Ethics and the Third Person--the highest death

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument; after which I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation.

In my most recent entry, I discussed how annihilation could follow (in a way properly) from my sin, but I decided that this would be incommensurate with the love and positive justice of God, for God to enact this or by omission allow me to enact it. (In effect, I would be denying the reality of the Trinity by promoting such a doctrine as being true.) On God's side, then, I concluded that I could expect Him to keep me alive and in existence as a person; but I also concluded that I might willingly keep on loving and enacting my sin, too. The results of this would mirror, except in a corrupted way, the death that God Himself sacrificially undergoes in order for any creation at all to exist. But, I recalled that there was a higher death to consider as well.

This entry constitutes chapter 38, "the higher death", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.

This entry is a little longer than most of my entries have been, but I thought the topic important enough not to break the chapter in halves (as I usually do for these entries).

.......[excerpt begins here]

I have previously decided that the consequences of my sin must logically and even (in a way) ethically entail that I shall certainly die.

And I have been discussing what kinds of death should take place in me as a consequence of my sin.

I decided that my utter annihilation was a technical possibility, but that it would be inconsistent with the hope of the fulfillment of God's love and justice to me if He allowed the total fulfillment of the consequences of my wishful, willfully chosen intransigence. So although that type of death is possible for me--as it remains possible for God Himself, although He never has and never shall choose it--I think I can deductively conclude it shall never happen to me. My physical dissolution makes no difference: I, me, myself, shall by God's grace somehow continue.

And, perhaps I will continue rebelling and thus insisting upon the debased death of rebellion, against life and love and reality--abusing the ever-given grace of God.

I have been inferring these potential modes of death by examining the sorts of death which I have already discovered that God chooses to put Himself through, or might possibly choose. He might possibly choose self-annihilation, which would be the necessary consequence of intentionally fracturing His eternal Unity of self-existent self-grounding. But you and I are still here, so He never has and never shall choose to do anything which results in that.

I also deduced (many chapters ago [currently unpublished]) that He does inflict a partial sort of death on Himself in order to create. After considering the principles involved in the relationship between that choice and its effects (the creation of a distinct not-God entity within the infinitude, as even our mathematics indicate would happen), I compared my own situation as a derivative rebel and applied the same principles; with the conclusion that (as a continuing rebel) a horrible death-of-self would ensue in me, resulting in my partial loss of rational control and efficiency within this Nature: a loss and progressive corruption-death that would increase as I increased my rebellions, and that my physical death would not by itself terminate, for my willful intention ability is only conditioned by my physical composition; it does not arise solely from it.

Exactly what I would experience in that case, I am not sure I can imagine properly, nor have I properly examined the issue yet; but calling it 'a spiritual hell' seems to be reasonably accurate.

After all, I am entirely capable of going quite far in creating a hell for myself here within this Nature. [see first comment below for a footnote here]

But this particular shadow is not the only death that I can discern. There is a far more fundamental divine death that also eternally occurs, beyond what God sacrifices in Himself for the sake of creation’s own existence; and this higher, highest death would also be profitable for me to consider, even with regard to the death that I should die as a sinner.

I am speaking of the death-to-self that the Son willingly and eternally undergoes so that the circuit of God's self-existence remains whole, and so reality Himself self-exists.

God, a Person, begets Himself as a Person. [Footnote: I am not yet talking about the Incarnation, keep in mind.] But the Begotten Person of God is not the Begetting Person of God; so the Son could choose to break the Unity. He never has, nor never shall (for here you and I still are); but it remains a possibility.

This breach of the fundamental eternally active principles of the Holy Unity is something I have chosen (sinfully, rebelliously) to do; but God's eternally active grace (in and as that Holy Unity) spares me from the utter end of that action of mine. So the death that God never chooses, never shall completely happen to me, however much I might explicitly or tacitly reach for it.

But, what about the death-to-self eternally chosen by the Son?

I can see two possibilities for myself, here; both of which are a properly derivative shadow of that eternal death-to-self.

In one possibility, my self--the part that makes 'me'--ceases utterly to exist, even if perhaps its components (both natural and supernatural) continue to exist. But, this is no different in principle from the utter annihilation that God never chooses; and I have already decided He would not let me go through that, for it would leave Him no possibility of fulfilling His love to me, nor even His justice either (so long as we recognize justice to be intrinsically and inextricably connected to the righteousness of fair-togetherness. A non-righteous ‘justice’ wouldn’t have to be so connected, of course; but if you are waiting for me to say as a trinitarian theist that God will enact non-righteousness, thus non-fair-togetherness, you had better get used to disappointment!)

The other possibility would be for me to intentionally renounce my willful breach with God and thus kill (and suffer the death of) the willfully perverted shape of my 'self' which I have chosen and in which I currently exist. As it is, it would cease to exist; but it would 'cease' to be 'as it is', by retaking its proper shape.

This would not be a 'bad' thing to happen to me; it would in fact be my healing and salvation! Like the other sorts of utter death I might possibly undergo, which I have already discussed, I would not be capable of achieving this death without God's express permission and action. But, it would fulfill both justice and love to me; indeed, it would be the reconciliation between myself and God!--by (and not without) God’s express permission and action toward that goal.

[Footnote: I have to be talking for a while, due to the current topic, about my own responsibilities and responsible choices, including in my redemption. But I want to emphasize that this does not happen apart from God, much less over against God, and especially not without Him ‘seeking me first’. Indeed, as I have been arguing, this seeking and exhortation is a critical, constant role of the 3rd Person in God’s relationship to derivative persons, where those persons--such as myself--are rebels.]

Furthermore, this would be the death for myself that I should have been always choosing: the same death God constantly chooses for Himself to unite Himself to Himself in eternal self-existence. I am only a derivative creature, so that particular result is not possible for me (I cannot be God, fully God); but a shadow of that result is, I think, entirely possible for me. Indeed, it fits perfectly into the mode of creation, and finishes the circuit within the wheels of holy life-through-death eternally enacted by God.

God dies-to-Himself (the Person of the Son submitting to the Person of the Father) to maintain His intraPersonal Unity, thereby taking the basic action that provides His self-existence. This basic action also provides the ground and ability for other actions of God, entailing creation of some type of not-God system and not-God entities--for example the evident system of Nature, and myself. But these new divine actions also require a sort of divine death, similar in ultimate principle to the highest death but different in practice: a death allowing you and me and the Nature we share to exist. Life comes from Life, and from the willing sacrificial submission of Life for the good of Life (and of life), at each stage.

And from the descent into the death-in-life of the natural (automatically reactive) system--although the system itself is constantly overseen and upkept and partially manipulated by God, even if not totally and merely manipulated lest it be no true creation--rises life again, derivatively, as fragile as froth within the infinite sea of the Living Power, guided and crafted gently and subtly by God; until this shadow of life reaches the synthetic shape, natural and supernatural combined, so that a derivative sentience may come into existence.

And so the extended circle comes closer to completion. Yet these lives may choose to do what God never has and never shall choose: they may rebel. If they don't, they must still eventually be brought to die-to-self, as younger siblings of the Older Brother (I must speak analogically here); for they themselves are begotten in their own fashion of God, even though they themselves (including me) are not the only truly Begotten of the Father Who is God Himself.

And so by learning to understand truths (even subordinate truths) and then choosing to live in harmony with what they understand, they undertake their own willed death-to-self which increases and actualizes their very 'selves', until God accomplishes His stages of revelation (using whatever means He deems fit, in general or in particular) and they know God as Father and choose to love Him; choose to learn from Him personally; choose to think the way He thinks; choose to love the way He loves.

When the children do this, when they even strive to begin to do this, when even they are seeking what shall ultimately lead them to this personal relationship with their Father; then they are in the midst of fulfilling the role for which the Father created them.

Then they are feeding on their food, which is God Himself, Who is Life eternal.

Yet just as their condition is based on several sorts of holy and necessary death-in-life, what they must choose to accomplish (whether or not they are rebels) is also death-in-life. Like the Son, to accomplish this they must willingly commit: 'Father, we choose to work in harmony with You, at the expense of at least one thing we could possibly try to claim merely for ourselves.'

What is this one thing these children have willingly given up? Only the consequences of simple 'death'; only the consequences of trying to push away from the source of their life and power and happiness.

But, they shall still retain the ability to choose this other path.

And they may choose it, if they really wish it.

Admittedly, any who choose eternal death may not get it, thanks to the graciousness of the Father Who refuses to let the hope of His love also die--for then would the Unity be fractured as the Father sets aside His own reality of love and positive ever-existing justice, and all reality would cease.

No, they may not receive the eternal death; but they shall receive as much cessation of life as they can ask for while still remaining persons.

How much cessation that can be, only God and the greatest of rebels can know; and perhaps such a rebel is still perversely plumbing new depths. But, it is not infinite death.

But the higher death, the holy death, the death-in-life not simply death, is the death I need to die; the death I should have been dying all along in order to live.

Shall I have this death as well? Only if God chooses never to set aside His love and His justice--and here you and I still are!

So, I may rest assured: this holy death and (consequently) that holy life, are still available to me. Somehow, God will be working to fulfill it.

But, it cannot be consummated, until I also choose it.

And, even if I choose it, the restoration may require a process--indeed, considering all the other processes instituted by God in the first place in order to create me, and considering all the processes I see in the derivative world around me, I think I may at least bet on the intuitive probability if not the certainty that some process shall be necessary: because I am a derivative creature who must move through a derivative time.

It may be necessary for me to fulfill the lower death as well, the consequences of my rebellion (as well as perhaps the consequences of other persons rebellions), so that justice and the other self-consistencies of reality shall not be broken.

And unless I expect God to set aside His love, there must be some aspect even of simple death that, perhaps by humbling myself to suffer it, shall also fulfill His love in me.

But what type of process may I expect? And is it really quite fair that I must suffer the consequences of sin?

Perhaps, you may allow, it is true that I ought to complete the fulfillment of that suffering for the things I have done wrong; but you are entirely aware of plenty of instances of suffering which do not seem to be aids to humility, or anything of that sort. What, you may say, of victims such as the little girls raped and murdered by the Nazis (or, perhaps you will point out instead, by the Crusaders and other ostensibly 'holy' soldiers of the church)? Shall I stand here and claim that all suffering comes as a direct result of the sin of the people who suffer?

No, in fact I do not. I have had my own share of victimization during my life, but it shrinks to invisibility compared to what other victims have suffered, and I will not use my own puny sorrows as an example.

Still, I am also a responsible adult who thinks he has some idea of what he himself has contributed to the world's undeserved suffering (again, thank God, not quite as badly as it could be, but any amount is bad enough), and who thinks he has some idea of what he himself deserves and could use for humility should God decide to allow it. So although I cannot say I look forward to being victimized and to suffering, and although I can defend myself in good conscience from such a suffering insofar as I can, I think I can also say that I myself will resent it less, relatively speaking, when it does occur--so long as I remember that such results are a price to be paid for the world in which I live, and in which I myself am allowed to be free enough to work my own injustices (wrong though those are) if I choose.

Yet my sceptical reader is quite right: there are too many people on earth who seem to suffer out of proportion to whatever they apparently deserve--and even one such person would be 'too many'. How or why would God allow this situation to exist? Where is this justice that I keep insisting must be fulfilled? And what can I possibly say that will begin to account for these horrors?

I have stepped around this issue long enough. The time has come to address it, and I think it must be addressed before I consider what God must be doing about it, or at the least what we can reasonably expect Him to be doing about it. So I will continue in the next chapter.

[Next up: the fall of me.]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]


Jason Pratt said…
Back when I first posted this chapter, I hadn't realized that without dropping in a comment I wouldn't be registered in the blogger system for comment alerts--despite being the author of the post!

So, here's the registration. {wry g}


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