I’m definitely going to have to listen to this a few times through to get the gist of it! This is a remarkable formation on the surface at least, in that it attempts to reconcile the conundrums of omniscience, passivity and free agency. Interestingly it almost sounds akin the ‘Kalachakra’ concept of time in Hinduism – but with a different outcome.
Absolutely beautiful. This sort of explanation is why I hold to atemporal eternality. And this is the kind of philosophical theology we need, the kind that enriches the mind and warms the heart. Thanks for posting.
End of the 2nd video:
Kuhn: “There’s some bad things that I’ve done that I hope God forgets.”
Stump: “Yeah, but you know, He’ll forget them only qua bad. As what they were they will always be there for Him. They transform…if you’re lucky…they transform in His love & forgiveness into things of beauty in the narrative of your life. But they’re always there. They’re always there. And they’re always there for you as well as for Him. I mean your past is fixed. It can’t be changed. But for Him they’re present and He can interact with them always.”
“If you’re lucky?” Not sure what to make of that. As the culmination of a precise and deliberately worded argument re: eternity and intimacy, ending with “if you’re lucky” made me squirm a little bit. I recognize that this is a fairy informal interview and perhaps I’m reading too much into that one phrase, but “if you’re lucky” struck me as a rather poor (or revealing?) choice of words.
That aside, I see some real beauty here.
As DB Hart said in The Moral Meaning of Creation ex Nihilo:
“After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others.”
So there is a sense in which the past is always “present” in some form, even if that presence is experienced as shadow or absence. Salvation doesn’t necessitate the annihilation or forgetting of the past, but rather it’s redemption.
I can’t seem to find it, but I read a quote to the effect of “Forgiveness is the redemption (or healing) of the past.” So we err if we understand divine forgiveness as God “changing His mind” about us. Perhaps we can instead understand forgiveness as God journeying with us into the past, the past that is still fully “present” to God but only present as shadow or regret to me, and redeeming it – “transforming the past into a thing of beauty in the narrative of life”. It’s the experience of “all things working together for good”. How much grace is needed to redeem history!
But that doesn’t happen in this life, or rather it happens only as seeds hidden in the earth. What a slow, difficult, and unfathomable process. And it’s not merely the journey of the autonomous individual. Forgiveness/reconciliation with one another is the implication of the gospel, an indispensable part of this “redemption of the past”, but often I don’t even desire that Quite the opposite at times. And yet…no longer enemies or strangers. God all in all.
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Doesn’t explain how God could interact or respond to free and contingent acts of creation. if the past on this view is “fixed” as seats, so is every other point, since for God there is no real temporal becoming. This even the future would be fixed in the same way. Finally, this view makes Christ hang on the cross eternally, in which case it’s hard to see how evil isn’t eternally present/extant to God.
Stuck it seems your are on an univocal understanding of being, time, existence. Change, future, past, present, fixed, becoming – all these don’t have the same meaning in the eternal act of God’s being, as these mean to our mode of existence. His existence, in other words, is not creaturely existence. Think likeness in an ever greater unlikeness.
Unfortunately I find this entire way of thinking incoherent and contradictory. We either can understand God using concepts we understand, or not. If not, there’s no good speaking of him – particularly in a specific way. Thus bye bye divine attributes, and bye bye incarnation. At least that’s how I see it.
Malcolm, I do not suggest a complete apophatic vacuity of theological predication – as indicated, there is a true likeness, buy always in an ever greater unlikeness. Without the latter one is relegated to univocal constructions of a God who is a being among beings, without the former one lands in the absolute apophatic void of absurd equivocation. Think analogy.
I suppose it’s possible, malcolmsnotes, that Aquinas and all his followers over the centuries have simply spouted nonsense when they talked about analogical being, but do you have such a solid grasp of the matter that you can make such a judgment? I know I sure can’t.
Everyone within the classical tradition, both West and East, affirm that we may speak positively of God, despite the similarity within the greater dissimilarity of being. The challenge is offering a plausible account of the fact that we do.
Your reply brought forth an issue that has always troubled me, that horrible deeds committed in the past could never be “erased” from history, and that even our eschatological “destiny”–our inevitable union with God in the New Creation–cannot compensate for what evils have occurred. Your quote “redemption is the healing of the past” perhaps brings me as close as possible to a resolution; that in forgiveness, we “go back in time” through God’s eternity, where the past is never “lost” to history because it always present to the eternal God. “What’s done is done” (as they say) is in fact not done, and in and through God’s eternity we may truly *heal* an old wound, rather than proclaim forgiveness and merely agree to “forget” the past.
And that thought leads me to consider that God *must* be timeless and immutable if we have any hope of true justice. For if the past cannot in any sense be “accessed” [i]as the past[i/], if our collective wounds leave any trace of (even painless) scarring, then at best we may achieve a perfect synthesis of “forgetfulness”–an illusion of healing, and thus nothing more than an illusion of justice.
This has only just occurred to me, so it may all be so much incoherent rambling. But at the very least I’m grateful for your comment. It has revealed a heretofore hidden path of reflection and study, if only for a short while.
Not incoherent at all. Quite the opposite. You said many of the things that I attempted to say better than I did.
Metaphysical speculation on “eternity” aside, my thoughts also tended towards suffering & the nature of “justice”. Like Ivan from The Brothers K, one wonders how suffering can ever really be redeemed. I hope that mere “forgetfulness” (an illusion of healing & justice indeed!) isn’t the best that can be achieved. There is a sense in which the past is “fixed” as Dr. Stump said, but there is also a sense (I hope) in which the past might be redeemed in light of and through the gospel.
And to me, that question is inseparable from the meaning of “life” per that axiomatic statement from the first video: “Eternity is the complete possession, all at once, of illimitable life.” The meaning of “life” in that statement is just as important as “eternity” and “complete possession” and “illimitable”.
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Regarding the interview with Stump, I was puzzled by the reference to “all possible worlds” as though God’s response to prayer could be different in an alternate universe. If I understood her correctly (and I probably didn’t), that doesn’t seem to square with God as classically understood.
Perhaps the problem concerns her understanding of prayer, which based on her brief example resembles the popular modern conception of God as that venerable genie who may or may not grant our wishes (only if it’s good for us, I suppose). And I don’t mean to mock such a conception, as it is perfectly natural to petition for a desired outcome especially in moments of fear or duress. In fact I would say most prayers I’ve offered have been in that vain. But is prayer not better understood as a reaching out to God, a manifest desire for closer communion wherein we willingly submit our rebellious wills to his Will? Would not God’s response–an ever greater invitation to communion–always be the same?
I have not studied modal logic and do not grasp all the nuances of “possible worlds” argumentation. I know that analytic philosophers like to employ it to distinguish necessary truths and contingent truths (someone correct me here if I’m wrong): thus a truth is necessary if it is true in all possible worlds and non-necessary if it is false in one or more possible worlds.
Anywho, I simply took Stump as saying that the fact that God does x in response to prayer b in one world and does y in response to the same prayer in another world evidences the genuine responsiveness of God to intercessory prayer. It’s not like everything is fixed.
Hello Fr. Kimel,
Yes, I also don’t understand the nuances of “all possible worlds” logic. I assume a “possible world” must nonetheless conform to the standard rules of logic?
Anyways, I’m struggling to reconcile Divine Impassibility with the efficacy of intercessory prayer. What does genuine responsiveness look like for God? If God does not change, then I fail to see how his “response” to prayer could be “x” in one possible world and “y” in another possible world. Like you, I want to say not everything is fixed, but God’s “response” would still always already have been offered, always already been prior to our prayer. God then “responds” only in the sense that we perceive response by virtue of a new relation with God, or perhaps a more intimate level of participation through the act of prayer.
Perhaps that’s a crude and impoverished understanding of prayer, but I don’t know how else to conceive of it without doing violence to Divine Impassibility.
Bob, take a look at this article I wrote on Herbert McCabe’s view on intercessory prayer. McCabe has a different take on Aquinas than does Stump.
Thank you Father, I will give it a read.
What may be helpful is to understand Divine Impassibility not as static passivity, but rather as the inability to being acted upon. God is dynamic, overflowing eternal act of love, and He is what He does. We must, in otherwise, thoroughly abandon notions of God’s being and works as if He existed as do creaturely beings. It is paradoxical of course. But the same goes for Infinity’s compatbility to finitude, timelessness to time, the Uncreate to the created – without collapsing one into the other.
Paradoxical indeed! I liked Stump’s comparison between theology and physics. Indeed both the logic of Divine Simplicity and the mathematics of fundamental physics leads to truly incredible and paradoxical conclusions.
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