Saturday, February 04, 2023

Mythoverestimating the Divine Nature

I have this idea that is seemingly unpopular on all sides, but since I am who I am, I can’t can’t help having it, nor do I imagine I could be talked out of it, although I’m always open to a better idea. 

We’ve discussed it in the past -- the conception of God’s limited or qualified omnipotence, but it came up again the other day. It is fully optional, so I don't expect readers to agree with me. No one will be denied burial in Bismarck for thinking Bob has gone off the tracks in his own private railcar.   

Think of it as a vertical exercise in Pick Two:
Pick two, sometimes expressed as pick any two, is the principle that in many sets of three desirable qualities, those qualities will be somewhat mutually exclusive.
In this case the three qualities are Goodness, Intelligibility, and Omnipotence. You might say that if push comes to shove, I prefer a God who is intelligible and unqualifiedly good over one who is all-powerful. 

Moreover, we’re not talking about a total downgrade here, an insult to the divine majesty. Rather, God is still the most powerful being conceivable (and technically beyond-being and therefore beyond conception), limited only by unintelligibility or absurdity (i.e., self-contradiction).

Let me also say that the limitation on omnipotence actually implies the presence of quite positive qualities that could not otherwise exist. 

In particular, I am thinking of God’s ability to relate to us. I’ve heard all the arguments for the simultaneous existence of an unchangeable God and a God who is intimately related to us -- for example who suffers with us and responds to prayer -- but I find them to be tendentious and sophistical. Special pleading, all to preserve what amounts to a platonic conception of God, not necessarily a biblical one.

With my approach, you also avoid the silliness of imagining a God who intervenes, say, to save the life of a professional football player while looking the other way as thousands of less fortunate people are gunned down in Democrat run cities. If God is In Control and God has a Plan and all that, then the plan is not only totally unintelligible, but makes the person trying to sell it come off sounding like an idiot. Not to mention insensitive to the widespread suffering of others.

By the way, this is in no way to deny the existence of the category of the “miraculous,” but this will require a separate discussion that reframes it in the context of the Nature of Things. 

The short answer is the existence is a web of vertical and horizontal influences that is not so much unintelligible as excessively so. As such, we have to accept the fact that it’s complicated, instead of making the complexity go away by suggesting that every child who dies of cancer is just part of God’s plan.

No offense, but some plan. Again, my intention is to preserve Gods goodness while not totally sacrificing intelligibility.

Along these lines, I mentioned that a reader alerted me to an essay by Hans Jonas called The Concept of God after Auschwitz. I read a fair amount about the Holocaust, and every time I do, it is as if I am plunged into a world that is so evil that it is beyond comprehension. There is a limit to what one can truly imagine, such that I can read the words and understand their meaning, and yet, not wrap my mind around how a person could be so sadisically evil, let alone millions of them. 

The Holocaust is far from the only human atrocity that strains to the breaking point the conception of a God who is all-powerful and all-good. The briefest encounter with history reveals horrors that again defy imagination. All part of The Plan? It’s just impossible for me to believe this. But also impossible for me to believe that God doesn't exist, so here we are. 

Nor is this to say there is no plan. Far from it. There is indeed a plan, and the single factor that most interferes with the execution of this plan is called man -- especially me, not to mention you. 

But man is also the being who should act in accord with the plan and actualize it on earth, which places us in an awkward and ambiguous situation, since it is as if the disease is part of the cure, so to speak, or at least has to consent to and participate in it.

Consider a little vertical gedankenexperiment. Suppose the creator of the universe breaks the fourth wall of the historical drama and joins the cast herebelow. This is a mission of mercy that essentially involves saving man from both himself and his closest advisor, a diabolical presence of some sort. But instead of being warmly accepted by all and sundry, he is tortured and executed inside his own creation by his own creatures.

Wo. If this isn’t the strangest story ever told, then surely there could be no stranger. But we need to bear in mind that not only is reality stranger than we suppose, it is stranger than we can suppose, so the strangeness of this narrative is a point in its favor, not to mention other weird elements of the drama that we don’t have time to get into this morning.

Just getting started, so to be continued...


julie said...

This is not to say there is no plan. Far from it. There is indeed a plan, and the single factor that most interferes with the execution of this plan is called man -- especially me, not to mention you.

Mea maxima culpa.

I don't know about The Plan, or how to explain the permission of suffering, especially for the innocent who cannot possibly deserve what happens to them. The one thing I find comforting, especially when it comes to atrocities of scale, is that He doesn't engage us en masse. Millions of people did suffer unimaginably in the Holocaust, but He knew each and every person involved intimately, for the totality of his life from the moment of conception. The manner of a person's death is not the totality of his life nor the most important thing about him, even though that's often what we focus on when all we know about someone is how he died.

Put another way, if our country went full commie and started rounding up dissidents and executing them, I have no reason whatsoever to think that somehow, I would be spared. As those in the know like to remind us when we care to listen, most people who die in purges don't see it coming. One day, they're going about their business as normal, and the next they're being loaded on trains or marched in a line into the forest to dig their own graves. It's horrifying, and hardly bears thinking about, but there it is. Should that be my end, how could I possibly look back upon my life and claim that God wasn't there, just because it ended that way? He's here every day, literally answering prayers (mostly with "no," but by no means always) every day. And there's absolutely nothing special about me, I'm just another pile of animated dust. He is here the same way for everybody, all they have to do is turn around.

I still don't understand, but at least that scrap of knowledge - the intimacy of His relationship with us - for me, makes it a little more bearable. I don't know why these things are allowed, but I have faith that ultimately, on the other side of things, it will all work out.

Anonymous said...

Well said Bob – a courageous post. As you say, one is not denying God’s power; only that it must be curtailed by the conditions of existence which, being ephemeral and imperfect, cannot be Paradise. In other words, God can’t just do anything and neither does he ‘permit’ heinous atrocities (which he could otherwise prevent) in the interests of a higher cause that remains forever unknown to us. This would hardly be compatible with a notion of deity that is either intelligible, loving or merciful. Of course, many inscrutable mysteries remain; i.e. did God bring creation – and humanity – into existence because something was lacking in Him? Does this vitiate His perfection? And at what cost is this divine need purchased in terms of human suffering and misery? I’m certainly not expecting any answers to these imponderable questions this side of the grave.

Dougman said...

Paradise or the Garden of Eden?
Paradise is fantasy.
The Garden is what we look forward to.
It is interesting to me what the symbolism is of the garden.
When Jesus went into the garden with his disciples and everything went surreal.
More specifically, the way Peter is described as a coward in the hours after the betrayal.
But he drew his sword, (why does he carry?), and acted with it in the garden.
So according to scripture, Jesus rebuked him.
Something does not sit right with me.

Hmm, where to go with my problem?
The archives in the Vatican?
No, probably off limits to a rube like me.

Anonymous said...

Luke 23:43 – “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”

2 Corinthians 12:4 – “And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;), how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

The original Greek says Παραδείσῳ (Paradeisō). Hardly a ‘fantasy’ as you suggest…

Dougman said...

Yep, proven wrong again.
I’d still like to get into the archives.