I have some time now so I thought it be easier to fire off some thoughts now rather than later. Forgive all the typos. Again, I’m very grateful for the chance to engage you.
TomT: Once we have emerged as individual centers of consciousness and rational agents, God can nonetheless transform our perspective, perhaps even instantaneously, in a perfectly rational way; he need only grant us a direct “face to face” encounter with himself, thereby providing compelling evidence for both his existence and the bliss of union with him. By “compelling evidence” I mean (roughly) evidence that both (a) justifies one in believing a given proposition and (b) renders one powerless in the face of this evidence not to believe it.
TomB: An overwhelming face to face encounter can guarantee belief in God’s existence, yes. But how’s that guarantee the loving, obedient response God desires if it’s the case that, for example, demons believe God exists and yet they continue to misrelate? The encounter would have to actually form a belief in the goodness of God and so guarantee a cooperative willing disposition.
TomT: If an alien spaceship should unexpectedly land in full view on the White House lawn, then this would no doubt alter the perspective of many people almost instantaneously and would do so in a perfectly rational way…
TomB: It would. Agreed.
TomT: …and similarly, if Saul of Tarsus (or Paul) really did encounter the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, as Christians believe he did, then it is hardly surprising that such an encounter should likewise have altered his anti-Christian perspective in a perfectly rational way.
TomB: I’ll grant that Paul’s experience was extraordinary, even overwhelming in certain regards. Paul could no longer choose to believe that Christ was not the Messiah. However, it doesn’t follow from this that Paul could not rationally choose to rebel. I think this is where we disagree. The Bible if full of examples of people (and angelic beings) who have rebelled against tremendous revelation and knowledge of God. The question with Paul’s experience, or any experience like this, is just how much of the epistemic distance has God collapsed? It’s hard to say. Surely angelic beings were privy to a display of God’s glory, power, and goodness beyond anything in Paul’s experience, yet they rebelled, responsibly so.
TomT: And that is why, with respect to anyone who is rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent, God always has a trump card to play, namely the revelation of his own being, that guarantees from the outset his ultimate victory over sin and death. Some will no doubt ask at this point: “Well, if God has such a trump card up his sleeve, so to speak, why not play it sooner rather than later?” But I would ask just the opposite question: “If God has a guarantee of ultimate victory, why not play his trump card later—at the moment of each person’s death, if necessary, or even later than that—rather than sooner?”…] Imagine first a world with no created order at all, a world consisting of nothing but an eternal Trinity, where the Father’s extravagant artistic skills and creative powers lie eternally dormant and unexercised, where his infinite grace has no role to play, and where his unbounded capacity to perfect the unperfected and to care for the weak and the helpless has no means of expression. Are we to suppose that such a world, even if possible, would be anything like as desirable from God’s perspective as a world like ours in which everyone has a story to tell, indeed lots of stories, but no one is finally excluded from eternal bliss? For my own part, I find such a supposition utterly implausible.
TomB: So we have to explain why a God of love does not play this trump card from the get-go but instead allows creation to be overrun with evil. And your answer to this, as I understand it, is that some of God’s desired outcomes in fact require evil. There are goods that are achieved in, through, and because of evil as opposed to in spite of evil, so that God creates in order to have redeemed creatures who have stories of redemption to tell. God gets to exercise mercy and grace upon sinners, gets to “repair the harm we do,” and we get to have a variety of stories to tell, stories that only those who have fallen and risen can tell.
In addition, it looks to me as if you’re essentially saying that God sans creation, God all by God’s trinitarian self, is a “less than desirable” state of affairs from God’s own perspective in comparison to God plus creation. Hence, God’s own being sans creation is a surpassable state of affairs. God achieves the complete perfection of his being and capacities only in the determination to create. Thus, creation completes God’s being. I don’t know if this is your view or not. It is that of a growing number of theologians.
I have a different view on divine aseity, one which is by no means classical, but by no means does it suppose that God is motivated to create because he perceives himself as a “less than desirable” state of affairs in comparison to other states of affairs. I don’t buy into divine simplicity, impassibility, immutability, or divine timelessness, for example, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t think of God’s self-sustaining sufficiency in trinitarian terms as the fullness of personal being, as unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction, as perfect contentment, unimprovable even. But in this case there’s no ‘lack’ in God’s experience of loving relationality per se or even creative expression (that too, within the scope of God’s own creative self-expression vis-à-vis the triune persons) that God determines to create a non-God reality in order to fix or fulfill so that it might be said God achieves his being in the historical process of a sinful and redeemed world. But it sure looks to me, Tom, as if your rationale for why God does not insure a sin-free creation from the get-go—even though he can—presumes this very sort of achievement within the being of God. Help me understand you if this isn’t your point.
TomT: But now try to imagine a world in which God creates billions upon billions of people over time, not one of whom has a real live story to tell, except this: Once a distinct center of consciousness emerges, it is immediately brought into a mystical union with God where it remains forevermore, sort of like someone experiencing an eternal high, perhaps even quivering forever with intense pleasure, but without anything further to do.
TomB: Why suppose that rational creatures transformed to unfailingly believe and love would be like someone stuck in a ‘high’ just quivering with pleasure? I can easily imagine they’d be free to live in the world, farm it, play games, fall in love, ride bikes, read novels, travel, even skin their knees and experience some pain and perhaps even tragedy from natural evil…all without the risk of choosing to misrelate in sin. I submit, Tom, that this is the scenario you need to suppose when asking why God didn’t create a sin-free world from the get-go if he could guarantee desired outcomes by making sure we have knowledge of God sufficient to make sinful misrelation impossible. It sure looks to me that God could have a rich diversity of creative expression from us and unique stories to tell without sin. Healthy families every day enjoy telling and retelling unique stories that are void of any sinful misrelation. After all, what are we really saying about ‘goodness’, ‘love’, and ‘creativity’ if we suppose the beauty of divine creative expression to be incomplete without sin and misrelation? It’s like you imagine sin and evil to be among the colors of the palette that God uses to compose, so that evil ends up contributing positively to the explication of divine beauty. I guess I’ve been reading too much David Hart.
TomT: In such a static world (without meaningful progress) there would be no adventure, no quest for truth, no new discoveries to be made about the wonders of God’s creation, no moral struggles of any kind to be won, and no need for God to repair or to cancel out the harm we have done either to others or to ourselves.
TomB: But it wouldn’t be a static world without meaningful progress. There would be adventure and quest for truth and new discoveries about the wonders of creation. All these would be possible were God to transform our consciousness such that we’d be rendered unfailingly loving.
True, such a world would preclude “moral struggles” and it would mean God would not need to “repair the harm we do.” So the real question is: Why think God wants or needs to actualize these possibilities if everything else is possible without them?
TomT: For it is simply a mistake, as I see it, to view the bliss of union with God as if it were logically separable from the things we do in this earthly life, the things that happen either to us or to our loved ones, and the grace imparted to us over time and in many different contexts. It is no less a mistake to view such bliss as logically separable from the tasks we shall continue to perform as God reveals the riches of his grace through us in future ages (see Ephesians 2:7).
TomB: I totally agree. But all this is possible IF we suppose it’s the case that God can transform our perceptions so as to preclude our choosing to sinfully misrelate. That’s all that needs to be precluded. Grace remains. Grace was active in sustaining and guiding the human Jesus and there was certainly nothing to forgive or repair there.
It looks to me, Tom, as if everything you suggest as a reason for why God did not choose to play the trump card and transform us from the get-go into unfailingly loving beings—viz., diversity of creative expression, a lived experience of adventure, exploring and discovering the wonders of the created order, the quest for truth, dependency upon the sustaining grace of God, et. al.—would in fact be achievable by us were God to so transform us from the get-go. So these can’t also be reasons for why God chose not to so transform us.
The only items missing that you mentioned are our experiencing “moral struggle” and God’s “repairing the harm we do.” And I’m just wondering why we should imagine these are actualities a loving God would want or need to have actualized.
Loving the convo!