Divine experience of beatitude the summum bonum—Part 1

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Just thinking out loud. Chime in if you want. God, all theists would agree, is the summum bonum—the greatest good, the highest value. I’m going to assume that here. What I’d like to suggest in addition to this (though it is nothing new) is that this highest value is God’s experience, more precisely his experience of “beatitude” or “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” (to employ Greg’s expression from Trinity & Process). You might be thinking that I’ve said this all before and wonder what’s new here? Just this: God’s experience of his own beatitude is that about God which constitutes God as the summum bonum and that from which all created experiences derive their value. This is something we think one ought to say about God and something which seems impossible for a passibilist to say.

What would follow if God’s beatitude (God’s self-constituting experience of ‘beatitude’, ‘bliss’ or ‘aesthetic satisfaction’) were to suffer diminishment? Would not God’s value as the summum bonum be diminished? But God’s value, theists have traditionally believed, is infinite. So just what is it about God that makes God infinitely valuable? Just the mere fact that he exists (necessarily)? That’s hard to see. Perhaps the fact that God loves us is what makes God so valuable. Also unlikely, since that writes contingent created beings into the self-constituting value of necessary existence per se. While it’s true that God loves us, and that we conclude many things about God as the highest good and supreme value from our experience of his love, it seems more true to say that God gives value to us rather than derives value from us.

I suggest (as others have) that it is the experience of being God which is God’s infinite value. And while many of the traditional attributes that get associated with this are important, they do not in themselves constitute God’s value per se. That value, rather, is the sheer beatitude of God’s experience, his own necessary actuality as triune, loving experienced beatitude. One might express this by saying that the greatest value in the universe is the greatest beatitude. And an infinite value would be an infinite(ly intense) experience of aesthetic satisfaction (or experience of loving beatitude), just as Greg Boyd argued in Trinity & Process.

All this is argued elsewhere by thinkers more capable than I, though we’ve discussed much of this here. What I’m curious about is bringing this into conversation with passibilist claims that construe divine suffering as God suffering the diminishment of experienced beatitude. If God is the summum bonum — the highest good and supreme value — and if this is understood in terms of the supreme experience of value as loving, personal existence, then all created values are relative to (not determinative of) the value of God’s experienced beatitude. The question for passibilists then becomes: If God’s experience of beatitude suffers diminishment, does it not follow that in some sense God’s value suffers diminishment? And if so, what happens to the value of all created experience which is derived from the value of God? Would not all values suffer diminishment?

The catch here is understanding the ‘absolute value’ or the summum bonum (from which all things derive their value) first as an ‘experience’ of value and thus as God’s experience of beatitude; i.e., God’s value as God’s experience of beatitude. I’m inclined to agree (with Orthodoxy) that there are no ‘parts’ to God from which God is assembled or constructed and (with Boyd in Trinity & Process) that there is nothing to, or more fundamentally constitutive of, God than his own triune experience of Godself. If this be the case, then this divine experience of beauty just is the infinite value of God and in turn is that from which all created experiences consistently derive their value (as good or evil). They are more or less valuable, more or less privated, to the degree to which they approximate that experience of infinite and absolute beatitude which is God’s existence. If I were pressed for a definition of apatheia as I understand and employ it, I’d say it is just the infinite value of the beatitude of God’s triune experience.

My struggle extends to further questions: How can the summum bonum (God’s experience of beatitude) as the absolute value of all created values rise and fall like a barometer (rise and fall with the fluctuating success and failure of created experiences to approximate the divine beatitude)? Against what metaphysical reality would it be measured? What experience could then measure God’s experience in aesthetic terms? By asserting that God’s beatitude (God’s actual experience of aesthethic satisfaction) rises and falls as the world’s fortunes rise and fall, do passibilists not in effect deny the absolute value of God’s experience? Or are they not committed to ground such value in something other than God’s own experience? What would that something be?

Lastly, I also suggest that God’s goodness toward us (the predictably loving character of his actions) is best understood as a function of his self-constituting triune experience of beatitude. God is good because God’s experience is beautiful, beatific. God is as good as he is to us because he is as beautiful as he is to himself. God’s ad intra beatitude (his experience of his own triune beauty) grounds the predictably loving and gracious nature of his acts ad extra. Diminish the ad intra experience of beatitude and what do you get? What do we do as passibilists if we agree that God’s essential self-constituting ‘experience’ (the act by which God is the self-existent triune God he is) is the summum bonum and that this summum bonum is infinite beauty and beatitude?

(Picture from here.)

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