Ethics and the Third Person -- the choice of the Good, and other choices

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 40, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes Chapter 40, "An Introduction to the Concept of Sin".]

I have inferred that it is possible for God to enact one kind of death, and indeed that He does enact this: the submission of the Son to the Father (while maintaining the distinctive existence of the Person of the Son) in order to complete the circuit of the Unity and thus actively maintain self-existence.

I have further deduced from this that it is technically possible for God to partly kill Himself in other ways, so that true creation of not-God entities and systems may be instituted; after all, here I am, a not-God entity.

It is therefore not in principle impossible for God to subject Himself to several sorts of death.

I conclude, in extension of this principle, that it must be possible that God could take actions that would result in the breaking of the Unity and His consequent self-annihilation.

And at least one of those actions would be, on His own part and with full intention, to willfully embrace contradictions.

Don't misunderstand me: I am absolutely certain that God never has and never shall act that way; for if He did, all reality would cease, including our past and present--and yet here you and I are.

Yet God is not 'good' through some merely static or automatic necessity of His existence, much less as if some attribute of Him was imposed upon Him from an outside contingency. Instead, His existence (and the existence of everything else) depends on His raw, eternal, personal and active choice to actively maintain His self-existent reality--and this raw, eternal choice also happens to establish the most basic and most powerful objective grounding for 'morality', for it involves an eternally self-consistent interPersonal relationship..

God's "goodness" is not like the color of my hair; it is not something imputed to Him which He may or may not have some ability to modify. It is His most basic possible action, constantly and intentionally chosen by Him--and the implications of that choice must be fully known to Him.

I seriously doubt that you, my reader, ascribe any 'character value' to 'forced charity' among other people. But God's charity, even to Himself, is never forced by causal necessity. He actively and fully chooses it, constantly; and always has; and always shall.

His charity may take forms, commensurate with the fulfillment of justice, that you or I may not immediately recognize as charity, of course; but we should be ready and willing to look for the charity involved, as well as to reject doctrines which suggest that in principle God takes actions for uncharitable reasons.

Let me speak personally for a moment. To know that God exists, is very interesting to me. To know that He created me, is also very interesting to me. To know that God is a transpersonal 'trinity in unity' is not only interesting, but gives me grounds to feel quite a bit better about 'backing a particular horse', so to speak. To know that God's characteristics must be such that He provides an objective standard for true ethics, is somewhat reassuring and somewhat useful to me. (I say ‘somewhat’, because there are times when the existence of an objective ethical standard can be very annoying--for instance, when I want to make use of someone else for my own selfish gratification!) To know that I can rely on God's goodness eternally, is extremely reassuring to me.

But to understand that God eternally, actively, consciously chooses never to act against fulfilling interpersonal relationships, whether His own or others, even though He technically could, but always and forever acts toward fulfilling and reconciling those relationships--this gives me the first truly ethical reason to gladly stand and proclaim:

"I choose to serve that King!!"

To serve God because He exists, or because He has this or that important intrinsic characteristic, is admittedly prudent; and (I suppose) I would still do so out of that logical prudence if that was all there was to knowing God.

But this goes beyond mere logical prudence--although not beyond logical understanding.

If I am correct about God's existence and His causal relationship to us, then you, my reader, are also a servant, and more than a servant but also a son or a daughter of the King Himself!--whether you know this idea or not, whether you accept it and enact it or not, whether you even merely believe it or not. This is a primary relationship, and although it can be denied or acted against, it can never be superinduced. We have no need to be adopted as if the Lord Above was not the Father of our souls; it is only a question of whether we choose to be good or rebellious children: will we love each other and our common Father, together? Nor need we fear that our Father will need to be somehow made aware of us; no, He must be already acting toward us constantly, and will know if we, you and I, are being worthy of the inheritance of His family. The sheep, the mature flock in the parable, were surprised to be inheritors--apparently they were expecting a rather different reception! As did the baby-goats--who still needed cleaning. (Which is the word in the Greek, by the way.)

In much the same way, if I am completely wrong and non-sentient Nature turns out to be the Independent Fact, then nothing I do or say shall be able to change that Fact, or my fundamental and even foundational relationship to that Fact, whatever my various attitudes and beliefs about the topic may be.

But, the truth of God’s eternal, active commitment to be fulfilling the fair-togetherness of persons (which we call ‘righteousness’ in English--even when we don’t really know what that word is supposed to mean!), is something I can know, and even accept, as a logical fact--and yet I could still choose to decide that it shall effectively mean nothing to me.

The merely factual character of God that I have inferred up to this point, does mean quite a lot for you and me; yet in a way it means so much, and touches our lives so intimately, that God almost seems something like gravity.

But this is the first aspect of God I have deduced, that begins to give me a solid understanding of God's character as a Person.

Still--perhaps by itself it is no great thing after all.

The sceptic may say, in a sense quite truly, that there is nothing specially impressive about God choosing actively to behave a particular way throughout eternity, if to choose otherwise would be utter suicide for Him.

As far as I have gone, I think there is some reasonableness in that attitude; it seems to me to be at least a self-consistent way of thinking about the topic.

All I can say for the moment, is that my heart tells me I ought to be able to appreciate some significant personal difference, between a God Who is 'good' by (a sort-of) accident, even an accident of His self-existence, and a God Who is good because He chooses to (quite literally) 'be'.

And I, for one, am willing to appreciate that difference.

But I admit that such a choice on my part has little or nothing to do with any merely academic conclusion of analysis. I can only record my willing response to this notion, which seems to me to be the proper one I should have as a person.

Moving along: so God could do something of the sort I have mentioned. He never chooses to do it, never has, never shall; but technically speaking, as the ultimate entity with 'free-will', He could attempt to foster a contradiction.

This means that if I myself am capable of actively seeking--or even succeeding--in deluding myself or others through knowingly embracing contradictions, then I am not capable of doing something that is technically impossible for God. I am only doing something that, as it happens, God never has nor never shall choose to do. And there is no contradiction in that position.

Furthermore, I ask myself: why would (or why do) I do these things? Why would I ever insist on treating reality as if it was one way, when I know that it is not?

Let me emphasize that I do not consider actions such as 'dramatic creation' or 'playing make-believe' of any sort to fall into this category. A person playing 'make-believe' knows she is playing 'make-believe' and is not really obstinately demanding that reality shall be one way when she knows it is another. The intent is completely different. To 'make-believe' in play is to be subordinately creative. It can be a conscious paying of proper homage--or even an unconscious homage--to the true Creator of us.

I do not say there are no ethical responsibilities in such subordinate wish-creations--that topic is a whole other kettle of fish! All I mean to say here, is that such actions are not necessarily similar in intent to a demand for reality to be something different than what it is known to be. When dramatic actors (for instance) begin behaving in that sort of way, we say they are being irresponsible, even though they may still (by happenstance) be going through the motions of otherwise innocuous 'dramatic acting'. (This is true about other creative actions as well, of course, such as story writing.)

No--I am talking about times when, for instance, I know I am supposed to be fulfilling a promise I made to someone; and yet I tell myself 'one more minute writing this book won't hurt anyone'.

I know that isn't true--one more minute writing this book will defraud my side of my promise by one more minute; but, dammit, I want one more minute of writing--preferably thirty more minutes--and I am occasionally willing to tell myself, or other people, whatever will do the trick!

When I do this, I am demanding to deny the responsibility that I (nevertheless) recognize to exist.

My demand does not make my responsibility go away. But even the intent to try, by force of will, to get my own way despite reality, makes all the difference.

It doesn't matter whether I succeed or not--the electrical power may go out one second later, leaving me no ability to fulfill my wishes, or I may be forced to leave my writing by the one to whom I made my previous promise. Nevertheless, I willingly wanted to do this thing that would result in going back on my promise, and I intended to do it if I could.

It doesn't even matter whether I am correct about my responsibilities or not--maybe I wasn't paying attention when I made the promise, and so missed the part where she said I had plenty more time to write. I don't know about that provision, if it exists; but I still willingly insist on doing what I want to do.

Therefore, I intend to breach what I think is the responsibility that I recognize to exist.

In this, and in other ways, I know that I ought to do something because I think reality (especially interpersonal reality) is such-n-such a way; but I nevertheless sometimes choose to do the other thing, if I possibly can.

Essentially, I want to be the person who defines what is and is not the actual principles of interpersonal relations (or what is "good"), and to be the one who defines what is and is not true.

In fact, I do not merely want to define them (since that might involve discovery and categorization of them), but to change them from what I know (or think) them to be.

At those times, I do not merely want to be God with the authority of God.

In essence, I want--and more importantly I am willfully trying--to be God over against God.

Christians, along with many other theists, call this 'sin'.

And in the next chapter, I will consider some of the deductive consequences of this behavior of mine.

[Next up: the waging, and the wages, of sin.]


Jason Pratt said…
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