Chapter 2

Loving as God Loves

God's independence from his world

We are in for some rather rugged going in this chapter, and it is as well to be prepared. I tried to show that Christian thinking, as taking over God's way of looking at things, isn't at all what our normal way of thinking is, nor is it, by and large, what we've been taught Christian thinking is. Chesterton said somewhere, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." I think I can add to this that Christianity has not even been found, because people are so interested in "trying" that they can't be bothered with figuring out how in fact God looks at things.

But consider this: the Founder of Christianity began his public statement of its essence by saying, "It is a good thing for people to be poor without resenting it; it is a good thing for people to suffer; it is a good thing for them not to stand up for their rights; it is a good thing for them to be oppressed because they are virtuous." And he ended his public life by expressing that essence in one sentence, "You are to love each other as I have loved you." This is the new commandment, not the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself; to love as he loves. And his love makes meaningful that it is a good thing to be poor and suffer and let people trample on your rights.

So let us try to consider how it is that God thinks of the world. What do we know about God's relation to the world?

[For a discussion of the evidence for all of this, see The Finite and the Infinite, chapter 8]

First of all, we know that God is absolutely independent of the world; absolutely everything in the world, visible and invisible, depends on Him, and He depends on absolutely nothing in it.

[For the evidence for this see The Finite and the Infinite, Chapter 6, section 5.]

We know that God, as YHWH, "He who is," is the absolutely self-sufficient Being, who (to use St. Anselm's term), as "that than which nothing greater is conceivable," cannot be any greater, nor any less, the one in whom, as James says, "there is no change nor shadow of alteration."

Hence, when God creates the world, this act of creating is, first of all, absolutely free on God's part. There is no sense in which the world "fulfills" anything about him, or even the act of creating the world "fulfills" anything. He is not the kind of thing Plotinus thought he was: something "good" which of the necessity of its own nature must "diffuse" itself into finite copies of itself. That would mean that God, without these finite copies, would not be completely Himself (His nature as "diffusive" would be contradicted), and so he would depend on them. But we know from both faith and reason that if there is a God at all, He must be absolutely independent.

But does not God change by the very fact that before creating He was a God who didn't produce a world, and afterward he had performed the act of creating? No. This misunderstands two things about God.

First of all, with God there is no before and after, because there is no change. God does not exist in time, and so does not do things in sequence. If the world as created by God evolves (and it does), with different things coming into existence in sequence, this implies no sequence in God, any more than the fact that you are reading the words on this page in sequence implies that the words either exist in sequence on the page or were even put there in sequence (They were put there by a machine that printed a photograph of the whole page, not by something like a typewriter that printed word by word).

Furthermore, the act of causing something is not affected by the fact that it has an effect. These words are on this page; if you read them and have your life changed by them, this does not alter the words at all. They (it is to be hoped) changed you; but you did not change them.

Hence, when God creates the world, his "act" of creating is not a distinct act he performs; all it means is that His Divine Activity has an effect--which it does not need in any sense to have in order to be itself. God is independent, and free.

Nor does it follow that because God is good, then if he chooses to create, he "has" to create the best possible world--so that the evils that happen in this world have to be there, because otherwise the world as a whole would be worse off, and God's goodness will not allow that. This is simply false.