God, Synergism, and Human Freedom: It’s More Mysterious Than You Imagine

fe2001-swamped-rowboat_zpse1dd1570.jpg~original.jpeg

God is the infinite source and ground of all reality: he therefore transcendently causes every­thing that is and everything that occurs. Such must be the case, for the divine act of creation is not a one time event but the eternal gifting of existence. For this reason Chris­tian theolo­gians have distinguished between the primary causality of the Creator and the secondary causality of created beings. Diogenes Allen explains:

Divine creative activity and a complete scientific account of the relations between the members of the universe do not exclude each other because different kinds of causality are involved in each case: the constant creative activity of God that gives each creature its existence and nature, and the causal relations between creatures studied by the sciences. (Christian Belief in a Postmodern World, pp. 165-166)

We now need to ask the question, How does God actualize his providential purposes in the world? If God’s purposes were restricted to physical phenomena, we could confidently declare that “God achieves God’s intentions through the natural operations of the physical natures God gives to creatures” (p. 166). But God has also made human beings in his image, upon whom he has conferred the gift of free-will, with whom he has entered into covenant, to whom he has made temporal and eschatological promises. How can God effectively fulfill his providential ends if his human agents are free to resist him and subvert his well-laid plans? What if we swamp the synergistic rowboat?

At this point controversial words like “determinism” and “predestination” immediately come to mind. Eastern Christianity has traditionally rejected all formulations of predesti­nation that seem to compromise or violate the freedom of the human agent. The following patristic quotations may be deemed representative:

We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punish­ments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions-whatever they may be. (St Justin Martyr, I Apol. 43)

This expression “How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not” [Matthew 23:37] set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, posses­sing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv. Haer. IV.37.1)

We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue…. Bear in mind, too, that virtue is a gift from God implanted in our nature, and that He Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His co-operation and help we cannot will or do any good thing. But we have it in our power either to abide in virtue and follow God, Who calls us into ways of virtue, or to stray from paths of virtue, which is to dwell in wickedness, and to follow the devil who summons but cannot compel us” (St John of Damascus, Expos. II.30)

We might describe the position expressed in these citations (and dozens more could be easily provided) as a commonsensical understanding of the relationship between divine causality and human freedom. The authors posit a conflict between the action of God and the free actions of personal agents. Free-will requires the restriction of God’s omnipotent activity. Paul Evdokimov was fond of quoting this patristic saying: “God can do everything, except constrain us to love him.”

We need a definition of a free action. Perhaps the following might pass muster with most of the Church Fathers: an action by a human agent is free if it is caused by the agent him­self and not by any thing else. If someone slips a drug into my Coca-Cola, and I start to do strange and uncharacteristic things, like running naked down the street, my actions are judged not to have been done freely. I am acting under the influence of the drug. If some­one puts a gun to my head and commands me to give him all my money, the transfer of funds is judged not to have been a free and meritorious action on my part. It was done under the threat of violence. I am morally responsible only for the actions I have volun­tarily chosen. I may thus be said to have acted freely if, and only if, I do something and nothing else made me do it. Free actions are self-determined and uncoerced.

One might even say that a free action is uncaused, in the sense that it is not caused by a power or agency external to the person. This does not mean, however, that a free action is unmotivated. Herbert McCabe elaborates:

There are always reasons and motives for free actions. You can say why Fred did this. We can even in English say ‘What made him do it?’ meaning what reason did he have for doing it. When we speak of what made him do it in that sense we are certainly not denying that he did it freely. To assign a reason or motive to an action is not, however, to talk about the cause of the action; it is to analyse the action itself. An action that was caused from outside could not be done for a reason, or at least not for the agent’s reason. If by devious chemical or hypnotic means I cause Fred to eat his left sock, then he does not have a reason for doing it (though he may think he has), it is I who have a reason for his doing it, for the action is really mine, not his. Free actions, then, are uncaused though they are motivated and done for reasons; and these motives and reasons do not take away from freedom but rather are essential to it. (God Matters, p. 13)

I do not know how contemporary philosophers would assess this construal, but it seems to accord with the patristic affirmation of free-will. But there’s a problem. Do you see it? If you don’t, you might want to go back and re-read the articles on double agency and synergism.

Zimzum01X_zps3e1b5556.jpg~original.jpegOkay, here’s the deal. We assume that personal freedom requires independence from God’s direct causal activity. To be free is to be autonomous. If God were to cause humans actions, human beings would be reduced to automata. Perhaps we even start imagining scenarios where God restricts his omnipotence and creates a space (let’s call it a freedom-zone) within himself for human beings to freely live and be.  With Jürgen Moltmann we might even appeal to the Kabbalistic concept of the Tzimtzum to secure creaturely independence.

It just seems so obviously correct that God cannot cause our freely chosen actions. Yet when we posit the metaphysical incompatibility between divine agency and human agency, we are ultimately treating God’s creative action as external to the human agent, as a violent move­ment that would compel him or her to do something or become something against his or her will. In essence we are introducing God’s transcendent causality into the finite field of interacting causalities? Yet as we have seen in this series, that is precisely not how we want to think about the inconceivable relationship between divine and human agency!

I feel like I am now treading onto thin Orthodox ice, but perhaps only because Orthodox philosophy has not devoted much time and energy thinking about this specific dimension of human freedom. In the first millennium the Eastern Church needed to confront and deny pagan fatalism—hence its joyous proclamation of human freedom. But to be honest, Eastern elucidations of synergism have been historically superficial. As Robert W. Jenson (unfairly?) jibes, Byzantine and Orthodox theologians just stopped thinking about the subject. The Latin Church, on the other hand, needed to confront Pelagianism and assert the priority and gratuity of divine grace and has therefore addressed the question of divine and human agency in great depth—but unfortunately St Augustine took a wrong turn and dragged the Western Christianity down the dark road of the massa damnata and absolute predesti­na­tion. Calvin’s decretum horribile a thousand years later was but the logical conclusion.

Fr Patrick Reardon states that the synergistic theology of St Maximus the Confessor, canonized at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, recognizes “the logical impasse inherent in the concept of freedom.” Eastern theology has thus prudently steered away from trying to figure out what cannot be figured out. “If the freedom of man is inherently mysterious (indeed, aporetic),” he asks, “what shall we say of the freedom of God?” The caution may be prudent, but is it always helpful? It becomes unhelpful, I submit, when it hinders us from recognizing the divine causality that necessarily underpins divine-human synergism. Reading popular Orthodox treatments of synergy one discerns little mystery if any at all—just two personal agents rowboating together to accomplish a common goal.

The one theologian I have found most stimulating on this question has been Herbert McCabe.  He makes two points critical for our reflection. First, God transcends all creaturely activity, absolutely and infinitely:

God’s activity, then, does not compete with mine. Whereas the activity of any other creature makes a difference to mine and would interfere with my freedom, the activity of God makes no difference. It has a more fundamen­tal and important job to do than making a difference. It makes me have my own activity in the first place. I am free; I have my own spontaneous activity not determined by other creatures, because God makes me free. Not free of him (this would be to cease to exist), but free of other creatures.

The idea that God’s causality could interfere with my freedom can only arise from an idolatrous notion of God as a very large and powerful creature—a part of the world. We see an ascending scale of powerful causes. The more powerful the cause, the more difference it makes. And we are inclined to locate God at the top of the scale, and to imagine that he makes the most difference of all. But God does not make the most difference. He makes, if you like, all the difference—which is the same as making no difference at all. (Faith Within Reason, pp. 75-76)

And again:

So neither motives nor dispositions are causes of action; it remains that a free action is one which I cause and which is not caused by anything else. It is caused by God. From what we were saying last time it will, I hope, be clear that this is not the paradox that it seems at first sight, for God is not anything else. God is not a separate and rival agent within the universe. The creative causal power of God does not operate on me from outside, as an alternative to me; it is the creative causal power of God that makes me me.

Consider how we decide whether or not Fred acted freely in eating his left sock. We look round to see what might have accounted for his behaviour by acting upon him, we look for drugs and hypnotism and infection of the brain, we look for blind powers operating from below the level of con­scious­ness. What we don’t do is look for God. And this is not just because we have forgotten him or don’t believe in him; it is because it would be irrele­vant. To be free means not to be under the influence of some other creature, it is to be independent of the other bits of the universe; it is not and could not mean to be independent of God.

It is, of course, our image-making that deceives us here. However hard we try, we cannot help picturing God as an individual existent, even an indivi­dual person, making the world or controlling it like the potter making a pot or as an artist making a statue. But the pot is in the same world as the potter, the statue shares a studio with the sculptor. They interact with each other. To, to put it the other way, the potter is outside the pot he makes, the sculptor is outside the statue. But when we come to the creator of every­thing that has existence, none of that could be true. God cannot share a world with us—if he did he would have created himself. God cannot be outside, or alongside, what he has made. Everything only exists by being constantly held in being by him. (God Matters, pp. 13-14)

The proposition that God limits his omnipotence in order to secure the possibility of human freedom is a logical impossibility. If omnipotence means anything it means that God ulti­mately causes everything that actually happens. We may wish to make a distinc­tion between God’s ordaining will and his permissive will; but we must not overlook the most obvious consequence of the creatio ex nihilo: everything that happens happens because God wills it to be; otherwise, it would not happen at all. I suggest that the idea that God can restrict his omnipotence has more in common with 18th century Deism than with the transcendent, sovereign monotheism of catholic Christianity. God is God, not a being.

Second, God directly causes the free actions of humanity.  We come now to the most important and incisive passage in McCabe’s writings on God and human freedom:

I am free in fact, not because God withdraws from me and leaves me my independence—as with a man who frees his slaves, or good parents who let their children come to independence—but just the other way round. I am free because God is in a sense more directly the cause of my actions than he is of the behaviour of unfree beings. In the case of an unfree creature its behaviour is perhaps its own (in the case of a living thing—for this is what we mean by a living thing), but is also caused by whatever gave it its structure and what­ever forces are operating on it. We can give an account of the behaviour of the dog (or we would like to be able to give an account of the behaviour of the dog) in terms of such causal factors. And may we could go back and explain these causal factors in other more general terms of physics and so on. It is only at the end of such a long chain that we come to the end of this kind of scientific explanation and ask the most radical question of all: yes, but how come any of this instead of nothing? God does bring about the action of the dog, but he does so by causing other things to cause it.

God brings about my free action, however, not by causing other things to cause it, he brings it about directly. The creative act of God is there imme­diately in my freedom. My freedom is, so to say, a window of God’s creating; the creativity of God is not masked by intermediate causes. In human free­dom we have the nearest thing to a direct look at the creative act of God (apart, says the Christian, from Christ himself, who is the act of God).

We are free not because God is absent or leaves us alone, we are free because God is more present—not of course in the sense that there is more of God there in the free being, but in the sense that there is nothing, so to say, to distract us. God is not acting here by causing other things to cause this act, he is directly and simply causing it. So God is not an alternative to freedom, he is the direct cause of freedom. We are not free in spite of God, but because of God. (God Matters, pp. 14-15)

I can tell you I have mulled on this passage for several years. I invite you to mull on it, if not for several years, at least for a few days and weeks. I know all the questions that are popping into your mind—how does this impact the Orthodox, Catholic, Arminian, and Reformed understandings of human cooperation with divine grace? what does this mean for predes­tination? how do we reconcile this with the reality of evil?—but I suggest that you tempo­rarily put those questions to the side and just ponder on McCabe’s key claim:

God’s is the direct, unmediated, uncreated cause of human freedom and therefore the direct, unmediated, uncreated cause of all free human actions.

Human Freedom is mystery grounded in transcendent Mystery.

(3 February 2014; rev.)

(Return to first article)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to God, Synergism, and Human Freedom: It’s More Mysterious Than You Imagine

  1. Kyle says:

    I really want to know how you do reconcile this with the reality of evil. From they very beginning you say that “God is the infinite source and ground of all reality: he therefore transcendently causes everything that is and everything that occurs.” And this line of thought is peppered throughout the rest of the post. Is it not then a proper inference to conclude that God also wills all evil? If so, that’s problematic; theologically speaking it’s contrary to Christian thought. I do realize and understand the post to be about human freedom, but unless I have wildly misunderstood the point, I can’t but see this inference.

    Like

    • He creates our freedom, but he doesn’t force us to use it one way or another. Although admittedly when you zoom in it starts to get confusing. Like I choose to thrust a knife into some guy: God is sustaining my arm and hand and the knife in being and motion towards the other guys heart. Would be curious to hear DBH’s analysis tbh

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Kyle, I wish I could give you a convincing answer to your good question, but I do not know a good answer. David B. Hart has written a helpful book that I can recommend: The Doors of the Sea, and he takes us part of way. Herbert McCabe also addresses the question of evil in a couple of his books. But in the end, we remain confronted with the question: Why the horrific suffering? How can this suffering be reconciled with the Christian claim that God is perfectly good and loving?

      Does God will evil? I think the answer must be no and yes. No–the presence of evil, suffering, and death in the world is contrary to his good will for the world. It was not part of God’s original plan, as it were. Yes–in that God sustains in being the realities and events that cause such terrible suffering. This yes and no is what led theologians to distinguish between God’s ordaining will and his permissive will; but that is just an intellectual answer that brings little comfort to those who suffer grievously.

      It is precisely at this point that the Christian turns to God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ and his victory over evil in his death and resurrection. Is it a good enough answer to our cries? That, I think, is for the individual believer to discover as he or he endures the suffering the world inflicts upon him. Ultimately, what we need is not a philosophical solution to the conundrum, but the grace to endure in the hope that the risen Christ will finally wipe away all our tears and raise us into glorified life in his Kingdom. I try to hold onto this hope every day, sometimes only barely. Hence the need for prayer and asceticism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bob says:

        Thanks Father Aidan,
        That’s the best summary and response to theodicy,evil and suffering I’ve seen.

        Like

      • Kyle says:

        Forgive me for asking this, Fr Aidan Kimel, but were you the author of the article? I am new here and I don’t see any name attached to the article.  

        I realize that the problem of evil can’t be fully answered in this life and I was probably not as clear as I could have been with my question.  My question wasn’t really intended to be about the problem of evil in general (and all of the questions that typically come attached to it).  It just seemed to me that one could infer from the article itself that God actually wills evil, given how the author describes God as ‘the cause of all that is and all that occurs; that creation is not a one time event, but an eternal gifting of existence’.  This struck me as strange, especially since DBH makes it beautifully clear in Meditation 1 of TASBS that God’s ordaining and permissive wills collapse given the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, thus God simply can’t will evil as an end without becoming a moral monster.  Given this, it seemed to me that by saying God’s creative act is eternal and not a one time event, doesn’t it follow that in each moment God’s ordaining and permissive wills collapse?  And if so, doesn’t that actually mean God wills evil as an end in each moment?

        True, the first meditation has nothing to do with theodicy, or even what God permits here and now, but rather walks through the implications of God’s moral character if the damned are in fact separated from God in any final matter at creations final presentation.  But it seems to me that by saying in the article that God’s creative act is eternal, happening at every moment, then he is always willing it as an end; each moment of time is that end.   Have I misunderstood something

        I appreciate the reply.  I have yet to read The Doors of the Sea, but I have purchased it.

        Like

    • Atno says:

      I think Christians have to accept the fact that the evil around us was indeed willed by God. Not for its own sake, but for the sake of greater goods which could not be achievable without this much evil and suffering. I realize this position can be hard to swallow, but I don’t think there’s any alternative – from the perspective of God’s creative act, God could probably could have created a world just like ours and providentially arrange it so that all of us only ever freely chose to do good things. But that’s not the world He chose. He favored a world in which we freely choose to sin, and in which we suffer horribly (though, for universalists, all the evil and suffering is strictly temporary and will not be in the “end result”).

      Because of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, resourcefulness, etc., I think we have no choice but to accept that, somehow, all this suffering really will lead to something better in the end. And while it might sound callous, I do find it plausible to some extent – soul-building theodicies, the flourishing of compassion and solidarity that might last forever, etc.

      For those who don’t find any plausibility in available theodicies, I think the best position is just to accept some mystery or limitation on our part – God really did choose a world with evil instead of no-evil, but somehow this will be worth it. We might not know why, but then again we do not have a “God’s eye” point of view. We are far too limited, and that’s it.

      Personally, I agree with philosopher Alexander Pruss when he says that, given an infinitely long afterlife of bliss and happiness, even a 100 years of extreme suffering in this life is *literally* less than the blink of an eye when compared to eternity, and it does seem plausible that an infinite afterlife would allow God to fully redeem, compensate, sublimate, etc. every temporary evil.

      These are just intellectual answers, however. They generally won’t help much if a person is in distress or suffering from severe emotional issues; comfort and support is needed in this case, not arguments.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Atno,

        There are a few problems with the idea of God ‘willing evil for the sake of good’. This is not to say that God does not ‘will the possibility’ of evil, which is to say he ‘wills to permit’ evil. And this ‘possibility of evil’ is (I agree) a necessary beginning of creation’s movement from origin to end in God. But to say God ‘wills evil itself’ for the ‘sake of greater goods’ not achievable without ‘this much evil and suffering’ is to say much more, and it runs you into the real problem of evacuating our terms (like good, just, benevolent) of meaning.

        You also equivocate when you argue that (a) the good for which God creates is not achievable without all our evil, but also that (b) God could have created our world while providentially precluding evil by having us freely choose only good. If (b) is part of your reasoning about ‘this’ world, then (a) is in trouble, for (a) argues there is a good which is ‘not achievable except in/through all our evil’. If (a) is true, (b) has to be false, for (a) just means God cannot achieve ‘the good for which he creates’ without all our evil.

        I don’t think God could create a world in which sentient creatures are capable both of only of choosing good and of final union with God. The ‘possibility’ of choosing awry, of misrelation, is God-given, and we have to assume that capacity is necessary to our movement from origin to end in God; and that may also mean God knows misrelation and evil will eventually arise, but always as alien and privative of God’s good purposes which God achieves ‘in spite of’ any evil.

        But once you posit a genuine ‘utility’ in/to ‘all our evil’ which creation’s final good metaphysically requires, you’re writing evil into creation’s good story in an abiding way; evil (to borrow a DBH turn of phrase) ‘manufactures a positive moment’ in the final creation/manifestation of the Good in creation. Evil remains eternally in the constructive supporting role it plays in the actual composition of the good. So Paul’s thought in Rom 8 for example (that all creation’s suffering will ‘not be comparable to the glory revealed in us’) would be false, for evil on your view is very much comparable to that final glory if that glory is not achieved ‘in spite of evil that privates’ but precisely ‘because of and through the mediation of evil’ which ‘make that glory possible’. And this latter view is, for me, intolerable. I struggle to see how a truly Christian story can embrace it.

        Tom

        Liked by 2 people

        • Atno says:

          Tom, I am aware that some people find it intolerable (I don’t – as long as all the evil we perceive can be fully redeemed and compensated for, leading to a much greater eternal end result than we could have had without any suffering – and remember, even a trillion years, let alone a 100 years, is but the blink of an eye in the face of eternity – then it does seem perfectly rational to me, and my “problem” would be mostly emotional. Again, this is not to will the evil qua evil, but only as a temporary condition for forming greater permanent goods – such as heightened, truly lived and experienced compassion, charity, solidarity, etc – that will subsist for eternity long after evil has been utterly defeated).

          As I said, I don’t think we can avoid this in any way. Your suggestion that God could NOT “create a world in which sentient creatures are capable both of only of choosing good and of final union with God” strikes me as very implausible, for we are talking about an omnipotent, omniscient God who, through Providence, can achieve all of His goals without disrespecting creaturely freedom. In fact, your position would seem to threaten universalism, since universalists must believe God is able to make it so that everyone *freely* chooses to choose virtue, love, and God at the end.

          There are other issues here as well. For simplicity, let’s imagine only one person in creation, Bob. Bob has in fact freely sinned. But then it must be that it was possible for Bob *not* to have sinned. If such was possible, couldn’t God in His wisdom have arranged the world so as to prevent this? In creatio ex nihilo, couldn’t God have created the possible world in which Bob never sins instead? If so, then God has freely decided to create the world in which sin happens. If not, then not only is this implausible, but then in which sense was Bob really free in his sinning, if he couldn’t have done otherwise not even with God’s help? In this case, ironically, God would be more like the Calvinist creator who makes automatons – in this case, automatons that were always only capable of sin. This is a much harder pill to swallow, in my view.

          So, again, I think we really have no option. We have to settle for classical, evil-ultimately-leads-to-greater-goods (at the very least, temporary evil) theodicy. If you find this “intolerable”, I don’t know what to say, except that I really don’t see anything irrational with such a picture.

          Notice also that this does not imply that God could not achieve the good of creation without evil, only that He could not achieve *some* great goods. The theodicist doesn’t have to hold that a world without (at least temporary) evil would not be good, only that a world with temporary evils can be greater or lead to a greater end result for creatures. Not because of evil per se, but because the nature of our finitude is such that our greater growth and appreciation for true compassion, forgiveness, love, empathy, courage, etc. requires exposure to a temporary arena with real suffering and potentiality for struggle and terror. We are such creatures that, for us, the book with the happiest, most beautiful ending must involve some preceding chapters of drama, suffering and tragedy. I don’t find this implausible at all. And it’s the only true alternative, I believe.

          Like

          • Tom says:

            Atno: I am aware that some people find it intolerable (I don’t – as long as all the evil we perceive can be fully redeemed and compensated for…

            Tom: But it’s not fully redeemed IF evil itself is required of the good in the sense you describe. Evil becomes a good, a moment in the good, and not as a privation ‘in spite of which’ the good manifests itself. On your view evil become more intimate to the good of creation, in a sense which creation’s final good remains indebted to evil as such.

            Atno: …this is not to will the evil qua evil, but only as a temporary condition for forming greater permanent goods – such as heightened, truly lived and experienced compassion, charity, solidarity, etc – that will subsist for eternity long after evil has been utterly defeated).

            Tom: I’m personally in favor of thinking that there is no successful movement of creation from its origin to its end in God without ‘suffering’, that is, without finitude embracing the truth of its own nothingness (the nothing out of which God calls it into being). I agree we must, quite apart from any ‘fall’, experience the ‘conatus essendi’ (struggle of being) as essential to our movement from origin to end in God. But this is not to posit the necessity of ‘evil’, for there is nothing evil about the truth of finitude per se. So there have to be forms of finitude in its original embodied goodness which are both theophanic and which can suffer the ‘conutus essendi’, but ‘evil’ is not one of them.

            Atno: As I said, I don’t think we can avoid this in any way. Your suggestion that God could NOT “create a world in which sentient creatures are capable both of only of choosing good and of final union with God” strikes me as very implausible, for we are talking about an omnipotent, omniscient God who, through Providence, can achieve all of His goals without disrespecting creaturely freedom. In fact, your position would seem to threaten universalism, since universalists must believe God is able to make it so that everyone *freely* chooses to choose virtue, love, and God at the end.

            Tom: I’d be prepared to argue the impossibility of God’s being able to guarantee our final end in him through precluding at our origin the very possibility of evil by any divine fiat of design that limits our wills invariably to choosing good. But I’ll leave that aside for now and just note our disagreement over it.

            Atno: …let’s imagine only one person in creation, Bob. Bob has in fact freely sinned. But then it must be that it was possible for Bob *not* to have sinned. If such was possible, couldn’t God in His wisdom have arranged the world so as to prevent this? In creatio ex nihilo, couldn’t God have created the possible world in which Bob never sins instead?

            Tom: No, not if God is infinite love, ‘the Good’ as such, the summum bonum who creates Bob for that particular union with himself which is in fact our final end.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            In a nutshell Atno: I can get with a ‘soul-making’ theodicy. I’m already there. We have to experience the conatus essendi – that struggle and its pain, even suffering. But not the suffering which is itself ‘evil’. Being uncomfortable or ‘suffering’ the existential discomfort (angst, pain, pressure) of facing the truth about the Void at the heart of finitude and our absolute contingency, this is a good thing in and of itself. It is a truth of finitude. But to say God ‘wills the evil’ which we despairingly embrace in our MISrelating to this truth, that’s another thing altogether.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Atno says:

            Sorry, I replied to the wrong post. This was my reply:

            Tom,

            Maybe I just don’t understand you. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know, at least as of now, how to properly articulate my view. I do not want to say that God wills evil, but I do want to say that God wills a world with temporary evil in it as opposed to a world that never has any evil at any point in time. And this is because I think it really is the only alternative.

            I don’t understand your answer to my point about Bob’s creation. I agree that God is the Good itself and all that, but I don’t see how that answers what I poded. The thing is, Bob freely sins. Couldn’t God have created a world in which Bob freely does something virtuous, instead of sinning? I believe the answer is an obvious “yes”; at the very least God could have nurtured Bob in such a way as to guarantee (or almost guarantee, if you wanna go there) that Bob does good instead of evil. Yet clearly that is not what God chose to do: God created a world in which he permits Bob to sin.

            I don’t think we can avoid this because the alternative would be that there was no way to prevent Bob from sinning, but then Bob’s action wasn’t free in any sense (not even in the limited sense that our freedom is always limited, in intellectualism models of freedom) and was more like a deterministic program than anything. Bob *had* to sin. But in that case, free will is truly compromised, and I don’t see how God couldn’t have predetermined Bob to do otherwise, and God’s creation of Bob like that wouldn’t be relevantly morally different from God actively choosing to create a world with evil in it (as opposed to a world with no evil), to which you object.

            So, again, I don’t see a way out.

            To put it in somewhat simple terms:
            God could have created a world in which His creatures freely chose not to sin (or, at least, freely chose to sin LESS than we do).

            But God didn’t create such a world. He freely chose to create our world in such a way that we freely choose to sin in enormous and horrendous proportions. Even though He could providentially assured that our world would be “much more virtuous”.

            At this point we must agree with Leibniz that God had a good, morally sufficient reason for making that choice. The world with evil will lead to a better end result in the end. We might not know how exactly (I think soul-building and connection through true empathy and compassion among finite, fallible creatures are good candidates though) how, but God chose to make the world with this much evil when He could have providentially made it with a lot less evil, so somehow the evil does ultimately contribute to the final good of finite creatures. There’s no escape, I think.

            Of course, temporary evil is distinct from the eternal or final loss of any soul, and here I would agree with Thomas Talbott’s idea that God “draws the line” on irreparable harms. Whether irreparable harm would be acceptable or not, it is on a different category from that of temporary, reparable harms that are plentiful in creation. I think God could have avoided the reparable harm but didn’t, so the reparable harm must ultimately contribute to a better end result for all. I understand we don’t wanna say God wills evil qua evil, and then maybe there must be some more subtlety required, but at this point there might be a better way to articulate my view than the way I’m doing here. It is what I *broadly* believe and find unavoidable, but there might be better articulations beyond my capacity.

            Like

      • Dane Parker says:

        Disagreed (except for the sentiment expressed in your last statement). God created the cosmos as one in which goodness may be willed by moral agency, in fulfillment of the actuality, which is donated from God who is Actuality and Goodness as such, and from whom no evil flows. To love is good, and hence so is the creation of that with the capacity for love, which for the contingent moral agent manifests as potentiality and so something to be realized by the deliberate fulfillment thereof. So then, in this, we might say if there is to be any love, agency; and if there is to be agency, the capacity to will. Yet this capacity, to be a capacity, so as to be an agent, so as to love, entails the will may act against the fulfillment for which it assigned. It is here where evil is bred: a shadow cast only derivatively by the agent’s movement from the light of its existence and being; but certainly not of any change in the essence of the light itself. Yet in none of this is there any incoherence, such that evil lies in the principal constitution of the cosmos, unless one wishes to reject that it is itself good that contingent moral agents are given existence so as to love and be loved.

        Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        What sort of empty, cruel, sadistic, hypocritical “comfort and support” might you offer?

        Like

        • Atno says:

          Tom,

          Maybe I just don’t understand you. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know, at least as of now, how to properly articulate my view. I do not want to say that God wills evil, but I do want to say that God wills a world with temporary evil in it as opposed to a world that never has any evil at any point in time. And this is because I think it really is the only alternative.

          I don’t understand your answer to my point about Bob’s creation. I agree that God is the Good itself and all that, but I don’t see how that answers what I poded. The thing is, Bob freely sins. Couldn’t God have created a world in which Bob freely does something virtuous, instead of sinning? I believe the answer is an obvious “yes”; at the very least God could have nurtured Bob in such a way as to guarantee (or almost guarantee, if you wanna go there) that Bob does good instead of evil. Yet clearly that is not what God chose to do: God created a world in which he permits Bob to sin.

          I don’t think we can avoid this because the alternative would be that there was no way to prevent Bob from sinning, but then Bob’s action wasn’t free in any sense (not even in the limited sense that our freedom is always limited, in intellectualism models of freedom) and was more like a deterministic program than anything. Bob *had* to sin. But in that case, free will is truly compromised, and I don’t see how God couldn’t have predetermined Bob to do otherwise, and God’s creation of Bob like that wouldn’t be relevantly morally different from God actively choosing to create a world with evil in it (as opposed to a world with no evil), to which you object.

          So, again, I don’t see a way out.

          To put it in somewhat simple terms:
          God could have created a world in which His creatures freely chose not to sin (or, at least, freely chose to sin LESS than we do).

          But God didn’t create such a world. He freely chose to create our world in such a way that we freely choose to sin in enormous and horrendous proportions. Even though He could providentially assured that our world would be “much more virtuous”.

          At this point we must agree with Leibniz that God had a good, morally sufficient reason for making that choice. The world with evil will lead to a better end result in the end. We might not know how exactly (I think soul-building and connection through true empathy and compassion among finite, fallible creatures are good candidates though) how, but God chose to make the world with this much evil when He could have providentially made it with a lot less evil, so somehow the evil does ultimately contribute to the final good of finite creatures. There’s no escape, I think.

          Of course, temporary evil is distinct from the eternal or final loss of any soul, and here I would agree with Thomas Talbott’s idea that God “draws the line” on irreparable harms. Whether irreparable harm would be acceptable or not, it is on a different category from that of temporary, reparable harms that are plentiful in creation. I think God could have avoided the reparable harm but didn’t, so the reparable harm must ultimately contribute to a better end result for all. I understand we don’t wanna say God wills evil qua evil, and then maybe there must be some more subtlety required, but at this point there might be a better way to articulate my view than the way I’m doing here. It is what I *broadly* believe and find unavoidable, but there might be better articulations beyond my capacity.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Atno: I do not want to say that God wills evil, but I do want to say that God wills a world with temporary evil in it as opposed to a world that never has any evil at any point in time.

            Tom: Then let’s just say God wills (desires) to create a world with a capacity to self-determine and that this God-given capacity is simultaneously our pathway to final union with God AND (until we are finally one with him) our possibility of misrelation and evil. This is one and the same possibility. So a benevolently good God can will the possibility of evil provided that possibility is entailed in the possibility of our moving, freely, toward final union with him. It’s when we say this possibility of evil is not at all related to or entailed in the kind of self-determination by which we must responsibly choose our way into union with God that you end up with no conceivable good reason God would also want evil around.

            Atno: Couldn’t God have created a world in which Bob freely does something virtuous, instead of sinning? I believe the answer is an obvious “yes”…

            Tom: I think it’s pretty obviously ‘no’. However mysterious the causal nexus of human (relatively) free agency is, it’s not the sort of thing which, once created, God can simply ‘will’ that it now do this, or do that. All the evil we can do may lie within the horizon of our ‘final end’, sure; but the journey in between doesn’t follow a pathway God alone determines. If an infinitely loving and good God COULD guarantee only loving outcomes, he would. We don’t have only loving outcomes, so God isn’t guaranteeing (in that sense) all present outcomes.

            And if we say (as you’re saying) that the finally loving and purely good creation God ‘finally’ wills requires all this evil, then we’re saying something dastardly about love and goodness; i.e., we’re saying something is fundamentally missing in the created manifestation of love and the good if there is good that cannot manifest without evil.

            Atno: At this point we must agree with Leibniz that God had a good, morally sufficient reason for making that choice. The world with evil will lead to a better end result in the end…There’s no escape, I think.

            Tom: Then evil is a kind of good, and good a kind of evil, and St. Paul is mistaken to think the world’s suffering and evil will ‘not be worth comparing’ to the glorious good of creation’s final end. But if the suffering of evil is not worth comparing to our final good, then it doesn’t contribute to that good in the utilitarian way you’re suggesting.

            This might help. Forget Leibniz – because anything God does, or may do, is as good as anything else God does or may do: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/gods-creative-options/

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Atno,

            Fr John Manoussakis says something similar. He says ‘evil is a moment in the temporal unfolding of the good’. That’s potentially pretty shocking. But he doesn’t mean what you seem to mean, because Manoussakis denies that God could create a world intended for final union with him but in which God simply determines (or guarantees) we choose the good without possibility of failure from our origin to our end in God. He agrees the possibility of evil is one side of the possibility of our journey to union with God. The former possibility is the metaphysical price-tag, as it were, to the possibility of the latter.

            It’s one thing to say ‘Look, evil will sooner or later erupt, given the nature of the kind of agency creatures must possess to find their way into final union with God’. It’s an entirely different thing to say ‘The final manifestation of the some good God wills metaphysically requires evil to play its part, because only evil can make possible the good God desires in this case’.

            Liked by 2 people

    • Dane Parker says:

      Does a stretched canvas dictate the particular work of art upon which a given painter creates? Quite frankly, I fail to see the problem. Nevermind that evil is the privation of the good hence ontologically speaking is nothing as such, so that only by phrasing the matter as though it were thing unto itself (“reality of evil” as a fundamentally active force of its own) does it the matter issue forth as a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        It’s a bit more complex than just that. The question becomes problematic when one considers how privation comes about when God is all in all. Or, put in another way, how can it be that God is not all in all at all?

        Like

  2. Arthurja says:

    For DBH fans

    I don’t know whether this has already been brought to your attention on this blog or elsewhere, but Dr Hart appears in several new Youtube videos – by “new”, I mean that they’re about 3 weeks old.
    You can find said videos on the PublicChristianity Youtube channel.

    Having saved the world, I will now proceed to read this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. drjohnson51 says:

    Dear Father Aiden

    I really appreciate the Eclectic Orthodoxy emails each day but I struggle getting through them some times. It’s not content but format, particularly the gray text colour or the font size. I read this on my phone. Even with my reading glasses I need to zoom in but then I only get half the email across the screen so need to keep sliding the email across as I read each line. Thus is very difficult particularly as the emails are quite long.

    I’m going to presume that I’m not the only one in this predicament so I’d like to ask you to change the font colour from gray/grey to black and/or change the font size up a point or two.

    This would really be helpful.

    Warm regards.

    David Johnson

    >

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’m sorry about the problem you’re experiencing. I use the free version of the WordPress blog and have very few options. I can, I think, change the font, but cannot change the font size or color. Sorry.

      BTW, the font appears on my iPad as black, not grey. I presume the same is true for my iPhone, though I’ll check.

      Like

  4. Andrew of MO says:

    I have read Diogenes Allen’s Theology for a Troubled Believer, which I think was his last book, and I really liked it. Do you recommend Christian Belief in a Postmodern World?

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I certainly recommend it if the subject matter interests you. 😎

      Like

      • Andrew of MO says:

        Well, I am reading The Beauty of the Infinite right now, and honestly, I am going to be at it for a while, but I love this kind of deep dive. I really liked Allen’s style in the book I have read, and I find myself flipping back through the book every so often, so I think I might have a look.

        Like

  5. Dale Crakes. says:

    Hate sound like a simpleton but I don’t see how this quote from McCabe avoids at least a soft determinism. “Free actions, then, are uncaused though they are motivated and done for reasons; and these motives and reasons do not take away from freedom but rather are essential to it. (God Matters, p. 13)” Its too late in the PM to get wrapped around the evil discussion but does DBH address it anywhere? I may have missed it. Double Synergy; you and Farrer keep on rowing.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dale, I’m unclear why you think that the sentence you quote entails determinism. Perhaps you could elaborate. Recall that McCabe has defined determinism as a form external coercion. In what sense, then, does motivated action entail determinism?

      Regarding Hart, addresses determinism and free will in the fourth meditation of TASBS. Here’s one citation that may be of interest to you:

      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. He is not merely some external agency who would have to exercise coercion or external compul­sion of a creature’s intentions to bring them to the end he decrees. If he were, then the entire Christian doctrine of providence—the vital teaching that God can so order all conditions, circumstances, and contingencies among created things as to bring about everything he wills for his crea­tures while still not in any way violating the autonomy of secondary causality—would be a logical contradiction. God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them. In one sense, naturally, this is merely a function of the coincidence in his nature of omniscience and omni­potence. Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and so knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options and situated among certain circumambient forces, God can (if noth­ing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next…. God, being infinitely resourceful and infinitely knowledgeable, can weave the whole of time into a perfectly coherent continuity whose ultimate result is that all circumstances and forces conduce to the union of every creature with himself, and can do this precisely by confronting every rational nature with possibilities he knows they will realize through their own free volitions. It is true that he might accomplish this by imposing limited conditions of choice upon every life; but the conditions of choice are always limited anyway, and deliberative freedom is always capable of only a finite set of possible determinations. (pp. 183-184)

      Also see pp. 178-179 for Hart’s discussion of transcendental determinism, as well as his article “What is a Truly Free Will?“Hope this helps!

      Like

  6. Dale Crakes. says:

    Thanks Fr. That McCabe only accepts an external coercion is bluntly ridiculous it seems to me. What about internal mental compulsions? I’ll think about Hart when I’ve got more time and think about the evil questions. You and Farrer keep on double synergy rowing.

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Dale, pray tell what is the difference between an external coercion and an internal mental compulsion? I don’t think there is a difference as both are external to the subject. At the center of this is the problem spaciality. God is not Zeus. I sure hope not.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dale, it may be that “external” was ill-chosen. The key, I think, is the notion of coercion–a power that compels the choices of a person against his will, whether external or internal. God, however, does not and cannot coerce in that sense, because he does not stand over against creatures. What he does is bestow existence. He is too close to persons to compel them.

      Like

  7. Dale Crakes. says:

    Perhaps compulsion was too strong a word. External coercion could be someone twisting your arm. I guess this weighty group is beyond my limited brain. How is internal mental predilection or choice or compulsion not an internal whatever? Or to put it another way how is an internal mental compulsion external to the subject? Am I jumping in at step 28 of this proof and I need to go back to step 1?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s