A Most Peculiar Story: The Freedom of God and Saints

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

Some have accused the Australian writer, Gerald Murnane, of a kind of autism. It may be that his method is little more than an idiosyncratic phenomenology, though I suspect there is something more. I cannot tell whether he is in on the joke of insight or if he’s acciden­tally stumbled into the mystery of knowledge. In Border Districts, he touches upon some obses­sional images that recur in other fictions, but what I find interesting is the way he recollects medieval optics and the concept that light not only emanates from or reflects back from an object; light also emanates from the eyes and Murnane implicitly speculates that each person has a unique signature so that what they bring to each mundane object is not replicable. In his reiteration and probing of memory, Murnane attempts to cross into a farther country that I would call the future that is God and this will involve a transforma­tion as well as an alteration of our understanding of time and eternity. At the very least, eternity is not stasis, nor is it an oppositional other to time, nor is time intended to be a trajectory ending in death or endless, tedious repetition which is spiritual death. The latter is the unwitting aim of all immanent empires of self-transcendence.

When David Hart sketches out the failures of modern conceptions of freedom and sets against them the will’s necessary intrinsic relation to the Good, he is also implicitly indicat­ing that liberty is not discoverable within the limits of a world of objects or a horizon bereft of meaning because blind to the House of the Father from which all creatures journey in order to return in a dance of non-identical repetition. Note carefully: it is not just the spontaneous irrationality of libertarian conceptions that should be refused, but its individ­ualism. The freedom of the person is different, for there is a relational component that is ontological and constitutive of person and therefore not merely elective as moderns fancy. Think of it this way: in the myth of Eden, Adam in wonder reacts to the presentation of Eve with joyous reverence. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam’s cry of recognition is not just species identification. He’s not saying, “thank God, she’s not a wal­rus.” Rather, there is intimacy of origin, the acknowledgment that now the Adam sees the other that was hidden in his depths. When the Fall happens two things, identical in a way, result. Flight from God and mutual recrimination – the person is replaced with the individ­ual and along with it a desire for individual responsibility, individual deserts, a belief one could cut-off what happens to an individual without irreparably harming one’s person. Everything Christ does subverts individualist flight. So Hart declares that “at Easter, Christ’s resurrection inaugurated an akolouthia of resurrection, so to speak, in the one body of the race, an unfolding that cannot now cease (given the unity of human nature) until the last residue of sin – the last shadow of death – has vanished” (That All Shall Be Saved, p. 142). This gloss on Romans 5:18-19, 1 Corinthians 15:22 and the plethora of other Pauline texts that juxtapose Adam and Christ indicate why forgiveness of sin is ultimately the defeat of death and why healing is inextricably linked with sin as an ontological category and not, except more superfi­cially, with the moral as an end in itself.

Freedom, as Hart tirelessly explicates, is identical with well-being. “Freedom is a being’s power to flourish, as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God” (p. 172). Here, contrary to some notions of Christian freedom as an ascesis that repudiates desire, one discovers the apotheosis of all desire. “To be fully free is to be joined to that end to which our natures were originally framed, and for which, in the deepest reaches of our souls, we ceaselessly yearn” (p. 173). The common sense of the modern is sure to be baffled, however, by the implication that genuine freedom reduces choice. “Whatever separates us from that end, even if it be our own power of choice, is a form of bondage to the irrational” (p. 173). Or as Shestov remarks, “The knowledge of good and evil has no positive value, as we have always been taught, but rather a negative one … The accursed serpent deceived … The tree of knowledge does not increase our powers, but on the contrary, diminishes them” (Potestas Clavium, p. 157). And thus, the near instinctive affirmation today of diversity following certain vacuous notions of rights and liberty amounts to a serpentine deception, both flight from God and refusal of freedom in the name of freedom. Enslavement to perversity, the politicization of a vulgar and banalized language of love, the ironic assertion that the Good itself is a totalitarian imposition upon human flourish­ing follows from the twinned imbecilities of the attempt to thrive by fleeing the Source of being and an individualist ethic of nihilist liberty conceived as unconstrained choice — or, it is such a depressingly mediocre aspiration, demotic resignation before the Good fractured into mundane goods, the divine horizon that could make sense of desire lost to warring, seemingly incommen­surable idolatries, the harmonious community now at best understood as provisional rules for limiting violence and allowing the pursuit of satisfaction tied to individually defined ends. Thus, modern choice turns out to be equivalent to metaphysical despair.

Hart then reiterates that God is not a preeminent object among possible choices. God is the horizon within which all created goods find their reason, their symbolic resonance, their very desirability, so that “the suggestion, then, that God – properly understood – could not assure that a person freely will one thing rather than another is simply false. Inasmuch as he acts upon the mind and will both as their final cause and also as the deepest source of their movements, he is already intrinsic to the very structure of reason and desire within the soul” (p. 183). Sin is madness, the illusion of freedom as choice between good and evil dispelled by the Tree of Life, that is, Christ on the Cross. And so Hart points to the Christological clarity of genuine human freedom. “The very thought that Christ might have turned from God, even as an abstract potential of his human nature, would make a nonsense of both Trinitarian and Christological doctrines … it would contradict the claim that Christ is God of God, the divine Logos, the eternal Son whose whole being is the perfect expression of the Father … if human nature required the real capacity freely to reject God, then Christ could not have been fully human” (p. 189). This last seems to me theologically compelling so that the theologoumenon that human freedom requires the option of refusal of God, the eternal perdurance of libertar­ian choice into the eschaton is shown to utterly lack Christian validation. Indeed, if one joins “the dynamism of human nature … its primordial longing for the Good” to an awareness of “the inherent emptiness of evil … the finitude of evil’s satisfactions and configurations and resources” (p. 191), the plausibility of the gospel as the victory of infinite love over the determinations of finite rebellion approaches certitude. If one remembers that we are not individuals, but creatures called to be persons, persons who are person by participation in the life of Christ not as an exemplary exhortation alone, but as an ontological fact, it becomes even harder to rationally deny the eventual liberty of the sons and daughters of God, for we are actually not individuals limited to choice and separate from the others. Our very freedom is rooted in the human action of Jesus Christ, so that there is an intrinsic gravity towards glory, even if for now it is often kenotically hidden from us.

“The saint,” says Felix Ơ Murchada, “is neither the hero nor the sage because the latter are concerned only with nature. The saint, on the other hand, is concerned with ‘second nature.’ The saint is not concerned directly or primarily with things of the world; his concern with things in the world is in terms of their origin beyond the world” (A Phenome­nology of Christian Life, p. 197). And here, as I frequently do, I recollect William Des­mond’s recurring theme of the passio essendi, that giftedness of being that is always sustaining, the gift that is given, and given again, even when love is refused, because, well, love is patient and kind, but love is also importunate, desirous, wanting the return of love, and though it will be consid­ered a grave theological mistake, you know, to say that God needs his creatures, because, of course, it’s quite true that if God is God, infinite, flourish­ing plenitude is the signature of divine aseity; nonetheless, Péguy is correct when he writes:

Strange reversal, strange overturning, it’s the world upside-down.
The virtue of hope.
All the feelings that we ought to have for God,
God already began by having them for us.

The poet is quite shameless in exposing God.

He who loves places himself, by loving,
By that very act, from then on, into dependence,
He who loves becomes the slave of the one who is loved.
It’s inevitable.
He who loves falls into slavery, consigns himself, puts himself under
the yoke of slavery.
He becomes dependent on the one he loves.
And yet it’s this very situation, my child, that God made for himself, in
loving us.
God has deigned to hope in us, because he wanted to hope for us, wait
for us.

And if all that seems backwards, Péguy has already admitted it is upside-down. Yet it is perfectly fitting, unsurprising in its surprise, really, for only the God who needs nothing can choose to need; only the God of absolute generosity, of agapeic gift, who gives not for him­self, but for the good of the gifted creature, can choose to desire in utter freedom, without the constraint of potency and want, so that the eros of agape is pure, ardent desire and soft, solicitous, almost diffident hope, wooing the wild, wounded beast, hoping to bring it close, to nestle and nurture and heal — that is God, who is king in the most remarkably curious way. In all that, there is a kind of stubborn joy that is still the serene creative certitude of the Father, and in the play of antinomies that strains against our finite conceptions, the mystery of freedom.

Bulgakov talks about how the earth is never a dead object, a neutral sort of stuff awaiting the shrewd ape to shape into something useful, to project from its lonely soul a vagabond meaning and worth that ever escapes its grasp, but rather, the world is not only divine gift, it is attended upon, performed, held within the noetic heaven as wondrous secret, as life emerging from the creative Triune light that is night and darkness to all creatures, so that the tetramorph and the seraphim wonder, even as they regard, the angels, caring, and watching, and singing in order to discover the next, astonishing thing, the revelation that causes joy and amazement to arise in them. “This is the meaning of the earthly world, outlined in the heavens before its creation. There is nothing really existing (and not illusory half-being arising out of the shadow of non-being, out of the play of light and shadows) which would not be in the angelic world, in the minds, multi-eyed in contem­plation and six-winged in execution” (Jacob’s Ladder, p. 82). So, Bulgakov says that the God creates in this strange manner. The God who alone creates, from nothing, the nothing you and I and the angels come from, so nothing it is truly nothing, untouched by memory, this God who hopes, also, oddly, chooses to create in such a way that the creation, dazzled by divine fatherhood, finds within itself an energy that participates, shapes, develops. Man is a liturgical being, declares Evdokimov. Inspiration, hints Catherine Pickstock, is never a function of solitary genius, we commune with angels. And Bulgakov says that all our human arts reflect angelic praise, the earth in all its symbolic richness a doxology of theophanic beauty. And freedom, in its perfected fullness, as Berdyaev declares, is an eschatological mystery. “Absolute Man is not completely and finally revealed in the appearance of Christ the Redeemer. Man’s creative energy is directed towards the Coming Christ, towards his appearance in glory … in it human­ity is deepened to the point of divinity and divinity is made visible to the point of humanity” (The Meaning of the Creative Act, p. 321). There is an echo of Nyssan anthropol­ogy in Berdyaev. Despite his admittedly heterodox metaphysics, he remains more insightful of Christian realities than most.

And by-the-bye, here is also a refutation though not a lucid syllogism or argument, so they will not be moved, of those who might think Péguy is merely indulging anthropomorphic fantasies or that the uniqueness of God relegates analogy and the imagination to a useful crutch necessary for dependent creatures who reason and think discursively, but having nothing to do with divinity. It is true that the radical transcendence of the God recognized in classic theism precludes the personalism of a mere moral agent, however perfect. The immanence of the God is identical to his transcendence. It is true that the God is outside the duality of subject and object, so much so that advocates for Christian gnosis like Jean Borella and Wolfgang Smith speak of non-dualism in a manner distinctive, but nonethe­less reminis­cent of Hindu tradition. God knows the world by knowing himself, yes, but when a fella like Norris Clark borrows the language of intentionality or the experience of the Church as the recipient of transforming love declares that the God watches over his creatures with tenderness and concern, this is not a mere sop to finite limitations. If it were so, one might suspect the angels closer to God, the way the angels know. Yes, they were there from the beginning. The hermetic trope, as it is above, so it is below might give the ring to the elder brother, not the grubby, foolish, prodigal. Indeed, even if still infinitely removed by apophatic distance from God’s knowledge, might the angels not be closer than the human thing? Unfettered by blood and touch and the crush of emotion, they might know intelligi­bles without mess and awkwardness, opacity and wounds. But somehow, ridiculously, it isn’t so. That would be to forget the Incarnation and the divine humanity; that impossibly, it is tactile flesh, no doubt resurrected flesh, beyond our ken, yet not utterly outside our imagination, for that, too, is assumed by God, so that the angels bow down in reverent rapture at the strange freedom of the God who creates from the foundation of the world by the slain Lamb, a work of Christological poetry. Or as I think I once wrote, Christ is vates through and through. Throughout the text of That All Shall be Saved, Hart worries that his audience is captured by the black magic of an impoverished conception of freedom, so much so that he repeats a diagnosis of the paucity and frequent inanities attendant upon modern libertarian definitions of freedom. The various permuta­tions throughout the book attempt to make certain his readers begin to see past the shadow images and find release from binding chains. Not least, it is within the lurid light of the cave that infernal shades seem plausible. Because of the linkage between inadequate or false notions of freedom and despairing eschatology, Hart devotes less space to suggesting the fullness of human freedom. Theosis, of course, perhaps best greets us in the music of silence. I have redressed the balance somewhat in order to juxtapose the radical difference it makes for the way Christians might approach life and the way they might begin to think about what the Church is called to accomplish.

(Go to “Paradiso”)

* * *

Dr Moore has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas. He has been a contributor to Eclectic Orthodoxy since before the beginning of time. There is, it must be said, no truth to the rumor that he comes from a family of Druids or that he will drink only plum wine, though it is possibly true that he prefers cats to humans, allowing for exceptions. He is the author of the recently published tale of Noah and the ark, Beneath the Silent Heavens.

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42 Responses to A Most Peculiar Story: The Freedom of God and Saints

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    At the risk of incurring his wrath, here I think DBH is (a bit) wrong, or maybe I have merely misunderstood. I think it wrong to exclude freedom of choice, even arbitrary choice, from the definition of human freedom. I’d agree that it is an insufficient definition of freedom, but would argue it is a necessary part. If true freedom is unfettering from illusion and falsehood, so as to reach one’s purposed end, a number of things to me stand out:
    – if DBH is right and all must be saved or none are, we are each a uniquely necessary part of the body of Christ, and thus have our own unique purpose and therefore good within God, not just a generic good, and we cannot reach that good until our will is aligned to that particular purpose
    – deliberation is a forming of a coherent will towards an end, what we have not considered and chosen, we cannot really be said to will
    – will cannot be coerced: if we choose a good purely as a second best from that which we would have chosen had we been able to, we do not truly will that good
    – our will for God’s chosen end must also be a free choice, or our will still not be truly aligned to our created purpose, and will not be free
    I am also not sure that the model of deliberative choice which has us react to a set of external choices which spontaneously generate desires within ourselves which we then pick is a terribly good model for how it actually works. It seems to me more sensible to say that we start with a desire within ourselves and then cast about for something outside us to fulfill that desire. Deliberation and choice are a response to restrictions on the will, not additive to it: we need to choose an external object to fulfil our desire because we cannot create what we desire ourselves but must have it externally supplied. We deliberate and choose because we are limited in our choice, lacking in knowledge and power and temporal, not because these are inherent to the concept of desire. I don’t really see how desire in God entails change or necessity because in God to desire is to create, indeed to have already created, since with God, unlike us, there can be no restraint bon desire – there simply isn’t a gap between the formation of a desire and its fulfilment, a point (from God’s point if view at least) at which the desire exists but its fulfilment is not yet – they are all one simultaneous unified act.

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    • Tom says:

      Release the Kraken!

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    • DBH says:

      Where do you think I deny any of that?

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    • DBH says:

      Just curious. You have read the book? I think I state clearly (pp. 178-9, for instance) that the transcendental determination of rational will to Truth and Goodness sets the deliberative will free (pp. 185-6). The reconciliation of the gnomic will with the natural is what free union with God is.

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        A snag with having bought the electronic version of the book is that page numbers become problematical. I have nevertheless re-read the sections I think you are referring to. It may just be me but there seems a certain vacillation in the book between viewing the “gnomic” will as almost an impediment to freedom (there are references to freedom of choice being “a form of bondage to the irrational” and Christ being perfectly free meaning he had no gnomic will) and asserting that freedom consisting of the gnomic will liberated from errors and restrictions imposed by ignorance and sin. I am assuming from your reply the latter was what was meant and I have misunderstood.

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        • DBH says:

          Ah. Look, the issue of choice is fairly simple in the book. By itself, it is real—there is no determinism at the level of the empirical self, precisely because there really is a transcendental rational desire for the good. So it must be exercised wisely. But, for the same reason, the more you are set free from falsehood and cruelty, the less you need to deliberate about what is good and what really answers the desires of your nature. One never stops intending an end—choosing, if you will. But to be perfectly free is to intend with such perfect clarity of mind that one is never in the condition of not knowing what one wants or should do. One knows the truth and the truth has set one free. It’s false—and illogical, really— to think that freedom requires uncertainty about alternatives or some irrational power to will for no reason. The libertarian model simply makes no sense when you think it through.

          But do think of Christ: Did he have free will? Could he have chosen to be evil?

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          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            The libertarian model seems to confuse freedom of the will as the inherent ability to choose what to one wishes to do with there being in practice a real chance of one picking any particular choice. It’s a muddle between two slightly different meanings of the word “could”: I would say Christ “could” have chosen evil, in the sense there was nothing in fact outside himself preventing him from doing so, but there was no *actual* chance of him doing so because, being without sin, there was nothing internally within him or outside that could happen to him that could possibly prompt him to.
            From recollection you gave a good example in the book – I could in theory choose to jump out a window right now, but in reality there is no chance of me doing do because I simply have no reason to want to.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Or try this:
            Take, for instance, the classic Frank R. Stockton story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” There the handsome young courtier who has had the effrontery to conduct a romance with the king’s daughter is sentenced to the arena, where he must open one of two doors (as he chooses). Behind one waits a fierce and famished tiger, ready to devour him; behind the other, a beautiful maiden, ready to become his wife. These are the only two fates permitted him. And he does not know which door is which. The princess, watching from the gallery, does in fact know, however, and discreetly signals to him to open the door on the right. The question asked in the story concerns the princess: whether, that is, she has yielded to jealousy and has directed her lover to his death, or whether she has yielded to her love for him and sent him to the arms of another woman. But we can change the tale and ask another question. Let’s say that the young courtier, with no one to guide him, has a choice between the door behind which that damned tiger is still crouching and one behind which the girl of his dreams (say, the princess herself) is waiting. First of all, which door should he want to open? If he is perfectly sane and healthy, the one where the Lady is to be found. We can agree, I hope, that what makes his desire truly free in these circumstances is that he is not captive to some sort of insanity that would make him prefer being torn to shreds by a wild beast to being happily wedded to the woman he loves. But that means his very freedom has already reduced the range of his possible preferences toward one of the two outcomes—his freedom from delusion, that is. So, second of all, we should also then ask under which conditions he would be better able to make a truly free choice between the two doors: In a state of perfect ignorance regarding which door is which, which means that whatever choice he ultimately makes will be primarily a result of chance, only secondarily operating through his “will?” Or with a secret knowledge of which door is which, perhaps procured from a friend in the court, which allows him to choose with full rational liberty? Obviously, the latter. The more he knows, the more genuinely free his choice becomes. But then, also, the more inevitable becomes the choice he will make. In fact, in that case, it is not so much a “choice” any longer as it is a purely free movement toward a freely desired end. So let it be with you. Choose the door you know conceals the beautiful Lady whom you love rather than the ferocious tiger who would love to eat you. And keep going in that direction for as far as you can. Let the Lady (let’s call her Sophia, just to pick a name at random) take you by the hand and lead you onward toward one inevitable rational terminus after another, right up to God if possible.

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          • dianelos says:

            Dears DBH and Ian,

            I’d like to comment on this bit DBH writes: “But, for the same reason, the more you are set free from falsehood and cruelty, the less you need to deliberate about what is good and what really answers the desires of your nature. One never stops intending an end—choosing, if you will. But to be perfectly free is to intend with such perfect clarity of mind that one is never in the condition of not knowing what one wants or should do.”

            And on Ian’s example taken from TASBS: “I could in theory choose to jump out a window right now, but in reality there is no chance of me doing do because I simply have no reason to want to.”

            From our current fallen condition it may seem difficult to imagine how it is like to be a saint in heaven, or how it is like to be the incarnation of God on earth. But I have found that perfect being epistemology to work very well on these levels too. So, for example, in theodicy it is fruitful to consider which is the greatest creature one can conceive and thus the one God would want to realize, and in Christology to consider which is the greatest incarnation one can conceive and thus the way God would want to realize. We have the cognitive ability to use perfect being epistemology because we are made in the image of God and thus possess an intrinsic sense of the divine, i.e. of perfection. Theology is hard because apart from the general imperfection of our current condition our sense of the divine is limited too – but that’s what we have: a limited but real cognitive ability to understand God’s nature. Further, being made in the image of God does not only entail that we have a sense of the divine, but also that we embody the divine as an end, that we are the seed meant to grow in perfection up and until union to God. So we also have our everyday experience of life as a ground on which to base our theological thoughts. Indeed not only our soul is made in the image of God with the end of becoming in the likeness of Christ and uniting with God, but all of creation is made as a space for the realization of that atoning end.

            Now I think the example Ian mentions is relevant in this discussion for it illustrates the difference between logical and metaphysical possibility. Even in our current gravely fallen state there are many states of affairs where we are free and could make a particular bad choice, but as a matter of fact won’t. So, to mention another example, while having dinner with friends I am free and could choose to suddenly and without any reason empty my plate of pasta over my head, but my character (moral, rational, what have you) is such that I won’t in fact choose to do such a stupid thing. It is logically possible that I would choose this, but it is metaphysically impossible. It can happen in an abstract model of reality, but it won’t happen in actual reality. So I understand that DBH speaks of the metaphysical impossibility that Jesus from Nazareth in His incarnated kenotic condition would choose to sin (for if that were metaphysically possible then He wouldn’t be God incarnate), not that He lacked the freedom or couldn’t possibly (in the logical sense) choose to sin.

            Finally, about deliberation. If we take seriously the gospel account of Jesus’s prayer in the garden, the incarnated God did deliberate and was torn inside when considering the terribly difficult moral choice that faced Him. Yes, we think we know that it would be metaphysically impossible for God incarnate to choose contrary to God’s will, but this does not entail the absence of deliberation in Jesus. And, apart from the literal reading of the gospel account, my sense of the greatest possible incarnation is one where the historical Jesus did in fact suffer interior deliberation, as we all do. For if His condition was such that He didn’t have to deliberate and was free of the interior fight between good of evil that is intrinsic in the actual human condition, then Jesus wouldn’t be a moral example for us, He wouldn’t be the realization of how God wants us to be, He wouldn’t be the second Adam.
            I say that Jesus, the incarnated God, was perfect not in that He was made free from the limitation of having to deliberate inside, but in that He always overcame that limitation and chose the good. The Jesus we read in the gospel stories – the one who deliberates, who doubts, who fears, who despairs – and yet overcomes it all and always chooses the good, that Jesus is the one I find more lovely and utterly worthy of my love. That is also the Jesus who puts my own sinfulness to shame; for He too in His human nature was weak and yet freely chose to live like God wants, that is morally perfect.

            Re-reading DBH’s quote above I am thinking that perhaps there is an ambiguity in the concept of “deliberation”. The interior deliberation we suffer in our daily moral lives is not mainly one about knowing what is good, but about actually choosing it. Christ in the garden sensed the murderous evil that was encroaching upon Him, and He knew that He should not resist it. He knew His Father’s will. The deliberation was about choosing it. About making what one knows is good to what one actually chooses through the exercise of one’s free will. For by making the good one knows into what one chooses, one literally introduces that good into reality. And thus one becomes part of the atoning of all creation, one actualizes a step in God’s purpose and will for creating the world. By choosing the good we moral agents become the co-creators of the world, not in a metaphorical but in a real sense.

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          • dianelos says:

            Dear DBH,

            Sorry for moving the discussion astray, but reading your latest comment the thought came to me that the tale which makes for a better analogue of the human condition is yet a different one:

            On the arena where the knight is brought there is just a single transparent door behind which the fierce and famished tiger is waiting. And the king tells the knight that if he truly loves and wants to marry the king’s daughter then he must first open that door.

            Come to think of it, that story might be more truth-tracking than Genesis 3.

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          • Jason says:

            DBH, if you could clarify something for me please, I would greatly appreciate it. I am not a scholar, merely a layman, but I did read your book and it convinced me to embrace apokatastasis entirely (I had been about 90% there for the last decade).

            The major question I had after reading was in regard to precisely what you just asked, rhetorically: “Did [Christ] have free will? Could he have chosen to be evil?” I have always taken a libertarian model of freedom, but the way you described freedom in your book was very novel and enlightening to me. However, the thought I immediately had upon reading your section on the freedom of Christ was, how does that align with Luke 22:42? Does that not specify that Christ could have chosen a different path and will than that of the Father? You, drawing upon Christological and Trinitarian notions, detailed how Christ could not have chosen evil (non posse peccare), but I have always interpreted His prayer there as affirming His “libertarian” freedom to choose evil. Obviously that has incredible Christological and Trinitarian implications (some of which I was completely unaware of until I started researching the matter more in depth precisely because of your book), but all of that being said, I still don’t understand the prayer of Jesus there within the model of freedom you have described.

            Thank you.

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          • TJF says:

            This all makes such perfect sense regarding free will. I just have some nagging questions. Since this conception of freedom is so beautiful and logical, then why didn’t God just give us this perfect freedom in the first place? I’m sure you’ve answered this before, so please be patient with me, but I still don’t understand why He allows the things He does. Is the only real answer “I don’t know, we’ll find out?” and until then we will hope and have faith in God’s promises?

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          • DBH says:

            Well, the classic reading (Maximus, etc.) is that Christ’s desire that the Father’s will might be otherwise is not the same as the possibility that Christ might have chosen to defy the Father’s will. And in fact the text gives one no reason to think the latter.

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  2. Tom says:

    After much gnomic deliberation, I’ve freely decided to wait a while before sharing my thoughts – except to say for now, thank you Brian for so beautifully sustained a review.

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  3. Don Erickson says:

    The argument of free will always seemed pretty lame to me. My son is especially strong-willed, but when it comes to his safety and security, my fatherly will meets his strong-will with an even stronger one. There is no will stronger than a parent’s will in the work of protecting his or her child. My love and my role as father demands that I assert my will when necessary. Of course, this analogy is inexact. When it comes to God the Father, there is no will that can possibly be stronger. What God wills, naturally follows. In a match of wills, God always wins. If this is not the case, if human will beats God’s will or even produces a draw, then we cannot deem the will of God ultimate. And we resultingly cannot deem God sincerely God. If a human will stands stronger and unconvinced in the end, then we must admit God’s has either lost or in the least tied in “the war of wills.” A God that loses or ties in a war of wills is not God at all but a mere shadow of God.

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  4. dianelos says:

    “The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God.”

    The natural end of the oak seed is indeed to grow into an oak tree. But we don’t say that the oak seed has freedom because by its very nature the oak seed has no choice in the matter. (So above DBH is speaking metaphorically in order to make his analogy work.)

    The natural end of the human soul is indeed its consummation in union with God. And we say that the human soul has freedom precisely because it has a free choice in the matter. As we know from every day experience, the human soul may choose to grow towards its natural end or she may choose a different path which does not comport with her end and indeed choose a path contrary to it. If we didn’t have a choice in the matter then Christ’s ethical teaching would be rendered a charade. So what characterizes the soul that does realize its natural end is not freedom but her good use of it. Or instead of “good” we may use “rational” or “natural” or “wise”, or “open-eyed”, or whatever synonym for the “good” (i.e. God oriented) use of a power given to free creatures one may wish.

    Indeed what distinguishes the human soul from the oak tree is precisely her God-given power to choose. This much should be obvious. As should be obvious why God gave her that power. Because the goodness – the intrinsic value, the loveliness, the loveworthiness – of a seed that reaches its natural end freely is vastly greater than that of a seed that reaches its natural end mechanically. And since love wishes the greatest good for the beloved, God created the human soul having that freedom and thus the opportunity to grow into that greatest creaturely state. Which God, though the age-long care of his Son, will see to it that in the end all his creatures grow into. For what is the incarnation of Christ but the revealed demonstration that God has taken humanity into himself and will never abandon it? That is the good news.

    But the good news does not entail that repentance (to freely chose our natural end) is easy or free of pain (we know the opposite is true), but does entail that Christ will be for ever at our side. And here we find an additional reason for why God gave freedom to imperfect creatures: So that the vast beauty of Christ’s self-sacrifice for us might be realized, a beauty that illuminates creation far more than any dark shadow evil may produce. (Incidentally this is an idea which Alvin Plantinga has espoused.)

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  5. brian says:

    Nice random choice of name there for the Lady, David. Boethius, Dante, Soloviev, and Bulgakov approve. That’s exactly the sort of explanation that is both persuasive and appealing. But I think you’re too harsh about tigers . . .

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  6. “There is no free will save in resisting what one would like, and doing what the Truth
    would have him do. It is true the man’s liking and the truth may coincide, but therein he
    will not learn his freedom, though in such coincidence he will always thereafter find it, and
    in such coincidence alone, for freedom is harmony with the originating law of one’s exist-
    ence.” – George MacDonald (Donal Grant)

    I assume quotes like that is why DBH has canonized St. George of Aberdeen.

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    • “There is no free will save in resisting what one would like, and doing what the Truth
      would have him do. It is true the man’s liking and the truth may coincide, but therein he
      will not learn his freedom, though in such coincidence he will always thereafter find it, and
      in such coincidence alone, for freedom is harmony with the originating law of one’s exist-
      ence.” – George MacDonald (Donal Grant)

      I assume quotes like that is why DBH has canonized St. George of Aberdeenshire.

      Like

  7. Tom says:

    I’ll try to slip this in quietly…

    “The tree of knowledge does not increase our powers, but on the contrary, diminishes them.”

    And yet God placed the tree there and his final intentions for us require its confrontation/choice. What might that suggest?

    “The suggestion, then, that God – properly understood – could not assure that a person freely will one thing rather than another is simply false.”

    Yes. God “properly understood” is irresistible. The question for me is the role of the ‘will’ in coming to a proper understanding of God. As I see it, one chooses one’s way into that proper understanding of God. Even once we rule out the possibility of irrevocable self-alienation, we still have to address the question of the will’s movement relative to that understanding of God which finally makes rejecting him impossible.

    “…the theologoumenon that human freedom requires the option of refusal of God, the eternal perdurance of libertarian choice into the eschaton is shown to utterly lack Christian validation.”

    I completely agree – an irrevocable perdurance is out of the question. But it remains to be asked: Is such ‘liberty of will’ nonetheless a God-given capacity for our progress and eventual perfection (a perfection which brings such willing to a close though such perfection must be reached in terms of that willing)? It needn’t be capable of enduring eternally to be necessary for the movement of the will to final rest in God. (These are old topics between us; sorry to bring them up again!)

    If I may, Brian, let me ask: Would you posit a ‘conatus essendi’ in Christ? If not, is that because you take such struggle to be per se fallen?

    Tom

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Isn’t this already addressed, Tom, in that liberty will be transformed in such a way that choosing the good and only the good will become natural, as its proper end? The choice for the not-so-good will thereby have lost its appeal. The end of the not-so-good is the All in all, at which termination the vacillation is over, the only choice is God, creation has found its beginning and end. Liberty.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Maybe it’s been addressed and I’m just not seeing it. To say that the will “when transformed” will be incapable of embracing anything but the good (naturally, i.e., without deliberation or conflict) is fine. I’m with ya. The question, again, is the will’s role in achieving, arriving at, this transformation.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I would think it is, I understand intentionality to be a God given. But if you are asking, is the misuse of the will necessary, I would say no. Exhibit A: Jesus.

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          • Tom says:

            I don’t assume the misuse of the will is necessary. That doesn’t make sense. But one can also ‘deliberatively’ choose/surrender to the good.

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          • Tom says:

            And – if God can achieve in all of us the success he achieved in Christ, why didn’t/hasn’t he? I don’t see that holding up Christ as evidence for the non-necessity of en route gnomic deliberation can’t be a model for understanding how God wins over the wicked.

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          • Tom says:

            Sorry – correction – I don’t see how it…’can’…be a model, etc.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom: ” I don’t see that holding up Christ as evidence for the non-necessity of en route gnomic deliberation can’t be a model for understanding how God wins over the wicked.”

            If we follow the traditionally conceived understanding of salvation as participation in the divine life, gnomic intentionality will give way to its natural, proper mode. To no longer choose the bad over the good is to be fully human and to be Christ-like.

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        • Maximus says:

          Tom, having finished the book yesterday (and having now returned from the stratosphere into which DBH launched me with his stunning argument), I agree. I believe the answer given in the text is that long-term exposure to the purifying flames will simply bring about the will’s conversion. This—“the will’s role in achieving this transformation”—seems to be assumed as a brute fact. Transcendental determinism does the work here, I think.

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          • brian says:

            It’s not assumed as a brute fact, Maximus. When Hart argues that God is both final cause and inner entelechy of all human desire, he is proposing God as the transcendental Good that orients all genuine choosing. So, that is not determinism unless one is going to define being a creature a determinism, which is what the resentiment of nihilism habitually does. One then is alienated from the “condition of possibility” that makes genuine freedom (theosis) a destiny of liberation. But then again, as Bulgakov says, God surpasses our finite conceptions, so that what we consider necessity and freedom are both entailed within the sui generis liberty of the Triune God. That God is never anything but love is not a constraint on his freedom because he cannot not be love.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Maximus says:

            Brian, thanks for the response and for your rich meditations on the book. I was (I think) using “transcendental determinism” as Hart uses it (cf. 177-86), as opposed to an “immanental” construal of determinism. He gave compelling arguments concerning man’s natural desire for God, I do agree, but he left me unsatisfied concerning the will’s final transition from darkness to light, form slavery to liberation. How might God *guarantee* this transition in all rational creatures without some form of immanental determinism? Stating that we all are “doomed to happiness, so long as our natures follow their healthiest impulses unhindered” (41) doesn’t, in my mind, explain why all men will eventually follow those healthiest impulses, and what precisely it is that “unhinders” them in that moment. It seems that final causality only takes Hart so far in the book, and appeals to destiny must do the remaining work. But perhaps there’s a relevant passage I have overlooked.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Maximus here’s how I envision it. The guarantee and possibility of the transition from darkness to light is God, as the All in all and creation’s proper end – a guaranteed anchored in and enabled by the achievement of the incarnation. Even so, this does not negate, marginalize or otherwise diminish the will’s free choice for the good, the existential and successive recognition of the good as the good. This is process, a journey, a growth, a voluntary ecstacy of the self to the embrace of the Other made possible by the Other, an epekstasis to the ever unfolding horizon which is the revelation of inexhaustible fount of life and liberty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All other would-be goods will be known by all as imposters to the Good.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            The question of determinism gets tricky at the transcendental level, doesn’t it? It cannot mean what we typically think it means, just as freedom cannot mean what we typically think it means. Neither libertarianism nor compatibilism accurate describe the divine-human relationship. We are, as Brian notes, creatures—created by the Good with an insatiable appetite for the Good. In other words, we are not created in a “neutral” stance over against our Creator. Does that violate our liberty?

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          • Maximus says:

            Thank you, Fr Aidan and Robert. I will continue to contemplate these teachings, and your input (along with Brian’s) certainly gives fodder for thought. Admittedly, I’m still not convinced. I read this approach as analogous to Calvin’s irresistible grace, yet applied, in this case, to all men via Christ’s incarnation. That statement is *not* meant pejoratively, but only a way of stating my belief that the Spirit’s grace is resistible (Acts 7:51). I believe that possibility of resistance perdures, even into the eternal state, and even in the midst of our created directionality toward the Good. If we have the “power” to resist now, tomorrow, and at any point along this mortal coil, it seems that our power to choose/resist will always remain—even, possibly, to the point of permanently hardening into obstinance. Perhaps God will forever beckon all His image-bearing creatures to return to Him; yet precisely (and paradoxically) because of that divine image, I do not think He can *guarantee* they will come.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            You are most welcome, Maximus. I am delighted you have found and are finding these conversations stimulating.

            Liked by 2 people

          • NicholasofKentucky says:

            Maximus,

            I hope that in stepping into this conversation, I don’t further confuse matters. Further, I wouldn’t hope to respond on behalf of Brian, David, or Robert, all of whom possess an intellect revealing a higher state of epektasis than my own.

            With all of that said, I would like to hazard an explanation of the idea of the grace of the Spirit in relation to the salvation of the many. Firstly, it seems to me that what is at issue is not the resistance to the Spirit as such, but rather whether or not one can completely resist the influence of the Spirit. One example that immediately comes to mind is that of Paul, who in his own obstinance, demonstrated a great resistance to Christ and His Church. And yet, despite this, God was able to reach him in his state of utter rejection (cf. 1 Tim. 1:13-16). In light of this, I would humbly suggest that it is indeed Paul who should function in the imagination of the Church as the “chief of sinners” rather than the apostate Judas.

            If I may try your patience with a second analogy, it would be this: imagine, if you will, someone who listens to a piece of music that they end up ultimately despising. They do not want to hear any more of it, nor any more about it. Could it then be said that, in listening to this piece of music and seeing it as worthless, they have then rejected the effect that it has had on their tastes in music? Certainly not, as that would ultimately constitute a rejection of their own rejection. Therefore, it is my opinion that the “no” of any sinner could best be thought of as a sort of apophatic theology in practice. For every “image” of God that they reject, they move one step closer to the true Imago Dei. In other words, in every act of discursive thought, one is slowly coming to realize their complete Image in Christ. In Adam, we have been shattered, but in the calling and grace of God, we are put back together by His aid.

            Now, as to what that Image constitutes, it seems to me that Origen is right in identifying it with the new creature that we are in Christ (Comm. on the Epistle to the Romans: Books 1-5, p. 101). This would make it nonsense to speak of resisting God from within the Image of God, as it seems to me that you have done in your last statement. As the Lord says, a house divided against itself…

            In hoping for all things to be well,
            Nicholas

            Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I concur Nicholas and well put – it is then a question as to what is understood by the Imago Dei and the nature of freedom. Can it be said that one is truly free without God, that rational intentionality can be said to be properly free if not directed towards its first and final cause? If answered affirmatively, as it appears Maximus seems to be saying, then Imago Dei is really Imago Inferni. Freedom so construed holds the ultimate triumph over the Good, into infinity able to reply, “thank you, but no thank you – I found something better than you, my own personal freedom.” The ultimate dualism cast into the fabric of eternity – a perduring insanity masquerading as the perfectly free, raising its middle finger skyward in unending rebellion.

            For the life of me I can’t see how that can possibly be the Evangel.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. brian says:

    Hi Tom and Robert,

    I surmise from the back-and-forth that the question about Christ and the conatus essendi is perhaps really a question about Christ and the gnomic will. Here is what I think about Christ. The suckling babe would not be able to explain the Pythagorean theorem. Knowledge grows. The psyche of the human being develops. All that is true of Christ as of any human. The difference between Christ and ourselves is that his ego formation is not in any way alienated from the Good. Tom, you appreciate Loder. Loder shows how the ambiguities of the Fall, not necessarily even the evils, per se, create tensions and difficulty for fallen, finite beings. I don’t think this is the case for Christ. HIs psychic development takes place within an integrity that we lack. He was not at any time “fractured.” Paul Quay has an interesting book on this, The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God. So, Christ experiences conatus essendi, a striving towards perfection with regards to development from a babe to an adult, but he does not experience this in the way development occurs for fallen humanity where the Good is opaque to varying degrees due to sin. No doubt, Christ’s awareness of the Father as a child of twelve astonishing the doctors in the Temple increased as his human capacities increased, but alignment with the Good never deviated. In that respect, Christ was always “choosing the Good,” i.e., “the will of his Father.”

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  9. Tom says:

    Robert: If we follow the traditionally conceived understanding of salvation as participation in the divine life, gnomic intentionality will give way to its natural, proper mode. To no longer choose the bad over the good is to be fully human and to be Christ-like.

    ————-

    Usually the indented conversations show up in my WordPress feed in a way that allows me to respond there, but for some reason this last comment of yours, Robert, wouldn’t allow me a response. So I’m bringing it out here. Sorry.

    I just wanted to say – Yes, of course, salvation is participation in Christ, a participation in which the will eventually rests in a final Christ-likeness. The question/issue I’m raising recognizes and agrees with this but is antecedent to it. I don’t know how to ask the question any differently than I have. It’s not about the possibility of gnomic will in Christ (Thank you Brian for responding to the conatus essendi question). It regards the rationale for the God-given capacity for deliberation in us. For if God can secure a risk-free journey of human life from womb to final perfection (i.e., Christ), without even the possibility of sin, the why didn’t God do that for us? Why not foreclose the capacity of gnomic deliberation in us all if human nature can reach its fullness without such capacity? But God obviously didn’t foreclose on it, since the possibility of sin does define humanity in our case (even if not in Christ’s). Saying Christ represents the freedom we’re destined for doesn’t tell us why that freedom obtains in him quite differently than how it’s achieved in us (not due ‘to’ the fall but constitutive of the fall’s ‘possibility’ in us). That difference is important, I think, but it doesn’t seem to be part of the larger conversation re: the will.

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    • brian says:

      Tom,

      A theological anthropology is going to have to wrestle with these questions, but I’m dubious you’re going to find the sort of answers you are looking for. There’s something about Christ being both alpha and omega that is telling without elucidating all that we would like to be explained. The “anterior time” of divine relation to creation that O’Murchada adverts to is also the eschatological destiny where the future is not a time moving towards death, but time moving ever further into God. Christ leads us into an ontological flourishing whereby the truth of us is deathless, unified, joyous, and beautiful. I suspect from eternity that is who and what we have always been. This does not mean the Fall is purely illusory or that our griefs are thereby discounted. Far from it, and anyone who seeks to run from that horror or sweep it under the rug is performing bad theology. But I suspect from that eschatological vantage point, we may discover this baffled and confused question which is quite legitimate — “why permit this, abba?” will appear somehow a bad question rooted in our current finitude and ignorance. But that is not an argument either philosophical or theological, just an intuition, and meanwhile I wrestle with immense sorrow and rage at the misery of earth in bondage.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Grant says:

    The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has indeed no positive value and is a diminishment of ourselves, and the whole order of creation. I think people get hung up on the word knowledge without reflecting that the Tree of Life is Christ who is the Truth and so true knowledge and wisdom in it’s fullness. The presence of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the symbol and reality of the fallen order of creation, both happening and coming to awareness of, and complex consequences at all levels are imaged in the narrative story from the context of both a human perspective and of humans as the royal priesthood of creation summing up the Fall in the context of their (our) own actions and movements and conquests. Yet they never partake of the Tree of Life and are in emergence and narrative under and move towards and with fallen world around and within them, the snake both as animal and higher spiritual realities and beings, to the expulsion, division, damaged creation in which death reigns, painful birth and painful and fruitless labour, hostile relations to creation and both animal and plants, divisions with the celestial, with each other and our own nature (all also already present at the beginning even as the story shows it’s emergence, we remain of earth which we are from and not of the celestial, not the new ‘spiritual’ Adam). Out union with all creation, with the serpent and what lies with and behind it (being of the earth, and of union with animal, plant and earthly creation) and by the breath with spiritual realm and so spirits and angels, it shows the mystery of creation turning to non-being, to nothing and not realizing it’s true nature in Christ (the Tree of Life). This is not ever full understood, and only known as something only partly seen in our lives and creation, only seen as a dream and vision afar of, of Eden but the sword of fire, our enslavement to death, and away from true understanding, freedom, life and knowledge, from Truth keeps us until the Son, promised and yet to hope enters and breaks open Paradise and removes the fiery sword, breaking the power that held us enslaved, bring truth that is Himself to us, until all things are brough under Him, opening and drawing all to the Tree of Life until that of the knowledge of good and evil vanishes and is swallowed up it the true Knowledge, Truth, Wisdom, Being and Life.

    The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the Fall itself, and creation under the fallen condition and the curse and privation that is part of it, of a creation and ourselves interlinked that has fallen short of the glory of God we are called to (the Tree of Life), and it’s knowledge is that of someone suffering mental illness and deep depression who knows what mental health and mental illness due to not having a clear mind (they are aware what is wrong with them, but with severe illness they often can only to an extent, depending on the mental illness and the degree, what a healthy and sound mental function is, something I can attest to at least to a limited extent), or a person with life-long physical illness or infirmity understands illness and health and wholeness by not being whole. And both these are more extreme aspects of the fallen reality we are all under, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it’s fruit, of death, and lack of truth. Of course neither analogy in perfect in that healthy people both mentally and physically remain around to which (depending on the extent of the impairment or illness, they can compare and understand their condition), rather we are so those who are all ill into which Christ has revealed what health and wholeness both look like and hoped the way and draws and heals us back to a true selves. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it’s knowledge is the twisted illusion and diminished vision caused by death and sin, a false image of ourselves and creation, a fractured and shattered mirror in which we only see glimpses of the Good and understand what Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Love really is, and what creation and ourselves truly is, until Christ breaks in, frees us and continually shatters illusions, heals hurts and brings true knowledge and wisdom bringing us to partake of Himself the Tree of Life, and so freeing all creation to true choice and to be what it is called to be, our and it’s true self in Him, until all is brought under Christ, and handing over the Lordship, the new and second Adam bringing all creation fully in the Tree of Life, will the Father be all in all.

    I also don’t see the tree of knowledge of good and evil place their in the myth as a choice offered by God, but rather showing the reality of our fall from our call to being, to our true selves in Christ, the tree being our already confusion and turn from participation in God in Christ, to mistaking the creature and creation for the Creator, to in that call into being mistake the true nature of ourselves and the transcendent call that is God and fall and twist, that was inherently a twist into nothing, stunting us, and so away from the Tree of Life and to creation under the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, inherently an illusion, the twisted image of the true tree. This only would be an inherent and realized possibility of calling things which are inherently finite, including rational and noetic things into which the living creation is interlinked and intertwined into being, of the self giving and agepic space to respond and develop which allows of potential mistake and confusion in that free response, leading to the troubled realization and futility in which creation and ourselves travail like a difficult childbirth, which God allows but surrounds and sustains, enters, comes and helps free all from it’s wasteland wondering and wooing and restoring as back and out into the full and true selves and creation freed from the futility and confusion we have enslaved ourselves too.

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  11. brian says:

    Nicely stated Nicholas of Kentucky. “it is my opinion that the “no” of any sinner could best be thought of as a sort of apophatic theology in practice. For every “image” of God that they reject, they move one step closer to the true Imago Dei” reminds me of Dostoevsky’s claim that a certain kind of principled atheism is the next rung below the saint.

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  12. NicholasofKentucky says:

    Robert,

    I agree that it is quite difficult to see the Gospel of the Lord in those coarse terms of sheer selfishness. It is odd to me that we as Christians speak of the wheat and chaff without imagining that we’ve potentially brought some of the chaff with us into our readings of the Bible. After all, where is the best place for the Accuser to hide other than as an eternally secure aspect of the Divine?

    Inspired somewhat by the Russian understanding of Christ as the beggar who seeks to awaken compassion in the hearts of men by begging, I find it helpful in these matters to think of the condescension of the Truth into a truth (à la DBH in The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 5) as potentially being Christ opening Himself up in part to being rejected as a truth, so as to point more fully towards the Truth.

    In hoping that all things shall be well,
    Nicholas

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