Does God Suffer?
The Catholic church considers the Greek matrix providential, but in the past we've speculated on whether this connection is truly necessary or perhaps contingent, and how Christianity might have developed in a different intellectual climate -- most recently with regard to our series of posts on Jesus Purusha, i.e., Christ incarnating as a Hindu instead of a Jew.
More to the point, if Christ is "universal," then it seems to me that so too should his "metaphysical penumbra" be universal.
In other words, there really shouldn't be "Greek way" or "Hindu way" or "Chinese way" to understand him, but just one way -- which should in turn reflect a universal metaphysic. A universal metaphysic is one that cannot be reduced to anything more basic or fundamental, and is discernible in every event or occasion of reality.
The process theologian John Cobb writes of how "Philosophical theology has been deeply influenced by Greek thought," which in turn "reflected Greek values. These values included the appraisal of eternity as superior to time, and of being as superior to becoming."
Thus, this presupposes an ultimate reality that is essentially static, since movement implies change, and if something is already perfect, then change can only diminish it.
For this reason, God is considered "pure act," with no possibility of anything being added to or subtracted from him: "For the divine perspective change does not occur, since the whole temporal process is always co-present." Our distinctions of time past, present, and future "hold only from the creaturely point of view."
A corollary of this is that God's perspective is "real" whereas ours is fundamentally unreal. Here we see an implicit connection with Hindu-Buddhist theories of maya, of the essential unreality of the manifestation, of appearances. (Then again, the compassion of the bodhisattva impels him to forgo nirvana in favor of a return to the world of suffering and change, implying that compassion is superior to -- or perhaps covalent with -- enlightenment.)
It also means that what we believe we are free to choose has somehow already been chosen, and that "our sense of creativity, of rendering determinate what was, prior to that act, not determinate, is an illusion." Thus, "our sense of responsibility is undercut."
You can't pretend this isn't an issue, for the Protestant split obviously produced various theologies of predestination (both religious and secular/scientistic), and we routinely hear the phrase "everything happens for a reason" -- as if God designed the Holocaust for reasons known only to him, or even just gave some little girl leukemia.
Many people who are otherwise positively disposed toward religion cannot get past this hurdle of the simultaneous existence of divine omniscience and evil (and let's face it, there's plenty of evil that isn't just attributable to human freedom).
Perhaps we need to rethink what we mean by the idea of "perfection." To take one obvious example, a "perfect lover" is not unchanged by our love for him or her, just as we are not unchanged by their love for us. Is it possible to conceive of a "higher" and more "perfect" kind of love than this, in which the participants are completely unchanged by the experience? I don't see how, without love turning into something it is not.
A related issue is whether God suffers. We all want to believe he does -- that he suffers with us -- and I think it takes a skilled theologian to prove he doesn't. For example, "The early church knew that Jesus had suffered death on the cross, and there were those who drew the conclusion that God suffered in Jesus's suffering. But the church drew back from from this conclusion," as "'God the Father' could not suffer."
This again parallels the Greek idea that it "is a mark of weakness and inferiority" to be acted upon, and to thus "be vulnerable to the actions of others over which one cannot exercise control." Rather, the Greek ideal emphasized "the basic invulnerability necessary to excellence."
Let's again toy with the idea -- or principle -- that man is in the image of the divine. What this means is that our accidents and contingencies do not reflect the divine reality, but rather, only our essence. In other words, what truly and necessarily defines us as human -- or, let us say, persons -- would have to have some divine analogue.
Now, what truly and necessarily defines a human? What are the conditions without which we cannot be persons? I think, prior to everything else, we must be intersubjectively open systems. Clearly, the notion of God-as-Trinity reflects this principle, in that the Trinity is not static at all, nor is it closed. Rather, it is the very essence of dynamism, of self-giving, and of receptivity.
Likewise, Cobb notes that "True human excellence does not involve insensitivity or indifference to others, but rather empathy with them.... This is especially important when others are suffering."
If we were to transpose this imperfect ability of ours to the divine plane, it would imply that "the divine perfection means that God perfectly receives all that happens in the world and perfectly responds to it. Far from being unaffected by our suffering and joy, God suffers fully with us and rejoices fully with us" (emphasis mine).
Importantly, this does not represent an anthropomorphization of God, but rather, a divinization of man. The same can be said of all man's divine qualities, prerogatives, and responsibilities, including his obligation to truth, his capacity for beauty, his striving for nobility, not to mention all the various flavors of love, e.g., philia, agape, caritas, eros, etc.
Well, all of this is still quite preliminary. Maybe I can dive into the heart of the matter tomorrow.