Divine experience of beatitude the summum bonum—Part 1

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.)

Trinity and Process

Video1 Now is as good a time as any to throw up some more quotes from Greg Boyd’s Trinity and Process to demonstrate how incompatible this work is with his present belief in the dissolution (on the Cross and in the womb of Mary) of God’s triune experience. Enjoy.

“…this modification of Hartshorne’s system shall allow us to conceive of God as essentially constituted by an unsurpassable aesthetic experience of God’s own self-relationality….God is best conceived as being at once unsurpassable in God’s definitional aesthetic disposition and actual eternal enjoyment of what this disposition produces within Godself….” (p. 176, emphasis ours)

“Once we have determined that God is to be conceived of as antecedently actual, internally relational, and ‘more than’ self-sufficient, there is no longer any need to postulate an eternal world to provide the ground and the material for God’s concrete experience of goodness. God is, in this view, good within Godself, and this means that God can experience goodness within Godself—apart from the world…. In contrast to all possible and actual evil, God experiences God’s own triune sociality as unsurpassably good.” (p. 375, emphasis ours)

“…God’s essential and necessary existence is…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.” (p. 377, emphasis ours) [Tom here: Draw a line from “existence” to “enjoyment” in the first sentence of this quote and ask yourself what Greg might mean now by suggesting that this “enjoyment” ceases while God’s essential and necessary “existence” does not.]

“If we may now utilize the language of Scripture, we may, in light of our reconstruction, view God’s essential being as eternally consisting in the event of the perfect knowing and loving of the Father and Son in the power of the Spirit.”

“The One whose power is this One’s love, and whose love is this One’s knowledge, is the necessary and eternal divine event which structures and internally satisfies, in and of itself, all rationality and which further grounds all contingent being.”

“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.” (p. 378, emphasis ours)

We say “Amen” to all this. It’s in line with Orthodoxy in expressing the infinite beauty of God’s triune experience of knowing and loving as Father, Son and Spirit. This is what’s leaving people confused about Greg’s present position that this very God-definining experience is now no longer necessary to God.

(Picture here.)