthesized) divine aesthetic experience of the world.
Given the failure of the above non-integrated model, let’s consider an integrated model. On this understanding, discrete instances of creaturely joy and suffering are integrated into a single, indivisible aesthetic divine appreciation/valuation. Here all the world’s sufferings and joys would be relativized within the divine experience, yielding a consummate divine aesthetic experience of the world. God’s overall aesthetic experience would just be the synthesized unity of all the world’s sufferings and joys, the difference of an equation (all worldly joys minus all worldly sorrows equaling the felt quality of God’s undivided experience).

In this case God’s experience of Zosia’s suffering is itself affected by, shaped by, God’s experience of all other creaturely experiences, including supremely joyous ones. How happy God is over some act of unselfish love over ‘here’ would itself shape, or make a difference to, how sorrowful God is because of Zosia over ‘there’. All created experiences would affect God, but their felt affect in God would be their assimilated contribution to God’s overall consummate aesthetic experience. If there are many more occasions of good and joy in the world than of bad, God would be overall elated. In Genesis six, for example, presumably God was overall extremely affected negatively.

Can this model deliver the passibilst the kind of suffering God the passibilist wants? Given passibilist objections to non-passibilist approaches, no. For though we have here a passible God (indeed, a God who is only as happy as the world allows God to be), and one whose experience fully integrates the world’s discrete joys and sorrows (making it philosophically much preferable to segregated/non-integrated passibilism), it remains the case on this view that God’s experience of any particular joy or sorrow would always be an act of consummate integration with every other experience God is having. This is a problem for the passibilist given her standard objections, because it very well might be that when some horrible injustice occurs, God’s overall experience remains unspeakably blissful. God would not be “pissed off” (as one passibilist insists God must be in the face of some injustice). But as should be clear, this would be subject to the passibilist’s own objection to impassibilism, namely, that it is morally objectionable for God be inexpressibly happy while some horrible pain or injustice is occurring. And the same objection would hold regarding God’s delight in created joys and goods. It might be that some wonderful act of benevolence makes God far less happy than he otherwise would be were it not for a tsunami in Asia. Given passibilist objections, however, it should be as morally objectionable that God not be fully appreciative of created joys as that he not be determined by created sorrows.

It seems, then, that if God’s experience is passibilist in the sense that every created joy and sorrow contributes to a single, integrated/synthesized aesthetic experience, then God doesn’t experience any single occasion of evil or of good as he might otherwise experience it were that occasion all God had to invest himself in emotionally, and this ends up offending passibilist sensibilities. The joy which God and heaven feel over my child’s coming to faith, for example, would be greater than it in fact is were it not for another father’s child having died of cancer. And God’s sorrow over the death of this child is not as deeply felt as it would otherwise be were it not for the emotional investment God is having to make in rejoicing with me over my child. On this integrated view, then, God may have been overall inexpressibly happy when Zosia got her eyes plucked out. Who knows? It would depend ‘on balance’ on how well the world was doing at the time, and only God can know that. But the integrated passibilist here would have to content herself with the ambiguity and accept that it may be that God’s actual experience of Zosia’s suffering is less impacted negatively than it might be had she suffered a month earlier or a year later. God may in actuality be inexpressibly happy when Zosia suffers inexpressible pain. On the other hand, God may be (overall) extremely sorrowful in his integration of some very great and victorious good that just occurred just in case on the whole God was vastly more invested in a world overrun with evil. Neither case gets the passibilist what she wants.

Consider this as well. It’s quite possible, given this second, integrated option that there are people in the world right now who are happier than God, for we cannot integrate all the world’s suffering as God does. Given the amount of suffering in the world, God’s overall ‘feeling’ may in fact be pretty depressed. But the world at the same time may be filled with people whose experience is exclusively overwhelmed with reasons for joy. So at any given point in time, there are likely people in the world who are, comparatively speaking, happier than God. As I write this, I’m afraid there are Christian believers the survival of whose faith actually requires this to be the case.

Lastly, we’ve said nothing here about what would happen if God were believed to contribute his own triune resources to his overall felt quality of experience. If one goes with Hartshorne here, God cannot have Godself as the datum of his own experience. God’s concrete experience is just the synthesized union of all created experiences. But one could argue (as Greg Boyd does in Trinity & Process, in basic agreement with the Tradition) that God’s existence is essentially and necessarily an experience of the triune persons and as such God would have himself as the datum of his own aesthetic experience necessarily antecedent to his experience of the world. That would certainly effect the passibilist/impassibilist debate (as we’ve tried to show). We’ll take this up in closing things out with Alan.

(Paintings by Anastas Konstantinov here and here.)

Reflecting on 20 years of Openness

653175Many thanks to Tom Oord for arranging and now making available online the presentations and responses of the AAR’s 2014 (San Diego) “Open and Relational Theologies Group” meeting marking the 20 year anniversary of the publication of The Openness of God (Pinnock et. al.). In Video 1 Rich Rice, John Sanders, and David Basinger share some of their reflections while in Video 2 Bethany Sollereder, T. C. Moore, and Tom Oord respond with reflections of their own on both the book and the future of open theism.

Greg on divine aesthetic expression

Alan’s reply in the comments section of the preceding post (check ‘em out) sent me back to Trinity & Process to find a couple relevant passages which I thought would be a good place to start exploring. Anticipating precisely the discussion we’re having, in Ch 3, Greg (Boyd) writes:

We will do well to immediately forestall an obvious objection from a theistic perspective to our argument, an argument which is frequently employed by Process theologians in support of their position. This will not only remove one obstacle from our subsequent reconstruction of Hartshorne’s doctrine of God, but will further lay the groundwork for this reconstruction by articulating the relationship which we perceive to exist between this supposed unsurpassable divine instance of aesthetic enjoyment and the infinite compossibilities of finite relations.

The objection is this: it seems that if God is eternally characterized within Godself as an unsurpassable instance of aesthetic enjoyment, then the infinite compossibility of finite relations can mean nothing to God. It seems that if “God can be neither increased nor diminished by what we do,” then “our action, like our suffering, must be in the strictest sense wholly indifferent to him.” It seems that if we do not increase God’s enjoyment, then all talk about “serving God” is meaningless and “our existence is idle.” In short, it may seem that either our existences increase the value of God’s experience, or our existences are of no value to God.

In response, I believe a distinction can be made between the “subjective intensity” of an aesthetic experience and its “objective expression.” To attempt to make this distinction clear, we might return to our earlier example of listening to a symphony. Though the intensity of one’s enjoyment of a symphony does not increase once the acme of his or her possible aesthetic satisfaction has been attained, this does not render the remainder of the symphony unimportant. Rather, each changing harmonic progression continues to be enjoyed because of the continuance of novel variations it expresses. The aesthetic satisfaction of the listener under ideal conditions is constant (assuming that the acme has been attained and is sustained), but the occasion for its expression and enjoyment is changing—and indeed can, hypothetically, have an infinite variety of forms.

Perhaps an analogy which is more helpful in picturing the relationship between aesthetic satisfaction and aesthetic expression in God is that of an ideal artist. We may conceive of a factitious “ideal” artist who always accomplishes works of art so perfect that her aesthetic satisfaction in response to them is always unsurpassably intense. But this perfection, it seems, would in no way imply that all of her works after her first in which her zenith of aesthetic satisfaction was first attained had to be unimportant to her. They would be important, though not as objects to improve her ideal aesthetic satisfaction. Rather, they are valuable to her as novel expressions of this ideal enjoyment.

Why, one might ask, would such an artist want to arrive at a new expression of her aesthetic enjoyment if it was already ideal (assuming that this ideal artist would naturally sustain this ideal intensity without further works to produce it)? Would not her first ideal work suffice? Does not the production of new works signify that she is aiming at more intense satisfaction? And by analogy, does not the creation of the non-divine world signify that the divine artist is aiming at a more intense satisfaction? Why would God create the world if God had already (eternally) attained an unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction within Godself?

This answer is, I believe, implicit in Hartshorne and Whitehead’s own views of beauty: the spontaneous expression of an aesthetic intensity is an end in itself. It needs no further justification. Fundamental to Process thought—and many other aesthetic theories as well—is the conviction that beauty is the one aim which by its nature is self-justifying. Indeed, as Kant, von Schiller, Valery and many others have recognized, aesthetic satisfaction is distinctly aesthetic precisely because it is wholly non-utilitarian: it is “purposiveness without purpose,” spieltrieb, a “drive-to-play.” If this is so, then it would seem that the on-going expression of an ideal aesthetic intensity would need no further purpose to explain it or justify it. Our ideal artist would, therefore, enjoy a variety of ways of re-expressing her aesthetic delight, even though these novel re-expressions could only re-express, and not increase, this delight.

We may state the matter in a different way, this time in the light of our previously articulated dispositional ontology. Our ideal artist is essentially constituted by the disposition to produce and enjoy with an unsurpassable intensity artistic works. But dispositions, we have argued with Hare and Madden, are not exhausted by their exercise. They are abiding orders of creativity, particularized laws of actualization, structured proclivities of being in its movement from possibility to actuality, and they remain (or at least may remain) even after any given instance of their exercising. What is more, dispositions, aesthetically understood, do not necessitate only one possible outcome. Spontaneity, we have argued for a number of reasons, is an inherent aspect of things.

This being the case, we can I believe, now understand why our ideal artist would be motivated to re-express her aesthetic aim and enjoy her aesthetic satisfaction in novel ways, though none of these ways increases the intensity of her (already unsurpassable) satisfaction. Her essential self is defined (at least in part) as a creative becoming towards an aesthetic satisfaction, and the reality of this self-defining law of concrescence abides so long as she exists. Her enduring self-identity, her “essence,” is thus defined by a futurity of creativity, and her actuality is defined at any given moment (at least in part) by an unsurpassable intensity of satisfaction resulting from this creativity. Thus, this hypothetical artist cannot but create, and she cannot but enjoy with maximal intensity her creativity, though the precise way she creates and enjoys it is in part spontaneously generated.

Her definitional disposition is an end in itself. Correlatively, the creative variety this disposition generates is an end in itself. And, again correlatively, her unsurpassable enjoyment of what her dispositional essence creatively produces is an end in itself. It is all beautiful, and is, as such, its own reason for being. And if Whitehead and Hartshorne are correct about this, we are all something like this ideal artist in every action we perform—and so is God.

Our distinction between the “subjective intensity” and “objective expression,” between the enjoyment of beauty which admits of a zenith, and the expression of beauty which does not, shall play an extremely crucial role in our reconstruction of Harshorne’s view of God. Along with our previous modifications of Hartshorne’s view of what is and is not a priori, this modification of Hartshorne’s system allows us to conceive of God as essentially constituted by an unsurpassable aesthetic experience of God’s own self-relationality. Like our ideal artist, we shall, on the basis of this distinction, argue that God is best conceived of as being at once unsurpassable in God’s definitional aesthetic disposition and actual eternal enjoyment of what this disposition produces within Godself, and yet as being essentially (though not necessarily) interested in, appreciate of, and involved in the creation, preservation, and ultimate salvation of the non-divine world. For this world, we shall argue, is destined to express ad extra, the eternal beauty and joy which characterizes the triune beauty of God ad intra.

We shall, in short, utilize the modification of Hartshorne’s foundational statements, combined with his theistic arguments, to arrive at a view of God which accomplishes what the classical view of God as actus purus accomplished—seeing God as self-sufficient, and thus creation and salvation as acts of grace—while yet avoiding the logical fallacies of the classical view and articulating a view of God which is, like the Process view, in accord with the dynamic categories of modernity.

Then again in Ch 6 (on “Moral and Aesthetic Arguments”), Greg writes:

If God is, as the theistic arguments all attempt to demonstrate, a being “greater than which none other can be conceived,” and if, as Hartshorne has argued, beauty is inherent in the idea of existence itself, then the unsurpassable reality of God must be an unsurpassable experience of beauty. What this means for the supposition that the unsurpassable reality is internally related and self-sufficient is that a) this internal relationality must be most fundamentally defined as an experience of beauty, and b) this experience of beauty must be utterly unsurpassable.

Yet, if God is to be genuinely related to the creation, this beauty must not be “closed in” upon itself. It must be encompassing of the world’s contingent beauty, and thus must be itself contingent in some respects. How then is the world not eternal? And how is God’s beauty not increased by God’s experience of the world?

Our previously argued distinction between the intensity of an aesthetic experience and the quantity of contrasts synthesized in an aesthetic experience renders these implications intelligible and explains their concomitant difficulties. God’s essential and necessary existence is, on this scheme, most basically defined by the unsurpassable intensity of aesthetic enjoyment which characterizes the triune sociality of God. God experiences Godself with an intensity which can under no circumstances conceivably be improved upon. As with Hartshorne, we are here most fundamentally defining God’s transcendence in terms of God’s aesthetic satisfaction.

But against Hartshorne we are also affirming that this aesthetic satisfaction is the same whether or not there is a non-divine world for God to enjoy. God is no “greater” for fellowshipping with the world, for it is God’s fellowship with Godself, not the world, which constitutes and characterizes the necessary unsurpassability of God’s aesthetic satisfaction. God’s gracious fellowship with the non-divine world simply expresses this primordial eternal fellowship.

To use Whitehead’s terminology, it is the “perfection of Subjective Form” defined in terms of “strength” (viz., intensity) which defines God as God ad intra. It is this qualitative category which expresses the necessary perfection of God. But, pace Whitehead, this God-defining intensity is not dependent on the “comparative magnitude” or “massiveness” of what is experienced. It is only Hartshorne’s (and Whitehead’s) insistence that the “perfection” of God must be defined quantitatively— which is itself derivative from their theory of aesthetic satisfaction—which prevents Hartshorne from seeing God’s aesthetic self-definition as being absolute in the same sense as is God’s ethical self-definition.

Once the necessary actuality and aesthetic perfection of God is understood in qualitative terms—once the “subjective form” of God is understood as the necessary unsurpassable intensity of an internally related sociality—the absoluteness and self-sufficiency of God can be asserted apart from any non-divine world. Does this then mean that the multiplicity of the non-divine world which God experiences means nothing to God? We have already seen that this does not follow. It is only Hartshorne’s belief that “intensity” and “massiveness” are necessarily correlated which leads him to suppose that (say) a work of art must be constitutive of an artist’s experience for the work to be genuinely related to, and significant to, that artist. Hence, too, the world, in his view, must be a constituent of God for the world to “matter” to God.

In contrast to this, however, we have maintained that a work of art can be significant to an artist not as a constituent of the artist’s experience, but as an expression of it. If the artist, under ideal conditions, has attained a zenith of his or her ability to intensely experience beauty, then it is as an expression of aesthetic intensity that the work will be experienced. The work cannot constitute an increase in the intensity of the hypothetical artist: it rather constitutes the occasion for the expression of the unsurpassable intensity which is already present.

So we may, I believe, conceive of God’s relationship to the world. Since God has freely chosen to actualize God’s potentiality to be Creator of a non-divine world, God can create and appreciate the aesthetic value (and hence the moral value) of a non-divine world. The world becomes part of God’s concrete contingent experience, and is, in this sense, constitutive of God. To this extent we side with Hartshorne over and against the classical tradition.

But, we further hold, this God-defining zenith of aesthetic intensity has been constituted in the triune sociality of God from eternity. This is necessary, and as such it is neither increased nor diminished by the contingent and temporal affairs of the world. Rather, God’s experience of the contingent world—indeed, the entirety of God’s “contingent pole”—serves to express the eternal divine intensity of God’s triune self-experience.

Hence, God enjoys the world—the world “means something” to God—not as an essential element in God’s necessary self-constitution, but as an expression of God’s self-constitution. The world provides a new occasion for the unsurpassable beauty of God, defined in terms of divine intensity, to be expressed and in a sense “repeated” in a novel form.

The entire process of the contingent, temporal order, then, can be said to be constituted by God’s aim at expressing Godself—the infinite delight of the triune sociality—ad extra. Since God’s deity-defining intensity of aesthetic satisfaction is infinite, the potential for expressing this delightful beauty is inexhaustible.

Hartshorne rightly argues that the possibilities for finite harmonies have no upper limit. But the endlessness of these possibilities does not necessitate the endless increase of the intensity of God’s self-defining experience: it rather necessitates the inexhaustible richness of the contingent ways in which God can express this One’s unsurpassing intensity. An eternity of progress shall not exhaust it.

Does this view that God is eternally and unsurpassably “satisfied” within God’s eternal triune sociality imply that God does not partake in the suffering of the world? Is the portrait of God we have here painted a view of God as insensitively independent in God’s own self-contentment? If God’s self-experience is unsurpassably intense, regardless of the state of the world’s state of affairs, is not the “virtuous mutability” of God undermined? Are we not back in the position of God as actus purus? I do not believe so.

In chapter IV, we utilized the analogy of an experiential subject who was composed of actual occasions with differing “specious presents” to argue that a subject—viz., God—could be both actually necessary and actually contingent in differing respects. Against Process thought, God’s absoluteness need not be only abstract. And against the classical tradition, it being perfect and actual need not rule out it also having contingent elements. We may now expand upon this in addressing this present issue of the relationship between God’s eternal satisfaction and temporal suffering.

There is, it seems, no contradiction in maintaining that a being can be self-content on one level, and yet suffer at another. For example, a person need not sacrifice their self-love, their contentment with who they are, their own internal “fullness of life” in order to genuinely enter into the sufferings of another. Indeed, it seems that the person who enters into the sufferings of others with a sense of internal fullness is in a better position to genuinely enter into these sufferings than one who lacks such “fullness.”

To speak more specifically, a person who suffers for another because she needs the other—e.g., needs this other to make her “feel good” about herself, to feel loved and needed, etc.—is more inclined to yet have herself as the object of concern, and thus more inclined to be, to that extent, shut off to the real needs of the other. In contrast, one who enters into solidarity with a sufferer but who is self-content, who loves herself, who possesses an internal fullness which is not destroyed by the suffering, is free to have the sufferer as the sole object of her concern. She is free, in a sense, to “forget herself” in devotion to another.

In the case of the former person, one who “needs” the other to arrive at her self-love, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her deficiency. In the case of the latter person however, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her wholeness. And the more whole she is, the more perfectly she can suffer with and for the other.

There are, of course, millions of humans who hold to a superficial form of self-contentment to the exclusion of, or even at the expense of, others’ happiness. In fact, the instances of an opposite disposition are unfortunately rare. The prevalence of this attitude, especially in first world countries, is no doubt one of the reasons why we have such difficulty in seeing God as being both eternally self-satisfied and also temporally self-abased. But, as we have argued, there is no necessary connection between self-contentment and insensitivity.

We may, then, conceive of God as one who is both unsurpassably self-content in God’s essential sociality, while being, at the same time, fully incarnated in the sin and suffering of the world in God’s expressive sociality. Indeed, implied in what we have argued thus far is the supposition that God is free to enter into and redeem the sufferings of the world fully precisely because God is eternally self-sufficient within Godself.

Greg’s distinction between “subjective intensity” and “objective expression” of an aesthetic satisfaction is interesting. I understand what’s being said. I may need more time to appreciate it. I have a few ideas that make it plausible to me, but I’ll leave it there for now and invite Dwayne and others to comment on the distinction.

(Picture here.)

The difference God makes

image002We’d like at this point to begin summarizing a response to Alan’s proposal. Bits and pieces of our responses are found throughout the comments section on Alan’s post, but we’d like to begin consolidating our thoughts here. To begin with points of agreement, however, Alan’s Anselmian intuition, affirmation of creation ex nihilo (CEN), and Creel’s distinction between “impassible in nature but passible in knowledge” (though a bit convoluted in its construction) all seem right to us. But as discussion there revealed, the differences between us and Alan converge on his differential preference thesis which states (via the open view) that God prefers some outcomes over others and that outcomes in turn thus make a difference to God by affecting the felt quality of his experience. God feels differently given what occurs.

Our response has almost entirely to do with how this differential preference thesis is conceived. We don’t disagree that God prefers good outcomes over evil ones, or that we ‘mean something’ to God or ‘make a difference’ to God. Not only would denying this much contradict values open theists want to embrace, but it would fail as recognizably Christian in our view. But how this difference is best conceived in aesthetic terms (given other Anselmian intuitions we follow with Boyd’s Trinity & Process) is the question we’d explore. We’d disagree with an account of it that essentially describes God’s beatitude as the difference of an equation, i.e, preferred outcomes minus dispreferred outcomes = how happy God is.

At this point, then, we’ll begin with a first observation in response to Alan.

Aesthetic Value as transcendental a priori. The first and perhaps most important point for us is the notion that God is the transcendentals (which are, per definition, indivisible and mutually imply one another). Traditionally the transcendentals are held to be Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Others are contended for in addition. Hart advocates for Consciousness. Whitehead/Hartshorne (and Greg) argue for Aesthetic Value (as well as Relationality and Perspectivity). But even if Consciousness and Aesthetic Value are not recognized explicitly as transcendentals alongside Truth, Beauty and Goodness, they are nevertheless fully implied in the traditional three. Truth, Beauty and Goodness are inconceivable apart from some conscious experience of aesthetic value. There is no truth apart from an act of knowing, no goodness apart from some act of willing, no beauty apart from experienced beatitude or aesthetic appreciation. Greg sorts through the reasoning in his appropriation of Hartshorne’s aesthetic a priori in Trinity & Process.

The relevant question here has to do with the nature of God’s experience of aesthetic value as the transcendental ground of all valuation and aesthetic pleasure within creation. And the question seems to be, can it be the case that (the transcendentals in general, or) the transcendental of aesthetic value in particular (that divine experience of aesthetic value which grounds and establishes the value of all created valuations) suffer negation (depreciation or diminishment) as Alan is proposing? If we’re talking transcendentals, then it seems to us the answer is no. We attempted to approach this earlier (beginning here) by identifying God’s experience of beatitude as the summum bonum. Indeed, it seems to us (following Boyd) that apart from some such unchanging experience of value as the ground of all other valuations, those valuations (or ‘differential preferences’) simply never get off the ground. Without some summum bonum as ultimate ground and end of all finite ends, finite acts of valuing this or that end are relative and irrational. As we see it, you need something like an immutable, transcendent experience of beauty (God as summum bonum) to explain created experiences of beauty/value at all. As transcendental, God’s experience of aesthetic value is the antecedent necessary actuality which, to use Process categories, prescribes the divine subjective aim for all actual occasions.

Our essential difference with Alan, then, has to do with what is best thought to be involved in God’s trinitarian experience of beatitude, an experience we think (a) best explains what it is about God that makes his creating at all gratuitous and (b) grounds and prescribes the scope of beauty achievable/instantiable by finite subjects. Alan’s “unalloyed” experience of beatitude expresses it very well, but where (following Greg) we think (a) and (b) are best explained by the necessary character of such beatitude, Alan feels our meaning and significance to God can only be explained by its contingent character (that is, if this divine experience is vulnerable to increase and depreciation as part of God’s intending a benevolent relationship with an open and free creation).

That said, Alan does grant that though God’s antecedent intra-trinitarian undisturbed bliss can be made perturbable (vulnerable to diminishment and improvement), this depreciation/disappointment may be no more than “a drop in an infinite ocean of joy.” The metaphor is worth exploring, because even on Alan’s view this “ocean of joy” isn’t just the sum total of the world’s preferred outcomes experienced by God. God is his own (triune) source of delight. He experiences the world’s preferred and dispreferred outcomes within the scope of his own transcendental perspective on himself as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Aesthetic Value. It is this which is the “infinite ocean of joy” into which drops of disappointment descend. Our point is, Alan’s proposal involves the relativizing of created goods and evils within the scope of this triune perspective. Such relativization is what accounts for our deepest pains being, for God and within his own perspective, a drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy. The analogy is worth thinking on long and hard.

True, the challenge for Dwayne and me is to find an acceptable way to ground our (even relative) meaning to God in something which is neither an appreciation nor a depreciating of that essential divine experience which is the transcendental of Aesthetic Value. Tough job. But we love it!

We’ll stop here for now. In an upcoming post we’ll comment on the ad intra/ad extra distinction that Greg uses to explain how it is the world means something, or makes a difference, to God, as well as try to describe differential preferences which needn’t involved depreciation of experienced value.

(Picture here.)