Herbert McCabe and the Unfathomable Mystery of Divine Forgiveness


Consider the following scenario: We sin and God gets angry. Desiring reconciliation, we repent and plead for mercy. God forgives.

This is put crudely. Eastern readers may protest that the scenario is alien to the Orthodox understanding of God; Protestants and Catholics may issue a similar protest—but bear with me. Isn’t this what we learned in Sunday School? Who can read the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32 and not come away with the conviction that when we act immorally, God’s attitude towards us changes. The scenario can be made less offensive to modern sensibilities, but the basic structure remains. Sin brings upon us judgment and wrath. It is now up to us to do something to abate the divine anger. Strategies have historically included repentance, confession of faith in Jesus, almsgiving, reparations, pilgrimages. Inherent to this structure are two elements: (1) a change in God’s attitude and (2) a penitential transaction that placates God and repairs the relationship.

Why do we think that the above scenario accurately reflects the way of things? Because this is how it works between human beings. I injure you—not incidentally, not accidentally, but deliberately, degradingly, maliciously, gravely. Your heart cries out for vengeance. What must happen for the relationship to be restored? I must accept responsibility for my actions, express genuine contrition, ask for forgiveness, and offer restitution. By so doing I disown the evil I have done. But there is still one thing left. You must forgive me. Only then will my guilt be removed and relationship restored. We are no longer enemies.

Note that it is possible for the injured party to forgive the offender before he has apologized and made atonement. Philosophers and moral theologians debate whether this is a good or bad thing to do. Richard Swinburne, for example, suggests that forgiveness before repentance and reparation trivializes the evil that has been committed: “It is both bad and ineffective for a victim of at any rate a serious hurt to disown the hurt when no atonement has been made” (Responsibility and Atonement, p. 86; also see Charles Griswold, Forgiveness). In Swinburne’s eyes forgiving a wrongdoer before he has repented amounts to condonation of his crime. On the other hand, many victims have found that forgiveness of the wrongdoer, even absent their repentance, can be spiritually and psychologically beneficial.

But what about God? Many biblical texts can be cited to support the belief that divine forgiveness is contingent upon the sinner’s repentance and change of heart. David Konstan believes that a conditionalist interpretation is supported by both the Old and New Testaments:

Consider King Solomon’s prayer to God in 1 Kings 8:33-34: “When thy people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against thee, if they turn again to thee, and acknowledge thy name, and pray and make supplication to thee in this house; then hear thou in heaven, and forgive [or be propitious toward: cf. the Greek ἵλεως] the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again to the land which thou gavest to their fathers.” In the hymn that concludes the book of Isaiah, we again find an emphasis on returning to the path of God (55:7) “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” So too in Jeremiah, the Lord will accept the just and honest man (5:1), and reject the wicked, above all, those who have forsaken him (5:7); but those who return will find redemption. This idea found deep resonance in the later scriptural interpretation. …

This concern with confession and remorse as the conditions for God’s forgiveness is continued in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark reveals a particular interest in the role of repentance (μετάνοια). Thus John the Baptist is described as having appeared in the wilderness, κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (“preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” 1:4; cf. Luke 3:3). Luke too affirms that repentance is essential for forgiveness: ἐὰν ἁμάρτῃ ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἐπιτίμησον αὐτῷ, καὶ ἐὰν μετανοήσῃ ἄφες αὐτῷ (“if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,” 17:3). Repentance is a crucial condition for forgiveness: there is no evidence in the New Testament that forgiveness is understood to be unconditional, although this is not always stated explicitly. (“Before Forgiveness,” pp. 101- 102; also see his book of the same title)

Many preachers, biblical scholars, and theologians agree with Konstan, as do many of the Church Fathers.  Thus St Mark the Ascetic: “No one is as good and merciful as the Lord. But even He does not forgive the unrepentant.” One might also invoke the penitential practices of the Church to support a conditionalist interpretation of divine forgiveness. After all, absolution always comes after the confession of sin, not before.

And yet …

Let’s return to the popular scenario with which I opened this article: we sin, God gets angry; we repent, God forgives. This is a perfectly acceptable image of God, says Fr Herbert McCabe. Wickedness is serious business, and it is appropriate for us to think of God as becoming angry when we break his holy commandments. God does not condone evil. He opposes it with all of his might. But this is only one image and needs to be set alongside the equally biblical image of “the God who endlessly accepts us, the God who endures our sins and forgives us all the same” (God, Christ and Us, pp. 15-16). God is the husband who forgives his wifely harlot over and over again. God is the shepherd who abandons his flock to rescue the one lost lamb. God is the woman who turns her house upside down to find a lost coin. God is the Crucified who cries out from the tree: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Yet even the image of the absolving God does not tell us the whole truth. “The fact is,” explains McCabe, “that the God of wrath and the God who relents are both good but inadequate images, merely pictures of the unfathomable, incomprehensible love which is God” (p. 16). Neither image is literally true. Both portray God as anthropomorphically changing his mind about us: when we sin, God becomes angry and punishes; when we repent, God puts aside his wrath and re-friends us. But the reality is that God never changes his mind. He is always and eternally in love with us. We do not need to win his forgiveness, for in Christ he has already embraced us in grace and mercy.

If we are going to understand anything about the forgiveness of sin we cannot just be content with pictures; we have to think as clearly as we can. … The initiative is always literally with God. When God forgives our sin, he is not changing his mind about us; he is changing our mind about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love. The forgiveness of sin is God’s creative and re-creative love making the desert bloom again, bringing us back from dry sterility to the rich luxuriant life bursting out all over the place. When God changes your mind in this way, when he pours out on you his Spirit of new life, it is exhilarating, but it is also fairly painful. There is a trauma of rebirth as perhaps there is of birth. The exhilaration and the pain that belong to being reborn is what we call contrition, and this is the forgiveness of sin. Contrition is not anxious guilt about sin; it is the continual recognition in hope that the Spirit has come to me as healing my sin.

So it is not literally true that because we are sorry God decides to forgive us. That is a perfectly good story, but it is only a story. The literal truth is that we are sorry because God forgives us. Our sorrow for sin just is the forgiveness of God working within us. Contrition and forgiveness are just two names for the same thing, they are the gift of the Holy Spirit; the re-creative transforming act of God in us. God does not forgive us because of anything he finds in us; he forgives us out of his sheer delight, his exuberant joy in making the desert bloom again. (pp. 16-17)

McCabe invites us to contextualize the inter-personal model of forgiveness within a proper construal of divine transcendence and the Creator/creature relationship. When we tell a story of two or more persons, we of course must present them as acting and reacting: I do something, and you respond; I respond to your response, and you do something. That is what happens between persons who live in time. Hence it is not surprising that when the biblical writers sought to tell the story of the God who had entered into covenant with Israel and the Church, they portrayed him as one person among a universe of persons, a person who believes and feels and acts and reacts, who gets angry when his creatures rebel against his just rule and who puts aside his anger when they repent. But it cannot be literally true. The literal truth is something infinitely more marvelous:

God does not respond to his world. He does not adjust his reaction to suit good people or bad. You do not have to be good before God will love you; you do not have to try to be good before God will forgive you; you do not have to repent before you will be absolved by God. It is all the other way round. If you are good, it is because God’s love has already made you so; if you want to try to be good, that is because God is loving you; if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you. You do not have to do anything, or pay anything, in exchange for God’s love. God does not demand anything of you. Nothing whatsoever. (p. 27)

The literal truth is Love.

(Go to “The Mystery of Divine Love“)

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16 Responses to Herbert McCabe and the Unfathomable Mystery of Divine Forgiveness

  1. Declan Moore says:

    Wonderful piece.


  2. Very timely for Good Shepherd Sunday. He cares more about the one sheep gone astray than for the many still in the flock. That to me is a forgiveness parable–ties in with the prodigal son. We forget though that we often behave like the prodigal son.

    The coin, the sheep–these parables build to the climax of the prodigal son. Very interesting to point out.


  3. brian says:

    Well, I saw this yesterday and wanted to comment, but I am fighting a head cold and wasn’t sure I could properly express ambivalence. I am still under the weather, so I am not sure I will say this as well as I would like. I apologize if all this is quibbling. I do think this is essentially, at the metaphysical level, true. And I would fully agree that we need to be careful about easy, anthropomorphic projection. I want to affirm the lack of conditional pre-requisites, yet the absolute non-necessity of reciprocity still troubles me. Unfortunately, to really delve into all this involves deep thought that cannot be briefly elucidated without coming across as slapdash. I have two main areas of concern.

    1) The economic trinity may be distinct from the immanent trinity, but one should still affirm that the former is a genuine expression of the latter, so that one should not anticipate any radical difference. If one understands the dynamic taxis of the Persons of the Godhead as a perichoresis of “ur-gift” in which the Father’s eternal generation of the Son is “original gift,” it is nonetheless equally true that the “receptivity” of the Son and Spirit is not radically “a posterior i.” On the contrary, there is “always already” a consent within the Godhead that “allows” the Father to be Father that “equates” to the Son and Spirit assenting to a unique relation. All this, of course, can seem utterly presumptuous, but theology simply is called to try and “think” God and this includes Triune mysteries. So, where am I going with this? I want to say that divine, Triune life is the archetype for giving and that if “for-giving” is always a form of divine gift, then one needs to see its condition of possibility in divine modes of acting. It then seems to me that while the Father’s giving of Himself that is the primal “energy” of perichoresis does not “demand” reciprocity, it certainly “seeks” it and the joy of divine life is nothing without it.

    2) In terms of human-created response to forgiveness — if one sees forgiveness as a function of God’s prior determination — the “it is Good” of creation is linked to an eschatological reality in which every sinful derogation from a gifted eternal identity is made good by the loving Triune work realized in Cross and Resurrection — then there is an analogical continuity between creation and the soteriologically derived eschaton. What this means is two-fold. First, Christ on the Cross and in the descent into Hell of Holy Saturday, places Himself with every creature in every possible mode of separation from God. Christ gives the assent, the reciprocal response, so there simply is no place where God’s forgiveness meets an “ultimate” refusal. Secondly, this goes back to some prior meditations I have had about divine freedom and creatio ex nihilo and also what I call the eros of agape. What I would warn against is a conception of God’s infinite generosity (what is properly aimed at in the meditation above and in Herbert McCabe’s thought) that would somehow make the necessity of response somehow a matter of indifference for an agape that would then be fully enacted by a relentless offer, whether it is reciprocated or not.

    The latter conception is consistent with a kind of “doors locked from within” infernalism; but I don’t think it squares with a fully free God who did not have to create. In my view, and this has been articulated by DB Hart, too, the Christian God enacts a creation consonant with his power and love. Such a universe cannot embrace a love that is unrequited without in some manner justifying a failure of love. There are those, of course, who will repudiate such a view. They will assert that the offer of love is all that is needed to secure the integrity of love. I do not have time or energy to recapitulate prior arguments here. I will only point to the ultimate Triune paradigm for all love. Had, per impossible, the Son and Spirit refused the Father’s love, one would hardly speak of indifference to such refusal or the integrity of love without complimentary response and renewed gift, nor of the triumphant joy of divine life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hey, Brian. Thanks for your comment. I’m presently working on the second part of the article, which will be published tomorrow. I doubt that anything in it addresses your comment here, but do check and see. I’ll try to reply tomorrow afternoon or so.

      Get well, friend.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’ve been wondering, Brian, how McCabe might reply to your comment. I just don’t know. He would, I believe, want to insist that the asymetrical relationship that you observe in his construal of the Creator/creature relationship should not be seen as in any way mitigating or compromising genuine creaturely freedom, precisely because God is not a being within the world of beings (on this you, I, and McCabe agree). I have cited McCabe at length on this point in an earlier post, so I simply point you to those quotations: “Divine Agency and Human Freedom.”

      Another feature to be remembered here. McCabe follows Aquinas in his rejection of both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism—hence his insistence that faith, contrition, repentance is a gift from God. I’m interested in your thoughts about Western worries about Pelagianism/Semi-Pelagianism.

      I do not know how McCabe might respond to your trinitarian reflections. As you know, he gets fairly apophatic when speaking of the inter-relations of the divine persons.

      From my POV I identity one critical lacuna (typical for Roman Catholics) in his presentation—namely, the absence of reflection on the mediatorial role of the proclaimed gospel in the communication of salvation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:


        Thanks, as always, for your thoughts and kind wishes.

        I have a sense that I am being unclear somewhere, but I cannot pinpoint precisely where I am going wrong. A fair amount of my Trinitarian sensibility is derived from Balthasar. He has been accused of being a gnostic and of engaging in mythological speculation by his critics. He has been well defended, in my view, by the likes of Cyril O’Regan and D C Schindler among others. In any event, Catholic tradition can be reticent on these matters. East or West, I like the bold ones — Balthasar, Bulgakov, Florensky, etc.

        I tried to advert to a theology of Holy Saturday — essentially seeing Christ’s descent into Hell as the locus of identification with the lost to the nth degree — the playing out at the metaphysical level of the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep — so that every response of the creature is both asymmetrical and synergistic, already enwrapped in prior grace, so I don’t see how pelagian or semi-pelagian worries are valid.

        I guess part of my unstated discomfort is also derived from my reading of Desmond, another gifted Catholic thinker. I hear from Tom that Desmond considers himself a universalist. When I read his philosophical discourse on agapeic love, I find a great deal to admire. (I’ve quoted Desmond enough, I think, to establish my debt to his thought and genuine appreciation.) Still, it seems to me that Desmond also insists on the lack of demand for reciprocity as the sign of perfect, divine love. I just don’t buy this as the highest form of love. It is a gift to the beloved to allow the beloved to know he or she is cherished and somehow irreplaceable to the joy of the lover. In short, while acknowledging that the flourishing Good of God’s Pure Act is in no way susceptible to lack, I think God elects, not out of need, but creative giving, to make the fullness of divine joy in some sense dependent on the creature. This is what I have been calling the “eros of agape.” One can resist all this and claim the kind of erotic desire I describe is not subject to any analogy that would persist “from above.” This is either a contradiction or a paradox — one’s allegiances and understanding will result in differing judgment.

        To circle back a bit, the love that makes no demands, that forgives as part of the richness of original gift, a gift that is constant is not really in question. The superiority of the God who is love is manifest in just such a fidelity that can never be abrogated by creaturely unfaithfulness. I would add to this, however, the strange paradox that this very undemanding giving includes a passionate insistence that the good of each singular creature not be irredeemably harmed or lost, and that at the level of person, this good involves mutual delight and appreciation. If the weight of Euclidian logic fails to square such apparent antinomies, I prefer to transcend the logic rather than drop the excellence of either side of the paradox.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Brian, I think McCabe would fully agree that the human being must respond to God in love and faith and repentance. For example:

          “The coming into us of God’s own life of love shows itself in two aspects: our repentance, and our being forgiven, our death to our sins, and our new life of love. It is not at all that God waits for us to be repentant before he will condescend to forgive us, like someone saying: ‘I’ll forgive him provided he apologizes.’ We do not express our contrition in order to persuade God to grant us his forgiveness. Our contrition is God granting us forgiveness. Of course, the form of words or signs that we (or, at least, most of my Christian friends) use can give the impression that God needs persuading, that we must beg him for forgiveness, that we should plead for him to turn his anger from us, and so on. But all that is just metaphor, a figure of speech. We speak to God as though he were someone we had insulted or offended, and we have no other suitable way of praying. … Not to express our contrition in some such would simply be a sign that our contrition is bogus, and therefore that it is not really the forgiveness of God” (God, Christ and Us, p. 123).

          My feeling is that you would disagree with the above. If so, where do you identify the disagreement?


          • brian says:


            I am not sure I disagree with Fr. McCabe. The following is a rather rambling response. I may be talking past you, a bit. I am still foggy.

            The complexity of the human person and of reality is such that any careful discernment inevitably brings upon one nuances, polarities, sometimes straight out contradictions that probably cannot be resolved short of translation and transfiguration into eternal, resurrected flourishing. The loving Father of the parable of the Prodigal is himself so prodigal of love that he insists on the dignity of the son and is utterly careless of his own. Yet stand before Niagara Falls or tall mountains or experience any overwhelming event of nature and the sublimity of mere nature will invoke humility and a kind of fearful reverence. All the prophets are brought to death and humbled before the glory of the Lord; Peter babbles literally beside himself in Taboric light. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and the Cross becomes the sign of radiant, beautiful love. We cannot avoid a paradox of the extremes.

            In thinking about contrition and forgiveness, I can only speak most meaningfully from my own experience. I have always rather hated the dramatic postures of contrition assumed by the faithful in Catholic tradition. The sort of wilting, morose pose of lamentation may be quite sincere, but I dislike it. I find it indulgent and a learned, ecclesial bit of theater that all too easily elides with Nietzsche’s distaste for worshipers of a zealous God eager for lick-spittle praise and lament for unworthiness. Though, of course, we are unworthy, and the range of human deception and depravity, from the banal to the monstrously wicked is enough to justify any theatrics of repentance.

            I am a very private person. I cringe at the embarrassment of characters in sit-coms. I just can’t watch most of them. Humility is good. Humiliation is not. Holiness is both unutterably near, nurturing, sustaining, yet also high, ennobling, adventurous, kind, mirthful, and mysterious. How does this play out in the event where the human and the divine meet and speak candidly? Certainly, as a kind of high game of courtesy, and also child-like wonder, and lover’s delight and the dancing joy of one made whole after prolonged sickness. I think that contrition, repentance, the renewal of loving relation with regards to the divine should not suffer the distortions that betray human attempts at reconciliation. Though, of course, we are frail, fallen beings, so they inevitably will. Sin is a real wound upon the honor of love. It is God’s tenderness that rushes to heal and in healing, must provoke acknowledgement of evil as identical with truly seeing the good, a seeing that is never static, but part of the eternal drama of love. Still, I prefer Tikhon’s cautious prodding of Stavrogin in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed or Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov as exemplars for how the saint interacts with a brother sick with sin.


        • Tom says:

          And to think that I have front-row seats to quality conversation like this!

          I seems to me that a notion of ‘symmetrical’ relations is possible without violating the antecedent fullness and God’s love, goodness, grace, etc. In other words, even if it’s never the case that God’s love and gracious forgiveness are the ‘determined effect in God’ of human causes (via human repentance and prayer), something I totally agree to, is there no other sense in which the God’s already full love and grace can be said to respond to creatures? Why the totalizing ‘either/or’?



  4. Mike H says:

    One of the things that I’ve found to be refreshing within Orthodox theology (and I see this same thing with McCabe) is the ability to think outside of the forensic box that often frames things (and plagues them IMO). It’s not even a “rethinking” – rather, it was never in the forensic box to begin with. “Salvation” is conceived of as an ontological reality rather than a forensic one (forensic language and concepts being taken as imagery that points to something else). That is probably too broad of a generalization, but I think it’s largely true.

    I only bring this up because I’ve noticed, at times, a disconnect between “salvation” and “forgiveness” in that regard. The forensic conception of salvation that proceeds from certain atonement theories (penal substitution) may be forcefully dismissed as being fundamentally mistaken, but “forgiveness” – conceived of as necessarily preceding “salvation” – seems to retain that forensic tone. “Forgiveness” may have secondary ontological results, but it’s primarily understood as a forensic thing – a transaction.

    So naturally, within a forensic framework, the question of conditions is going to come up. How could it not?

    But before trying to understand the “conditions”, can I back up and ask what is even meant by divine forgiveness? Is it a legal thing, and we simply debate the means by which the legal transaction is initiated and fulfilled?

    Ontologically, perhaps “forgiveness” is the transformative experience/awareness of restoration/being loved on our end, but which is inherent within the eternal nature of God and not because of any appeasement. Rather than being a forensic prerequisite to being loved, it’s the experience of being loved, a participation in being “saved” (while not being in the category of “earning”).


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Mike. You are absolutely correct about the absence of the juridical dimension in McCabe. I think that tomorrow’s article will touch on some of your concerns and questions. See what you think.

      Hint: according to McCabe, when we speak of God forgiving ours sins, we are speaking metaphorically.


  5. Chris says:

    God loves you as you are, not as you should be.


  6. Fr Kimel

    “The literal truth is Love.” Amen. We might think of it as a great and terrible love, but love all the same. It strikes me as odd that the Westminster Confession, in listing the attributes of God, has love number seventeen on the list!


  7. Tom says:

    Perhaps a good question would be to ask to whom one is predicating the ‘condition’ and what exactly is the condition a condition ‘for’? I don’t think we predicate any conditions to God with respect to his love and grace offered to us. One might say that’s just the benevolent and unconditional nature of Desmond’s “passio essendi.” Forgiveness, I’d say, is what ‘motivates’ the Cross (as opposed to forgiveness being ‘achieved’ on the Cross). But with respect to the “conatus essendi,” well, there you have conditionality predicated to us, i.e., the conditionality of creaturely participation in the transforming, deifying reality of forgiveness.

    2Cor 5 comes to mind: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

    We were reconciled to God in Christ. Done deal. And God demonstrated the motivating passion of divine love in and as the Cross, “not counting people’s sins against them.” That is, forgiveness doesn’t happen when we repent. We’re able to repent at all because forgiveness has happened.



    • Tom says:

      Who replies to himself? Ha! Only a Pentecostal. Anyhow…

      I wonder too if it might help to view the mutuality and responsiveness of God’s relating to the world along ‘hypostatic’ lines as opposed to examining all this under the light of ‘nature’. That is, when we repent, the divine ‘nature’ isn’t changed qua nature, but creaturely participation in the divine life is mediated ‘hypostatically’ by God to us, that is, freely (not in the sense that God might not love us, but in the sense that all God’s personal relations to us are ‘intentionally’ willed and not the automatic diffusing of an eternally determined nature).

      I’m uncomfortable with the idea of every word God ever speaks to me, every reassurance of love, every divine prompting of my heart to do, say, or worship—is all eternally “sent out” (so to speak)—as single, undivided generic “I love you” sent out in all directions—and all I’m doing when I hear it is catching up to it in fallen time. It’s a bit like the cat who aligns herself underneath the stroking hand of her owner. The stroking hand is fixed—moving left to right. That’s it. The cat lines up underneath in such a way that the stoke moves the wrong way up her back, irritating her. So she turns around and faces the opposite direction and finds the same stroking action a pleasant experience.

      I don’t mean to suggest that the wicked don’t find offense in the love of God. That’s possible. I just mean to say that something personally-hypostatically important seems missing in the thought that God is just a single ‘thing’ (and I don’t mean any denial of transcendence here, I mean something like a single undivided, eternally determined, ‘act’) which we variously experience as pleasing or displeasing depending entirely upon us. It would will what it wills and send out the same eternal “I love you” (whoever you are to receive this contingently in created time) whether or not I ever existed or not. God doesn’t address the contingent, actual, historical “me.” That seems to reduce ‘person’ to ‘nature’ in God, though I’m sure I don’t know what I’m talking about.



  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    [Chuckling] It’s inevitable! A non-transactional understanding of grace immediately raises questions of monergism, synergism, and predestination. If it didn’t, I’d be worried. 🙂

    A couple quick comments:

    1) McCabe genuinely believes in free human acts, but he does not believe in autonomy, as if the creature enjoys ontological independence from God (which is why he rejects free-will theodicies):

    There are those who think that God had to allow for sin in order that we could exercise our freedom; but this view is preposterous. The assumption behind it is that our freedom somehow lets us escape from God—as though we were free in spite of God. But, of course, our freedom is the greatest manifestation in us of God’s creative love. Our free spontaneous acts really do exist. So they are created and sustained in us by God. God is not a coercive force outside us. He makes us ourselves, and especially ourselves in our freedom. He makes us ourselves, and especially ourselves in our freedom. We are not free in spite of God but because of God. Any other view of God is idolatrous, making God a being within creation, a rival to his free creatures. (God, Christ and Us, pp. 32-33)

    2) In his essay “Predestination” in God Still Matters, McCabe emphatically rejects any suggestion that God predestines anyone to eternal damnation. “The notion,” he writes, “that anyone can be predestined to hell is totally unscriptural and, therefore, foreign to the Catholic faith” (p. 183). But Catholics do believe in predestination—namely, predestination to heaven. The doctrine, therefore, “is all about the love of God and the glorious freedom of the sons of God” (p. 183).

    I cannot adequately summarize McCabe’s understanding here in the comments section, but a critical point should be made:

    Predestination exists in eternity and only in eternity, in the eternal timeless mind of God. It is not before or after or even simultaneous with anything. When we plan something and then carry out the plan, there is first the plan and then later the execution. But this cannot be so with God. God has no lifetime, no before and after. There are not times or dates to the thoughts and acts of God. His predestining Jesus to ascend into heaven does not come before his bringing Jesus to heaven. Nothing in God comes before anything else, they are all the one thing which is simply the eternal timeless life of God himself. So we must not take the ‘pre-‘ in ‘predestination’ literally. What is predestined happens but it doesn’t happen later than its predestination because predestination is only in the timeless mind of Gode. It is always wrong and a muddle to say ‘What I just did must have been predestined thirty years ago’ because predestination, like the thought of God, has no date at all. It does not mean that we move in predestinate grooves that are there beforehand, like tram lines. (pp. 184-185)

    In response to Tom Belt’s query above about God “responding” to the world, I think McCabe would offer something like the above. McCabe would say that it doesn’t make any sense to think of God as responding to our acts because God is not a temporal being. Remember: God is the transcendent source and cause of our acts (at least according to McCabe). It’s not as if God sets a stage upon which we then autonomously act out our lives (that’s deism). At every moment God is creating us from nothing as freely acting.


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