CHAPTER FIVE

GOODNESS AND BADNESS

There is, of course, nothing to prevent God's doing this, since absolutely every act that ever occurs is God's creature, and so occurs just as God wills it to occur. So if he chooses to enable something to do, with his help, more than it can do by nature, then the being can act beyond its own natural capacities.

But I just said that absolutely every act that occurs occurs exactly as God wills it to occur, which would certainly seem to imply that God wills sinful acts to occur, and they occur just as he wills them to occur. But how can God will that a sin occur? And how can the whole thesis of this study then be sustained, that the crucifixion and suffering and so on is God's "contingency plan," which certainly seems to imply that he would rather have had the world different from the way it became because of the free but perverse choices of his creatures?

This is another thing that I explore at length in The Finite and the Infinite, Chapter 8, Section 2.3., but which we must go into here in order to avoid confusion.

Let me first dispose of the notion of "the permissive will of God" as usually understood. The idea in this concept is that God chose to create a world in which beings are free, and make free choices. Given that he chose such a world, he must allow those beings to make the choices they make (because otherwise they would be free-and-not-free) even when the choice is not what he would wish it to be. He is, on this theory, constrained to cooperate with the perverse choices and their necessary consequences (though he could manipulate the non-necessary ones), or he contradicts himself as a creator of free creatures.

One of the confusions here lies in the notion that God creates the creature, the substance or thing or complex body, and then the creature "performs" its acts by its own power. But what God creates (causes) is finite activity, both the complex set of finite acts which constitute the body (as well as the act that knits the body into a functioning unit) and each and every act the body performs, because each and every act is a finite act, and as such is in itself a contradiction as activity-which-is-less-than-what-it-is-to-be-active, or activity-which-contains-non-activity-as-defining-itself (whichever formulation you wish to take). The only thing which can make sense out of such an activity is God, the act which is equal to what it is to be active. This is also treated at length in Modes of the Finite Part One, Section 4.

In this sense, we are the absolute slaves of God. There is absolutely nothing we can do that is not directly caused by God to be the finite act which it is. Even the act of rebelling against God is caused as that finite act by God, and couldn't have existed unless God actively willed it to exist.

Hence, God cannot simply permit my act of rebellion against him, as if I could do it by myself and he could have blocked it but refuses to. I absolutely cannot act at all unless God actively cooperates in the act, as I said. There is no question of God's "permitting" an act which he would rather not have happen; he must actively will the act in order for it to happen.

I hasten to reiterate that God's causal act does not determine the finite act which he causes; the determination of the act is due to the fact that it is also caused by finite causes, and its relation to them is what specifies what finite act it will be (or, in the case of a free choice, its specification is due to its own nature and not to whatever influences may affect the choice). So God "makes the choice happen" as the act which in fact it is; and it is the act of determining for itself what it shall be. God wills it to be exactly what it is: this act as determined by itself, influenced to a greater or lesser degree by whatever the free being allows to influence it. See Modes of the Finite, Part Three, Section 3, Chapter 6 and The Finite and the Infinite, Chapter 8, Section 2.1. God does not and cannot "permit" the choice; because if he only permitted it, there could be no choice. The creature is not capable of creating even a free choice.

The second confusion in God's supposed "permissive will" is that God has some kind of ideal of the way some creature or set of creatures "really ought to be," and that the actual reality of the creature falls short of God's notion of its "true reality." But how can this be? God's notion of what a creature is is identical with his act of creating that creature, because God is only one single, simple act. When God has a notion of what a creature's true reality is, then that is the creature's reality (and that idea contains every single act that the creature performs, because all of these are caused in causing the creature); otherwise, the "true reality" would be false, and then in what sense is it the creature's "true" reality? Since God knows the creature eternally, he knows eternally that this is what the creature is, and that it never lives up to its supposed "true reality"; and so its "true reality" is not only false but eternally false. But then God has an idea of what a being "really is" that is unreal and eternally known to be unreal. That doesn't make sense, unless the "really" of what the being "really is" means something different from the ordinary meaning of "real," in which case why use the term? And if you don't use the term, in what sense does one say that this nonexistent ideal ought to be real?

The solution to this problem, as I point out in Modes of the Finite, Part One, section 5, Chapter 10, is that when we say something "ought" to be a certain way, we do so on the basis of comparing the facts with an ideal that we have somehow conceived. Now this ideal cannot be something we have observed, because clearly, as an ideal, no actual being measures up to it fully. So the ideal must be something we have constructed by using observations and combining parts of them and omitting other parts from the compound. Thus, for instance, an ideal human being would probably be handsome or beautiful, with regular features and body, be strong and agile, intelligent and wise, kindly, articulate, modest, etc., etc. We take people we have observed, eliminate from them the characteristics we think are inconsistent with being human, such as petulance or physical defects, combine them with other people who have characteristics we like, eliminating the aspects of them that we find inconsistent; and thus come up with a human being who has all the positives and none of the negatives about humanity. We then use this construct as a norm for evaluating how "human" some real human being is.

The point that I am making here is that the ideal is not something objective, even if each element of it has existed in some (defective) object. In what sense, then, can we say that this ideal "ought" to exist? The fact that I can construct something that I would like to see existing does not give this construct an objective reason for existing, still less a reason for its existing in preference to any really existing thing.

The fallacy lies in assuming that "goodness" is something "out there" that is discovered, and not the simple fact that what is "out there" in a given case measures up to this preconceived ideal that we for some reason are using as the standard to which the facts are to conform. I don't think anyone would question that something is thought to be good when it measures up to what you think it ought to be; but what can "what you think it ought to be" be but this ideal that you have made up? As I said, there's no way we can get the ideal from observation, so it must be constructed subjectively. And that, of course, is why one person's ideal temperature for a room is seventy degrees, and another's is sixty degrees, why one person's ideal human is meek and humble and another's is aggressive and assertive.

As I said, I argue this at length in Modes of the Finite, so I am not going to pursue it further here. The point that is relevant for our purposes is that, since God does not know things by the indirect route of being affected by their action on his senses, but knows them by knowing his creative act of causing them, he does not have ideals of how a given thing "ought" to be. What God knows a thing to be is what that thing is. For God, there is no "good" and "bad" at all, only limited reality.

It is therefore not possible to "disappoint" God in any sense, not only because we have no power to do anything that he does not actively have a hand in causing, but also because he has no preconceived plan for what "should" happen. In the first place, God's knowledge is eternal, and so no idea of his of anything is preconceived. Secondly, God's knowledge is creative, and so his "preconceived" (i.e. eternal) idea of a given object makes that object be what it is; and, since there is absolutely nothing in that object which can thwart his idea of it (since absolutely every aspect of it is a finite act, and must be caused to exist as it is by his creative act), then absolutely everything about any object exists exactly as God wills it to be, and God has only one will.

What this means is that God is eternally and absolutely satisfied with me as the sinner which I am. If he wanted me in any sense to be different, then I would be different, because (a) he has only one will, being simple, and (b) I can't put up any resistance which would prevent him from fulfilling his will absolutely exactly, because that very resistance as an act would have to be actively willed by him--in that one act of will by which I and everything about me, including my acts, are what they are.

Now these conclusions rest on the only valid evidence for saying that there is a God at all, not on what one might "feel comfortable with," as I also show in Modes of the Finite. God is what he is, and we are what we are, and if we don't "feel comfortable with" this, then this doesn't alter what the facts are in the least. You can't make sense out of the world if you start by denying some of the facts that can be known because you don't see how they can be made to fit together to make sense.

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