Jordan Daniel Wood on the Fall, Suffering, and Theodicy

Yesterday was a good day on social media for Jordan. He became involved in two conver­sa­tions on Facebook and Twitter, both on the topic of theodicy. As Eclectic Orthodoxy readers know, Jordan is a brilliant theologian with a gift for explaining difficult and complex matters in a way that is understandable to us ordinary folk. So I thought I’d share with the brethren his insights on suffering and theodicy.

Facebook discussion

Jordan: My brief reply would begin with the following three observations, mostly unsubstantiated here since I’ve little time:

1. Genesis 1-3 isn’t historical, but “mythological” in the deeper, more ancient sense (where primordial realities are cast back to an unobservable past, which indicates that these realities so characterize our entire historical experience that they cannot even properly be conceived as yet another episode within that history). But, it must be admitted, this only slightly mitigates the original question. In fact what matters more than the historical veracity of these stories is the sequential structure that even non-literalist readings and classical doctrines of faith assume: first God was “before” creation, planning it out, as it were, and “after” that he executes the plan. Reading Genesis (1-11 esp.) as myth, or, if you like, as inspired at the level of “Spirit,” means we’re also free to deny the assumption that God’s act of creation must itself involve such a sequence. This mitigates the original question further, but not entirely, since the question is less about why God began things in such a way (i.e. “set us up”), and more exactly about why any dimension or aspect of God’s creation should permit evil. We might put the same question in the present tense: Why does God continue to bring forth rational beings into this world, here and now, given its fallen character–the ignorance, malice, greed, hatred, error, misjudgment, and suchlike that seemingly dominates it? My 1 year-old is, after all, just as much an effect of God’s creation ex nihilo as any supposed individual “Adam” and “Eve” were. All to say: Genesis must be read nonliterally, and yet this does not finally resolve the issue at hand. We must therefore move beyond mere exegesis into properly speculative theological thinking.

2. On the one hand, the very fact that creatures must begin at all means that they must begin in process. That’s because having a beginning means that you are not yet at your end–that your end is, as it were, “beyond” your current state. So you must strive for it, make your way towards it, attain it. You’re made already in process, already on some path or way. All the more so if your true beginning is your true end: this would mean that even the beginning you necessarily begin with, is not yet even your true beginning in being (not just that it’s not yet the end). Hence, if it’s true that, say, Christ himself–the event of the Incarnation–is our true end *and* beginning (Eph 1, Col 1, Apoc 3.14, Apoc 22, etc.), then this means that what we currently perceive to be our beginning is only a relative beginning, not yet our real start. And so our “necessary” beginning appears to be like this: we begin not because we’re truly finite, but rather our seeming to have a beginning makes us think we’re merely finite (not to mention our brute end, death!). In other words, the very fact that we begin to be is the occasion for our own self-deception, whereby we imagine that we are merely dust. (Here Gen 2.7 should condition everything we think about Gen 1-3, by the way). Or as Maximus says, Adam “fell at the very same time he began to be.” So the fact that we are finite-beings-meant-to-become-finite/infinite beings (theosis) means that we necessarily begin in ignorance of God, the world, and ourselves–and ignorance is the mother of all vice. But even here we’ve not yet answered the original question. It remains unclear why God would undertake creation at all if it must begin in this way.

3. That’s to say, evil starts to appear as a “necessary” component or condition of creation itself. That, we’re often told, is “gnostic” and thus heretical, since it seems to deny creation’s goodness. And yet Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus all say that not every phenomenon in creation is “a work of God.” Anything that falls short of expressing God’s infinitely good and loving will is no effect of his will, and thus not a work or creation or result or term of his will. So here we are: this world is a damnable mixture of God’s universal and ubiquitous, totally good will for each and all creation (the logoi) and our own pseudo-“creations” that we give our own lives to make “real,” but ultimately in vain. Nor are such “creations” limited to individual acts or lives: this world is pervaded by the work of “Adam,” of the collective ignorance and foolishness that form the conditions for all sin, and precisely because we are created with the potency to become God, our ignorant acts can take near-cosmic dimensions. This is a dire view, far worse than anything Augustinian original sin conveys with its merely genetic handing on of perverted tendencies in the will. For now the very heights of our vocation in Christ, to become God-human beings, is itself an occasion for our universal fall. So this observation too, while it further changes the framework of the original question, cannot resolve it.

So why would God create beings whose very end is the apparently necessary condition for their failure of that end? There are no abstract resolutions to such a question, in my opinion. But that very realization introduces a yet deeper one: no abstract resolution exists because no abstract creation exists. Creation finds its perfection, rather, in the fullness, the maturation, the absolutely open plenitude of interpersonal love. Which is to say that God set out in creation to make not an “order” of “things,” but to have children. The command of proliferation he gives to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 is the very command he himself, in Christ, is out to fulfill–to be fruitful and multiply. Creation is adoption, it’s raising children, it’s attending to the manifold uniqueness that is every person, is the unconditioned realization of love. And as such, it is a work of God and us together, for not even God can create a person without that person’s participation, since person’s are never who they are apart from the vital interrelations of life (not even God is a person without such interrelations). Here the parenting analogy is more appropriate: God isn’t like a parent principally in that he sets up conditions of our coming-to-be and lets free will have free reign; that’s not even what parents do, since a main job of parenting is setting parameters to the child’s free, imaginative play, precisely so that the imagination can explore the unknown without the full consequences of such exploration as an adult. Rather God is like a parent in that nothing, not even our “necessary” ignorance and failures along the way, would ever stifle his infinite love for us, and so, since it was precisely that infinite love that is the movement of creation itself (its reason and ground and end), nothing we do in ignorance constitutes a reason against our creation. So is this ignorance and the heinous evil it permits “necessary” for God’s act of creation? Not abstractly, not at all. But might *I* “need” to suffer this or that evil to become what I will find I’ve always wanted to be? Perhaps. As a parent, I can say: sometimes one child “needs” something that another doesn’t, so that I wouldn’t say that just because one approach worked for one child, it is therefore “necessary” for “good parenting” in general (i.e. abstractly) to take that approach. No, parenting isn’t like that: the only way a good parent knows what is “necessary” in any actual case for good parenting, is for that parent really to *know* the child in question–know what they need, how they need it, what are their limits, what are their trials, etc. Creation is God’s act of parenting, his act of raising child gods to become, in Christ, co-heirs and “friends” who will no longer “need” anything other than the love and truth God is. There are no abstract resolutions to the question of evil precisely because creation is the very opposite of an abstract act–it’s our adoption as God’s children to, somehow, become his equal. An act of sheer love.

Twitter Conversation

Picforth: Serious question for the universalists out there: is it really that much better if Hell is conceived as temporal and so of finite duration rather than eternal and unending? The moral question of a good God seems unresolved by this. But I’m interested in being convinced otherwise. I suppose I think the suffering of life should be sufficient unto itself; anything additional needs to be entirely organic and oriented toward a healing process, not arbitrarily imposed from without. I guess that is what most universalists presume, but suffering is still hard. I just really don’t want us to give ourselves an easy out with a sort of metaphysical shrug, thinking “this too shall pass.” Anyone who’s suffered immense physical or emotional pain knows how utterly useless such sentiment really is. Worldly suffering is temporary AND terrifying.

Jordan: I don’t deny the latter, but surely my kid enduring a chronic illness, even, is qualitatively different from suffering to no end whatsoever. But then if there is a qualitative difference, then surely there’s a qualitative moral difference in God’s permitting one or the other. It’s hard enough to believe in God before horrendous provisional suffering. It’s impossible—nay, evil—to believe before unending torment. The very consciousness that suffering will end nowhere in particular makes it a completely different sort of suffering, I’d think. And I say this as one who also believes that all past suffering must be destroyed in the end.

Picforth: Idk honestly. I mean I think I get it in the abstract. But when I had my kidney stone a couple years ago, knowing that the pain had to end somewhere (even if it killed me) was not a consolation. And the psychological torment of not knowing when added to the physical pain. All that to say you’re probably correct. But it doesn’t solve any problems related to theodicy as far as I can tell, nor cast them in any different light.

Jordan: Surely it casts it in a different light: I simply don’t know what it means to equate the suffering of a child and that same child’s putative eternal suffering for having chosen to reject God as a result, at least partly, of the first suffering. Nor do I think we’re somehow being more authentic or serious about suffering if we make such an equation. Everyone I know who’s endured real suffering—my mother for instance—would say it’s better to have relief than to know the suffering will not end. You said not knowing when added to the pain. Well, imagine knowing that the answer is never. There’s nothing abstract about this. We don’t do right by anyone’s suffering by pretending that the lack of provisional consolation is the same as guaranteed inconsolability. Nor by wondering whether any relief is much better than none.

At least before provisional suffering I can and do demand that God rectify all tragedy and evil: precisely because it is finite it can also be revisited and changed imo. But the very essence of endless torment entails the impossibility to make any such demand of God.

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18 Responses to Jordan Daniel Wood on the Fall, Suffering, and Theodicy

  1. David says:

    Thanks Father for sharing this and to Jordan for thinking this!

    Jordan I agree with you completely regarding the immense (infinitive?) qualitative distinction between temporary and unending suffering. Thanks for putting that forward in such a powerful way.

    I do have a question regarding in what sense you consider sin and falleness to be ‘necessary’. Above you suggest that that ‘evil starts to appear as a “necessary” component or condition of creation itself” and that “we necessarily begin in ignorance of God, the world, and ourselves–and ignorance is the mother of all vice.”

    On the other hand I think you suggest that evil (and fallenness?) may not be necessary “in the abstract” but that it nevertheless perhaps necessitated relative to the persons we actually are (and/or our unique eschatological end)

    By this do you just mean that humanity’s fall is perfectly contingent – such that the very same perfected eschatological selves desired by God would have emerged in the end, sin or no sin – and it’s just that certain evils are necessitated by this contingent condition of fallenness, which genuinely could have been avoided while still attaining the same eschatological end?

    Or (as I think you do) do you mean that mean that the concrete individual and specific (not ‘abstract’) eschatological selves desired by God means that our falleness is in some way a tragically inevitable stage in the process on the way towards our real beginning and full creation?

    Basically are you rejecting the Bulgakov/DBH-style approach of a ‘supratemporal fall’ account in which humanity as a whole – on the border between eternity and time (if such a concept if coherent) – contingently chose to fall? Which would perhaps make you closer to Behr who I think sees any such talk as basically a mythological way of describing the actual nature of things, without believing there was ever any real possibility of humanity (at least, the humans eschatologically intended by God) avoiding the fall?

    Liked by 1 person

    • CKC says:

      I think I have the same question as David. It’s seems like Behr is saying that the world we live in now which is of “mixed birth” and is a womb of sorts, is the means by which God molds his creatures. At least on one level, or simplistically stated. DBH seems to be in a sort of agreement, but elsewhere says that this world was always a possibility but qualifies that further saying

      “ These are not arbitrary rules that God could change without abolishing the spiritual nature of his creatures. They do not, however, imply that a passage through evil is somehow a necessary phase in the growth of spiritual natures. It merely means that, as spirit must move toward its divine end freely, out of and away from the utter moral and ontological poverty of nonbeing, the possibility of temporary but often tragic divergences from the true path are intrinsic to its nature until such time as that nature has grown into what Gregory of Nyssa calls stability in the Good.”

      So it may be silly to ask “could it have been otherwise?” Because obviously this is the way it is, but I still find myself being theoretically comforted by the idea the the collective “Adam” is responsible for this nightmare world, and God will use every means to return us to himself, even if there always had to be a movement from non-being into God that entailed some level of suffering.


    • jordandanielwood says:

      Thanks for the great question, David. As usual, I’ll need partly to punt to ch.4 of my forthcoming Maximus book, where I hope to have laid out my approach a bit more clearly.

      Annoyingly, I’d like to affirm both the options of the dilemma. On the one hand, it is naturally the case that our being created means we must begin, and having to begin means being in process, and being in process means not yet in the full knowledge of God–which is ignorance–and being ignorant is the necessary condition of sin and evil. I don’t say it’s the sufficient condition; mere childlike ignorance is not ipso facto evil. The evil comes in acts affected by ignorance, which will always be less than good and very often positively delusional attempts at evil. So from this vantage it seems all but “inevitable” that those who must begin stumbling in the dark will fall, and such a fall will have drastic consequences.

      On the other hand, I still do not think evil as such can be considered necessary for creation, as if God had to pay its price to achieve a greater good. Rather anything less than the complete destruction of evil, no matter where it happens to fall within the spacetime continuum, is an eternal failure, an eternal fall, an abstractly (and so logically) necessary feature of creation itself. And if creation is a work of God, and if a work expresses the life of the one who works, then evil would be an eternal feature of God himself. This must be rejected. So from this vantage it seems the fall must be perfectly contingent, even if it is supra-temporal.

      I want to notice that both approaches seem bounded by a sequential or temporal framework that is itself rarely questioned. The first seems like God must work with what’s given, as it were, as brute conditions and thus means for achieving his end in creation. It’s process theology, perhaps theogony. But the second too merely inverts the issue (against its own intentions). If “supra” in “supra-temporal fall” just means “an event-realm prior to this one, which might have occurred differently,” then it’s really being conceived as a “before.” This is still a sequential understanding: first, the “supra” event/fall, then the variegated and chaotic aftermath that is this world.

      I’d like to think creation itself through Incarnation, which is an event that is neither merely eternal nor merely temporal since it is the actual identity (in Christ’s own person) of the two. Many details to pursue there, but I’ll simply assert here that this perspective opens up seemingly impossible possibilities. One of those is that both your stated options are true, though one-sidedly. The mystery of freedom (again, I explore this more fully in ch.4) does mean that the *mode* of its formal perfection in creatures is a process, and that the process is as unique and personal to each as they themselves are (and as unique as their unique interrelations are). As with children, each will take a path, however generally predictable, that will present unique and un-abstractable challenges and solutions. In this sense the “fall” of each is “necessary,” though, again, not abstractly (and so not with absolute necessity). But then the sequential mode or way of each person’s path (and in concert with all others) is not itself the entire work of creation. The entire work of creation must entail not just a final episodic (thus sequential) resolution, but the perfection of the whole sequence precisely in all its moments and episodes. This means that my own perfection “will” include the actual destruction of “past” failures and the actual perfection of what ought to have been instead. The Fall is transtemporal, but then so is its undoing. At the end of *this* process the process that seemed initially “necessary”–the sequential and temporal one–will prove to have been not at all, and what ought to have been will become. No spacetime limit will prevent this rectification of the process itself, since its perfection need not follow the logic regnant within the process itself. And so from this vantage, it will become true that the Fall and all its iterations was indeed perfectly contingent, totally unnecessary in any abstract senses–and so will be destroyed. Any hypothetical “could have been otherwise” that is actually good will prove to be merely the eschatological (and so only) true creation, and any “actual” “was instead like so” that is actually evil will prove to be merely the mistaken pseudo-event that we ourselves brought into being, not God, and so will become for us as utterly unreal as the delusions within which it occurred.

      In short, created freedom implies the provisional necessity of a process shrouded in ignorance; the perfection of created freedom implies the absolute necessity of undoing every mistake and tragedy in the initial process.

      Liked by 4 people

      • David says:

        Thanks for this Jordan. It is all rather mysterious isn’t it?

        I agree that we probably want to avoid saying seeing evil / the fall as the price God had to pay to achieve a greater good. On this point, I’m not sure if you would see a moral difference between causing evil *in order* to achieve a good (e.g. I commit the evil of stealing in order to enjoy the good of eating a cake) vs accepting evil as an inevitable consequence of a good (e.g. I endure the evil of a stomach evil as the inevitable consequence of eating said cake) – which might be analogous to God causing fallenness as a positive means to an end vs. just accepting that fallenness will automatically result given the inevitability of a kind of provisional ignorance for humanity. I think there is some kind of moral distinction between the two, but ultimately both involve consenting to a cost that is not simply a contingent possibility but something which is ‘built in’ to the system. Then again, if the cost is a possibility or an inevitability, isn’t it being consented to in one way or another?

        You talk of the risk that – in imaging a literal supratemporal fall – we are essentially smuggling in a sequential understanding after all. But is it possible to have a hierarchical understanding without sequence, at least not in the sense of chronos?

        For example, I might hold the intention to write a book over a long period of time, with this affecting various individual decisions and choices. I am in some sense consenting to the decision to write a book that whole time, while various sub-decisions take place within that. This isn’t a perfect analogy for what I mean given that obviously the decision to write a book does come first in the temporal sequence. But what I mean is the fact that – over a certain period of time – one can have a range of hierarchically-subordinated choices all nested within the one ‘main choice’. Similarly, I could spend 2 minutes constantly making the decision to continue playing a particular video game – while within the scope of that one long-term core decision still making various mini decisions – one after 30 seconds, another after 60 seconds, etc.

        Anyway, if there is something of the finite and the eternal in humanity as a whole, perhaps our falleness could be seen as a kind of quasi-eternal background transtemporal transpersonal decision of humanity as a whole, which we ‘then’ participate in through our lives. Had the transtemporal ‘decision’ gone differently, had we said ‘yes’ to God, we would still have developed ‘sequentially’, but out ignorance would not have outpaced our scope of action, meaning we would not have actually sinned. Whereas the fall constituted a decision to say ‘no’ – or rather, a ‘yes, but….’ to live at peace with God, with the consequence that the entire temporal sequence is infected with even more ignorance than we were built to cope with.

        Whether such a concept is coherent or not of course is another question 🙂 DBH does seem to hold that sin need not have occurred

        Sorry if those points are a little messy. I will look forward to the book! Do you know roughly when you expect it to be published?


        • jordandanielwood says:

          Thanks again, David. Excuse me if what follows doesn’t really follow your two main points–I’m pinched for time!

          To the first part about a moral difference between causing and permitting, I wonder if the specifically moral difference lies along another axis besides causing vs. permitting (obviously these differ metaphysically), namely provisional vs. final. That is, I think the morally relevant problematic lies in the movement from the former to the letter, whether or not we’re considering God causing (which I think impossible) or merely permitting the evil.

          To the second part about whether we can avoid sequence in view of a hierarchically ordered “decision,” a few things come to mind. First, I agree that sequence as such isn’t evil or wrong: it remains distinctly possible that creatures be created and develop sequentially without actual sin. As I mentioned, ignorance per se isn’t evil, and in that regard is more like what we call “childlike innocence.” My children don’t know a lot of morally significant truths, but that alone doesn’t make them guilty of evil. Second, though, I’d say that the “possibility” or hypothetical positing of this “true sequence,” as it were, is simultaneously nothing other than the eschatological perfection of what we currently understand as our own past sequence of becoming. Again, in my view if any hypothetical good is an eschatological fact, such that we judge it hypothetical (i.e. possible but unrealized) precisely to the degree that we have failed in our ignorance and delusion to realize it. Third, I’m not sure the analogy of deciding to write a book quite fits for a different reason than the one you mention: not only is there a clear initial decision followed by subsequent ones, but that decision is presumably made without morally relevant ignorance. But the supra-temporal Fall, precisely as an eminently moral act, seems to imply an act conditioned by ignorance of the very good which ought to be that act’s own principle and end–union with God, say. In a certain sense what my approach seeks to do is shorten the “edges” of our naturally sequential conception of all this: eschatologically, what becomes is nothing other than the perfection of all that has come “before” it; protologically, the Fall is the actual and universal failure falsely “enacted” in all the tragedies that come “after” it. Hence my intentionally paradoxical affirmation of both the options you initially presented. But I’d want to argue that this paradox isn’t random or indeterminate, but precisely a consequence of thinking the entirety of creation–both its false modalities and its true ones–through the event of the Incarnation itself, where not only time and eternity are made one in Christ’s person, but the fallen flesh we have individually and collectively wrought across time is made one with the eschatological flesh Christ creates in himself, with us. Christ’s flesh is “Adamic”: it is frail, weak, mortal, limited by nature. And yet his assuming this very flesh is also the true beginning of the creation of true flesh: it is resurrected, ascended, healed, complete as his Body. The trans temporal reciprocity of Fall-Deification is therefore the condition and consequence of the Son’s historical Incarnation. Seeing that, I’d submit, leads to rather bizarre but no less plausible ways of reconceptualizing our entire approach to theodicy and the like.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David says:

            Cheers Jordan. I note you agree that ignorance per say does not automatically lead to evil on every occasion.. However am I right in thinking that you more or less hold ignorance *does* automatically lead to the general human fallenness in the sense of a kind of unnatural emancipation from the Good in which evil becomes thinkable and so inevitable.

            You also suggest that the provisional nature of our fallen state may be the key moral issue. Do you therefore hold that it is moral for God to create the world, despite knowing that falleness/evil would be the automatic consequence of creation (i.e. it wasn’t a mere possibility contingent on some Adamic finite will, but was built in from the start), so long as this falleness was merely provisional (and, in your reading, would in some way be retroactively made good)?

            Apologies if that sounds a bit too black and white or doesn’t do your paradoxical formation justice. I hate to clumsily simplify but I suppose it seems to me that you are saying something like ‘this: falleness is inevitable ‘first time round’ – for some reason those are the terms on which God must create, or at least this is the inevitable prelude to God’s ‘true creation’ – but God will retroactively erase this fallen past when he makes the world anew, thus eschatologically converting falleness from a necessary into a contingent (and in fact a literally non-existent and purely hypothetical) reality?


          • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

            Thanks for all of this and I always appreciate our candor and willingness to help us learn. You, as well as others, know where I tend to fall on these discussions, especially as we dive into the nature of what exactly constitutes the concretized actuality of an act as “evil” etc. In a sense, if by the very reflective ability of creative power as the basis for us as ontological beings, why would a “supra” temporal fall need to be a definitive conclusion? Time, seems to be built into the very notion of existence as it is physical/material. I could be wrong, but isn’t it Maximus that kind of implies that man was basically beginning the fall/or even “fallen” the minute he opened his eyes? So is Behr correct to kind of lean into the mytho-poetics as more of a psychological explanation for us as we pull ourselves away from the true center (the Divine) versus the internalized center (our own will which is powered by the image we are made in so that those creative actions move us into the necessary, not freedom, occurring when we follow the surface level sensorial outcome to create the worlds we want)?

            To totalize this further, doesn’t this kind of imply that the “processes” we see are not, to borrow from Hegel, “thought thinking itself” but rather “thought that has thought(this is both an active and yet past tense idea and is intentionally used) itself” and in that process all of the logoi are working back to the Logos by the process that they are allowed to flourish because the working out is currently being done to its teleological end? So, that in a sense, evil/the fall becomes the “shadow” side not as inevitability in actu but as an acceptable end, and in that sense a toleration of the very image as free creative agents (that as the logoi = human) implies the Fall could not have not happened without changing the scope of who we are as actualized ideas returning to the very ideatum as such? IF we are made for Delight…If the Divine is bringing us forth for that very same Delight, then embedded within the core of each of us is the procession of delight that emerges out from the very beginning as we move from ignorance to the truth and yet, with that, is the fact that from the beginning we sometimes won’t move accordingly. And to borrow from DBH via someone like Aurobindo….moving past the false illusions of pleasure, pain and indifference (the ground of the fall as surface acceptance of these three) towards this notion of actualized Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss (the true Satchidananda) as true being, also allows Origen to be correct when he talks about Creation seemingly being inaugurated at the cross because it creates the “real” over what is an illusion?


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            “Only deification is capable of justifying creation. It is the only theodicy.” ~ Sergius Bulgakov

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Iainlovejoy says:

    Picforth is surely right that universalism is not a theodicy: isn’t the argument more that without universalism, theodicy is rendered impossible? That is, while it may well still be impossible to reconcile suffering with a good God if universalism is true, it is absolutely certain that it is impossible to reconcile if it isn’t true.


  3. Stranger says:

    Outside universalist themes in general – the great hope – it is the posts amd discussions on theodicy (on evil, on suffering) that I find the most helpful here. Sometimes even vital. My own experiences of suffering, past and present, and some of the evil and suffering with which I am personally acquainted (on top of what can be read about), remain some of the biggest, real challenges to my faith.

    Thanks for posting this, Father Aiden, and to the posters referenced above who took the time to articulate both sides of the issues in ways which both resonate so clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Geoffrey says:

    I eagerly await Jordan Daniel Wood’s book in October.

    Dr. Wood’s theory of the past being changed is intriguing, reminding me of Lev Shestov’s work (especially Athens and Jerusalem).

    It seems to me that, for changing the past to be the definitive theodicy, it must be thorough. It can’t be (for example) like Hermione’s time-turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which the past is changed so that Buckbeak is no longer killed, BUT his death still kind of remains, that is: “It used to be the case that Buckbeak was killed, but that is the case no longer.”

    Instead (to continue with this example), the past would have to be changed such that it never was the case that Buckbeak was killed, not even in an “alternate timeline”. The sin, suffering, and death of the past would have to be utterly effaced, such that the Omniscient God Himself would not (and indeed could not) remember sin, suffering, and death having once existed in the past, for it never in fact existed.

    That is, Stalin’s persecutions of the Church would have to assume the same status of the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s (as mentioned by the 1960s Star Trek TV show): The persecutions would have to become something that literally never happened, something as utterly non-historical as the fictional Eugenics Wars. It would be no good for the changed past to still somehow (even if only in the mind of God) have happened. That would amount to little more than amnesia in the minds of God and of His creatures. No. The past must be changed so that there is literally nothing of sin, suffering, or death to remember. Not amnesia. Not surface-level changing of the past, but rather the deepest, most utter eradication conceivable. It must be that Stalin never persecuted the Church, rather than that he once did, but then Hermione with her time-turner went back in time and changed that.

    For if there has never been any sin, any suffering, or any death, then theodicy becomes a moot point, as there would be no evil whatsoever to try to explain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

      Shestov and the likes of Schelling and Hegel….I think something that gets missed is the universalism of those thinkers in the end, whether stated or not.


  5. Jack H says:

    Hopefully I’m not going too far afield here, but I was wandering what some of your thoughts are on the supra temporal fall vis a vis the laws of nature as we know them. Many theologians see the laws of nature as God’s “thoughts” or catching God in the act of creation.

    This has always disturbed me because the laws of physics/nature can be quite callous. If we take the “Anthropic Principle” as it relates to science and cosmology too seriously it seems impossible to not implicate God in creating evil.


  6. jordandanielwood says:

    David–I’m going to reply here because of WordPress’s terrible formatting:

    “I note you agree that ignorance per say does not automatically lead to evil on every occasion.. However am I right in thinking that you more or less hold ignorance *does* automatically lead to the general human fallenness in the sense of a kind of unnatural emancipation from the Good in which evil becomes thinkable and so inevitable.”

    Two points of clarification here that might go some way towards responding to the rest of your comment. First, I wouldn’t say that ignorance as such “automatically” leads to sin, which sounds to me like a kind of apodeictic or logical truth. My affirmation that ignorance as such is not evil means that it’s also not sufficient in itself for fallenness. The Fall or sin are acts, and therefore always irrepressibly determinate. I do not see how ignorance abstractly considered can amount to an abstract link of necessity between ignorance and the Fall. Second, then, I don’t see much sense in speaking about a “general human fallenness” precisely because there is no such thing as a general human being, only the universal collective of actual human beings. So I would be fine speaking of a “universal” Fall, but that Fall is no less personal just because it is universal–it is indeed collective, the sum total in act and consequence of all personal acts (there’s no other kind in my view). These two points indicate what I was after before: while I do think the very fact of having been caused puts persons in a necessarily oblique state of ignorance, I do not think this amounts to an abstract necessity; I thus would not concede that the act of creation abstractly (necessarily) implies the Fall. Rather the Fall is a universal and personal fact, and the reasons for that are as manifold and non-abstractable as the actual persons who have made it thus–you, me, every human being and rational intelligence that has rebelled–well, except one.

    “You also suggest that the provisional nature of our fallen state may be the key moral issue. Do you therefore hold that it is moral for God to create the world, despite knowing that falleness/evil would be the automatic consequence of creation (i.e. it wasn’t a mere possibility contingent on some Adamic finite will, but was built in from the start), so long as this falleness was merely provisional (and, in your reading, would in some way be retroactively made good)?”

    Hence here I would not say that evil was an “automatic consequence of creation” precisely because I would not admit an actual distinction between “a mere possibility contingent on some Adamic finite will” and evil being “built in from the start.” The contingent possibility is precisely what “Adam”–not a genus but the collective totality of all actual human persons–creates in the act of the Fall itself. In other world, characterizing evil/Fall as “built in from the start” is too abstract–to both creation and Fall–to really serve as an actual option among others in elucidating the role of evil in the process of creation. Evil, after all, is anything but abstract.

    The last clause in your summary, along with the summary after this, therefore needs reconceptualizing. What I’m suggesting is that the very “provisionality” of the Fall will, in the “end,” become itself not even provisional, since it will be unveiled and destroyed for the nothingness that it is. All this, I admit, depends on a very definite view of evil, one developed by Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus, which I attempt to lay out in detail in my book. In brief, it is that evil is not merely nothing, but nothing under the appearance of our own delusion (hence the necessary but not sufficient condition of ignorance for actual evil), which we ourselves give of ourselves (our “hypostasis” or “subsistence”–our very lives) to “realize.” This is of course a vain project from the start, but vanity does not matter when veiled in delusion. But we partially realize it–individually and collectively, since these are ultimately inseparable. But that means that the “fallen world” is as much our own pseudo-creation as it is a work of God. Indeed precisely to the degree that it is fallen, that is, not the expression of the divine creative will, it is to that degree “not a work of God” at all (Origen, Maximus). I call it “false incarnation.” Now the false world is always already inseminated with seeds (logoi) of the one true world; the false is still always parasitic on the true, even the potency of the true. That includes evil acts, events, tragedies, and so forth, all of which seem at the moment constitutive of our coming to be. But the very achievement of God’s one act of creation–which will prove *also* our co-creation, mind you–will render this false world not just “provisional” but nothing at all. And what is really nothing cannot be finally even provisional. Here we get back to the rectification of all times and events I broached in the original discussion.

    All to say, while your last statement approximates what I think–that any evil illicitly “created” through the self-sacrificial ignorance of our wicked acts will literally be “non-existent”–some of the characterizations around it need to be modified if this view is near the truth. It wouldn’t be right to say, for instance, that God “retroactively” erases anything, since what is there is an “is” that needs to be converted to a true “is” (a tragedy must become the bliss it was supposed to be in fact). It’s not that God gets to the “end” of the series and “goes back” to change it; it’s that the “end” just is the actual eventuation of what *we* perceive as “back there in time.” Nor is it right to call what is in fact not God’s creation “purely hypothetical,” because even a hypothetical possibility needs to be a *true* possibility. But there is and “will be” shown to be no truth save what has “overcome” or “become” where evil once “was.” Evil will not become a hypothetical possibility; it will literally become impossible, no matter “when” it “could be.” Otherwise the potency of evil is as eternal and true as divine goodness, and that is something I reject entirely. In that respect alone, I think, what I’ve said offers a “theodicy”: not an abstract solution (in fact I resist even abstract formulations of the problem except insofar as their inherent limits are identified), but an absolute confidence that no physical or metaphysical limit will stand as an absolute limit to God’s act of creation, which is, in my view, ultimately his act of becoming everything that is, whenever it is, wherever it is (1 Cor 15.28).


    • David says:

      Thanks for this clarification Jordan.

      So I think you hold that universal ignorance does not necessarily imply universal fallenness – and that the fall is essentially identical with ‘the sum total in act and consequence of all personal acts’.

      This makes me wonder:

      1) Does this not risk eliding the traditional distinction between ‘original sin’ – falleness per se – and personal sins?

      2) If there is no ‘abstract’ existential necessity which determines the fall (a la Behr, if I’ve understood him correctly) – and there is also no contingently-caused ‘supratemporal fall’ of the kind posited by DBH – then how does one explain the universality of sin? Isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that we all happen to sin if the possibility of not sinning is genuinely (and not just abstractly) open to us?

      3) If evil is a result of our wrong choice, what do we make of all the evil that preceded humanity? And specifically the fact that the very first human choices were made in the context of evil, such that evil was sequentially and logically prior to and embedded within the first actual decision-making process – to sin or not to sin? – that a human being ever made? (I take it that this is at least one of the reasons why DBH and others are keen to identical a real act that caused to the fall that is logically prior to the rest of the world)

      p.s. aware I’m slightly barking questions at you so please don’t feel under any pressure to respond / I’ll read the book!


    • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

      Thanks for this. It kind of answers my questions in a mutual way.


    • Stranger says:

      Just read the expanded quotes of this discussion, or a related one, from the “pingback” “Jesus and the Ancient Paths” at the bottom of the comments section below.

      Really helpful. To be quite honest, I sometimes struggle with some of the discussions about suffering and the fall, particularly where they can seem so academic to me (although I do admire and appreciate those discussions, and am impressed by those who participate). I think, to be honest yet again, that my difficulty with the discussions stems from the fact that I find myself in the midst of some intense (at least for me) suffering. I find myself desperate and am desperately seeking a salve or some answers.

      There are ways in which the Great Hope itself has provided me great comfort; and not simply the idea that I can be forgiven, purified, and learn the glory of God that I could have, but didnt, effectuate in my own life and in the lives of others (or even which I destroyed or damaged in others). It has even given me what years of having Hebrews 11 barked at me did not: (and this is likely my own mistaken or even self-serving interpetation and application, so bear with me) the idea that if Im going through hell now (sure, sure, sure: figurative and exaggerated) then it is already that purification taking place. Whatever the theories say, this round of suffering (some of which is baked-into or hard-wired into me) has led me right back to what I have fled from time and time again, a tentative faith in the one I typically rail against for all my troubles. This time, however, he brings me back not with discipline, or punishment for straying, but with a myriad of promises, not only for a “future” eternity, but for an eternity that seems to be beginning right now. Somehow, the cumulative effect of what Ive been reading (even before this present round of troubles hit) has me desiring to embrace a different way: humility, patience, forgiveness of others, etc. Not that these hoped-for virtues extend back as yet, to redeem episodes from my past, but the idea that those who most recently harmed me were all, in one way or another, seeking after the ultimate Good, in ways which are as broken and mistaken as my own have been; that I should therefore be forgiving, minisyer to them, be in their presence what I hoped to receive from them). It is a daily battle to re-attain this understamding, or to hold onto it, or to strengthen it.

      If you dont mind, Jordan, and whoever else reads this: a little context. I was not yet five when I was first handed off to a caretaker who had no business being around children The first of a few. There was no recourse. So the idea, from Jordan’s comments at the pingback, that God intends to go back and create what should have been done at those times is extremely helpful. The idea. At present I have very little emotion around this idea and do not need any happy songs sung to me, I drag along a lifetime of heavyhearts. But the idea. Light in the darkness indeed.

      When Jordan describes existence as “repulsive,” I am relieved to have found understanding. Such acknowledgements, at this point, go further for me than anything else and open me up to receive more of the good and positive ideas included in the discussion.

      I grabbed a lenghty helpful quote, which I will paste here, but also read further and found more.

      I am grateful for what I read of the discussion.

      Im not looking for a response and, contrary to some appearances, no pity. Just trying to engage the discussion at my level.

      “We consider past tragedies and traumas as “completed” events because they seem to us, in the present, as “done and over.” I think that if time itself has an “end” or “purpose,” then that end or purpose cannot be limited to just the last episode in the long line of episodes. Rather it must be the perfection of every event and time–even past tragedies–or else it is no real perfection or purpose at all. So in one sense I agree with you entirely: If any evil or trauma was the “price” of creation, a price once paid and forever fixed in time and memory, then this game was not worth playing. But if the very “end” of time includes the perfection of all time, of all events in time (which are relative), then we must await that end as not only worth this current, often repulsive existence, but worth it precisely because it will render all past tragedies null and void, and replace them with the true events that ought to have occurred as God’s will for each and every moment of creation. I know it’s a bold and nearly impossible to conceive view. But consider it a kind of demand that God, if he merits our faith, must be able to overcome what seems naturally impossible to us. And I think he can and has done just that: the Incarnation, for instance, shows faith that God is not limited even by natural limits….”


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