Negotiated happiness

dramaWhat are the implications of God’s happiness (the felt quality of his experience, his “aesthetic satisfaction”) being the difference of an equation, that is, of its being the case that God’s happiness is the difference between his reasons to be happy and his reasons to be sad? Let me suggest that if this be the case then the integrity of the sense in which God is believed (by this view) to be happy and to rejoice over righteousness is undermined. The same righteous act would meet with various degrees of joyous response on God’s part depending on the level to which God’s joy is diminished by evils in the world. Were the evils in the world less (and God’s experience less diminished by them), God would experience greater joy over my loving act. His ability to rejoice over an unselfish act of sacrificial love performed at Christmas 2004 was diminished by the death toll of the 2004 Christmas Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. God could be happier about your selfless act of love, but he has the victims of a tsunami to grieve for in addition, and he has only so much emotional wherewithal to divide among them.

Similarly, as I follow this view, God’s compassionate suffering with the victims of that same tsunami could not be as deeply felt as it might have been were it not for all the reasons God had to rejoice in the world. God would have felt worse for the tsunami victims had some loving person elsewhere not loved his neighbor sacrificially and provided God a reason to rejoice. But this is what one gets with defining divine happiness as the difference of an equation — reasons to rejoice minus reasons to sorrow. It means that…

“…how joyous God finds himself in the face of any particular good as well as how grievous he is in relation to any particular evil are not a measure or reflection of the good or the evil relative to anything absolute about God; rather they are a measure of God’s sense of well-being distributed among competing demands, each demand determining a ‘share’ of the divine.”

Something is desperately wrong here.

What to do? Well, one might suggest that there’s no need to do anything. This is just the way things are. God really would feel better than he does over your goodness were it not for some evil in the world that diminishes the joy God would otherwise feel on your account, just as he would be sadder for victims of evil than he actually is were it not for the presence of some goodness in the world.

If this seems unacceptable, one could suppose that God has a self-generated reason to rejoice which, though finite because diminishable by worldly evils, is nevertheless greater than all combined imaginable reasons to sorrow. In this case God is never in danger of (as Marilyn McCord Adams describes it) “having his mind blown” by overwhelming worldly sorrows. God can’t have an emotional break down because he has a supply of reasons to rejoice that derive from his own being and identity which can never be exhaustively spent on worldly suffering even if they can be diminished.

This is definitely a move in the right direction. However, it leaves unaddressed the objection to God’s being too sad (on account of some actual evil) to rejoice as he might over the salvation of a single sinner, and also too happy (due to salvation of the sinner) to grieve as deeply as he might over the actual evil. Something seems amiss with this consequence.