THE LOVE OF GOD FOR HIS CREATURES
It would seem that we might be able to say this based on God's existence and even on his goodness (i.e. that his existence, as infinite, doesn't fall short of what anyone who knows what he's talking about would expect it to be); but if God loves us, then doesn't this act of love mean that he wants us to be happy in what you might call a more aggressive sense than merely going along with our choices?
Let us explore what is meant by saying that God loves us.
Certainly if God's love could be the love of affection, he could be said to want us to be happy and not merely be satisfied with whatever we choose. But as the name implies (from "being affected"), this kind of love is a characteristic of finite persons only, who can have a lack in their being which is filled up with others' activities (or the knowledge of others' reality). God, as infinite existence, lacks nothing of what it is to be; and hence he cannot be unfulfilled in any sense if some creature doesn't happen to be this or that way.
But then is God completely indifferent to us? No; but his love for us is not like the love we have for each other, because in our case there is always something of a lack or a need that the beloved satisfies in us. Indifference, as I point out in Modes of the Finite, is unaffected by what happens to some other object or person, but indifference will not do anything for (or against) this object of its indifference. Love, however, chooses to act for the benefit of another when the lover has nothing to gain from the other. If the lover has nothing either to gain or lose, then the choice is one of perfect love, because then the beneficiary of the act is purely and simply the other and not the self at all. Perfect love, in other words, is a choice which is absolutely selfless, where the self's interest enters into the act not at all.
And this, of course, describes the relation God has toward anything he creates. He has absolutely nothing to gain from anything any creature can do (which must be the case, since he has to cause the finite act which he is supposed to "gain" from); nor does he have anything to lose from what the creature does, since as infinite, he cannot be affected in any way by anything outside himself. He doesn't even get any "fun" from creating creatures, as if he'd be enjoying himself less if they didn't exist; nor does he get any satisfaction in seeing them happy in heaven with him, because he is infinitely happy without any creature's ever being in heaven with him, and he can't be any happier than infinitely happy.
By the same token, he can't be in any way disappointed or dissatisfied in seeing any creature suffering on this earth or suffering eternally in hell, because (a) he has no "stake" in the creature's welfare, and (b) as incapable of being affected, this would make his existence (his "fulfillment") dependent on his own creature, which has absolutely nothing in it that did not depend in every respect on his own creative activity. The cause cannot be the effect of its own effect, as I point out in Modes of the Finite. Any time when the object which is doing the causing (what I called there the causer) is affected by what the object which is affected by it does in response, then this is because the causing object has more about it than just the activity by which it is the cause. But God is just one single act.
So God, in creating us (and each of our acts) has no personal investment in us whatsoever. Therefore, it would seem, his act is an act of absolute love.
But we must not be too hasty here; it could be an act of absolute love or an act of total caprice. That is, when you ask the question, "Why did God create us?" there can be no answer except "Because he can." There is nothing in his nature which would demand that there be a universe, still less that there be a universe of a certain type--or God would be dependent in his existence on the creatures he creates, and so would not be God. Then why does he bother to create us? Because his infinite activity is such that it can cause finite activities. So the "motivation" for God's creating, if you will, is--as it must be--his own activity, not ourselves.
So from God's point of view, his act of creating is a purely gratuitous act, an act of caprice, as I said above, not serious at all in the sense of goal-oriented. Of course, a purely gratuitous act which from the point of view of the recipient is good is what has always been called a "grace." God bestows his grace on us, in the first instance by causing us to begin to exist, and in the second instance by cooperating with every single act we perform, making it the finite act which it is. Everything we are and everything we do is the grace of God, and is an expression of God's absolute and infinite love for us.
But this should give us pause. It means that all the disasters that happen to us and even hell itself are the grace of God bestowed upon us, and the expression of God's absolute and infinite love for us. Not in the sense that "we'll be better off for them," because they'll "strengthen our character" or something (which can't be the case in hell), but in the sense that they are God's absolute gift to us, given because God can do so, with absolutely nothing on his part in the way of gain or loss.
But--and this is the crux of the matter--if God wills suffering and death and hell, how can this be called "love," if what happens to the creature is evil and not good? Here is the quandary which this study attempts to address. If absolutely everything that happens to absolutely every creature is actively willed by God (as it must be, because without his active cooperation, the finite act producing the event can't act), this means that absolutely everything that happens to absolutely every creature is the result of an act of God who has absolutely nothing to gain or lose by the act, and so is God's grace.
But this in turn means that absolutely everything that happens to absolutely every creature is good for the creature--and so there is no such thing as bad. But in that case, there is no such thing as "good" either. Why? Because if it is in principle impossible to call anything "bad," the term has no meaning; and since "bad" is the correlative of "good," its correlative has no meaning either. That is, "goodness" is then absolutely identical in every sense with "existence," and you are saying absolutely nothing more by saying "X is good" than by saying "X happened." In this case, why use a word that seems to mean more?
A qualification must be introduced here. As I will say later, goodness is in principle possible in a world in which no badness exists, under the following conditions: (a) if the world can change, and intelligent creatures in it can develop, then they can foresee their future states and work toward them as goals. The goals would then be "good" when achieved, because the actual state would then match the chosen state. But (b) these goals would have to be guaranteed, so that it would be impossible not to achieve them, because the condition of having a goal which could not be achieved would necessarily be recognized as "bad." In the case of a world in which all chosen goals would ultimately be achieved, the transitional condition before the goal was actually attained (the condition of progress toward it) would not in any meaningful sense be "bad."
But this condition is not really relevant to what I am saying here, because we are talking about what God does to creatures; and since he has no goals for them, there is no meaning to either "bad" or "good" from his point of view. That is, if you call all that he does "good," then from what point of view is it so? Not the creature's, it would seem, if he evaluates it as bad.
But there is no "objective observer" to give it the "proper" evaluation, because there is no objective meaning to "good" and "bad." That is, since "good" only means that the facts match someone's preconceived idea of the facts, with the preconceived idea taken as the standard, there is precisely nothing to establish who has the "right" standards and who has the "wrong" ones. But "right" in this context has to mean not "morally right" but "not mistaken" or "true," which in turn means that the idea matches what the objective fact is. But the standard is made up; it never matches a fact; the fact is supposed to match it or it isn't a standard. Hence, there precisely can be no standard for judging which standard is "correct"--except conceivably God's; but as we said, he has no standards.
So that means that you can't call what God does to creatures "good" unless the creature affected by his actions evaluates it as good. But in that case, God's act of creative causality can't be called "love" either; because "love" implies that the act (which doesn't benefit the agent) is looked on as "good" or "beneficial" to the recipient. Clearly, this must be good from the recipient's point of view, since the agent is totally unaffected by the act. But if everything is an act of love on God's part, then "doing harm" loses its meaning. There is no act which you could now call a "harmful act," if every act of God in this world is an act of love.
Where are we? Either there is to be no meaning to the words "good," "bad," "benefit," "harm," "love," or "hate," or the meaning must be defined by creatures and not God. This is just a way of saying what I spoke of from a different angle above: from God's point of view there is no "good" or "bad"; God does not have ideals from which to compare the reality. All I am saying now is that if you assume that there is any objective meaning to "good" and "bad," then everything turns out to be good, even the most horrible action (such as being raped, cut up, and eaten by a crazed killer), in which case it becomes otiose to use the word. In other words, if goodness is objective, then "goodness" and "badness" mean nothing at all.
That leaves only the alternative that "goodness" and "badness" are defined by the creature's standards, as I said above; and a given event or act is "beneficial" or "harmful" insofar as it results in what the recipient sees as leading him toward or keeping him from being his freely-defined self. By this criterion, not everything that God does for his creatures is good. God sometimes brings harm on his creatures.
We can only address the issue of suffering if we are completely honest with the facts. We must not throw up our hands and say, "There is a great mystery here," and simply bow our heads to accept it. If God claims to be a God of love, then there must be a sense in which this is true from the point of view of every creature who can distinguish benefit from harm. But this "benefit" and "harm" depends on the creature's free self-definition; and if we can't figure out a way in which it is in fact always going to work out that creatures (even those in hell) will recognize that everything that has happened to them is their benefit, not their harm, then the claim that God is a God of love contradicts itself.
That is, if we can't resolve the dilemma on how "goodness" as subjectively defined by the creature can turn out to be how he regards everything that God has done for him, we are stuck with the "philosophical God" I have been describing so far, who is infinite existence, and who causes to exist every finite act that exists, but whose acts simply cannot be regarded in the light of "good" or "bad" or "love" or "hate." In other words, "benefit" and "harm" are words we can use about our attitude toward acts which affect us, and they imply nothing whatever about whether harmful acts "ought not" to happen to us. There is no meaning to say that a given disaster "ought not" to happen to me beyond the fact that I don't like its happening.
So if God brings this disaster on me (as he did on others, for instance, in the hurricanes that devastated so many lives in Florida, Guam, and Kawai this year), then I can wish it didn't happen, but I can't say it shouldn't have happened, or that he shouldn't have done this to me. By the same token, there is no reason why he couldn't send me to hell to eternal torment without my doing anything to deserve it. It would be perfectly consistent with the "philosophical God" I am describing to do this, since he has absolutely nothing to gain and nothing to lose from anything that happens to me--and I obviously can't bargain with him and say, "If I do what you want, then you can't make me suffer eternally." The suffering is only that I don't happen to like what is happening to me; there is no ontological contradiction in its happening.
If God is not a God of love as defined above, there is no justice either, because anything that happens to me is "just," since I am only the clay and he is the potter, who even made the clay in the first place. If he chooses to make the dish and then crack it, how is the dish to complain that this isn't fair?
Of course, we can seek justice from other human beings; but since some are powerful and many are weak, why should the powerful give up what they have in order to be "fair" to the weak who have nothing to give in return? If everything is, from God's point of view, caprice, and we have no guarantee that what we think is benefit will happen to us (and this is the only meaning to "benefit"), then of course, what a person faces after he dies (because it can be proved that we will not stop existing with death--see Modes of the Finite--is as much subject to caprice as what happens to us here on earth, where those who are honest suffer more often than not and those who are dishonest sometimes suffer and often prosper.
We are, then, if God is not a God of love, in the world of Qoheleth ("Ecclesiastes") where nothing makes sense if you think in terms of "good" and "bad" and "benefit" and "harm," and all there is is existence; what happens happens.
Then why does every fiber of our being fight against this? My soul cries out that life does make sense, that being honest must lead to happiness, that what happens to me is rational and leads to my fulfillment, that the acts I do for others do make a difference and in fact will benefit those others, according to their own definition of benefit, and they will see that any harm they thought I had done to them was actually the best thing that could have happened to them in the circumstances. This must be the case, or the God who created us is not only not a loving God, he is a God of infinite cruelty. Philosophically, there is nothing against God's being a God of infinite cruelty, because "cruelty" is just another of those words which has no ontological significance, and simply means that, according to my subjectively set standards this act of God's is evil and should not have been done.
On the other hand, if God is a God of love, then Dmitri Karamazov must ultimately realize that his indictment of God is foolish. He said that he didn't care if "greater good" was brought out of a girl's being locked in a closet, screaming in terror for an hour to be let out; no good that could come from such an act is worth having that act happen. It must somehow be the case that according to his standards, when he sees the whole picture, he would have to say, "Very well, God; I realize that this very little girl herself, looking at her life, cherishes this hour in the closet as one of her precious moments; I see how she thinks that nothing better could have been done to her at that moment, and if she had it to live over, would not let that hour pass without its terror. I am content. You are a God of love."
Either this statement will ultimately be able to be made in every single case, or Christianity is false and should be repudiated. And we should be able to predict how that statement will be able to be made in every case (or at least state the principle on which it can be done) or we have compelling evidence against Christianity which overwhelms the evidence we have from the Reports' supposed historicity. Jesus died to prove God is a God of love, and that all ultimately will be well; and he presumably rose to confirm the truth of his prediction. That must mean that each person's standards will confirm that God is indeed a God of love and has manifested his love in that person's life. Even those in hell must be able to say this. Otherwise, the Resurrection did not happen, or if it did, it was another capricious act.
This, then, is the function of the thesis that started out this investigation. We can either assume that pure reason reigns, and God is the "philosophical God," who can be a complete monster from our point of view and still be perfectly consistent with himself (still "infinitely good" in that "ontological" sense of the term), in which case we have no guarantee that our lives will make sense in the sense that we will actually ever be able to achieve our ambitions--or we can assume that what the Bible tells us about God is true, that he is what the "philosophical God" is but that he creates the world in such a way that he is "good" and "loving" in the meaningful sense of the words; and so everything will be well and all manner of thing will be well. Circumstances have so been arranged from eternity that absolutely all of the ambitions of each one of us will be realized, and that there is infinitely more in store for us, because we have been given an ability to participate in God's own life.
So God's creative attitude toward me is, "Thy will be done." That is, my life is so arranged that my freely set goals determine my reality, and whatever I want for my life is what I will eternally be; and all the events of my life, including the setbacks and horrors I have experienced, are the necessary steps, given that the world is what it is (and that God is not going to violate the laws of the world), without which I could not have achieved the goals that I set for myself. Only in this way will I be able to look at my life, once I have reached eternity, and accept all of it as good. And if it is not good from my point of view, it is not good from any point of view, because "good for me" doesn't mean anything except from my point of view. No one knows what is good for me but I, because I and I alone define what "good" means in my case.(1)
I think I have to add that the evil choices I make (i.e. those self-contradictory ones that involve a deliberate attempt to gain by what I know is the path of loss) will not disappear but be redeemed. That is, harm I have deliberately done to myself will not be undone, but in this case (if I love God and repent), good--perhaps even a greater good--will be brought out of it. The only time that something like this will not happen is the case of the unrepented sin; no good can be brought out of this, because in this case the harm itself is defined as the benefit. That is, the act is recognized as harmful (in some respect) by the sinner (according, of course, to his own standards); but he chooses it because in some other respect it promises a fulfillment that he wants to achieve through it or in it. Hence, according to his standards, what he recognizes as a harm is defined by him as a benefit; and, of course, in this case nothing can be done to "bring good" out of the harm, since it already is good in the only meaningful sense of the term. If before the person dies, he recognizes his folly and then repents, God can then use the act to allow him to achieve his (now sensibly redefined) goals; and that was what I said above. The person then recognizes how the act fits into his life and was integral to what he ultimately chooses to be.
So God does not exactly erase the sin as an act by the Redemption; he simply erases its sinfulness. The damage has been done, and the act has not disappeared out of our lives; it is just that the damage aspect of it has been converted into a benefit, because the goal has changed, and it leads to the new goal, not away from it.
But what I am going to contend is that the universe would, without the Fall, have evolved in such a way that no living being (which has its life to some extent under its control, and so is "for itself") would have to sacrifice itself for another; still less that any sentient being would experience pain (which reports harm to the organism); and no human being would ever be able to suffer unless he deliberately chose to violate his own reality (presumably sin and its consequences would still be possible in individual cases; but the consequences would never occur without the sin, and the consequences would never extend beyond the sinner).
This is in principle possible. There is, for instance, no carnivorous animal that cannot survive on vegetables, in the sense that all the nutrients that are needed by any carnivorous animal are found in vegetables. If we add to this things like milk, which mammals give to each other without suffering any harm, and we assume that all the nutrients even in vegetables could be found in things like their fruit, which does not destroy the plant itself, then it is at least in principle possible that there could be a world much like ours that could--with just minor shifts in evolution--exist with no harm's coming to any creature.
Given, however, that the Fall in fact took place, the whole of evolution leading up to it and away from it shifted in such a way that the human race would be capable not only of sinning but of changing the personality of the sinner away from the sin without utterly destroying the personality. This, however, demands a weakness in the human, which had to be prepared for in the constitution of the human body and mind.
At the point of the Fall (at the time of the test, we might say), evolution had been brought to a point where it was still possible for the future of the world to go on in the way involving no harm; but since the Fall in fact occurred, then the past of evolution as well as its future turned out to be the "right" one by which the human being had the weakness necessary to insure that his sin did not take over his whole personality and redemption from it was possible.
And at the point of the Redemption, since the Creator of the universe was actually present, who demonstrated that he could still the winds, cure the sick, and bring the dead back to life, it was also possible that the world from then on could be restored to the condition it would have been without a Fall at all; but at that point came the Second Fall, the rejection of Jesus by his own people. And this meant that the past and the future of the universe, the whole economy of salvation, was to involve pain, suffering, and death, in imitation of the life of the Redeemer himself.
1. To those who would argue that the events of my life and the damage I have done will not make any difference to me after I die because I will be so absorbed in the bliss of the Beatific Vision that I simply won't care, I have three replies: (a) Then with Dmitri Karamazov, I will reject the Beatific Vision, if it deprives me of interest in the fellow creatures I love. (b) Jesus, who on any sane reading of the Bible had to have had the Beatific Vision his whole life long (he is God, after all), nevertheless wept over Jerusalem, and certainly was concerned for his people. (c) The saints have showered help on earth long after they died, indicating that the focus of their concern was not solely the contemplation of God. Since you are doubtless reading this after I am dead, the very fact that you are doing so is further confirmation that I have not ceased to care about you, because I see no realistic hope of anyone's reading it during my lifetime; and yet if it is true, I cannot be myself unless others have a chance to see it.Next