“Will on will” or “will in will”?

I don’t often comment on other blogs anymore. I have enough trouble thinking of something intelligent to write for my own. But Fr Stephen Freeman has been recently blogging on the greater hope over at Glory to God for All Things, and I couldn’t resist joining the conversation.

I have found that the single greatest obstacle to our imagining the possibility that God might save every human being is a competitive construal of the divine/human relationship. Let’s call it will on will.  Here’s the comment I left:

“Will on will” — I’m not happy with this formulation, as it simply states the synergistic problem that makes it impossible to imagine apokatastasis. If it’s my will versus God’s will, and assuming that God graciously avoids all violence, manipulation, and coercion, then the possibility then the possibility that I might hold out forever against the divine will seems logical and necessary (and in my case, inevitable). As a result we often hear people giving half-hearted lip-service to the greater hope (“I suppose it’s possible that God might save all”) but they always conclude with that “but” that evacuates the hope of any real hope. Our logic pushes God to the metaphysical sideline.

The problem is the way we imagine God as another standing alongside us, as someone and something external to us. But this is clearly wrong. It brings God into our creaturely existence as a being. In this picture divine agency necessarily competes with creaturely agency, and so we end up with everlasting Gehenna. But St Augustine opened up a different way for us to think about the relationship between God and creature: interior intimo meo et superior summo meo (“higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self”). Suddenly the Creator/creature relationship becomes more mysterious than we had imagined, which means that we are freed from the logical deadlock. Instead of “will on will,” perhaps “will in will” (our will indwelling and grounded in God’s will) might be a better way to begin thinking about this. We may still not be able to imagine apokatastasis, but perhaps we can begin to entertain its genuine possibility.

Perhaps we might imagine a child holding on tight to his mother’s hand—who is simultaneously holding on tight to his—as they cross the street. Will in will—the image ultimately fails, as all our images of the God/creature relationship must—but it captures an element often missing in our discussion of this topic.

Does the notion of “will in will” help or obscure?

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5 Responses to “Will on will” or “will in will”?

  1. Robertson Gramling says:

    I think it definitely helps, father. One of my the more illuminating moments have had in my life recently, brief though it was, was a sort of realization of thing you’re talking about. Funnily enough I was reading Father Stephen Freeman’s blog and it had a post about the Noetic life, I think he’s jumping off point was Eskimo’s incredibly diverse vocabulary for snow and their discernment reflects the great mystics subtle understandings of states of the soul. But what really moved me was his description of what the noetic life as one of “participatory adherence” and vulnerability. Essentially to have any spiritual knowledge or understanding of those around you, you have to let get of all your tendencies to be in competition with others. You can’t size them up and judge them but neither can you preoccupy yourself with getting them to like you (more benign though this may seem,, because they both come from the same egoistic place. You have to abomdon yourself to the life of others and the very life of the world. Interestingly at the point that I was making this realization I also had a sense of what God’s relationship with us might mean. Specifically how in every movement of the mind God is behind us helping us. In a real sense he is my very life as he sustains me and “the light of my eyes” that allows me to commune with the world. He is only ever making us be and trying to lead us into truth. I wish I was more fully awake to this all the time but man when I first realized it was like a cool breeze had cleared out my my mind and the sun was shining on me after sometime of inner puzzlement. I think in that moment I really got a glimpse of what the mystics gesture at when they speak about that sense of unity with things and the insights that revolve around. I truly got out of my own head and self concern and woke up. I thought that Rowan Williams video you posted previously speaks to all this as well

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I can certainly see that “will on will” is on oddly distorted sense of what God is trying to do, and what we are. It seems to forget that we are created by God and he desires our good; it overlooks the essentially cooperative nature of the endeavour. The process is of us seeking our own good according to our natures and God patiently explaining to us and showing us what the ultimate nature of that good is. Where there is resistance or conflict it is due not to opposing wills but denial in the pop-psychology sense: we fight the truth, not God. Where there is punishment likewise it is teaching: if left with no other choice God may shock us outnof our wrongheadedness by giving us a taster of its consequences.

    I an not sure “will in will” as described is helpful, I am not sure it is even right. It smacks to me of Calvinist monergism with God’s secret purpose manipulating my will without my knowledge.

    I like your image of the mother and child holding hands much better, and it makes more sense to me: with God guiding, leading and teaching (whether we are conscious of it or not) rather than fighting our will to overcome it.

    There too, I think, is the universalist hope: until we achieve our purpose and ultimate happiness we will continue to seek it, while we continue to seek it God will continue to hold out his hand and lead us, and therefore no matter how long or winding the route if we keep walking (as we must) we will reach our goal, even if only by exhausting every possible way to be wrong.

    Our fundamental goal and God’s are the same, so the imagined impasse of “will on will” is impossible.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I find I no longer worry much about monergism, as both it and its opposite (synergism?) seem to be predicated upon a competitive construal of divine/human agency. The former presumes that divine agency and providence obliterates human agency; the latter that human agency requires the absence of divine agency. As long as we are trapped in this dualism, we will find ourselves bouncing back and forth between the two poles, depending on the day of the week. Somehow we need, so it seems to me, to think together both monergism and synergism.

      Hence for me, the big question is “Does God will our good?”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mike H says:

    I think it’s helpful. If nothing else, it exposes the dualism and requires that we ask if that is really the rock-bottom truth.

    A quote from John A.T. Robinson:

    “It is probable that the mental picture usually conjured up of the relation between divine omnipotence and human freedom is that of two irresistible forces each pulling in opposite directions. If, per impos­sibile, one were to gain a painful inch here or there, it could only be at the expense of the other’s loss: submission to the power of God must involve the abandonment of the freedom of man. But have we any rea­son to think that this is at all an accurate picture of what happens when will meets will in the personal relationship of love? Surely, it is grossly misleading…..

    When faced by an overpowering act of love, we realize how absurd it is to say that the freedom and integrity of our moral personality are safeguarded only if we set our teeth and determine not to allow ourselves to be won to its service. If, then, we do not lose, but rather find, our freedom in yielding to the constraining power of love, is there anything to be gained for the cause of liberty by demanding that when it is under the control of self-will it shall in the end be stronger than when it is under the control of love?

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  4. Father Alban says:

    I think the danger here is that both parties start from a fixed, dare I say immutable, belief, and then look to find the theology to justify or defend their belief. Neither are convinced by the theological arguments of the other.

    Perhaps in relation to the salvation of all, the theological virtues of hope and love are our greatest and most appropriate responses. After all, who among us does not hope and pray for the salvation of all?

    Please note: I am not saying that theology is unimportant.


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