DBH on Created Spirits and the Possibility of Evil

Almost a year ago (25 September 2020, to be exact), DBH left a comment on EO that has been requoted multiple times on social media. So to make it easier for folks to find the comment, I thought I’d exercise my godlike blogmaster powers and bestow upon it its own independent existence. Let there be … 

Creation is not the magical conjuration into existence of something that possesses all the attributes of the past without actually possessing a past. Surely that must be true, right? If it were, then there would be no such thing as free rational creatures, but only fictional characters summoned into existence in a preordained state of character.

So, the issue of evil isn’t a utilitarian calculus, it’s a matter of the process whereby nothingness and every possibility of evil inherent in the conditions of finite freedom is conquered while actually bringing free spiritual natures into existence. But spirit can exist only under the conditions of those rational conditions that logically define it. To ask why God did not create spiritual beings already wholly divinized without any prior history in the ambiguities of sin—or of sin’s possibility—is to pose a question no more interesting or solvent than one of those village atheist’s dilemmas: can God create a square circle, or a rock he is unable to lift? A finite created spirit must have the structure of, precisely, the finite, the created, and spirit. It must have an actual absolute past in nonbeing and an absolute future in the divine infinity, and the continuous successive ordering of its existence out of the former and into the latter is what it is to be a spiritual creature. Every spiritual creature as spirit is a pure act of rational and free intentionality away from the utter poverty of nonbeing and toward infinite union with God. This “temporal” or “diastematic” structure is no less intrinsic to it than is its dynamic synthesis of essence and existence, or of stability and change. And that means that even the first stirring of a created spiritual nature’s existence must be a kind of free assent to existence on the part of the creature.

* * *

(David later elaborated on this theme in this short article.)

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84 Responses to DBH on Created Spirits and the Possibility of Evil

  1. dianelos says:

    We may define “sainthood” as the creaturely condition in which a person possesses a level of moral maturity such that they will never choose to sin. A saint is still free to choose different paths of sinless action, and to live in a creative and spiritual way that perfects them even more towards their final destination of theosis (or divinisation). Thus a saint has a past and a future.

    The question then is why hasn’t God chosen to create his creatures in such a saintly state from the beginning. Why did he create his creatures in a state of such moral immaturity that they would certainly fall to temptation and sin? It seems to me that if God had created us in a morally saintly state he wouldn’t be “abolishing the spiritual nature of his creatures” as DBH puts it in the short article linked. And he would have avoided all the pain intrinsic in our being made in a morally immature condition and thus in a fallen creation.

    So I think the question does make sense and its answer lies in a proper theodicy and not in the ontological nature of spiritual creatures as DBH argues. Alvin Plantinga has suggested that the reason God chose to make a fallen creation is for the great beauty of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to obtain. It seems to me though that the right answer was given by John Hick: A passage through evil makes for a greater saint, and God chose to create the greatest conceivable creatures. So it was because of his love for his creatures that God chose the more painful path – for them and for himself. I say a creature who understands this will freely assent to their manner of creation, and at some point we shall all understand this.

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    • DBH says:

      Um, with all due respect, simply repeating the question without grasping the answer I gave to it is not really a good response. You need to follow what I said. I was making a strictly modal argument about possibility and actuality, and about the (more or less Aristotelian) causal structure of any “substance.” The issue isn’t about having a past and a future–in the sense of being temporal–but about the ontological condition of being created ex nihilo as a genuinely free agent, rather than as a mere dramatis persona already defined by God at a particular stage of (fictional) development. That means the issue is what kind of past one must possess to be a free spiritual creature.

      You write “It seems to me that if God had created us in a morally saintly state he wouldn’t be “abolishing the spiritual nature of his creatures” as DBH puts it”

      The problem is that you have not successfully answered the logic of my claim. Either we are “free” in being created ex nihilo, or we are never free; if the former is the case, what I am saying here follows of necessity.

      Liked by 2 people

      • David says:

        Right on. So it seems to me that your position is saying that it is necessary that free creatures have the possibility of sinning *while* they are temporal (i.e. this possibility is not – or not just – confined to some timeless or supratemporal world).

        I’d be interested to learn more about how this fits into the Bulgakovian ‘supratemporal’ conception of the fall you hold to.

        Some hold that the fact that (while in time) creatures can even consider individual sins, itself constitutes original sin: i.e. the very possibility of committing this or that sin reveals that we have supratemporally undergone an unnatural emancipation from the good.

        But if that view of original sin is correct, it should mean it’s not part of the essential human condition to have finite freedom while an actual temporal being. On this view our only necessary/essential ‘choice’ occurs supratemporally: If we choose right, our entire temporal existence is without sin; if we choose wrong, our entire temporal existence enjoys the possibility of constant individual sins.

        Of course you may say that view of original sin is incorrect: original sin is more traditionally understood as a special inclination/tendency to sin that goes beyond the mere natural possibility of sin.

        The thing is, if that’s right, then even ‘after’ avoiding a supratemporal fall, temporal beings would still retain the possibility of sinning (until later being confirmed in the good). In which case wouldn’t such temporal sins bring about the fall? And if temporal actions can bring about the fall, why bother with positing supratemporal ones?

        I don’t see how to avoid these possibilities… unless it turns out that ‘supratemporal’ really just means ‘pre-temporal’ and refers to spiritual agencies existing in time, just in a different dimension… in which case, okay maybe, but I think what you have there is just Adam and Eve but in a slightly more peculiar alien-esque form.

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      • dianelos says:

        DBH, I am not repeating the question but recasting it in a sharper form.

        Al’s original question was why God did not deify everyone immediately. I agree with the answer you gave as I understood it, namely that to be made a person (and thus in the image of God) entails to be made free from the very beginning, and indeed with the freedom to consent to one’s creation. So if our end is theosis it is necessary that we are made so as to consent to it: to freely choose to love God and enter in a relationship of perfect unity with him. And to freely choose such a relationship entails to being made at some distance from it, and thus not in a state of theosis but in a state of relative spiritual immaturity. (A much more difficult question is in what sense we consent to our being created at all. You suggest that assent “before” a creature’s existence is impossible, but I’d like to suggest that the Genesis 3 story can be interpreted as describing this extra-temporal assent by Adam and Eve representing each one of us.)

        Having agreed so far I recast the question thus: God chose to make the human condition in a particular limited state of spiritual maturity: with some given cognitive faculties, moral awareness, strength of will to choose the good, and so on – that which we often call our “fallen condition”. Arguably he chose to make us in the most brutish condition which still comports with his image; as it were he placed us at the very start of the path towards theosis. The question I wish to discuss is why God did not make us in a more mature spiritual condition. And in particular in a saintly condition, which is still far from theosis but such that even though subjects to temptation and doubt we would never in fact choose sin.

        Perhaps your answer is that being created in such a condition would still amount to “fictional development”, because that saintly condition would not have been freely chosen. If so we are in complete agreement except for the choice of words. I would rather say that being created a saint would be less great than being made with the freedom to ascend to that saintly state. If given the choice between being made a saint in heaven or else being made in a fallen condition and having to pass through evil to become a saint, a rational creature would choose the latter. (Incidentally I’d like to recommend Durrenmatt’s “The Mission of the Vega”, a delightful morality play in which the idea is suggested that a world with much more natural evils would be preferable to our own.)

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        • Grant says:

          The problem there is that God then is the author of all evil, intentionally made, and all saints are forged out that evil, it will be their cruible, and therefore evil, death and suffering are necessary handmadien’s to God’s ulitmate aims of creation. Every suffering, every abuse, all the holocausts and deaths of humans and animals, every child tortured is the foundation of the Kingdom, the blood-soaked hill on which it will stand. Even if all are saved, it will be by and because of that, death becomes God’s co-creator and partner, eternal because it’s result are eternal, and every will endure forever because of it.

          Also that means death is God’s enemy, the devil is indeed God’s faithful servent, and God’s does not oppose evil, it is the necessary tool to bring forth the creation He chooses.

          And such a God that freely brings this into being is not Love nor Good and Christianity defines it, nor as Christ reveals Him, so if so, it too would Christianity false.

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          • dianelos says:

            Grant,

            So the traditional idea is that God made a good creation which then promptly fell because of the disobedience of the firstborn. But given that the firstborn would almost certainly fall to sin, in what sense was that original creation “good”? According to the traditional idea Adam and Eve were set up to fail: without having knowledge of good and evil they were delivered to the machinations of the evil snake. And how come there was that evil snake in God’s good creation in the first place? The very suggestion that God would create a world that would go astray is incoherent. The Biblical story literally understood simply does not work and some fathers (such as Theodore of Mopsuestia in the 4th century) openly discussed the problem and suggested the right understanding. When Christianity became the imperial religion theological conformity took precedence to the truth, and theological imagination became rare.

            Instead, I say, God chose to create a fallen world in which spiritually immature creatures would certainly choose sin, and in which a mechanistic nature would randomly produce natural evils. God chose to create this world for its end which is overarchingly great, namely one where all personal creatures will overcome evil and freely choose to embrace the good to become Christ-like in loving union with God. How precisely does this idea entail that “God is the author of all evil” as you put it? God is the author of actual creation which, I argue, is the greatest conceivable one. Moral evils are chosen by creatures, not by God. And natural evils are caused by a blindly evolving mechanical nature, not by God. Theodicy must explain why God chose to create the actual world, and not what justifies every single moral or natural evil that obtains in it.

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          • Grant says:

            Well I don’t follow a ‘literal’ reading, more what David (not DBH) above described as a ‘super-temporal’ fall (not sure I agree with understanding of it, but it doesn’t matter of this) falling from the true creation, creation forming as it is. The very fall of created spirits to non-being results in the fallen world we see.

            But what you are saying is God creates evil, suffering and wickedness as a tool to bring about and forge the Kingdom he desires. Indeed it us his assistant and faithful servant, not his enemy, not something to overcome in a fallen creation to rederm and free all. In fact creation isn’t fallen, it’s just a stage while it’s ultimate aims are being built. All suffering, death all intended and all to craft his end, all for the greater good (humans do such things for we pften consider monsters). Death is his ally, and in fact God here is dependent on feath to bring about his ends.

            A death and evil will be in their handiwork, ever part of the enternal Kingdom’.

            And God cannot meaningful be called Good or Love as we mean it, and indeed would be something of a monster.

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          • dianelos says:

            Grant,

            In the view I am describing God is neither the author of evil, nor does he ever choose to create evil. God chose to create and is the author of the actual world and gives being to all its particulars, and the actual world is perfectly good for it has the perfectly good end of universal atonement. Moral and natural evils that obtain in the world are chosen by sinful creatures and by random mechanical processes respectively. It’s a simple idea – perhaps I am not describing it well enough. God chose and is responsible for creating and sustaining in being a world in which moral and natural evils obtain – but does not choose and is not responsible for any actual evil which obtains in it.

            Now you suggest that in this view God uses evil “as a tool to bring about and forge the Kingdom he desires”. Only limited creatures need to use tools in order to bring about what they desire. Since God is all-powerful and creates ex-nihilo it can’t possibly be the case that God needs to do A in order to bring about B. On universalism (which DBH and most of his readers embrace) the end of creation is universal atonement with created spiritual beings freely desiring their final condition of unity with God. This entails that they should choose to love the good, and thus that they have knowledge and choice between good and evil. As DBH writes, spiritual maturity entails a past of building that maturity. There is no such thing as a person (and thus a free rational being) already defined at a mature stage of spiritual development, for such a condition would be fictional and not real. Similarly there is no non-round circle. If God wants to create a circle he will make it round; it makes no sense to think that he uses roundness as a tool to forge the circle; the roundness is part and parcel of what is drawn. To have overcome evil and freely loved the good is part and parcel of being a free person in loving union with God.

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          • Grant says:

            The actual world has evil in throughout all it’s particulars, suffering, death and destruction are inherent to it drive both the formation of the universe and the evolution of life, it’s beautiful but terribly cruel, vicious and wasteful all ends un death, pain and suffering, at it’s part of the very fabric, the destructive super novas,, crashine meteors, volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes etc, to living things, to disease, cancer, parasites boring into eyes, blinding creatures, giving agonizing pain, predation, things eaten alive. Genocides of whole species, genuses, classes even, before ant creature choose their condition. Nature in the actual world surpasses all human wickedness, most types of animals are long dead, wiped put by the harsh cruelty of our universe and they lead existences often full of need, pain and suffering.

            And that whole evolution shaped mind and body, there was no choice, shsped by death we are the products og this world. There was not any choice not to sin, we were already shaped to sin by a limitef and harsh world that shaped the structure of our minds, bodies the shape snd form of our emergent phyches.

            We wrre sinners before we even started, so shaped intentionally by God in your view all human evil also intentionally hid. And ever disease, cancer, heart disease, Covid is His, brought about to shape His world and His saints, ever evil. He is the intentional author of it all, and He’s dependent of death bring about His world, or He simply freely chooses to bring evil into being.

            So yes, God is the author of all evil in the view you advance and would be a monster and Christianity false.

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          • dianelos says:

            Grant,

            You claim that the world is evil throughout and in all particulars, but that’s certainly an exaggeration. The actual world is predominantly a very good place indeed, as evidenced by the fact that for 99% of the creatures and 99% of the time to be here is better than not to. Even atheists when they are quite old and ill greatly value their condition of being alive and would much rather suffer their life than not.

            Still it is also true that there is much evil and sometimes horrendous evil in the world. You graphically describe much of it, suggesting that the evolution of life is terribly cruel and vicious and that physical nature surpasses all human wickedness. Well, given the physical laws that govern nature (and thus also the evolution of fife) such evils will necessarily be caused.

            So who do you suggest designed the physical laws that govern nature? Who sustains them in being every instance of time? I trust you do not embrace gnosticism and its premise that an evil Demiurge has designed physical nature? And that this evil Demiurge has been given the power by God to sustain physical nature in existence? That’s an ancient and very misguiding heresy which all Christian churches and virtually all Christians reject.

            So the only possible view is that the perfectly good and powerful God has designed the actual world’s physical nature and sustains it in being. The same nature which is the direct cause of all the terrible evils you describe. The question then is why he chose to do so. Why didn’t God choose to create a world in which all sentient beings would always have nice experiences? The answer I suggest is that he chose to create the actual world because its end is exceedingly great. And as DBH has shown in his “That All Shall Be Saved” the origin of creation is grounded on its end: in the logical sense the end of creation comes before its beginning.

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          • Grant says:

            If this universe is as God created it then He not the God Christianity proclaims, He is the author of all evil as you yourself just concede above, even if you want to debate the balances of good elements to living vs the bad elements (already going into kind of utilitarian kind of argument) God would be bringing terrible evils into existence by choice (or because He isn’t God and has an opposite force called death he either needs or must bargain with, either way departs from Christian claims of who God is). And this evil exists irrespective of any choices of created creates it is as intended, and following this, life formed this way is fallen and produces a race of beings that are already turned to being sinners, they are already violent (see many mammal species, killing of rival offspring, including our close cousins chimpanzees), selfish etc and necessarily so because those are part of what was needed to survive and suceed in the long blood march of the eons of evolution under these conditions. Which means humanity was set up to fall as well, this is also be design. Which is apparent what is required to form saints and the Kingdom to come, which means it all for some apparent ‘greater good’, which again as I said, humans that have done such things we regard as abject monsters.

            This is worse then the Demiurge heresy where at least there is a higher and greater good God, this is not a demiurge, this is that ultimate Reality is not Good or Love, it is something alien and cold, something rather diabolical is what true reality is. And that of course makes Christ’s revelation of God false and all Christian claims false.

            If this would be true then I would say stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and accept what it means, Chrisitanity is false and move on to the terrible truth it means of what God would really be.

            However I don’t think that’s true, when Genesis implies the universe is cursed, and broken because of the choices of created creatures I think it’s revealing a real truth, when St Paul says creation groans subjected not of it’s own choice to futility this is a true revelation. Creation as is is half-complete, shattered and enslaved to death, fallen from the original creation by our and other beings choices and actions, fallen into this half-existence from which Christ has and will liberate us.

            I outlined what I think further below on this talking to Brian and David, relating to this discussion. As I said, Christ’s Cross and Resurrection (and his whole life revealed in the Gospels) show how unnatural death, decay and the current state of the aeon is, it is under the dominion of death, a power He has come to set all creation free from, one He has defeated and it will pass away, all time and space redeemed back into the original creation, the true Adam (all humanity) and the true beginning.

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          • Grant says:

            And also, if this is to get to the original creation, it means as I said evil is not God’s enemy, it’s His helper, death, the devil are all his faithful servants doing the thankless work of helping form his original creation, and also makes any judgement of God against them hypocritcal at best (more a case of being part of his process to form the ulitmate outcome than any real moral objection on his side, since he brought them into existence in the first place and intended them).

            Evil is also eternal, because it’s results will be. The original creation would be built on all the evil, suffering, all the terrible acts would be a vital part of it’s very foundations. As I said, it would be a shinning hill built on a blood-stained hill, filled with the corpses slain to get there.

            That’s not a Paradise, but a form of hell.

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      • Tom says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong.

        David’s position is that being created ex nihilo by God, intended for loving union with God, necessarily means being created free (in the sense of having that precarious and risky capacity to render our own ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to God (though this capacity is constrained by our final end). For David there simply is no way to get what is created ex nihilo into union with God without creation’s moving (thus our ‘past and future’) from origin to end in God. Evil is at best a necessary risk inherent to the sort of agency we require for the journey, but it doesn’t ‘contribute’ to our eschatological plenitude. Hence, God could not give creation its ‘final form’ as its beginning. Such a concept reduces creation to the very sort of necessity which would in turn make the intended union with God impossible. Not even God can speak into being a ‘finished’ created plenitude which is personal and loving in nature.

        Dianelos believes God could have started at the end, which begs the question, Why didn’t he? Because, Dianelos supposes, the kind of final humanity God wants is the greatest possible, and the greatest possible is the most beautiful, and the most beautiful is a fallen-and-restored, wounded-and-healed, humanity. God can start creation out at an end, but any such end God could thus call into being would be less beautiful than one arrived at through the vicissitudes of evil and its miseries. Necessarily, God wants more beauty, not less, hence our evil world.

        Is this a fair sketch?

        Liked by 1 person

        • dianelos says:

          Tom,

          I think you put it quite well. The only bit I disagree with in your first paragraph is when you write that “evil is at best a necessary risk”. No, overcoming evil is part and parcel of having freely chosen to be in union with God. Incidentally, the wording we choose when we think about God is significant for the wrong words and lead us into wrong directions. So I’d like to suggest that we should never think in terms of what God “can” or “cannot” do, for God is prior to everything is not limited by anything. This after all is the meaning of creation ex nihilo. So very simply God does what he chooses to do; thus the only reasonable question to consider is what God chooses. For example it makes no sense to ask whether God can or cannot make a square circle. Being perfectly rational God simply does not choose to make incoherent things, whether square circles or free persons in unity with him who have not chosen that unity.

          Now on second thoughts I find DBH and I are describing the same thing from different angles. DBH chose to speak of the fictional character and indeed ontological impossibility or spiritual beings made from the beginning in union with God. Inspired by John Hick I chose to speak about creaturely value (or beauty as you put it) and point out that God being perfectly loving would choose to create the world that will give rise to greatest possible creatures. I find great peace in the idea that only because of love has God put us on this path of passing through evil.

          In any case I think the discussion has been productive. We all agree that we have been made by God at the very start of the path towards union with him (I suggest at the most primitive condition of personhood, which entails being in the image of God). Originally Al asked why God did not choose to create our condition at its end state of perfect union with him. I generalised the question by asking why God did not choose to create us at some point in the middle of that path – thus having creatures freely choosing to walk the rest of that path towards universal atonement. But as DBH points out in his comment above, the creation of a person at any stage of spiritual development would still be fictional. To be true a created person must be made at the very beginning – and consent to, indeed freely choose, all that one becomes.

          That the same claim can be justified in two very different ways does very much increase its warrant.

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          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            The difference between yourself and DBH seems to be not at the beginning or end but the middle. For DBH any actual evil that occurs en route is an unnecessary and counterproductive setback: the possibility at least of such setbacks is inherent in the design, but any actual ones that occur are antithetical to the purpose and achieve nothing towards it – precisely the opposite. For you, as I understand it, the occurance of (at least some? or all of it?) actual evil is a necessary part of the process advancing the final aim. DBH would utterly reject that as contrary to the Christian ethos and the nature of a loving God (and I would agree with him).

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          • dianelos says:

            Ian Lovejoy,

            You write: “For you, as I understand it, the occurance of (at least some? or all of it?) actual evil is a necessary part of the process advancing the final aim.”

            No, I am not saying that. No single evil or set of evils is justifiable or serves a good purpose, for if it were it wouldn’t be evil. My point is that the whole of creation, even though it is made to contain moral and natural evils, is perfectly good. I am saying that the whole of creation is good, not that every part of it is. The whole is justified, not every single event that obtains in the world’s history somewhere.

            A world in which evil exists is necessary for the creation of free creatures who love the good and desire union with God. I think that DBH agrees at least as far as moral evil goes. As he says above there is no such thing as the creation of a free rational creature at any particular stage of (fictional) spiritual development. To be a mature person is to have matured. And a spiritually immature person will fall to temptation and sin.

            If you agree you may ask why God created a world with natural evil too – a world with physical laws which would certainly cause such evils. Why hasn’t he chosen to create a world without any such blind mechanical laws, or else a world in which the occurrence of any natural evil would be supernaturally suppressed? There are many answers to this question, but consider this: If we were made living in a world in which all evil came only from our neighbours then the natural reaction would be to try to place as much distance between our neighbous and ourselves as possible 🙂

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  2. Herb Garfield says:

    there is a danger remaining of falling back into nothingness even after taking this initial step i am dealing with just such a phenomenon at this time

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  3. Phoenix Kennedy says:

    Bernadette Roberts would agree.

    On Wednesday, August 11, 2021, Eclectic Orthodoxy wrote:

    > Fr Aidan Kimel posted: “Almost a year ago (25 September 2020, to be > exact), DBH left a comment on EO that has been requoted multiple times on > social media. So to make it easier for folks to find the comment, I thought > I’d exercise my godlike blogmaster powers and bestow upon it ” >

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  4. Rob G says:

    I’ve much sympathy with all this. With regard especially to that last sentence, there’s a really beautiful passage from Bulgakov that hits upon just this point in the Lamb of God: “hypostatic consciousness of self includes self-affirmation: in calling His breath to hypostatic being, in hypostatizing the rays of His own glory, God accomplishes the eternal act together with the hypostasia itself. God’s creative act asks, as it were, the creaturely I if it is I, if it has a will to life. And God hears the answering yes of the creature.”
    And the point is highlighted evermore for us today, I think, in the lacerations and suppressions of those choked by that depression the occluded that primordial act of life and freedom. To resist that evil is nothing less to find deepest freedom in abiding in that life—always, of course, done with recognition of the divine gratuity that ensures that freedom.

    I know you’re fond of Bulgakov DBH—will be feature in your upcoming work on the creaturely spirit?

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  5. mercifullayman says:

    There is a workaround, and someone as astute as Eriugena posits it. It won’t sit well with the neo-Platonist assumption of degradation of high to low and back. (which the real question of descent posits it’s own necessity of evil in mediation, if we’re honest). Nor will it work in an “ex-nihilo” world. Only in an “ex-Deo” can it fit. Parmenides et al, like to posit a monistic view in which non-being becomes an unreal thing, but it can only result in a strictly dualistic view that is semantically maneuvered but not logically. There becomes no real answer and the philosophical slight of hand adopts an ex-Deo logic but not a ground. Dialectically, much like Eriugena, Maximus, etc see it, the immovable/immutable cannot suffer any division at all. This division that allows for being to rise out of nothing can’t be a nothing that is something. So it must be a sensorial view that is overcome. From infinity we are made, and to infinity we will return…..a oneness, singularity if we will. Yet that doesn’t negate the freedom to be as it is part of the infinite in which we can only be by realizing that the dialectics of a given moment must be viewed properly, and by what Eriugena calls “reditus”. Karl Jaspers, Berdyaev, and Frank are good on this, as well as Sushkov’s work on Eriugena.

    Not saying anyone is wrong, but there are alternatives, at least on paper our there. Someone help me out if I’m wrong.

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    • JBG says:

      Mercifullayman: “This division that allows for being to rise out of nothing can’t be a nothing that is something. So it must be a sensorial view that is overcome. From infinity we are made, and to infinity we will return…..a oneness, singularity if we will.”

      In some sense, an ontological oneness from the very beginning, yet very obviously different from a realized beatific oneness —divinisation/liberation. The distinction is a pressing mystery.

      Unless I am mistaken, I believe DBH has stated that creatio ex nihilo is tantamount to creatio ex Deus.

      So, is your question something like this: how does Spirit create entirely new spirits (Spirit?) out of Itself without Itself being divided in the process?

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      • mercifullayman says:

        I didn’t really have a question….was more positing how dialectically there is an answer for right vision parsing through a duality that appears real and yet isn’t. Spirit always gives rise to spirit. I was just saying that for some, that definition of nihilo being Deo, doesn’t work. I’ve never read where he has stated that they are the same, and if he does, that’s awesome. I think, in a way, most of the greats have figured a way to figure out contradiction in such a way to overcome it. We might not all agree on what that nothingness is, or where it resides, but it is the founthead for so many…as I can clearly tell you’re well aware. I was just stating a way that people could find a way around the articulation, in the event they didn’t realize that the fissure of being/non-being can present problems for a particular worldview.

        I love DBH’s work. It’s cool he says that, if true. I was also trying to throw out some sources that we don’t typically discuss in detail….particularly Eriugena. He doesn’t get enough play, IMO, and is also read poorly in the wrong light.

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  6. brian says:

    Grant, there’s no link to reply under your last comment, so I’m chiming in (briefly) here. You have to be careful not to include death and evil as necessary components in creation. They’re not (peruse Hart’s Doors of the Sea for an argument against conventional theodicy.) Death may be made into a friend and servant, but it is certainly the primordial Enemy defeated on the Cross. As for what Dianelos states, I don’t think you can equate the Fall as foreseeable as likely for finite, imperfect creatures with necessity; nor would I define creation as radically good apart from its eschatological flourishing which is a completion only shadowed by a myth of beginnings. (With Origen and Christian tradition, I read Genesis in light of Christ.) It is true, of course, that the divine perfecting of Creation must account for evil as the gratuitous act of creation from nothing is an implicit assumption of (ultimate) responsibility and I take the Paschal victory to be the apocalyptic radiance that clarifies a sustaining passio essendi that nurtures all of creation through all travails, wickedness, and death. But you simply can’t preclude evil without removing the intrinsic dynamism form potency to act that marks the state of creaturehood regardless of differences of condition.

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    • David says:

      Hey Brian, not to speak for Grant but I suspect you are in agreement: I think Grant wants to hold that, while God ultimately takes ‘responsibility for evil, he does not cause evil to bring about some greater good, nor does he passively acquiesce to some metaphysical necessity in which the actuality (not just possibility) of evil is automatically embedded within the structure of creation. Rather, evil and the fall are genuine contingents that really could have gone another way had creaturely wills chosen differently.

      Of course, if one doesn’t subscribe to a model positing a historical Adam and Eve or similar, it can be difficult to locate the locus of such a choice – hence the vague idea of a ‘supratemporal’ fall – and, relatedly, whether it should be identified with a single initiating creaturely will (e.g. Adam or Satan) or whether instead we all somehow supratemporally participated in the choice to fall in a single act in which all humanity/creatures acted almost as one agent (world soul?). I wonder how coherent or plausible these options are, and how we can avoid seeing evil as a tragic inevitability rather than a genuine contingent. Any insights to help a poor soul out?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        I think David has me pretty right here Brian, I absolutely reject that death, evil or suffering in any form is any necessary part of creation, both entirely a contingent result, and entirely negatory reflecting a shadowy, twisted half-life reflection of the true creation. We and the universe have fallen from the true, original creation into this current state/aeon warped towards non-being, twisted, decayed and half-formed, it’s entire state, time, space all in it shattered and broken, enslaved by the mistaken twist to nothingness, mangling and crippling all free partipatation in and towards the Life that is God, that limit and enslavement towards nothingness produces the shattered existence in which death is a feature.

        Death is not a thing, it has no true existence, it isn’t a servant gone wrong, that is why it will be destroyed, because something that has no exisence, once all have been delivered from enslavement towards nothingness that effect, death will cease to be. We are delievered through Christ back towards the true beginning and original creation, original Adam and Eve, and original angelic and spiritual hosts and powers, and the true creation can emerge.

        The Cross (with the Resurrection behind it) shows just how unnatural all death, decay and suffering are, how they have nothing to do with God, or creation, it is the clear revelation of our shattered and fallen creation, ripped away from God’s purposes, and being confronted and brought back, reconciled to Him.

        So yep, death is enemy to be hated absolutely, it will be destroyed, it has nothing to do with creation, and it has nothing to do with God.

        Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        Yes, David. I surmise I did not read Grant with sufficient attention. I was typing under a time constraint. And really, I should have just figured better, because Grant is usually quite sound. I don’t know if I can actually clarify or settle any unease with varying interpretations of the Fall in Genesis. I tend to see all of historical time as postlapsarian, so I don’t read Adam and Eve as historical, or, if you like, their individual existence as historical figures is preceded by a perhaps unimaginable prior state with a different temporality; one quickly gets drawn into speculative metaphysical and narrative surmise. None of us is who we are intended to become short of theosis, so while personhood is a perduring gift, identity is also aspirational. (And for creatures, I suspect “naming” will always be elusive and changeable, because if Nyssa’s epektasis is correct, and I think it is, as we grow ever deeper into the love of God, the richness of person will also change into ever greater uniqueness.) In any event, the true freedom of assent is the culmination of an eschatological reality that paradoxically becomes the inaugurating liberty that says “Amen” to origins.

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    • dianelos says:

      Brian,

      You write: “You have to be careful not to include death and evil as necessary components in creation.”

      To use modal language in the case of God is tricky and should be avoided. God is prior to everything so nothing restricts him in any way or manner (that’s why we say that he created the world “ex nihilo” or with perfect freedom). God does what he wills, full point. So the only reasonable question to ponder about is what God has willed to do and why.

      A key question in the context of our discussion is who designed and keeps in being the evident world: the mechanically lawful physical universe and us spiritual creatures living in it. There are two possible answers: either God or somebody else, perhaps an evil Demiurge or some order of “powers and principalities” Paul speculates about. But if somebody else designed and keeps in being the world, they were given that power by God who is the ground of all being. So any way one looks at the issue, the responsibility of how creation is lies with the Creator.

      For me the idea that God gave the power to evil spirits to design and create the world makes no sense whatsoever. Either the evident world is good (indeed perfectly good) or it isn’t. If it is good then there is no place for evil Demiurges. If it isn’t good then to give the power to intermediary Demiurges to do the ugly work only doubles the problem, for we must now ask not only why God gave them the power to create a bad world but also why God made such evil spirits in the first place.

      Logic moves me to accept two premises: 1) God has designed and keeps the world in being, 2) The world is perfectly good. People find it difficult to accept the second premise because they consider the many bad things present in the world. But the whole is greater than its parts; a beautiful melody consists of notes, but no note is melodious. It’s a logical error to project properties of the part to the whole or vice versa. An atom is not alive but an animal made of atoms is. The set of natural numbers is not itself a number. And so on. To judge whether the world is perfectly good or not we must consider the whole of the world in space and time (or more precisely all experience of the world). We are not to judge the world from an individual’s point of view in space and time; that would be akin to judging a symphony from just one note. We are to judge creation as a whole, from God’s point of view as it were (in particular we are to judge the world from its divine end or purpose). Theodicy (the justification of God) is about explaining why the perfectly good and powerful God chose to create the evident world we inhabit, not why God gives being to every single part of it. After all, if the whole is justified then all parts are justified too. There are many evil parts in the world (both natural and moral), and evil by its very nature is unjustifiable – thus to look for justifications for each single evil is worse than a fool’s errand: it’s to misunderstand the nature of evil. The only question is why God chose to create the whole.

      DBH in the OP gives an answer to why God chose to create spiritually immature persons: There is no such thing as the making of spiritually mature persons; to have freely chosen to love the good and desire union with God *means* to have started at an epistemic distance from him. DBH argues that creating free creatures at any particular stage of spiritual development would be fictitious, from which follows that we are created at the very start of the path – which indeed comports with the evidence. Hence moral evil. And given the justification of a creation in which moral evils obtain it becomes relatively easy to understand the justification of a creation in which natural evils also obtain.

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      • brian says:

        Well, I thought I was making a pithy reference to Hart’s Doors of the Sea which is not a modal presupposition, but a teasing out the logic of creatio ex nihilo. I think I am following your argument; if so, I simply reject it insofar as I side with figures like Lev Shestov and Gabriel Marcel who refuse the good of a comprehensive Whole as negating concern for what happens to incommunicable singularities — or to find such concern a category mistake that errs in how it defines theodicy. I remain convinced, as I think Jedidiah indicates later in this thread, that the good Creation referenced in Genesis ultimately refers to an eschatological flourishing that is paradoxically originary. The world available to historical perception and surmise is incomplete and imperfect . . . in any event, I’m also somewhat skeptical of language regarding the Whole as it frequently becomes a comprehensive assertion of systematic metaphysics. I favor Desmond’s porosities and open wholes that advert to a dynamic and dramatic being that subverts any kind of totalizing claim. I suppose logic is variable and different metaphysical approaches yield different logics; like much else, it isn’t really univocal.

        Liked by 2 people

        • mercifullayman says:

          As much as I can sympathize with you on Shestov and Marcel, there is one problem that even the best of the existentialists face….and it’s that there is a univocal answer. Maybe it’s the Kantian bent they all have, but reason, to the greatest of them, always seeks a unified whole. It yearns for a univocal answer. Berdyaev(who knew Böhme, Shestov and Dostoyevsky better than anyone) as well as Jaspers (again, someone Berdyaev alludes to) all point to a unified whole. Reason always wants to make a singular answer. It is the overcoming of a dialectically inclined mind. They, admittedly, see dynamism as vehicle that works to basically make sense of any intended structure. The Logos will always ground itself, even in its becoming. It is always able to be known because it is known as an idea from the beginning. I think, as much as we like to push reason to a unity, like those mentioned, that the unity is freedom itself. If we want to throw Shestov all the way out there, reason is the exact tool of the fall. Knowledge and reason are not to be trusted. (See Athens and Jerusalem). Yet, the problem isn’t reason per se….It is “right reason.” This life, as Jaspers so eloquently says, is the arena in which life becomes and yet already is. An idea that flourishes as known, and yet has the room to be as it pertains to being-in-itself, and yet not as being-as-such.

          I do have a question for DBH….I do imagine he reads our elementary musings….there is the dichotomy of Kantian freedom we experience, even sensorially and its transcendent and end. It isn’t far off, in my own elementary mind, of the Augustinian/Eriugenian notions of freedom in this world versus the next, albeit being as a thing for itself has its own quandary. (One that is free in a loose sense, but not so in the strict sense.) Doesn’t the explanation yield an esoteric essential monism? Doesn’t it seemingly disallow an existential monism that becomes dialectical rather than paradoxical….which in turn, creates a fissure in the divine, rather than an overcoming of limit? Isn’t that really just a choice we make in who we choose to accentuate versus not?

          Liked by 1 person

          • brian says:

            Thanks for your insightful reflections. Barfield aimed at a different sort of Whole, certainly something less univocal, perhaps. Przywara’s analogy of being wed to a Nyssan epektasis is the proper orientation, in my view. My fondness for the existentialists does not extend to an uncritical acceptance of every aspect of their implied or explicit metaphysics.

            Liked by 1 person

          • mercifullayman says:

            You are better than I my friend. I don’t see any world in which existentialism pretty much doesn’t hold the key. I accept their conclusions far more wholesale than others. I’ve read as much as I’m able to from all walks, and yet, they make the most sense to me.(Those presuppositions I will admit, have their problems, but don’t we all.) Even in reading the patristics, I can’t help but move towards the view that they have. My new found appreciation for Jaspers and Eriugena probably doesn’t help haha.

            Liked by 1 person

        • dianelos says:

          Brian,

          You write: “I simply reject [your argument] insofar as I side with figures like Lev Shestov and Gabriel Marcel who refuse the good of a comprehensive Whole as negating concern for what happens to incommunicable singularities.”

          I haven’t read the authors you mention nor do I know what “incommunicable singularities” means, even though they are probably parts of creation. It would be more helpful if you explained why the whole can’t be justified even though some of its parts considered by themselves aren’t. But from where I stand it’s not a question open to opinion:

          It is generally true that whole is qualitatively greater than the sum of its parts. Consider for example that for the whole to be beautiful it is not necessary that every part be beautiful too. Some parts may be ugly but they are still parts of a beautiful whole. Actually almost everything I can think of that is beautiful will have some ugly parts. (Think of any beautiful painting you like – surely some square centimetre of it considered by itself will be ugly). The same goes for moral justification: If a complex action is morally justified then particular parts of that action may by themselves be evil – while remaining part and parcel of a morally justified whole. Suppose I violently push a child away from a driving car; my pushing the child may have caused them pain which is an evil, but it is still the case that that evil bit is part and parcel of the good action. I am not arguing from utilitarianism in which the greater good supposedly justifies the smaller evil. Rather I hold that the pain I have caused the child is evil and thus unjustified. I am only pointing out the obvious: that that evil is part of a good whole. The idea that for a whole to be good every part of it must also be good is evidently false.

          Nor does my idea imply a lack of concern for the evils that obtain in creation. I am deeply troubled because of them and deeply desire them away. But I do recognise that they may form part and parcel of perfectly good whole.

          The insight that the whole is qualitatively greater than its parts does not solve the problem from evil of course, but certainly clarifies and focuses it. We realise that the question theodicy is to answer is not what justifies each single evil that obtains in creation, but what justifies a creation in which all these single evils obtain. The question thus formed is the correct one. And I say admits of a complete answer within the framework of John Hick’s soul-building theodicy.

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      • JBG says:

        Dianelos: “To judge whether the world is perfectly good or not we must consider the whole of the world…”

        Is a perfectly good world that includes strife and suffering identical to a perfectly good world without it—a perfectly good world of boundless joy, bliss, and freedom? Is there no distinction in the manifestations of goodness?

        Presuming you believe in a future deified state of being, can this future state not be recognized as qualitatively better than what an individual experiences in this current “perfectly good” world soaked in terror and agony?

        To my mind, there is gaping chasm between a world that is deemed “perfect” vis-à-vis its purpose or end and a world that just intrinsically perfect—perfect in both whole and part.

        Unless you insist that a good whole with good parts cannot exist (in which case you would have to deny creaturely deification), a good whole with good parts is obviously more ideal than a good whole with evil parts. Which is to say, it is of greater goodness.

        So yes, this world might be good in that it is the medium through which our being and the capacity to experience ever greater goodness is cultivated, but it is clearly not an experiential perfection. Deeming it “perfect” warps the word beyond any relevant meaning, in my opinion.

        Liked by 3 people

        • dianelos says:

          JBG,

          Presuming you believe in a future deified state of being, can this future state not be recognized as qualitatively better than what an individual experiences in this current “perfectly good” world soaked in terror and agony?

          When I speak of the whole I mean its extensions both in space and in time. So the whole of creation includes both its genesis and its eschaton. Now we may compare parts with parts, and of course it is true that the eschaton of universal atonement is much greater than the current state of the world. But in the context of theodicy we must compare what God chose to create – the whole of the actual world – with any other whole we may wish to consider as an alternative. (Having said that, I disagree with language that suggests that the current state of the world is “soaked in terror in agony”. I think it is evident enough that for 99% of the people and 99% of the time the experience of life here and now is better than no experience. I find that a rhetoric that exaggerates the evils is misleading for it keeps us from considering the problem in its true dimension. It is evident that, even with its many moral and natural evils, the current world is an overwhelmingly valuable place.)

          Unless you insist that a good whole with good parts cannot exist [snip]

          No, I am claiming that in a perfectly good whole some bad parts may exist.

          Is a perfectly good world that includes strife and suffering identical to a perfectly good world without it—a perfectly good world of boundless joy, bliss, and freedom?

          Of course they are not identical, so we may ask which is greater. But which worlds exactly are we comparing?

          Consider again DBH’s thought in the OP. If God had created the world just before its glorious eschaton in universal atonement then that world would be definitively *less* than the actual one, because it would not contain persons (free spiritual beings in loving union with God) but only fictitious characters in a theatre of shadows. But, you may ask, what about a world with a significant history but lacking at least the worse of the natural evils in the actual world, and in which people were not as often as depraved as in the actual one? The latter clause is problematic too: as DBH argues in his comment above, the creations of free persons in any particular stage of spiritual development is incoherent. But what about the first clause? Wouldn’t a world with significant less natural evil – say without cancer killing children or earthquakes of tsunamis killing hundreds of thousands – be greater than the actual one?

          I claim that it wouldn’t. I find that in general any hypothetical world we describe with some degree of detail will be found to be evidently less great than the actual one. I would gladly defend this claim, but it would require lots of space (Durrenmatt’s play “The Mission of the Vega” helps open one’s mind to the idea). Here I would only like to observe that the experiential environment is not independent from the state of spiritual maturity of creatures. The world of toil and pain and biological death in which we live in our current condition is a reflection of our initial state of spiritual development – our genesis as creatures in the most basic state of being in the image of God. Which incidentally comports with the story of Genesis 3. In the afterlife we believe that the repentant will experience “heaven” and the unrepentant “hell”, which too comports with the idea that the world we experience is a reflection of our state of spiritual maturity. In short, the best experiential environment for repentance is one where the outside is keyed to the inside. And repentance, our self-transformation into the likeness of Christ, is the very axis of creation.

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          • JBG says:

            Dianelos: “When I speak of the whole I mean its extensions both in space and in time. So the whole of creation includes both its genesis and its eschaton.”

            It seems that you are uniquely employing the phrase “the whole world” as denoting the category of created being or even that which contains all worlds and therefore, any and all states of being from the most debased to the most gloriously transcendent are all elements of, and contained within, “the whole world.”

            Well sure, if you define it in this manner. But, is it accurate to refer to both the present condition and a radically transfigured future existence as being aspects of one and the same world? Or might one make the case that they are, in fact, different worlds? Didn’t I read somewhere that this world is passing away?

            I am apt to define a world by its “laws”: its qualities, conditions, dynamics, possibilities, etc. Our world is, as you said, “the world of toil and pain and biological death.” Although it plays a part, our world is more than a reflection of spiritual maturity. The saint is as subject to the conditions of this world as the sinner. The wildfire descends on the just and on the unjust in equal measure. The blessed liberated state will possess a radically different set of qualities, conditions, and possibilities. Hence, it is a different world.

            Dianelos: “It’s a logical error to project properties of the part to the whole or vice versa. An atom is not alive but an animal made of atoms is. The set of natural numbers is not itself a number. And so on.”

            What you have termed “the whole world” is that which contains all worlds. But that which contains all worlds is not itself a world.

            Dianelos: “I find that in general any hypothetical world we describe with some degree of detail will be found to be evidently less great than the actual one.”

            How Leibnizian of you.

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        • dianelos says:

          JBG,

          ”What you have termed “the whole world” is that which contains all worlds.”

          No; I mean the actual world: all of reality from beginning to end. I used the term “whole world” because God has chosen to create the whole of the actual world and not necessarily this and the other bit in it we may point to. And thus in the context of theodicy we should consider the whole God chose to create, and not the evil bits and pieces which are of course *not* chosen by God. By “whole world” I mean not only our current condition (the world we already know) but also the mostly unknown afterlife up and including the final theosis. Thus it is of course the case that the present condition and the “radically transfigured future existence” as you put it belong the same world – there is one created reality.

          But I do compare the actual world with hypothetical worlds God might have chosen to create instead. Such as jumping to the very last minutes before universal theosis and creating the world in that glorious state. Or jumping to the middle and creating the world with all creatures in a saintly condition but still some way to go before theosis. Or creating people just as morally immature as we are, albeit living in a world with significantly less natural evils than the actual. My claim is that when we compare the whole of any such hypothetical world with the whole of the actual world which God has chosen to create, we will realise that the actual world is greater. Given how the actual world is such that many moral and natural evils will obtain, it is quite surprising that when one tries to describe a better world – if one carefully considers the whole – it turns out to be impossible.

          So I do agree with Leibniz: If theism is true then the actual world is the greatest conceivable one. This is a truism because the all good and all powerful God would certainly not choose to create a world which is less than the greatest possible one. From where I stand it is remarkable that many theologians were led to believe that God failed in the beginning by creating a world that promptly went bad, and that he will also fail in the end by sharing all eternity with evil present in hell.

          Anyway, the task of theodicy is to explain in what sense the actual world despite its many moral and natural evils is perfectly good. To realise that a perfectly good world may contail evil parts is a significant step forward, for it removes the impression that them problem is intractable problem. Again, I think the basic solution has already been found in John Hick’s soul-building theodicy – but as is often the case great new insights are simply ignored by Christianity at large. I can imagine why an official church bound by tradition and agoism may dislike the revolutionary ideas of John Hick or, say, George Berkeley – but I can’t fathom why academic theologians fail to realise the remarkable significance of their work. Intellectually Christian theology is growing extremely slow indeed, and not for want of good theologians. Today it seems that most of theology has been reduced to studying old theologians instead of God.

          ”I am apt to define a world by its “laws”: its qualities, conditions, dynamics, possibilities, etc.”

          Yeah, even though the afterlife is mostly unknown and probably unknowable to us, it is interesting to think what laws must apply to the whole of the created world. God’s faithful love for his creatures, for example. The perfectly good end of creation most of DBH’s readers already agree with. I’d suggest the law that we shall all pay for every sin to the last farthing and that there are no shortcuts to heaven and that to hope for free gifts is to misunderstand the good. The intrinsic connection of all creatures so that no one is saved until all are saved (as DBH explains in his TASBS). That all creatures shall always be embodied spirits living in a material world of some kind. That it is not ontologically possible to remove God’s image from ourselves (that would entail not being persons anymore). That by nature nothing good can ever be lost (which explains the former), and that nothing evil can be eternal.

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          • JBG says:

            Dianelos,

            You write: “I find that in general any hypothetical world we describe with some degree of detail will be found to be evidently less great than the actual one.”

            You continue to reference “The Mission of the Vega” as demonstrating the logic of your stance, a play in which “the idea is suggested that a world with much more natural evils would be preferable to our own.”

            So therefore, according to your logic, wouldn’t a hypothetical world with much more natural evils be preferable and greater to our own?

            So, it turns out the whole world isn’t the best possible conceivable world after all. It doesn’t contain enough evil.

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          • Herb Garfield says:

            While He has the whole world in His hands, we are deemed citizens of heaven, should we believe and accept it; I say if we chose to accept it; a controversy in itself in the Calvinistic sense. “Our Mission should we chose to accept it” the actual and the virtual coexisting ; the embracing of paradox

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          • Herb Garfield says:

            While He has the whole world in His hands, we are deemed citizens of heaven, should we believe and accept it; I say if we chose to accept it; a controversy in itself in the Calvinistic sense. “Our Mission should we chose to accept it.” The actual and the virtual coexisting ; the embracing of paradox; integrally speaking

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        • dianelos says:

          JBG,

          You write:

          So therefore, according to your logic, wouldn’t a hypothetical world with much more natural evils be preferable and greater to our own?

          No. First of all I said that Durrenmatt’s play can help open peoples’ mind to the idea, not that it “demonstrates| it as you put it. So here is how it works: Given the traditional understanding of Genesis 3 we are used to thinking that the world in which we live is a place of punishment by God, and that the natural evils we suffer are part of that punishment. We have been led to believe that a world with significantly fewer natural evils (or even with none whatsoever) would be obviously a better one. Well in that play a world with many more natural evils than ours turns out to be preferable – both morally and experientially. In comparison our world is too comfortable and too easy, which allows us to give value to things not worthy of us, thus leading us to spiritual decadence. Now this is a play, you understand, a piece of absurd theatre. But it has its own interior logic which helps break the spell. At the very least it motivates one to reconsider the question of whether a world with even less natural evil than ours would really be a better one.

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          • JBG says:

            Dianelos,

            From the beginning, you have been linkIng the existence of evil with the creation of saintliness—“the greatest conceivable creatures.”

            You write: “A passage through evil makes for a greater saint, and God chose to create the greatest conceivable creatures. So it was because of his love for his creatures that God chose the more painful path.”

            That God chose to create a “more painful path” implies that a less painful path was an option. So why would God choose the more painful path as opposed to a less painful path? Because it is implied that a less painful path would only produce lesser creatures. According to this logic, the greater the pain/evil, the greater the saint.

            Therefore, If God wants to create the greatest conceivable creature, does it not follow that they must pass through and overcome the greatest conceivable evil? If “our world is too comfortable and too easy”, ours must be a world of lesser evil which must correspondingly only be capable of producing comparatively lesser saints, certainly lesser than they would be had they confronted and overcome greater evil.

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        • dianelos says:

          JBG,

          The safe place to start is to fully embrace the premises that 1) God is the greatest possible being, unlimited in goodness, power, knowledge, rationality, etc, 2) God created the world for the greatest possible purpose, which is for created persons to be eternally in loving unity with him, 3) God will succeed in realising his purpose in creation.

          Now to be a created person is to be a conscious, rational, free being, with the cognitive capacity to discern good from evil – or in short to be in the image of God. When considering #2 we see that to love God *is* to have freely chosen to love him; there is no such thing as being made to love God. As DBH in the original piece above points out to be a spiritually mature person *is* to have matured; there is no such thing a being made spiritually mature. So, to freely move towards God is to freely reject that which is afar from God – which is the evil.

          Now at this juncture many people get the impression that “evil” turns out to be something useful or necessary for creation, but that’s just a superficial impression; it’s a play of worlds. After all, if I am cold and I fetch a coat to be warm, it’s not like thereby cold is rendered useful or necessary. To become mature persons is to overcome our immature (sinful) nature; it’s not like thereby spiritual immaturity and sinfulness are rendered useful or necessary. From the point of view of eternity, moral immaturity is the absence of moral maturity; the path of repentance by which our soul is transformed into the likeness of Christ is the process of interior maturing, the process of filling our soul with charity. That our soul lacks charity does not make the lack of charity in any way shape or matter “useful” or “necessary”.

          Now to come to your argument:

          According to this logic, the greater the pain/evil, the greater the saint.

          We must distinguish between moral and natural evil; that’s an important distinction all philosophers who discuss the theological problem from evil make. Above I’ve been discussing moral evil, which is the evil we ourselves choose because of the spiritual immaturity of our initial state.

          Natural evil is external to us; it is the evil we suffer by living in this world (things like pain, illness, infirmity, biological death). Natural evil is chosen by nature when it blindly follows the physical laws that God made to govern it. Now God, if he so chose, could instead have made us living in a world without any natural evils whatsoever, a world of pure and unceasing pleasure. It is easy to see that such a world is *not* conducive to spiritual advancement: We’d all become superficial and self-contented – and would try to distance ourselves from other people lest we suffer the moral evils they produce. Now let’s consider the other extreme, namely that God would choose to create a world so full of natural evils that it would be like a torture chamber; we would all suffer terrible pain all our lives. It is easy to see that such a world is *not* conducive to spiritual advancement either; for example in such a world it would be rational to believe that it was by a purely evil demiurge. Which proves that the best possible world is one between these two extremes: neither completely empty nor completely full with natural evils.

          The remaining question is whether the actual world with its given natural evils is the optimal one. There is no reason to think that it is not the optimal one, so the existence of natural evils does not give us any warrant to doubt in the truth of theism. More difficult is to find reason to believe that the actual world is the optimal one, and thus have obtain warrant for the truth of theism. I say it is difficult but not infeasible – when considering alternative worlds with significant more or less natural evil one finds they are not desirable. Plays like Durrenmatt’s help one realise that the optimal world won’t be one that has even less natural evils than the actual one.

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          • JBG says:

            Dianelos: “Now at this juncture many people get the impression that “evil” turns out to be something useful or necessary for creation, but that’s just a superficial impression; it’s a play of worlds. After all, if I am cold and I fetch a coat to be warm, it’s not like thereby cold is rendered useful or necessary.”

            This is a poor analogy that doesn’t translate—we’re talking about the raison d’être of created being.

            How can you say that ““a passage through evil makes for a greater saint” and also that evil is not something useful or necessary for creation. You are attempting to have it both ways.

            If something makes for a greater creature then it is, by definition, useful.

            The other question is that of its necessity. Maybe suffering is expedient but not of necessity. In your opinion, can an individual become spiritually mature in the absence of suffering/evil? If one cannot, then evil is explicitly necessary.

            It’s really that simple.

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        • dianelos says:

          JBG,

          You write:

          “How can you say that ““a passage through evil makes for a greater saint” and also that evil is not something useful or necessary for creation. You are attempting to have it both ways.

          Suppose I value more a glass being full of water, so I fill it with water. It’s not like this implies that the emptiness of the glass was useful to me. After all it’s not like the emptiness of the glass helps me in any way shape or manner.

          God creates us with an empty soul and wants us to fill it with charity. When we do so it’s not like the original emptiness of the soul was “useful” either to us or to God. Evidently it wasn’t; it’s not like the emptiness helps us to fill our soul with charity. That we love the good, that we become aware of God’s love, that we desire what he desires: these help us fill our soul with charity. From where I stand this is very clear indeed.

          Now you may ask: If God desired our soul to be filled with charity why didn’t he create us with a soul filled with charity from the very beginning? That question has a clear answer too: What God desires is for our soul to be filled with charity *freely by us*. To make a soul filled with charity from the beginning is in an incoherent idea as DBH explains in the post above as well as in his comment. As he says to make a creature in any particular stage of development would not be to make a person but a fiction. For to be a person and thus be in the image of God *entails* to be free to assent to how one is. I add that a creature who has freely filled her soul with charity is greater than a creature made filled with charity from the beginning, and because of love God would of course choose to make the greater creature.

          Finally, a soul empty of charity (a person made at the basic stage of spiritual development) is a sinful soul, a soul apt to sin. I understand that this picture shocks you for it goes against what you have been used to thinking, but I if you contemplate it with open eyes you will see that it makes perfect sense.

          Now above I’ve argued against the claim that if God desires us to fill our soul with charity it follows that the original emptiness of our soul is in some sense “useful” to God or us. But you also suggest that then the emptiness of our soul would then be “necessary”. Well we may say that if God’s desire is for us to freely fill our soul with charity then in a sense our soul being originally empty of charity is necessary for God’s desire to be realised. That’s like saying that in order to draw a circle it’s necessary to draw a curved line. It is necessary because the drawing of a circle entails a curved line. Similarly the filling of a glass with water entails there being a glass without water, and the filling of a soul with charity entails there being a soul without charity, and the freely transforming our soul into the likeness of Christ entails there being originally a soul not in the likeness of Christ. When we understand the beauty of the idea we won’t find it problematic to accept that being made in a spiritually immature (sinful or fallen) condition was necessary for the realisation of God’s desire.

          Indeed why should that be problematic? We are made by God, correct? And we are made by him in the way are, namely in fallen condition. Surely nobody forced God to make us like this (for there is not limit to his power), so he chose to do so – and I explain why. What is problematic is rather the traditional idea that God makes us in a fallen condition against what he desires or against his purpose in creation.

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  7. @Dianelos: Your view isn’t really all that strange. Many an existentialist or mystic has worked through that same idea or lens. I think the articulation that is being sought is wrapped up in more about what does freedom allow and what does it entail in the nexus of Being itself? For some, most notably people like Böhme, Schelling, Von Baader, and more, that the Ungrund works as an “irrational” allowance deeply embedded into even the very nature of the divine. It’s the pool from which all existence emerges, it is a nothingness that is “above-being”. It isn’t irrational in the sense of against reason but whether it is fully able to be known as it emerges into a sensorial world. As the cosmos “become” there is an uncertainty that is also tied to a certainty of ground. It is the misapplied vision of reality and a reliance upon consciousness in the immanence of our lives that creates the negative world of non-being as such. Reality, as it is, is free to become but it isn’t free to be actualized. There is an illusory part to which we all succumb and to which we all participate. The gift of existence is, to some, tied to that same “ungroundness.” The fall becomes a reliance upon our own senses and desires that don’t align with the aims of the divine. It’s placing sensation over mind. The only real thing can be that which fits into the purpose of the Good. So, in a sense, evil is always a thing that is always there precisely because you have the ability to not see the real reality waiting to be unmasked. It’s all dialetical at that point. The contradiction is a “real” thing in that it seemingly exists to the mind, but yet, it isn’t real in the sense that it can ever truly actualize itself into a reality that is grounded. There is a way to balance out all of the “theodicy” concerns without defaulting to the worldview I think you’re suggesting.

    Again, could be wrong, but there is a way to handle to tension of contradiction that we face, and yet find a way to see existence as a unified whole.

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    • dianelos says:

      mercifullayman,

      Well for me my view is not at all strange, and indeed is quite simple. Theology is very hard, which is understandable considering that God is the most overarching and deepest order in all that is – the ground of all understanding. On the other hand we are made for God, so theological truth once discovered should strike us as being simple and natural and transparent like water. So when I find that a theological idea is complicated or opaque and difficult to imagine then I tend to think that either I don’t understand it properly or that it is false.

      I use another epistemic yardstick. As Christ says in the gospels one recognises theological truth from its fruit. So whenever I come across an idea which hinders me from loving God and takes away my strength for choosing the good I am inclined to think that is probably false at least in the way I understand it. Conversely an idea which reveals to me a more beautiful vision of God and inspires me to love him more and gives me more strength to choose the good I feel rather confident that it is true.

      Now I haven’t read any of the authors you mention (in general I have read little but thought much about God), so I can’t comment on their thought. I was struck by “The only real thing can be that which fits the purpose of the Good.” Here I think we must distinguish between reality from the point of view of God and from our point of view. The point of view of God is eternal, it stands on the end of all things. In contrast our point of view is temporal. So from God’s point of view evil is indeed unreal and non-being, for evil by its very nature cannot be eternal (one more reason why infernalism cannot be true). But from our point of view as participants in the great drama of an atoning creation evil is as present and real as the good.

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      • mercifullayman says:

        The actual point is that there must be a fusion between the vision of God as the same vision of man, and vice-versa. The whole thing hinges upon the God-man. Otherwise you have to separate worlds in which one is fully transcendent and actual and one in which it is fully immanent and false. It disappears as soon as it begins. The whole point of a dialectic approach is that the here must be overcome by realizing it isn’t what is there. St. Paul demonstrates this when he suggests the earth itself is going through labor pains to bring forth the world that is enslaved by appearance but not actuality. It isn’t hard to see how the sensorial skews the actual. We do it all the time in a myriad of ways. Right reason, isn’t reason as surmised by logic, but reason that is wholly in-tune with the fount of being itself….God….and just like an expository section of a symphony, dissonance happens. It too will be overcome, but if you look close enough, the root of the whole always returns.

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  8. Pretty Lamb says:

    I read a nice Near Death Experience account recently. Angie Fenimore committed suicide as a young wife & parent of two, having had a very difficult childhood of abandonment and sexual abuse. She found herself in a place of darkness with other spirits whom she identified as fellow suicides; she said the medium of communication in that world was through thoughts, but the people around her were unresponsive being preoccupied with themselves. Asking herself where she was, her intuition said “purgatory”. Eventually a Light appeared, Whom she identified as God, and Who asked her whether this is what she really wanted, telling her that this was the worst possible choice she could have made.

    Anyhow, two of the things that she recalls in her conversation with God (and I know the mind tends to put its own interpretation on things) were :

    A. that besides the body and spirit, we have an “essence” made up of light and darkness, good and evil. She says that evil/darkness is something real or substantial, contradicting the privation theory that evil is mere absence of good. I thought that was interesting; but obviously she isn’t a philosopher and could have been interpreting for herself something she saw. Still it’s refreshing to hear the privation theory contradicted for once. What I like about the more solidly dualistic, Zoroastrian view of good & evil is that it seems to make the faculty of choice or liberty more real, since you are choosing between two (albeit relative and conditioned) realities, and not merely making a blind stupid error each time you accidentally choose the lesser good over the greater.

    B. More interestingly, and she was “surprised” to hear this herself, she says the one whom she identified as God the Father told her directly that He himself once had a mortal existence on another world, and that He also had to go through a process of choosing good over evil. She also says there are many worlds at different levels of spiritual advancement. I find this theory of God once being a lesser spirit like ours, even going through a mortal existence like ours, and then presumably going on to create worlds like this one and leading on souls like ours to a higher state — extremely interesting. It seems to fit well with a Buddhist cosmology in which the Creator God of a world is not necessarily the most enlightened being, just much more enlightened or holy relatively speaking to the creatures of that world. Theoretically then, this world is going through a process of spiritual evolution into what Buddhists call a Pure Land (the Christian “Kingdom of God”), presumably with the one we call God being the chief spirit here. Obviously this view completely overturns classical Western theology, which is the ontotheology of identifying God with “Being itself” in some way. Still I though it was somewhat relevant to DBH’s point about spirits needing to go through a process of education or evolution or gradual enlightenment and sanctification. I know DBH holds very much to a classic, highly ‘ontic’ theology himself, but I wonder how much classical (onto-)theology is to blame for later perversions like the extreme predestinarianism of Calvin. After all, if God is Being itself, the Supreme self-subsisting Being, it’s very difficult to reconcile that both with God’s own freedom and the freedom of the creatures that radically depend on Him for their own subsistence.

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    • Pretty Lamb says:

      And to add, if the Creator God and His divine Being is not the “ontological foundation” or first principle of all that exists, then what is? Well above someone has already mentioned Boehme’s Ungrund, but there’s also Eckhart’s Godhead (which he distinguishes from God Himself), perhaps Nicholas of Cusa’s coincidentia oppositorum, Pseudo-Dionysius’ mystical theology of the God beyond all categories, etc., as well as the whole entire Eastern tradition with its Brahman, the Tao, the Dharma, Buddhadhatu, etc. What’s interesting is that all of these distinguish this Primary and Ultimate principle from simple Being itself, all saying that it goes beyond Being and Nothingness.

      I’m still trying to decide myself whether God is to be somehow personally identified with this highest mystical principle; or whether He’s rather some kind of emanation or outgrowth from it, just one much more advanced than we are. Apparently Adi Shankara, the Vedanta mystic/metaphysian, says that Brahman is the ultimate, and the Creator God (“Ishvara”) is what appears to us when we try to approach Brahman; so Ishvara, the Creator, is Brahman seen through a certain level of Maya, illusion.
      I know one of the classical Christian objections to this is that it would be idolatry to worship a mere relative being, no matter how high; and that true religion must be based on the worship of the Most High, philosophically understood. But I don’t see how say Boehme’s Ungrund or the Buddhist’s Dharma is really worthy of what we call worship; it’s so beyond all categories that the notion of worship doesn’t seem to properly apply to it. Rather, we worship what we understand to be higher than us and that can lead us to greater heights ourselves, from the worship of a child for his parents and teachers, to the worship of a creature for its Creator. I don’t see anything particularly wrong in this view; and following the univocity of Scotus, that our being must be on some sense univocal to God’s, I think it can help us to approach Him with a more realistic view, knowing that we share a common metaphysical origin and spiritual destiny.

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  9. JBG says:

    Pretty Lamb: “It seems to fit well with a Buddhist cosmology in which the Creator God of a world is not necessarily the most enlightened being, just much more enlightened or holy relatively speaking to the creatures of that world.”

    This also seems to fit with a broad picture of some strands of esotericism, at least according to what I’ve read. Here the God referenced by human religion is but the “Solar Man”, another rung up the ladder of Being, so to speak, but nowhere near the Absolute.

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  10. Pardon the riff…Much of this discussion highlights to me that addressing the problem of evil is tightly bound in our cosmology. This makes me think that a further exploration of the Origenian cosmology, perhaps improved upon in Maximus (as Jordan Wood’s work elucidates), as it touches on modern cosmology would be a fruitful area for further exploration.

    If, for example, we take the structure of the cosmos found in Origen, Evagrius, Maximus, et. al. as bearing some merit, and I am convinced that it is, then, it seems utterly inescapable that to exist in time is to experience the fall. If we have some kind of Aeonian existence in the Divine Pleroma that encompasses both our eschatological end and our protological beginnings, then the descent into time (protologically considered) entails a kind of forgetting of this Aeonian identity as we exist and unfold within time. It is this casting down or descent of the cruciform foundation of the world that serves both as the basis where good and evil are even known, and at once the final resolution as Christ’s Divine Identity is manifest across every difference in such a way that even in difference all negation is overcome by Divinity. In this Divine Aeon, which I take to be quantitatively infinite comprised of all the ontological content of all possible worlds, the Pleroma of Christ’s body is ubiquitous in its manifold perfections, serving as the source of life and creativity that makes all possible worlds actual. But, to enter into the worlds of time, to be a finite creature of time, we must first come to grips with our existence in time before we can begin to comprehend our place before and after it.

    If faith is a sort of eschatological act, wherein beholding Christ we behold ourselves truly and begin to grasp our true nature and destiny, I believe it is also an act of memory as well that points us back to our beginning in God.

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    • dianelos says:

      jedidiahpaschallm,

      There is much I agree with, especially where you write that to behold Christ is to behold ourselves are we are meant to be. But why insist on the idea of an actual fall, that in the beginning we were made perfect and then somehow fell from that initial condition? If we were made perfect then how is that we fell? And if we were made imperfect then what did we fall from? It makes much more sense to think that we were made fallen in the sense of being placed at the start of a long path of ascend towards God.

      The only answer to this question I can imagine is because of the Old Testament story in Genesis 3. Now that story only records (and perhaps records imperfectly) what was the best theological understanding many centuries before Christ’s incarnation. It’s not like theology cannot advance through the centuries, nor that what has been written is all that needs to be said. It is evident that the Biblical story as usually understood does not work since it suffers from incoherences galore (for example: why did God allow the evil spirit into the garden to tempt the Adam and Eve who were like innocent children not knowing the difference between good and evil? And, if the actions of Adam and Eve explain the fall of humanity into sin, what explains the previous fall of some of the angelic creatures into sin? Considered on its merits the story of Genesis 3 does nothing to explain how evil entered creation.) What’s more theologians old and new have reinterpreted the story in a way which is positive and does not entail an actual fall. For example 4th century’s Theodore of Mopsuestia interprets it pedagogically by pointing out that in order to discern between good and evil and be free to reject the evil and love the good one must first experience them. And 21st century Philip Gulley interprets the story as an event of graduation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R2KRI-ff2A). I find his imaginative idea makes splendid sense: To be a person made in the image of God entails having moral perception to discern good from evil; so by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil the firstborn graduated from an innocent animal-like condition into true personhood from which they are free to ascend into union with God. Like any parent who sees a child become a grown-up and leave home God was not angry but proud. But also sorry – knowing of the pains present in the path of self-realisation which was in their nature and to which they had consented. So he warned them about what awaited them, and helped them on the way by clothing them. And as we know kept helping and guiding them in many ways up to and including the incarnating and suffering at their side.

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      • Interesting thoughts. I think that we must demarcate, from our temporal vantage, “when” our beginning is situated – and I would maintain that this is an eschatologically realized beginning when we attain to the fullness of the Aeonian life. From our position within the Aeon, we will come to know that we have been there all along, in the fullness of our true selves which are constellated in the Pleroma that is the Body of Christ. But, temporally speaking, we only become aware of this successively over time. But to enter time is to enter into the ignorance of temporal beginnings, to find ourselves created from the void and emerging into becoming. It is our ignorance that is the precondition of the fall in time, but it is an ignorance we already have eschatologically consented to as the guarantee of our finite freedom.

        I am glad you point to Genesis, because the pattern of an upper level perfected, or more accurately, idealized creation is provided in Genesis 1 that functions as a kind of supra-temporalized week of creation in which its potentialities are framed. However, there is a descent into the temporal, in the visceral creation of Genesis 2 where the entry into the world and into time leaves the human in a state of percarity and ignorance (even if paradisiacal) that bends inexorably toward a fall in time. Now, I have little interest in how literally or allegorically one interprets these, but, the structure of a Creation as viewed from above is already juxtaposed with the structure of a creation as experienced here below. The path to navigating this ignorance, as it turns out, was not to begin with the acquisition of knowledge, but fidelity to the Creator. Nonetheless, even in our breach of faith, the dialectical unfolding of being in time was already secured by the fidelity of the Second Adam, whose victory at the cross turned out to be the foundational source of creation in time, within time itself. Yet, in Jesus was also the Aeonian life from which he descended, and this would mark both the completion and the healing of time.

        To your point, however, yes the fall was fundamentally pedagogical in its function, it was the means whereby finite being can come to grips with its transfinite nature as being both limited and finite, and from nothing, and united to God in his infinite nature. This is realized by becoming persons formed in the Divine Image. I have enough of my Calvinist heritage still in me to say that in a sense the fall was determined by the freedom of creatures – yet it is Christ who is the very foundation of this freedom upon which the world is founded as the Lamb slain from the world’s foundation. Yet in this Self-offering which guarantees creaturely freedom, Christ has also ensured that our freedom cannot destroy us or push us ultimately into the void of nonbeing. Again, I know this sounds determinist at some level, but if the kenotic Self- offering of Christ is prior to creation itself (at least logically so, perhaps on multiple other levels as well) – then this was the only way in which creaturely freedom could be secured in such a way that those made Imago Dei could attain theosis in the context of freedom, self-consciousness, and self-awareness and not be either simply mindlessly absorbed into Divinity, or be reduced to some vague sense of a defective finite copy of the Infinite; which is why our theosis is secured in the hypostatic revelation of Christ in time. To be created otherwise would leave us something other than the God-like creatures we were made to be.

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        • TJF says:

          Very Plotinian. I am a fan.

          Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          I love this, thank you for sharing. That said I do worry it falls into the problem identified by Brian and Grant above whereby the Fall is seen not simply as a contingent possibility that happened to be realised, but rather as an essential component of creation. To be honest I am quite attracted to this view on account of its intellectual neatness – if the Fall isn’t a tragic inevitability, then what actual (historical?) contingent event accounts for its reality? – but it still seems problematic insofar as it makes the Good dependent on evil. Do you think that is an issue that can be tackled or am I misunderstanding you?

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          • That’s a good question David, and I will be the first to admit that there are probably novel elements to my understanding of the problem of evil in creation. The first qualifier is that in the Heavenly Aeon, I do not believe there is, ever has been, or will be the presence of evil because properly speaking this is the creation as it is fully realized beyond the strictures of cosmic time. Visually speaking, it would not be inappropriate to speak of the Aeon as the encircling dimension around the cosmos that serves as the nexus between Time and Eternity, where both are fully present, all their radiant potentialities fully actualized as the Divine Pleroma which is the Body of Christ. The life of the Aeon is one where the identity of all identity and difference exist in perichoretic dance beyond all possibility of negation, where the One and the Many are mutual manifestations of each other.

            However, to cross over the interval between the Aeon and Time entails a forgetting, as I noted above. The chaotic, or stochastic elements that are very much bound into the way our cosmos actually functions (here a little exposure to fractal geometry and chaos theory can help) are not evil in any manifestly moral way, they are just chaotic – but vital to creation. An earthquake, for example, might be considered a natural evil, however, the viability of life on earth is largely dependent on the fact that she is tectonically active, and the only reason why we experience it as evil is because we are mortal and subject to the chaotic forces of nature, outside of which nature as we conceive it could not exist. At the level of moral evil, this arises not out of a moral determination by God, but by the activity of rational creatures who exist in some level of ignorance, and from this lack produce a defective response to the chaotic and stochastic elements of the order of time. In this respect, the moral aspect of evil is not a creation so much as a response born of ignorance, and while it was always a possibility for which there was no ontological necessity motivating it, it was, to some degree or another an inevitability for all time-bound creatures to participate in (to varying degrees with varying degrees of culpability, save Christ alone, who still is affected by evil though never guilty of participating in it).

            Yet, moral evil, as a form of dark negation, has a function within a provisional kind of dualism in time. Being, or to be Hegelian, Spirit, is realized in time in this dialectic, where difference is often discovered through negation – opening up new possibilities for Being to show itself forth in creation even in the fractures that arise from evil. Yet, this dialectic is, and already has been upended and reshaped entirely in the passion of Christ, where identity and difference, finite and Infinite, death and immortality coinhere – that both allows for the possibility of evil while at once being its final resolution. Every version of Christian theodicy that has any merit bends inexorably to the Cross and to the story of Easter where it is given space to exist only to be overcome when Divinity and humanity are fully realized in the Paschal sacrifice, that from the vantage of the Aeon, is in itself the very foundation of both the Aeonian Cosmos, and the world of time.

            Like Julian of Norwich’s behovliness of sin, there is a positive pedagogical value to the problem of evil, as it becomes the contradistinction, the dialectical engine through which created being is realized, and at last self-posited beyond evil in the transcendent good of the Aeonian Life. I realize that I am dancing around whether or not evil is somehow necessary for creation, and that is somewhat deliberate, because the truth is, I have no way of knowing, but to me whatever one makes of it, it is an immanent, not a transcendental feature of creation, and one that is not an infinite dualism, but a provisional one. Evil has been allowed to exist so that it could be overcome by rational creatures who have come to understand themselves to be made in the image of Christ, and it is overcome in them in the same mode in which Christ overcomes it – kenotically.

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          • Grant says:

            But are earthquakes which take life and destroy a perfectly normal and God-intended part of the ‘choatic or stochastic’ aspect of creation as it is to function? Does creation need to be this destructive and hostile to life, life which existed for eons before biological moral agents showed up subject to every kind of pain, horror and death, whether by earthquake, volcano, meteor strike etc. Is this how the universe in time needed to unfold? How do we know, much Biblical imgery presents this a result of a curse, rather than intended, just because how the universe is, we should not be so assume that is how is should have been, that it isn’t the result of a Fall.

            After all, what of disease, long predating us, killing animals and us, horrible deformities, are these just as intended and necessary, or vast graveyards of all life before us, most species before us. And all people suffer from all these quarters, again not from moral evil.

            And can moral evil be seperated from ‘natural’ evil, since human are natural, we come from the universe, in part at least, we formed by it, our actions are ‘natural’ as well. And all those things, the destructive earthquakes, disease, predation, scare resources impacted the evolution of life, inlcuding our forms, and our the shape of a our minds and instincts. Much we regard is fallen (as also I admit, things we see as praiseworthy) we both needed for a forebears to suceed. They formed the pysche of who humans are in this current Aeon, we were fallen, and conditioned so by those choatic forces, before we made any choices. So all our choices arise from that ‘natural’ condition.

            In this area at least, David I think might argee with you, but I’m afraid I can’t. If that is the form creation God intends in time, then He isn’t the God the Gospel presents. It does as David say, make God intend evil in some form, or be dependent on it in this Aeon to produce the results he needs.

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          • Grant, thanks, I was anticipating this line of pushback, and from a moral perspective, I share your same concerns. However, I think we have to demarcate what “Creation” is in its fullest sense versus how the cosmos in her current state actually functions. As much as I affirm, at least transcendentally, the non-ontological status of evil, chaos, and the like, these are very real and undeniable features of our present cosmos. To simply point to the illusory and shadowy aspects of evil that will at last be chased away by the eschatological bliss of the Aeon without a genuine effort to deal with its present perplexities seems to me to be a moral flight.

            I am far more comfortable with the anthropomorphisms of the Hebrew Bible, where God is depicted as creating both good and evil (Isa. 45, better translated as peace and chaos, I believe) than with some of the abstractions of Christian metaphysics when dealing with theodicies. Admittedly, the passage in Isaiah 45 is already lexically saying something quite different than it appears to the case on first reading, as the term bara is used for creation, which is decidedly not ex nihilo, but rather a functional category where he is drawing order out of oppositional forces – here to the benefit of the community returning from exile. And, I find something in these prophetic merisms that is very much akin to the kind of dialectics we see in the likes of Hegel; namely that there is a function to the dark and incohate aspects of negation that is yet a deeper manifestation of identity. I am not so much trying to develop this here into a full blown theodicy as much as to indicate my own perspectives on the matter. The dialectical problem of good and evil is foundational to our biblical tradition, and in its pre-metaphysical status, where evil is a real problem to be dealt with in the realm of our experience is, to me, something I am very hesitant to abandon for a purely metaphysical theodicy.

            To the point, however, the problem of the earthquake, of the hurricane, of the wildfire, strictly at the phenomenal level is not a problem of evil. The same generative forces that cause these are also the same generative forces that make life on earth possible. We can only call them evils from the vantage point of our own mortality which makes us aware of the fact that for all of the grandeur and beauty of the world, it is a power that seems largely indifferent, and at times hostile to us, even as it serves as the very setting of our human experience. This is why I am rather insistent that the kind of futility we experience in the world is precisely because we do not yet exist in the world that is solely attributable to the Divine creation – the world purged of evil is the Aeon, where the injuries of time are brought into healing and cohesion with the Divine life in an everlasting epektastic existence that will transfigure this present un-world into the Creation that it was always meant to be.

            About the furthest I am willing to go in affirming some functionality to moral evil is that it is pedagogical in function, and whether determined at some level or not, has become the means that ultimately makes us long for its resolution in the good.

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          • Grant says:

            It seems them that you affirm that God and Good requires evil and suffering to achieve the Divine creation, God is therefore dependent (or wills) death, evil and suffering to achieve His ends. As I said above, Paradise then is not, and will not be Paradise, it’s a shining city build on a blood-soaked hill, filled with all the corpses to get there. Evil and suffering will also therefore be eternal, never chased away, because they are an essential foundation of that creation, what was necessary for it to be, the forge from which it was created. Evil is not an enemy of God, neither death, but his tool, the devil his thankless servant, this might work for earlier Hebriac mythologies (where of course, this exactly the point, the Satan is God’s servent, not rebel), but not what is revealed in the Gospel, at least I can’t see it.

            And as said, since the world as is, formed life as is, which forms us (and any other intelligent life as is) our bodies and pyschology, are therefore not really fallen, nor did we choice or make a mistake to be this way. No we are intended this way, it’s a necessary phase to became what we are to be, therefore all our moral evil arises from the state of creation, it forms us as we are, including our ‘fallen’ state and inclinations to what we see as evil. But it isn’t it just serves it function too.

            If that is true, then Christianity is false, and we should the reality of what that says about God. I don’t believe it myself, but if I did, I would reject Christianity in a second, as it could not be true.

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          • David says:

            Thanks Jebidiah and Grant.

            Grant, I would not say I am in complete agreement Jebidiah.

            I agree with you that evil is not a necessary tool that must be utilised in order to bring about some greater good. While I admit that God can take pre-existing evil – such as our own sinful actions – and use them to bring about some good, that speaks more of God’s creativity and power to bring order out of chaos, but it does not mean he actively creates evil so that the good will look all the more glorious or similar. I don’t believe in theories that state we need the dark as contrast to see the light, or that we need to experience pain in order to appreciate pleasure, or anything like that.

            What I am more agnostic about – and we have discussed this before – is the idea that evil may in some sense be a tragic inevitability that impinges upon creation. So I am sympathetic to the necessitarian strain of Jebidiah’s argument – but still differ from it inasmuch that I am not suggesting that evil should be seen as a kind of essential ingredient in the good cake of the eschaton. Rather this view would see evil as a kind of unintended side effect that accompanies the cake – think hidden calories! The distinction could be pictured as being between 1) a man killing another man as a necessary condition to take on the orphaned child as his own vs. 2) a man choosing to have a child naturally, despite knowing that the child will one day *inevitably* and *necessarily* suffer and die. If the fall is necessary, it is not that God requires some evil to make us good – rather it’s just inevitable that human beings do evil, and this foreknown evil is the reason everything is fallen.

            Now I don’t believe this qualified necessitarian view is definitely right. Maybe it is the case that some supratemporal, or otherwise contingent, decision, brought about the Fall such that it really, really could have been avoided (although I have huge trouble imagining what this would be). And maybe it would have been immoral for God to create if this were not the case. But I just don’t see it as obviously, 100% the case, given that we don’t normally consider human parents sinful for bringing their children into being – despite the fact they are literally fashioning their frail, weak and disease-riddled bodies, willingly bringing about a perverted and incomplete body-design that will undoubtedly cause their child to suffer horribly. Yes the blueprint of evil is in our DNA, but parents willingly choose to bring the twisted flesh to life.

            That said I do understand where you’re coming from. I too want evil to be a totally unnecessary element of creation – contingent. But then it all hinges on the notion of ‘contingency’ – am I right in thinking that, in your mind ,it is the contingency of the situation (assuming there is a supratemporal contingent fall that is) that gets God off the hook. If that’s right, does it mean that the ‘free will’ nature of the contingency is an essential component of your theodicy, or could it survive without it? i.e. if contingency is the important thing, would God theoretically also be off the hook in your book if it so happened that God created within the confines of metaphysical necessity that stated that any possible world had the possibility of *randomly* becoming corrupted/fallen, but that his had nothing to do with creatures? i.e. the world might randomly fall, but not as a result of the decision of some finite will, but just by chance, like some quantum mechanical event?

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          • Grant says:

            To be honest David, even my concept raises difficutlies with theodices, the problem of evil isn’t easily dispelled, however to me it’s seems to the only possible way forward that agrees with the Gospel revelation of Christ and what he reveal present creation to be (and takes very seriously that current creation is a distorted realm under the shadow hold of rebel powers, bound under death which is God’s enemy).

            I would also say that a super-termporal, a fall from the Original Creation or emergence towards it, in union with all creation leading to this fallen Aeon seems the only way to me (and seems to have some coherence with some possible quantum physics observations). In that I would also say choice is absolutely essential, mistaking the nothingness from which we came with Life and wisdom, so finding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in evil, that is negation and distortion becoming an effect in action, the reality of existence as we and creation began shattered temporally and spacially in this shadowly half-existence.

            The examples you provide (a man knowning his child will die) are the result of existing in a fallen creation, where from God’s perspective he is creating the very situation, even the nature that produces those fallen choices. By creating the fallen creation, he also by design intends the human to be fallen who then make (being so formed by such as creation as we now live in, producing the human nature as it is) the destructive choices they make (since this creation favoured those choices as beneficial just as it did more benevolent attributes, they were in fact vital to survival). So God doesn’t just forknow it, he creates and authors the very situations making them inevitable. So he is directly responsible, and intends such wickness and suffering, and that cannot be squared with Christian (and some other traditions) claims of God. It is trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

            The difference with my view is that, like perhaps (still an inadequate example given the absolute difference between Creator and creation, and the Creator absolute freedom) a parent letting their child ride a bike. A fall is possible, but not inevitable. Also, like the parent remains with the child to help protect the fall to a certain extent, and at least in Christian claims, God does more, not only does he providential order our fall, but he take responsiblity to it’s fullness as in bringing us in union with Himself in Christ, he takes all the fallen aspects and overcomes them, breaks them and frees all things. Reconciling all things they are free and ransomed from the slavery towards nothingness and all creation drawn out beyond that effect of death that has enslaved and warped all this fallen Aeon that we fell into, until it destroyed and no more, Then shall be all in all.

            To me, does it solves all doubts, no, does evil still trouble me yes, is it a complete answer no, more a starting point. But it’s only move I can see, and it seems to hold together enough, anything else if true means God is directly responsible for evil, is it’s author and death is certainly no enemy, but a tool, and Paradise a form of hell (assuming we even have grounds given that image of God to hope this kind of existence doesn’t just continue or get worse). But even a paradise based on an intended suffering, pain and evil to bring it about, means that evil is it’s part of it’s foundation. And so that evil will endure forever, and that evil and torture will in fact be positive and good in that sense, the paradise a monument to it’s work. Death would be as eternal as life, evil as good, and nothing would actually differentiate it, since the evil was a tool to make the final result.

            Like a great structure built by tortured slaves, so would Paradise be, and to me, that as I say isn’t Paradise at all but a kind of hell.

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          • David says:

            Hi Grant.

            We do keep going round in circles on this don’t we? 🙂 I really admire your moral intuitions and the way you tease out their implications in discussion. I have to say that I am still not quite convinced. Although again, let me be clear that I’m not actually arguing for the view that falleness is definitely inevitable. I’m just arguing that I’m not 100% certain that God would be evil to create *if* falleness were inevitable.

            So in your bike example, I’d firstly note that practically every child – I really wouldn’t be surprised if it were 100% of cases – does indeed fall off their bike when learning. It is a practical certainty. Does this make parents evil for letting their children bikes? I suppose you would find grounds to let them off the hook on the basis that there is a minuscule possibility the child won’t injure themselves – but to my mind that is little more than a technicality that does not seriously alter the moral calculus. I think we all know that all kinds of sufferings are inevitably embedded in the decisions we make on behalf of others, but that it is not necessarily evil to make them. But, to take it a step further, imagine that the parent possesses a crystal ball – or instead just possesses a perfect knowledge of the child’s cognitive abilities and the mechanics of the bike, such that they know with 100% certainty whether or not the child will fall off if they are taken on a particular bike ride. Would you really argue that the parents would be acting in a deeply sinful way for taking the child out riding their bike when they know they will 100% fall off? (and also hold that they’d be behaving perfectly properly if they were merely 99% certain they will fall off, as is the case in real life?) I really do think it would be absurd to argue that they would be sinful for doing so – but if we don’t hold them to be sinful for doing this, I don’t see how we can hold God sinful for doing the same.

            And in your response to my example of parents knowing their kids will suffer and die – you are quite correct that that in some sense the man knowing his child will die is a result of the prior ‘fall’, but I don’t see that alters the moral equation radically. It is still fully up to human parents whether or not they want to unleash another soul into this terrible world. Suppose a man builds a torture factory and puts their kid in there. Not good. Suppose a second man doesn’t build a torture factory, but he does choose to have a child, despite knowing that the necessary metaphysical pricetag of having a child will be the first man will scoop up the child and put him in the torture factory anyway. Also not good, right? Whether you actively build the factory, or just have a child despite knowing it will end up there, I don’t see any great moral difference.

            And apologies if I am misinterpreting you, but I think you seem to suggest that, on my view, God deliberately causes the world to have all kinds of horrible properties because those are essential for evolution/life, and that humans are then corrupted by virtue of this horrible world. That is not what I’m saying. I’m suggesting it’s possible that all souls are guaranteed, on account of their initial metaphysically necessary epistemic from God and lack of perfection, destined to depart from the Good out of unavoidable ignorance – i.e. ignorantly fall into original sin, though without personal culpability – and that this deficiency in the human will is what causes all of creation to physically be fallen. Fair enough you may not think this makes much or any moral difference, but I do agree with you that it is humanity that causes the fall of creation, not the other way around

            On this view, you may ask why it shoudl be the case that the metaphysical price tag of creation is that souls will begin in a state where they are unable to immediately ascent to the good, and therefore fall and bring about this corrupt cosmos. But why not? You might find it incredible that God acts within such metaphysical constraints, but they really aren’t dissimilar from yours – you think God *has* to create such that humans have the possibility of causing a fall. That is obviously a pretty major constraint and not a good one – it would obviously be better if creatures were fully good from the beginning such that they would never even possess the possibility of falling away. To take another fat-fetched example, if the ‘metaphysical constraint’ of bringing a person into existence, was that they would begin their life immediately as drunk in charge of wrecking ball thatwould definitely destroy a town… well, that would be a pretty obvious ‘evil’ – if instead the metaphysical price tag was just that they were drunk and merely *could* destroy a town, that wouldn’t be much better, would it? Both situations would still be evil. I don’t see how you can say God gets off the hook in one scenario but not the other.

            But as I say, I’m not opposed to your view of a supratemporal contingent fall accounting for the status of creation, I’m just not certain God would be evil if this were not the case. One more related question, if I may – could you say a little more about the moral status of the supratemporal choice? What I am thinking is this: as this is supratemporal – outside ordinary time – what exactly is the nature of the ‘transition’ from unfallen to fallen state, and how is the decision made? What information is available – presumably there is no process of deliberation because regular temporality is excluded? And is this genuinely a moral decision? If it is essentially a random choice – like a ‘do I want to wear my red socks or blue socks type decision’ – which is what it would be if made in total ignorance of the moral necessity of following the good – then it doesn’t seem like a genuine free will moral decision. I’m not saying that’s your view, I’m just wondering what the exact requirements are and how you conceive them.

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          • Grant says:

            Well as with all analogies it isn’t perfect, a parent is limited, bound in creation alongside their child, the situation with God is entirely different, as is his freedom in a way no parent has. If God so brought them into existence that falling off the bike was 100% certain, given God would also be creating the landscape, the bike, the bodies, the evironment, in fact every aspect of the child’s bike ride then yes, he would be absolutely responsible for the fall that would result. Even if in the end the child would ride the bike, that fall would become an essential part of that ride. And so it would not be evil, or regretable, it would in fact be intended, part of the design, to bring about the proffient rider God intended. So it would them become not something God saw might be a possiblity but rather something he possitively intended, wished and inbuilt. And therefore it isn’t something he doesn’t wish, it’s something he wants, he would wish the child to fall and hurt themselves, and bring about the situation to do so.

            Only if there is a fair chance the child would not fall, and could conceivably go onto to be a rider without falling (and those falls made sure to not lead to fatal or lasting damage) could it be possibly justified (and where such damage would be restored in full). Does this remove all the moral problems, absolutely not, but it’s the only way forward, otherwise God is again the author willfully of all ills, and again, those ills are eternal, they become intended as part of the whole. What will shape the utlimate outcome, and become in that sense ‘good’ a tool to help shape the final outcome. In this God is absoutely different from any parent or finite dependant being finding themselves in a situation.

            Again, the distinction between the man putting his child into a torture factor and second fail in relation to God, because God brings into being the very world that will hurt and torture the child, so again God is always in that situation the first parent, and in fact that second man will (to match it to God) have created the second man and the torture factory to steal the child and subject them to all the horrors, so the abuse will make them the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ they want them to be. Parents have doe this are the most abhorrent monsters we know. So for me there is a massive moral issue, God is possitively evil in this picture. Again God is not a creature or a being looked in creation, subject to a greater reality that inflicts these necessitties on him, or we wouldn’t be God. So again, if true we should face that reality and acknowledge Christianity would be gross distortion of who God really is.

            And God brought us into existence where a fall is unaviodable, than he is the author of all evil, as that was intended and formed to be the case. And even more so if someone doesn’t take the view of a super-temporal or above current Aoen (more accurate) view, because those souls exist and appear within the fallen universe. Which again means they are formed by the fallen universe they appear in affecting their animation and thought, perception, appitites, drives and congnative and sensory abilities, and well everything. They would be called forth fallen and so would fall, and thus actions they do wouldn’t be just foreknown but in fact intended by design. But the same holds true in any reality God brings to bear where a fall is inevitable God brings about the fal by design. And it is in fact a tool to reaches the ends he wishes, he intends the suffering of all to bring his ulitmate ends, thus forever tainting those ends and making that evil forever. It also means evil and death are never his enemies or against him, but his faithful servants (and of course if true, how likely is it that his intended aims are even what we would think would be benevolent?).

            I agree God creating beings with the possiblity of a fall is a high price tag with all the problems but that I think is a ‘necessary’ feature for a true rational nature called from nothing into divinity as DBH argued. However this isn’t an example of someone being a drunk, that would be making someone drunk and in a wreaking ball, intending they ruined the town. That wouldn’t be a possiblity, it’s an intention, we don’t have a really do analogy, but rather it would be a baby or child in a good environment able to grow up towards adulthood. Could they become a drunk possiblity, but it’s far from certain, and like isn’t (the angelic suggests exactly this). But it is a issue, but to create rational natures one God would have to do, otherwise they wouldn’t be free rational natures, however with the Gospel God descends into each fall and hurt, into the confused nightmare we fall into to draw us out and heal everything. Note the evil adds nothing, it was never necessary, not certain, nor some tragic inevitablity but a possiblity that God takes responsiblity for the uttermost extent.

            To fall from the Aeon into this lower realm, to form this lower realm around us, in union with the universe of all creation to subject ourselves and it to death, is the confusion in the arising from nothing, and of the true creation the source of what we wish for, which is God. To talk Tolkien, Melkor sought the ‘Flame Eternal’ in the Void, in nothingness, that which he came from by mistake, losing himself and being a creator by losing sight of where the Flame Eternal was, with Eru, and was Eru, so the music began constricted from furfillment by discord, by slavery to nothingness to death. And is so trapped until it is delivered.

            Or to take Genesis 2, humans, some spirits mistake the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that is the path back nothingness (which is evil, that is the absence and privation of what is) for to experience it is to know it, with the tree of Life, and with Life, Existence, all knoweldge and wisdom, who is Christ. Turning from him to nothing, the creation realised is one cursed, our perceptions entangled us in the reality has half-formed, shadowed and shattered across time and space, from movement to luminous bodies to being trapped in the lower and fallen bodies and a creation with us that groans for release back to and into the Aeon above, into the true and Original Creation.

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          • David says:

            Thanks again Grant! Your points are helpful. I note you again keep claiming that on my (possible) view God is ‘choosing’ to inflict evil upon human beings in order that some good will result. Not so. I am saying that it may be the case that the structure of rational finite nature is such that it necessarily begins in a mode that could be characterise as fallen, which causes the falleness of the rest of creation also. So God is not like an abusive parent who decides to abuse his children in order that they might build up good character. Rather, God is like a normal parent, who chooses to have a child – despite knowing with 100% certainty, as all human parents obviously do, that the metaphysical price tag of having the child means that the child’s soul will be enmeshed within the torture chamber that is this world, that they will be abused in one way another, and eventually suffer and die. Whether one is the final architect of the system or just a willing underling literally makes zero moral difference: parents having children is an utterly gratuitous and unnecessary act, and if the cost of that act is suffering and death, how is that justifiable if it isn’t for God? There is a very great difference between inflicting an evil on a created good (like deliberately giving your child a deadly disease in order to build character), as opposed to creating a good despite knowing with certainty that an evil will be parasitically present in it (like having a child despite knowing that it will get a deadly disease or otherwise suffer and die).

            Of course I agree that God is not a creature subject to a great reality that inflicts necessities upon him. But nevertheless there are ‘necessities’ built into the divine nature – God cannot lie, cannot be anything but the Good itself, etc. It is just that while you claim that the final ‘necessity’ the divine nature is bound to is that of the necessary *possibility* of fallenesss, whereas others hold that the final necessity the divine nature is bound to is that of the necessary *inevitability* of fallenness.

            The problem I see is that both of these views still involve a kind of pact with evil. Basically, I don’t see how your God is off the hook if mine isn’t 🙂 That is the point of the ‘drunk’ analogy. What are Adam and Eve – or the supratemporal ‘all humanity in Adam’ or whatever – if not drunkards? They are certainly not mature reflective adults reasoning discursively over the best course of action. Rather they are ignorant idiots, who may be lucky and make the right choice, but just as well may make the wrong ones. What I am arguing is that even the possibility of falling is itself a kind of evil. After all, how could one possibly consider it a good thing that human beings, should they happen to contingently have a change of heart, can inflict horrendous evils on one another? Is it good, or is it evil, that the spiritual child that is Adamic humanity can (and did), in an infantile fit in the first ‘moment’ of its supratemporal existence, inflict billions of years of fallen suffering and torture across the cosmos? Yes, you can argue that it’s a necessary condition of goodness, it’s just build into the structure of rational nature, that God had no choice, that it’s the only way to create rational creatures… well, that may be, but *in and of itself* isn’t the possibility of a departure from the Good pure evil? How could it not be? And, given that the possibility of individual evil acts is in itself an evil – original sin vs. individual sins – this means that even on your view God is willing to put up with evil, even founds the world on it.

            Basically, it seems to me that on your view, God creates a thoroughly unpleasant state of affairs – a state in which ignorant children are empowered to bring out billions of years of devastation and fallen suffering – but you call it good on the grounds that ‘God had no choice’ and ‘the only way to create the good that is free rational creatures is to make fallenness and suffering a possibility’. Maybe the world is good despite all that, but it seems to me you are still just as guilty of falling back on a ‘greater good’ and ‘ends justify the means’ argument that you are worried about. So I understand the moral force of your objections, it’s just that I don’t think the position your espouse escapes them any better than the alternatives.

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          • Grant says:

            First if you are not talking a view of existence of a prior or higher Aeon, then human souls appear in time, in creation already existing so they cannot cause the falleness of creation, they are it’s produces. Whatever God ‘forsees’ is the result of those fallen beings, formed and shaped and corrupted by a fallen creation, bound already as sinners so sinning. He creates the situation there that produces their choices by design, only if creation were not fallen and then fell by their choice would that hold.

            But even if you are taking the view that they fall ‘prior’ to and drag all creation with them into a a fallen state something along what I am suggesting, that it’s inevitable as part of the structure of rational freedom (I don’t see how is a necessary rather than possible) than it’s the same situation. God is bring into be that which will fall, and there intends their fall, so that they will rise from that fallen state, and all the pain and suffering and evil that comes from it, to make his final creation. The fall is no fall, it’s a phase he intends, he means it to happen. Again God isn’t a finite creature limited like we are, analogies to parents fail, God brings the who situation into being, intending the torture so he can have the result, for his own needs he brings the evil into existence as the forge for his ends. If it unaviodable in creation (which I can’t see and don’t agree with) then he is again the author of the torture chamber, he intends that stage as part of his final aims. He creatures absolutely freely under no constraints but his own nature, he is God. For his own ends he here brings the greatest savagry into exist, and it’s effects as I said, will remain eternal, forever the foundation of the final creation. Evil will be eternal, death is merely a tool for the vantage point of creation, utlimately a good in that sense. So no, under this picture he would indeed remain the abuse on a cosmic scale.

            And if God does this than he isn’t the Good in anyway that mean it, since he isn’t compelled to create (and again, the burden would be on you first to prove that the fall is inevitably part of a rational nature arising from nothing towards divnity, since I don’t see how that is so, I don’t concede that point). The point is that God and reality would not be Good in any way that we mean, something rather completely cold, unknown to which what we would call evil is as true as anything else, more so in fact. My point is, if you are right, then Christianity and most theism are clearly false and we should face the reality of what that says rather than deluding ourselves with lies. And of course, under such a reality, why should we think the ulitmate design wouldn’t look something more like hell, because I see no such reason, but every reason to think otherwise.

            On my view, it’s not exactly the same as a drunkard, a drunkard is likely to have an accident (after all it already a facet of being fallen), here it is more like child growing up (even that fails). It’s possible they could murder someone, but it’s not likely. We (assuming we believe that revelation) know things that did not so fall, like the angelic agencies, so no Fall was not necessary that likely in that sense. But it was possible.

            I do think it’s a significantly better solution, in fact the only one, and one that takes seriously how the myth presents the situation. BUt I agree, it doesn’t entirely get God off the hook, I would say the Cross shows that He takes full responsiblity all aspects of the fall, to heal and overcome them, and restore us out of the nightmare it was possible and that we did fall into.

            Does this work completely, I’m not sure, because if it doesn’t I come back to main point. God is then nothing like Christainity proclaims him, that would a lie, and if so, we’d best face up to it. I hope it’s not, because the alternative is horrific, and then we’d better all hope the materalists are right after all.

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          • David says:

            Grant I note that you are giving me many reasons why – on the alternative view I have sketched out – God would in a certain sense ‘intend’ evil insofar as he permit it as the inevitable metaphysical price tag of creating a world. And you don’t like that. I get it. But I’m not arguing with you about that.

            The point I am making is *not* that God doesn’t act in that way – but rather that your God acts in the exact same way anyway, and that I therefore cannot see a valid moral reason to favour one view over the other. My point is based on the idea that the *possibility* of great suffering is in itself obviously an intrinsic evil. Would it not be better if human beings were born unable to commit any kind of sin whatsoever? I understand the argument that there was no other way. But that’s precisely my point. The fact there was ‘no other way’ for your God to create does not get him off the hook! Or rather, it makes no sense to say your God is off the hook when mine isn’t, when both are willing to directly cause an evil state – because empowering an ignorant idiot to do near-infinite evil is clearly evil, considered in and of itself – on the basis that there was ‘no other way’. I understand that you don’t think the word drunk is appropriate on the grounds that drunkenness represents a more active predisposition towards evil rather than mere possibility. But the point is that the mere possibility is enough to render one morally responsible for what follows. What is hazarded is already lost.

            For example, imagine a man who desires a very great good. In order to achieve that good, the necessary cost is to burn down a barn full of children, and he does it. Imagine a second man who desires a very great good. In order to achieve that good, the necessary cost is that he presses a red button will create this good, but with the side-effected that it also brings about a 1% chance of burning down a barn full of children. Or maybe, if free will is so important, he presses a red button which means that, should one of the children think a bad thought within the next 5 minutes – and there is a 1% chance of that occurring – it will burn down the barn full of children. I’m sure you see that there is no significant moral distinction between those acts.

            I don’t think there is an onus on me to demonstrate what the metaphysical constraints of finite freedom are to make this argument. I’m trying to do a thought experiment over what would be moral *if* it turned out the metaphysical constraints were X or Y. That doesn’t commit me to arguing the constraints on human nature are in fact as I describe them (although plenty of theologians do). I’m just arguing that *if* they are in fact the constraints, then God wouldn’t be guilty, evil, not the God of the Gospel etc. merely for consenting to creation on those terms. And if he would be, then your description of God is equally guilty and Christianity is equally a lie.

            To summarise, in my sketch, God creates the world that is broadly good, but unfortunately a metaphysical constraint of creation is that – as a non-directly desired but tragically inevitable side effect, and therefore in some sense divinely-willed and intended – bombs are buried under the earth and these will *definitely* blow up.

            Whereas in your sketch, God creates the world that is broadly good, but unfortunately a metaphysical constraint of creation is that – as a non-directly desired but tragically inevitable side effect, and therefore in some sense divinely-willed and intended – bombs are buried under the earth and these will *possibly* blow up.

            And bombs are still evil whether they happen to go off or not.

            (p.s. I hope my role in this exchange isn’t appearing too tetchy or arrogant, I recognise that I may be wrong on some or all points and genuinely feel uncertain about the whole issue, it’s just I’m not quite seeing eye-to-eye with you with respect to the precise reasons you’re giving for your objections and the total certainty you have that alternative views would result in a demonic God – but Grant you are still one of the King posters of this blog to me, so by all means keep telling me why I’m wrong! 🙂 )

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          • Grant says:

            Well David you raise good issues that my solution itself (while I still there is a important moral distinction, to go with your example, if there 1% chance someone thinks a bad thought and are blown up, the person pressing the button will in that enter and take that explosion also upon themselves and undo it should that damage happen, restoring those so lost, but isn’t blowing them up no matter what even if they would restore them) and as I said, my idea is a best a starting point.

            But for me everything else is a non-starter, and I’ll just repeat what I finished with, should my speculative path (or something similar, evil is truly a contingent thing that should not and need not have been, we truly could have ascended to divinity without death or suffer, sin or evil, in a untroubled ascent) then God intends that evil. He intends that process as again, he isn’t a man pressing a button, he isn’t a finite creature, He is God, the infinite wellspring of Being, He creates freely and needs not do so, He’s under no complusion. If the structure of reality has evil built-in, if it must be built in (which I don’t agree with, so I’m not really going to argue much as if it were, since I don’t think metaphysically that is the case, and the angelic themselves that aren’t fallen if we take that seriously would deny that), then God is the author of all evil.

            Every disaster, even disease, ever cancer that torturously eats away at a living being, causing indescribable pain, suffering and degredation, every extinction, whole masses of life wiped out in a horrific and bloody march to get here. Predators eating prey alive, parasites removing sight, laying eggs that will kill, all sorts of massive suffering (and yes, we increasingly see animals have more awareness then we ever credited them before, they suffer and they are aware of it, they get stressed, depressed all the above, develop mental illnsess of sorts, so all this was going on for eons, they never choose it, they just thrown into the meat grinder). And then humans, every deformed baby, lifelong pain and loss of dignity, famines, floods, fires, volcanoes, storms, hurricanes, mass disease, more predators and so and so on, none of it’s chosen, and all if necessary. And since it forms humans as I say, our pyche and structure of mind by the billions of years evolution, much that favourable and necessary under those condutions are sinful, violence, rape, domination, killing, stealing etc, all that is behind them we advantagous in evolutionary terms. So humans when we emerged have those built in just as we have the benevolent aspects of our nature, and in a complex mix.

            So we are also fallen again by design, since somehow it must be. Yet God did not need to create us, and I don’t think it must be either, I don’t see it David, so again, if it is, then it’s God’s choice.

            And if as I said, my idea or a similar fails, then God as Christianity (and not just Christianity, pretty any current major theism) is quite misguided and wrong. And if so, we just face that horrific reality of what that actually says about God’s nature, of what ultimate reality is. And if that is so, that any real hopes for a better reality that all this is supposedly for, goes out the window, as then there no reason at all to think suffering will ever end, and not be eternal. And even it were, it still be a form of hell, a Paradise built of suffering.

            Your only other option is just to believe that somehow we aren’t seeing something, and just have faith against the apparent truth that God bring all evil and suffering into being by choice for his ulitmate purposes. But if you choose that then you should stop trying to rationalize it, accept that what you choose to believe is against what everything would indicate is true (that God isn’t the Good as we would in anyway mean it, and would seem to be something terrifyingly different) as that is what it appears to be. Much like people who refer vaguely to ‘it’s all part of God’s plan’ (you have no idea how much I hate that phrase) when something terrible happens. Not saying it’s quite the same thing, but currently to mean trying to fit Christian and other theistic claims of who God is, with asserting He brings about a reality intentionally (however you try to phrase that intentionally) with evil and suffering as parts of it, to get his greater good of the final creation is therefore intentionally abusing His creatures to make them what he wants to be.

            So again, if my view really is no different, and no other real alternative avaiable I’d say Christianity would thereby have shown itself (and pretty much most other theistic claims of God’s nature) to be untrue, or grossly misrepresentive of the truth.

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  11. Grant,

    The above thread is getting crowded, so I will put my comments here. From the outset, I do want to say that I definitely want to affirm the moral intuitions that are guiding your position, even if I articulate different views here, I share many of your concerns. My fundamental issue here is that there is little meaningful difference in God allowing creation to suffer under evil and God willing it, and that there is no resolution to the problem of evil outside of the cross and its eschatological outworking.

    What it appears to me is that we are speaking of creation in very different ways. I maintain that the Aeon is the creation in its fullness, reflecting every good intention of God as Creator, in which there never was (protologically considered) or will be (eschatologically considered) the presence of any evil or negation. It is the perfect coinherence of identity and difference, the One and the many in a fully Divinized mode of existence that is every bit as epektastic in its existential experience for creatures as Gregory of Nyssa speaks of when addressing the Divine Pleroma which is the Body of Christ. To me, when we are speaking of the Divine Creation, we are speaking of nothing less than this.

    I would also add that this present cosmos, the world of time, while eschatologcally destined to be united and fully redeemed in the Aeon, is not fully the product of Divine creation – that the stochastic elements we see present in our world that can contribute positively to its function (quantum events, plate tectonics, supernovae, et.al.) also can manifest chaotically – and that the response of moral creatures who are emerging out of ignorance can and does result in real moral evils. When I say that evil has a kind of non-necessary necessity, it is to acknowledge its very real effects in creation, and appears to arise out of creaturely ignorance of who and what we truly are as image bearers. Again, the only resolution to this temporal conundrum has appeared in time in the crucified and Incarnate Lord. Any questions to me about whether things could have been otherwise, seem to be rather beside the point because clearly they are not – and resorting solely to metaphysical abstractions (helpful as they can be) cannot really bring any meaningful existential resolution to a very real problem. I am fine with the non-ontological status of evil, of its privative character, but never in such a way that diminishes its ghastly effect.

    God is most certainly not off the hook for this problem, because whether in allowing it or willing it (and I do not actually believe God positively willed it, but I am noting that the distinction here is existentially meaningless), the effect of evil on creation is a reality under which it all languishes. My own preference in theodicy is to deal with it Christologically, that there are real answers, and that even the greatest evils, long after they are chased away as the world enters into its eschatological bliss, cannot efface the goodness of God’s creation, whether as it emerges in time, or enters into its Aeonian fullness. It’s the thing that remains a thing untill it is shown to no longer be a thing.

    But, there is, I would argue, a vital pedagogical function to both the fall, and the creaturely battle with evil that is mirrored right there in Genesis 1. God creates order out of the chaotic, formless void, and brings about the flourishing of creation in the midst of its many (sometimes competing) forces. Evil has been allowed as a necessary correlation to our freedom and our rational spiritual formation where we would learn in the very struggle with evil to long for and participate in the good which God intends for creation. The problem of evil and suffering, real as they are, point us inexorably to the cross, and at the cross we find both its resolution and the nexus into the new creation (which turns out just to be the true creation all along) drawing us into conscious co-creation with God where we become active participants in the renovation, redemption, and divinization of the cosmos. Because Christ is the solution to the problem of evil, in our union with him we become welded to that solution as we begin to learn what it means to embody the Divine life.

    Hope that clarifies where I stand a bit, feel free to fire back!

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    • David,

      To your points, if there is any ‘necessity’ to evil (even though I disdain the term) it is a temporal one, not an eternal necessity that bleeds into the heart of Divinity itself, nor is it eschatologically or protologically present in the Aeon. It’s dialectical function in contradistinction to the good is the mechanism out of which Spirit emerges in history.

      Evil is allowed precisely because it arises from the emergence of creaturely freedom in time. If our existence was solely Aeonian, and not temporal, we would essentially merely exist as Divine automotons, with no real agency, no understanding of what is at stake for a creature to enjoy the life of Divinity or what it means to be God or human for that matter. Therefore, our temporal formation is the journey wherein we acquire this knowledge in the painful school of experience, where the good shows itself forth as the good in a way where we can weigh this against the negation of the good and have some rational knowledge of the possibility of the world going wrong. Eschatologically speaking, this will be a vital aspect of our vocation, because we too will be involved in the infinite unfolding of cosmic creation, and have some role to play in bringing innumerable rational creatures into the eschatological bliss of union with Christ – and we will do so with the knowledge and experience of the terrible and wonderful challenges of what it means to exist in time.

      God is never off the hook for any of this, in allowing such a thing as evil, there must be some reason for it (though I cannot ultimately say what or why) to which we as creatures will consent at the eschatological horizon. I say this will full confidence that every evil that has stained our temporal existence will be redeemed, and that the whole not only of rational creatures, but time itself will take on an Aeonian character in the eschaton in such a way that however considered, the past, present, and future exist beyond the reach of evil.

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      • David says:

        Thanks Jebidiah. I am not sure that evil is in any sense necessary – although its possibility is at least necessary. But then again I am sympathetic to the view that even the possibility of evil – the fact we might just possibly go astray – reveals a previous emancipation from the good, and that the initial state of the will therefore isn’t so good after all. So some could argue that the ‘possibility’ of evil is in fact itself evil, which would make ‘evil’ of a sort necessary even on the view that the fall is genuinely contingent.

        That said, I am still inclined to agree with Grant that evil should not be conceived as having been deliberately created for the sake of bringing about some good. If evil is an necessary ingredient of the good – something that is actually needed to forge and make good – then it seems that it wasn’t so evil after all, which is contradictory. So in my view, if evil is in any sense necessary, it is only so in an unintended parasitic ‘side effect’ sense, rather than being deliberately brought about in order to serve some pedagogical function (although I respect that Grant doesn’t see any great distinction between these two positions). Yes, once it exists it may be used pedagogically, but I tend to think that any positive lessons that can be learned from stories or experiences of evil could in fact have been learned in other ways.

        I really don’t know where I stand on this. Ultimately though we have to say that God is in some sense responsible for evil – and indeed we can see the cross as a means of taking and owning that responsibility.

        Btw, when you speak of an ‘Aeonian’ eschaton – to me that language almost sounds like a ‘timeless’ – or, better, ‘supratemporal’ interpretation of the eschaton, in which time essentially dissolves (or perhaps where we experience all times ‘at once’) and we are left with a timeless beatific vision. But at the same time you employ the language of epektasis, which to my mind requires a continual growth and therefore a temporal sequence of events. If that’s right, I’m not sure what ‘Aeonian’ means and/or how it can literally render the evil of the current world non-existent in an absolute sense. Won’t it always be the case that this world is ‘past’ relative to the continually progressing temporality of the eschaton?

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        • David,

          Great thoughts. I want to drill in on this a little before I remark further, because you described well what I was failing to:

          So some could argue that the ‘possibility’ of evil is in fact itself evil, which would make ‘evil’ of a sort necessary even on the view that the fall is genuinely contingent.

          While evil has no true ontological status, no quiddity whatsoever, it is still real at the phenomenal level. At the level of phenomenon it is, and evil remains possible and will continue to be actualized until the foundational goodness of Being is fully manifest and expressed. Eschatologically speaking however even the phenomena of evil will not only be chased away, but the wounds it inflicts on time will be redeemed. So, I don’t see good and evil as they dialectically present themselves in the world of time to be anything other than a provisional dualism, a moment in time, the negative space from which the goodness of the Divine order that transcends and subsumes identity and difference is actually realized in time, and when it so emerges time will have been transfigured into the Aeon.

          Now to the structure of the Aeon. As I have come to understand it through my studies and meditations, it is modeled after the hypostatic union and is the “setting” in which the Mystery of Christ is fully realized. The Aeon comprises all time as a finite (though quantitatively infinite) creation that bears the properties of time and eternity, to borrow from Chalcedon, without division, mixture, or confusion. So, its eternal quality allows it to be encompassing of all finite reality and experience, but its temporal quality allows finite creatures to experience it epektastically. To be finite will always entail some measure of temporality, however in the Aeon time itself has taken on all the Divine properties of eternity. So, creaturely existence will always carry a kind of temporal sequence – but Aeonian time follows the same Divine-human paradigm as the union between the Infinite and finite as Christ’s Person, and is in a very real sense the full expression of the mystery of Christ; which is a contradistinction from cosmic time, which is defectible, and veils its teleological destiny to become united to eternity in the Aeon until its defectibility has been utterly exhausted by the manifestation of God in all things. The Aeon is pure creativity, and the foundation not only of this cosmos, but all other possible cosmos to be actualized, whereas time is the domain of generation and decay. Yet as Blake says, “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” precisely because the productions of time find their uttermost source in the Aeon where time and eternity exist in perfect union. Hope that clarifies what I mean when I speak of the Aeon, at least a little.

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          • David says:

            Thanks for the kind words Jebidiah, particularly as I don’t think I have expressed my views particularly clearly so far!

            On the aeon, the points you make are extremely helpful. I would tend to think that, if there is indeed still a genuine sense of progression within the aeon – and therefore before and after – that reality is still fundamentally best described as temporal, at least in terms of its quantitative duration – even if, in a qualitative sense, that experience is unimaginably deeper and more profound that anything we experience today. I’m not sure how helpful the Chalcedonian model is because in that model the natures are neither confused nor changed – temporality does not become eternal or vice versa, but rather the hypostasis of Christ occupies both ‘at once’, with an eternal/atemporal consciousness and the human temporal consciousness. I think at the eschaton, as creatures, we will just have one consciousness, not two, and that one consciousness can only ever be temporal and cannot ‘become’ eternal – although I suppose I do see how we are eternal in an analogous sense (both in being in the eternal mind of God, and in our – albeit temporal and ever-changing – consciousness being focused on eternity and having a divine of divine eternal ‘thickness’ to it)

            I’d be interested to know what you think of Pannenberg’s idea of a kind of in-built ‘ontological deficiency’ that gives rise to original sin in creatures – some of the material explored here reminded me of your thoughts https://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/pannenberg-on-original-sin-or-something-like-it/

            Also do you have any thoughts on how ‘unfallen’ angels might fit into your scheme? i.e. if fallenness is in some sense inevitable for creatures, how can angels get off the hook (are they like ‘divine dogs’ who don’t have freedom that is bound to go wrong like ours? or maybe they’re not so unfallen after all? maybe they’re not ‘morally’ fallen but still in some sense are damaged by the fact that humans are damaged, and are therefore saved indirectly via humanity being saved?)

            p.s. I don’t want to tease Brian, but it is making me curious that he has liked this comment and a few others that, at least to my simplistic brain, appear fairly pro-‘evil is a tragically inevitable intrusion into creation, rather than a completely unexpected contingency’ or similar, whereas in his earlier comments he seems more cautious against that view. I’m guessing I am misunderstanding his views – which is a shame as he’s clearly one of the cleverest guys around – and that there’s probably some subtlety that I’m missing.

            I’m guessing that Brian would point towards some kind of ‘metahistorical’ fall as a way of making sense of this all. I agree this a sensible way of talking – but does that just mean something like non-God-incarnate creatures inevitably fall become of some necessary epistemic distance between them and God or whatever, or does it mean humanity’s soul(s?) literally pre-existed and faced a contingent choice over whether to fall or not? and And doesn’t that ultimately boil down to one view making the fall pretty much necessary, and the other making it unnecessary and freely chosen by some contingent being? Or is there a mean between contingency and necessity? (I don’t see how they can be, but I fear my philosophical chops are beyond busted)

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    • Grant says:

      The problem remains, those issues do form and will always be a part of the final Divine creation, they form the very beings who make it there. Again the divine creation is shining city on a blood hill, built on the torture to get there. Those who enter in are shaped by the torture chamber that forms them for it. Once taht is an intended feature, no matter how it is divinized that it will forever be eternal in the results of the eternal creation.

      Also the conflict and battle is a shame, a play, a trick, it’s part of the form and is the fiery forge to bring to birth the Divine creation to come (and again, if God brings that to bear to reach his aim, on what basis do you have any confidence that the aim is what any of us would believe to be good?).

      It is like the suggestion that Christ is cruifixed as an inherent part of his nature as the Son, not as the nature of self-giving love as seen from our fallen state, how is expressed in this situation. If that is true, in that sense, that death and suffereing are inherent part and revelation of God, and therefore again neither against him, his enemies but in fact each suffering becomes a vital revelation of who God is in himself. Each horror is as much a revelation as each blessing and joy. And that means death and suffering will never, it can’t, and in one way or another it, or it’s results are eternal, and all are God will are part of his intention to achieve the eschatological outworking and flourshing.

      If there truly a chaos God is creating order out of, then he is not God, and in the original myth was indeed a god, for a god is matched by the monsters and Void he must battle with. God is Being itself, Exsitence itself and beyond it, there is no other that he battles with, he freely creates under on constraints but his own nature (or he is not God and wre talking only of a lesser being). If there truly a chaos the struggle with which produces order, that is brought into being by God, it is intended by God by design, to achieve his utlimate ends. All that chaos and suffering, and yes the inherent falleness without choice or will that results is by design, it all is a tool amonst others to produce his ends, abuse as well as care to bring about his final ends. And so that abuse is eternal in it’s eternal results, it will forever be a pillar of the true creation and shadow ever present, the thankless servant who helped get it there. No enemy, not against God’s will such function is only a play for our benefit in this, a deception of the true and crueler design.

      And again that God is not the one proclaimed by Christianity, cannot be, no paradox the pictures just don;t fit. Such a God intends evil, it isn’t against his will even if he intends it to be superceded, it will also remain eternal. And of course, a God who does this, what it reveals of him, there no reason at all to trust the what will come will be better. Afterall what would such a beings final design actually be, to me if this so well have much to fear and had better pray for oblvion or that somehow impossibly materalism is true.

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      • Not to interject, but I think that if you dichotomize the world as it’s either fully this or that you’ve missed the point and spoken about the mystery as if it is fully understood, and to be quite frank, it isn’t. Eriugena proves that in the Periphyseon. It’s fullness, much as they suggested above in the hypostatic unveiling of the God-Man reveals something about Being itself. There is a still a Univocal ground, but the psychic cost of not overcoming the limits that non-being imposes are crucial to understanding reality as it ever is. One thing can never fully become if it doesn’t become freely, and this means that a lot of crap may have to happen. There is a ground within the freedom that even the Divine itself employs to bring about being as it is.

        Even someone like Heraclitus, realized that indeed the “Logos,” the ground of all that is, is the perceived tension of opposites. Perception is what gives existence to non-being itself. It is a chosen sensorial refrain we make over and over again. Being simply is, and to see it as the Divine means an acceptance that what we perceive is usually a failure, but there is still a dialectic that must be overcome. Suffering, as Dostoyevsky always points to, is the crucible by which man finds God. It is our failures of perception that allow for all of this to “be,” and as Eriugena also posits, all of creation itself is found within the life of even a single soul. So if all is to become, if we are the microcosm of even the becoming that is Being itself, we are already known and yet will come to know. We really are a part of a grounded Being-in-Itself and yet also For-Itself, to finally Know-Itself. This allowance, this same freedom, the freedom that shows us we are only free when we overcome the baseness we have, and by overcoming it, transforming it with the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2) to a right perception…in that moment, we begin to see Being as it truly is. There is much to be said about the fact that God finds a birth in Man, but, as my favorite posits (Berdyaev), there is something to be said about God also wanting the birth of man to help Being reveal itself as it is intended to be. Even that tension of opposite, Transcendent/immanent, Divine/human, One/many are only ever revealed in the other when truly seen.

        The Divine doesn’t create evil in any ontic sense at all, but as was pointed out, at the phenomenal level, it becomes an illusion that is concretized in the moment that is now, yet it has no lasting import. When all is purified by fire in the end, when we are all salted, as the text says in the Gospels, then what is real will be laid bare. Evil, is nothing more than the choice to place our own desires and physicality at the phenomenal level above what the Divine commands in actu. Yet that allowance has to be there….If it isn’t, then we never can ever fully be known in our own time or learn what freedom actually is. We can’t build out what it is that we are meant to build out on our path to the Source. Much of what we argue about is the reluctance to admit that much of what occurs is a psychological distinction rather than an ontological one.

        Being is. But it isn’t what we actually perceive it to be. Grace, which rains down like universal rain (Origen) helps water the ground that points us to the One. Love, Truth, Beauty all require an acceptance…a succumbing to an other, and that requires an assent/change of focus. The mystery of the God-Man, sacrificed before all ages, shows us that rooted in creation is the possibility of misapplied “sight.” Both views are correct here, but for different reasons. Both views need the other to finalize a much healthier view of what is actually occurring. It is a good gift to “be,” especially, when Being involves realizing what it truly means to be.

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        • Grant says:

          If God brings into being that ‘illusion’ in creation, if that ‘freedom’ is the vast abattoir that is creation, must bring into being a creation that forges a train of death, suffering, disease, agony through billions of years, the death of almost every species that has ever lived, creating beings (ourselves) so shaped by these titannic forces so that we are shaped to be sinners before we ever choose anything, our fallen likeness to favour evil by design, that is no pyschological distinction. It is a design, and again, if that is what was required so we could ‘choose God’ to be able accept him, that God creates evil and intends it.

          It again is what helps forge the people he wishes, so that they can ‘choose’, he staves and beats his children so they will eventually see his beauty.

          And of course you can gesture at mystery, that we just don’t understand now, we just don’t see what will see, it all make sense then. Maybe it will, maybe what seems good now will seem evil then and vs versa, who knows. But now it makes all death and evil part of God’s creative purposes, a vital tool in his design.

          Here the Divine brings evil into being, makes the illusion come into existence, and since that illusion leads to what he wishes it to be, it will also be part of what shapes what the eternal future will be. Therefore it will be of absolute lasting import, it’s results will endure forever.

          And the Divine that brings all this to exist, that fully intends it to be, that isn’t the God Christianity proclaims, that seems clear to me.

          Again I don’t find gustures to paradoxes convincing, that just restate the problem to me in another tone, so it seems to me anyway.

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          • mercifullayman says:

            This isn’t even remotely the case. I’m actually far closer to your case of a univocal response than one that is dualistic. You haven’t even tried to explain the fissure of being that emerges from the presuppositions you hold. You also haven’t even delineated how the good can also be tragic….who even defines the good, God, society? Sometimes we pick what God assumes to be Good. (Many have chosen hell to be real in this case.) The exact point I made is that death and evil are a conscious human choice, a creation of a contra-reality to the purpose of divinity.. Not the choice of the divine in any way, shape, or form. All I suggested, was that Being, allows you to make in your actuality, a choice about how you perceive the reality you live in. And I’m not alone in that. Many of the fathers, as well as Eriugena, as I referenced, agree. Just because we don’t see what is real, doesn’t make it any less real in an ontic sense. I have also no more made God the creator of an actuated evil. In fact, I’ve held the traditional line that evil is an illusion that permeates the fallen reality we create for ourselves. Man has a choice in this life…in his actuated existence. To deny that, means no more than any strict Calvinist/determinist. But what is to come, when the transcendent is fully realized, that is a matter entirely. The strict neo-platonic line fails on the same ground that it tries to succeed.

            What I have done, however, is embraced the fact that man is far more profound than what others give him credit for. And yet, isn’t that the Gospel? That man was worth saving precisely because he has a part to play in the unity of the divine? If not, why even become God-Man? Why even redeem what was rooted in the divine mind in its overcoming from the beginning? It belies both the text of scripture and philosophy to see it otherwise. Me, pointing out mystery, is because the text tells us we see in part, and yet we shall fully know in the end. I can’t help it that I choose a dialectical point of view over paradox. That’s a choice we all make in some sense.

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          • Grant says:

            But isn’t just for ourselves is it, this world of suffering endured long before humans turned up, we’re rather late to the show. Who created the reality all life prior to suffered through, was that their choice and percreption, and given that formed us when did we make this choice rather then emerging shaped by the terrible malformed world we find ourselves in. The nature of human perceptions were already set before the first few were fully formed, death and pain, violence and selfishness and cruelty were part of life before we began. So when did we have this choice unless it’s after the fact, where again evil becomes the tool to set the stage for this choice and therefore intended and brought into being by design.

            And also tradegy is the result of loss and suffering, so if the good in itself, not that good can emerge in and ultimately overcome tragedy then again suffering is part of this good, of God and is a key revelation. It means we have reason then to think it will end, death is not against God but a key truth of him, as is what we know as evil. And then yes we have what ‘good’ actually is, what we now call evil would be good and vs versa. But if so, then again Christianity would be false.

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  12. brian says:

    Fellas,

    This is a tremendously interesting and important discussion. I can’t chime in as I would like due to time constraints . . . David, I do think the metahistorical Fall is the best interpretive option, though I would not say that equates mere finitude with the Fallen condition. The Incarnation witnesses to the progress of finitude that does not inevitably involve a Fall, though Jesus of Nazareth assumes our mortal flesh. (The pithy expression of this is that Christ never had a gnomic will.) How the Fall “happened” remains obscure and speculative . . . yet I maintain that entropic time is fallen time and that the aeon of the kingdom is a qualitatively different kind of time, but for creatures, still inevitably time, because epektasis is nothing else but the continual journey into the ever greater participation in the infinite richness of divine Being. By the bye, this suggests (as the Biblical change of name from Abram to Abraham, from Jacob to Israel, from Simon to Cephas instantiates to a degree) that the “name on the white stone” is not a static conclusion, but an ever developing, dynamic name. It also suggests, contrary to the fixed celestial destinations of Dante’s saints, that identities are continually open to expansion, development, and thus a receptivity whereby the revelatory power of meeting the new is always a part of our experience of the gifted cosmos, of each other, of our very selves, all of which is the flower of the Triune Gift that is inherently dramatic.

    The difficulty, it seems to me, or one of the difficulties, with a vision like that articulated by Mercifullayman and Jedidiah (I am certainly drawn to it) recurs wherever one is confronted with the distance between a mystical anticipation of the eschaton and the evident messiness of empirical, historical experience. You can talk all you like about the privative nature of evil, but folks are invested in their own lives, in what is inextricably worked through the evil times. You can speak of maya, and the world “for us” as opposed to the perfected, eternal realm, but the person naturally resists any implication that the meaningful times of their life are only penultimately significant. How does one negotiate, for instance, the gulf between the empirical aped by the mimetic poet and the splendor of eternal Forms that the Platonic poet aims at? The Incarnation means that one cannot write off fallen time as a mere defatigation of Formal vivacity into a shadow kingdom. The Christian response should acknowledge that the Forms actually expand, are made richer by embodyment, at least, that’s my view, though their remains ambiguity and equivocity about the body itself, the dichotomy of Pauline carnal and spiritual bodies. None of this is easy to capture in concepts sufficiently flexible to point at realities that apophatically exceed the powers of our imagination . . . and yet it is through language and imagination raised by inspiration (the Muses, The Spirit) that we must approach the inexpressible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David says:

      Thank you Brian. For someone suffering from time constraints you certainly have a knack for dropping by with the perfect comment mere moments after being mentioned – speaking of which, my apologies for name dropping, I realise now it’s probably a bit rude to attempt to summon you like a genie!

      I too am attracted to the vision of Jebidiah while recognising its difficulties. However my attraction is more towards the logical neatness and ‘non-chosen yet inevitable’ condition of falleness – which I believe can be decoupled from the notion that the evil of the present world is essentially unreal or illusory. If all it means is that evil is basically just an absence of good and has no real substance of its own, then I’m all on board, but anything further than that risks denying the miserable reality so many of us live in.

      I think I agree with all that you say. The only thing I would point out is there is a kind of ambiguity in affirming, as you do, that finitude does not equate to falleness – or rather that even this statement is somewhat ambiguous as to the question of the contingency of the Fall. That is because one could hold that finitude as such – and therefore human nature as such – is not intrinsically fallen, but only in the limited sense that finite beings do not fall *if* they so happen to be a divine hypostasis, while still holding that non-divine-humanity will automatically fall. I mean, God incarnate is somewhat of a special case, is He not? For Jesus, not only was it possible for him not to sin, but it was in fact necessary to his hypostasis that he should never sin – whereas for our own hypostases, whatever the nature of the fall, at the very least the *possibility* of original sin / fallenness was inevitable, but not so for Jesus. Basically one could hold that the falleness of regular finite beings is inevitable, and that therefore the overall fall of nature is inevitable, but still claim one is not elliding creation with fall on the basis that theoretically finitude need not fall – but only if it happens to be enhypostasised by God Himself.

      I assume though that you are saying more than this, and want to perceive a more genuine contingency and choice that takes place ‘metahistorically’ which, as you say, is perhaps not possible to comprehend from the basis of fallen time (please do correct me if that’s an unwarranted assumption however!) For my money, if there is such a thing as a ‘metahistorical fall’ – and if this means more than just saying that non-God-incarnate-humanity must fall, but includes the stronger claim that humanity faced some kind of metahistorical/supratemporal contingent choice as to whether to fall or not…. in that case, rather than imagining a kind of ‘pre-temporal time’ – some weird form of before-and-after temporality that Adam and Eve lived in before the creation of the world – I would prefer to speak of this choice as taking place in some sense simultaneously with the entirety of humanity’s regular existence, as something analogous to the ‘depth’ of our consciousness. Humans experience many things at once, and indeed can make multiple decisions. Maybe there is something analogous to a kind of shared consciousness, a kind of barely perceptible liminal experience that we all freely participate(d) in, as that is the part of ‘ourself’ that is actually part of everyone else. It’s the absolute rock bottom of the human experience, and is associated not with any kind of discursive reasoning or individual self knowledge or regular experience and knowledge, but just our immediate reaction to – and sadly shielding from – the divine. This rock bottom ‘all humanity as one / in adam’ is logically the first thing God creates, and the Fall logically the first decision/reaction that is taken, but temporally it is spread out across all humanity. Not sure if that makes sense, but there you go. I prefer to think of it like that because it means that – whether the decision to fall is inevitable or a genuine contingent – there is no literal pre-existence to deal with.

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      • brian says:

        Ah, I do not actually reside in a brass lamp; serendipity that I was reading so shortly after your post, David. Different temporal modes and the relation of such to eternity can drive one to madness. I have my own views, but prefer not to try and sketch them out here. It is actually part of what I ruminate in a long, long story I’ve been working on. I think the gnomic resonance of poetry is much more likely to tap these realities than conceptual argument. I do think the soul is multi-layered; there is a surface awareness of our ordinary “diurnal” consciousness, and much that lies deeper. A confluence of Barfieldian Original Participation, Mystical Night, what Maritain sometimes indicates as a “supra” conscious level as opposed to subconscious depths suggest some of the diverse ways to begin to imagine. The “literal” preexistence idea seems to me mainly to be trapped in a kind of linear, univocal conception that I would abjure. Behr is much closer when he surmises the eschatological “end” is paradoxically the true origin of ontological identity. How all that works out in regards to fallen time, of course, is left open to speculation.

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    • dianelos says:

      Brian,

      You write:

      “The Incarnation witnesses to the progress of finitude that does not inevitably involve a Fall, though Jesus of Nazareth assumes our mortal flesh. (The pithy expression of this is that Christ never had a gnomic will.)”

      If by “Fall” one means some kind of catastrophic event by which God’s original creation went astray then one arrives to theological problems galore. If by “Fall” one means that God’s original creation is one of finitude and temporal imperfection, but as a whole a perfect creation because it allows the perfect end of creatures freely choosing the good, freely filling their soul with charity thus becoming similar to Christ, freely loving God with all their heart and soul and mind – then one arrives to a much more unproblematic vision of creation. As far as I am concerned, to an illuminating and truth revealing vision.

      Now the incarnated God, Christ, is the perfect model for us: He is how we are meant to be, the second Adam, the physical manifestation of our end. But in order to be that, the incarnated Son must be fully human, and thus live suffering the same limitations we do, be subject to the fallenness of the world in all its dimensions. In the gospels we clearly find Christ being subject to temptation, fear, doubts, even despair – but overcoming them by perfectly realising the will of the Father. The Incarnated Son’s perfection does not lie in Him being made perfect but in Him being made human and thus imperfect – fallen – but despite this living a perfect life. Making physically visible to us how we may live. It is thus that His commandment “Follow Me” is made intelligible.

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    • mercifullayman says:

      I guess in my view, I am saying that those issues that arise within the context of one’s own life are actually very real as phenomena. I think of a lot of things that we say are existent, but yet aren’t actually existent in the end. Maybe it’s a bad analogy but I think of stories we read, movies we watch, things we experience, and yet some of things are very real to us and yet they aren’t very real in any meaningful sense because people don’t experience them or at all (Even this discussion, for instance….or Ideas, Illusions, Emotions, etc) We are shaped by those experiences but in a sense they are never actually real. As “Existenz” we experience the negative sides of non-being as phenomenologically real NOW, but in a sense, when all is said and done, it isn’t a pandering to mysticism at all, but rather the overcoming of the immanent reactions and cognitions of my life in the transcendent that must overcome the limits we face. I accept that the tensions of reality are embedded into every way we relate to transcendence. Each transcendental idea, like truth for instance, relentlessly points us to the transcendent, even in our acts of defiance. The leap we make of faith in the face of the realization that the eschaton sets the story “right” means that in all evil/suffering can only ever be concluded in God’s full embrace of all things. When we seemingly find a way to be willing to overcome and move past all the boundary situations of life, (and one could argue, maybe much better than I about evil being a boundary limit we encounter only) that is what overcomes the tension of an antinomian monodualism” (as Frank so eloquently tries to elucidate). The tension of the empirical bent to accept reality as it is….or to see that behind all of this is a reality that is wanting to emerge via right perception. Freedom, in its entirety, can only be found by overcoming a libertarian defiance. It must unequivocally end in full surrender….the antinomy itself of defiant self-will. Only then, can the One be known.

      I don’t know if any of that makes sense, but to me, as an existentialist, it feels right. Maybe I’m just wrong too. I don’t know haha.

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      • dianelos says:

        mercifullayman,

        I think of a lot of things that we say are existent, but yet aren’t actually existent in the end.

        There is a sense in which a lot of things are existent but aren’t existent in the end, from eternity’s point of view if you like: I happen to believe that the only metaphysics that makes sense on theism is subjective idealism. In this metaphysics all that exists are persons and their experiences (in particular the physical world exists as orderly experiences God creates in our mind). Now some of what exists (the experiences) is good and some is evil. If we axiomatically assume that by creating the world God has not rendered evil eternal it follows that no evil will exist eternally. From this follows not only that all persons will not experience any suffering at the eschaton, but also that they will not recall any such suffering. In this will God completely annihilate evil: by removing it from reality even as a memory. In this sense then all evil that exists doesn’t really exist.

        It must unequivocally end in full surrender….the antinomy itself of defiant self-will.

        Antinomies may occur when we conflate our creaturely/temporal point of view with God’s uncreated/eternal point of view. For example we see the temporal evils in the world; God sees the world as a whole from eternity. Seeing it from the temporal inside creation strikes us as imperfect; but from God’s point of view it’s perfect.

        I have an objection perhaps not with the idea but with the language of “full surrender”. God is love, and by being made in God’s image we can partake in this love and know it directly. So we know that perfect love (which is the nature of God’s love) is universal, unconditional, sacrificial. We also know that perfect love gives freedom – no one who truly loves desired to be loved by unfree persons. But the concept of “surrender” suggests creatures giving up their freedom, and that’s not what God desires. I think rather than “full surrender” the expression that best expresses the truth is “full embrace”. That’s what God desires of us – to fully embrace him. Not to surrender to his will but to embody it, to make his will ours.

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