Vulnerability: the capacity of finitude to bear God’s glory—Part 1

treasure_in_jars_of_clay_by_saireba-d4pjkw2I love the picture! “We have this treasure in jars of clay,” Paul celebrates. I’ve been thinking on this all day (while reading Kristine Culp’s Vulberability and Glory), and the thought finally presented itself to me — the vessel is fragile and vulnerable — the treasure is not. Vulnerability is finitude’s capacity to bear the glory of God. Well, that thought led to another and, as you might guess, there I was again thinking about divine transcendence.

Our main philosophical reasons for arriving at a view of God in terms something like Boyd’s unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction come from his Trinity & Process. The conclusion of those arguments is that God is infinite beauty, this beauty is the experienced triune relations, and this experience is the definitive act of God’s essential existence. This much about God is not vulnerable. More of Boyd (Trinity & Process, p. 386):

“God’s being is defined by God’s eternal disposition to delight in Godself and the eternal actualization of this disposition within the triune life of God. It is the unsurpassable intensity of the beauty of the divine sociality—their shared love ‘to an infinite degree’—and God’s eternal ‘inclination’ to eternally be such, which defines God as God and thus most fundamentally distinguishes God from creation, for this divine sociality needs no other sociality to be what it is.”

This contrasts with Greg’s present belief that Father, Son and Spirit don’t essentially or necessarily experience one another. We’ll champion the earlier view. And as we’ve been thinking about the various objections to this on the part of our fellow open theists, here’s what those objections seem to boil down to (in block quote for emphasis):

Of course nobody wants to deny that God is infinitely beautiful. But we don’t want to suppose that God’s triune beauty is an unsurpassably intense delight to behold or even that the divine persons behold this beauty essentially. Why not? Because we believe that if God is that, there’s no room for us; no room left in God to upload our pain, and we need God to feel our pain. Nor is there room in God to upload our joys, for they can only mean something to him if they improve him. So it needs to be the case that the felt quality of God’s experience decreases or increases according to the fluctuating well-being of the world. This is so because “God is love” and it’s inconceivable that love should not suffer some diminishing of satisfaction in the face of another’s suffering.

Moreover, love must be motivated to act in the best interest of one who suffers by some loss of joy/pleasure. This loss just is one’s love prior to acting, for love can only act in another’s best interest if it is ‘moved’ (motivated) to act by the loss of satisfaction brought about by another’s suffering. Without suffering this loss of satisfaction, God literally couldn’t act on our behalf in any loving way because he wouldn’t be moved to act by first having suffered some ‘disturbance’. God has to be affected in this way by us or God isn’t love, and if God were to act on our behalf without being motivated in this way, it wouldn’t be love.

Vulnerability-Management-for-Dummies-2ezku89As far as I can tell, this is the heart of the objection. We want to suggest that if true, this a real problem, for it would mean that God is not disinterested love. What’s so bad about that? “Disinterested” sounds bad anyway. Why would anyone think God isn’t interested in us? That should seal it right there. Not quite. “Disinterestedness” (in philosophical and theological discourse) isn’t “not being interested in” others. On the contrary, it’s a particular kind of interest in others. Disinterested love is love which needn’t suffer to be interested, love whose interest in another has no self-interest in play in its movement toward the other. It’s not disinterested because it’s not ‘other-interested’. It’s disinterested because it’s not ‘self-interested’. There’s no self-interest mixed in with its other-interest. What’s amazing about this is how uninterested people are in being loved this way.

If God is not disinterested in this sense, then he requires some inner disturbance to rouse or move him to action in our regard. But don’t we typically condemn those who only help the needy when they are moved to do so by some inconvenience to themselves? But in this sense God acting in our best interest is about restoring his own loss before it’s about attending to us. Something is wrong with this. But we didn’t come to think so by reading it in a Church father. We found that later. It was Greg Boyd who pointed the way in Trinity & Process, without any appeal to patristics. It’s only because God doesn’t need us to share in constituting his own essential happiness that he is free to love us in truly disinterested fashion, free to enter into our situation in the only way that can genuinely be said to be—from beginning to end—in our best interest.

And though the world does not yet express God’s ad intra delight, it shall do so one day when all created things each in its own proper measure expresses the infinite and inexpressible delight that God is. The question is — does this diastema, this ‘space’ between the imperfect ‘not yet present and the future consummation of creation, also include God? Is God also presently awaiting future fulfillment? Does God get glorified along with creation? Is God to be caught up in the incomparable glory to which our sorrows and his will “not be worth comparing”? And is God presently subjected to groaning alongside creation (Rom. 8)?

(Picture here).