Wednesday, March 22, 2017

God and Creation, Separate but Equivalent

Yet another writing-out-loud post. Rambling and self-indulgent? I don't know. Maybe.

Christian metaphysics holds that God creates "from nothing." But since something cannot come from nothing, this formula seems to defer the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

When we approach such questions, we are digging down to the very bottom of things, so language naturally becomes problematic. In other words, language -- our language, anyway -- is posterior to creation, to being, and to existence, such that it is difficult to deploy it to describe realities that are prior to language. As Schuon writes, error can result from "taking too seriously" such "small fatalities of language."

It's analogous to trying to describe what it was like to be an infant, before one can speak. It can't be done in real time, but it is possible in retrospect to transform the experience into words, as in psychotherapy.

Alternatively, one may simply act out infantile desires, impulses, and emotions, which is why liberal activism will always be with us.

God is the very ground of Something, such that there can be no "nothing" in him. To say that God creates from nothing is to say that there is no pre-existent material with which he creates; or that in God there is no distinction between creativity and creation.

On the human plane, the creator works with sound, color, form, or words that already exist. But imagine, for example, creating color simultaneously with painting.

Is the Creation situated "inside" or "outside" God? This again goes to the "small fatalities of language" alluded to above. The obvious answer is "both," which emphasizes the limitations of language, in which one definition would seem to exclude the other.

This may seem like an abstruse subject, but it goes to a number of practical questions, such as the nature of God's omniscience and the existence of evil. Where is evil located? If there can be nothing outside God, then it must be in God. But there is no evil in God. So where does it come from? And how is God off the hook for its existence?

As hard cases make bad law, such hard metaphysical questions have been responsible for a lot of bad theology.

Herebelow, God manifests in two ways: truth and presence. And yet, falsehood and absence "exist." How do we exit this absurcular argument? I don't have any better ideas than this:

The ontological and hence "neutral" structure of evil is "in God," but not so evil as such; in other words, privative and subversive possibilities are not in Deo except insofar as they testify to Being and therefore to All-Possibility, and not by their negative contents, which paradoxically signify non-existence or the impossible, hence the absurd.

You might say that in God, nothing, which is normally impossible, is indeed possible. If it weren't possible, then God would be denied a possibility.

In the previous post we spoke of the distinction between appearances and reality. On the one hand God is reality and not appearance. But what are appearances but of reality?

For Schuon, this goes precisely to "the mystery of Relativity," which is to say, "the possibility of an 'other than God.'" If we deny this Other Than God, we are in effect denying the world and ourselves, or creation and free will.

Properly speaking, God does not exist. Rather, he is prior to existence, prior even to being. What we call God is the very possibility of existence. Here we may draw a useful distinction, in that existence as such is already "at a distance," so to speak, from God.

For Schuon, the purpose of a religious symbolism is to provide points of reference -- at times paradoxical, and even necessarily so -- for pre-linguistic truths that are "in" our very substance (or our substance is "of" these truths). Again, being that this truth-substance is pre-linguistic, conventional language can go only so far in conveying it without paradox.

With this in mind, Schuon suggests that "there are two 'ontological regions,' the Absolute and the Relative; the first consists of Beyond-Being, and the second, of both Being and Existence, of the Creator and Creation."

From a slightly different vantage point, one may view Being and Beyond-Being on one side, with existence -- i.e., the cosmos -- on the other.

I analogize this to the conscious/unconscious divide in man. Looked at in one way, they are separate. But in reality they are complementary. Just as both are needed in order to facilitate humanness, just so, Beyond-Being and Being are the complementary "sides" of God. Father and Son? I don't know. Maybe.


julie said...

This may seem like an abstruse subject, but it goes to a number of practical questions, such as the nature of God's omniscience and the existence of evil. Where is evil located? If there can be nothing outside God, then it must be in God. But there is no evil in God. So where does it come from? And how is God off the hook for its existence?

While I can't even begin to answer that, it is interesting to note that when Jesus prays for his disciples, he quite explicitly notes (John 17:9), "I do not pray for the world..."

Notably, too, there are passages in the OT where prophets are told flat-out not to pray for certain people engaging in pretty much everything they knew they ought not do, but flagrantly engaged in anyway. It's a little difficult to square that with the whole "pray for your enemies" thing; I wonder if the difference may be that ones enemies are not necessarily pure evil - may, in fact, be quite decent people - but those who are truly opposed to God (and therefore, essentially, evil) can have no place with him.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

In islamic metaphysics language is anterior to existence as a whole that is why we read in the story of Adam that he was taught the names which means the language is already there, as for god the same metaphysics say that god is begotten not and begets not and has no comparable, the one whose essence is unique and he is the creator of everything through his words. The first and the last the seen and the unseen and his knowledge encompasses everything, The light conscious energy that encompasses everything and permeates everything. He is the breath that gives us life and makes us speak. Thank you I come to understand my metaphysics better through you metaphysics after all you have preceded me in the spiritual world of the divine that is why we read in the koran that we should take the disciples of Jesus as example in the pursuit of god path. Schunon keeps me glued to the world of searching for god and learn the ways of god be honest without stop, because there is nothing to stop at. This is the whole story of god keeping us in continual search until we meet him provided the purity of heart and sincere devotion away from any prejudice and hidden agenda. God likes us to play in the open and dislikes those who conceal things and and wish ill to others.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post; it goes to the mother of all questions, namely, what is existence? The post lays out the major conflict points people encounter when speculating on the Question.

Regarding evil--Why cannot God be both good and evil? Does He have to be only good? And if so, why? A case could be made that Earthly existence is set up to provide the broadest possible pallette of experiences, and that evil, and its dolorous effects, are one spectrum or class of experiences that are on offer here.

And could God be like water, and present in gas, liquid, and water forms, to use an analogy, which would comprise all of existence?

Van Harvey said...

Perhaps it'd be better to think of Something vs Nothing, as Formed, and Unformed. 'Nothing' is just our temporal perception of where the sculptor has not yet worked an image upon his clay.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or intelligence at one end, "prime matter" at the other. Prime matter is not material, just abstract "pure potential." It is the Nothing that may be used to make Anything!

Van Harvey said...