Ethics and the Third Person -- the minimum standard of communication

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 39, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes Chapter 39, "The Role of the Third Person of God".]

[Repeating where the prior entry left off:] Moving along then: what kind of communication can we expect from the Holy Spirit to anyone at all, in any time and place?

It might be suspected that this would mean all people at any time and place would hear God talking directly to them in an unambiguously clear and constant manner. However, this obviously does not happen. Why this does not happen is certainly worth consideration eventually, because it would seem to be one of the most effective means of communication--perhaps not useful for every contingency, but useful enough to be a common occurrence.

So we know from experience there are evidently some limitations to His communication with us, even at the most fundamental level of communication (through the Holy Spirit). Setting aside (only for the moment) the question of why the limitations exist, let me ask instead what the 'limitations of the limitations' would be, so to speak. In other words, what is the minimum of necessary communication we can expect from God?

This minimum shall itself be contingent on some other factors, of course: a woman in a coma might not be in any condition, while in that condition, to receive a personal communication from God. This is not because God has abandoned her: He is still there or even her body would cease to exist altogether, and He would still care about any personality that had developed before the coma or which might still develop afterward. But while she is in that state, then (as far as we know) she cannot herself relate to anything as a 'person'. If God cares about her as a person (and He will), then we can be assured that He will not let her stay in that state forever; which is another topic worth coming back to later. All I am saying at the moment, is that special cases have special qualifications, and should not be considered the rule of thumb for gauging the normal relations between God and man. (Although, we should expect even the special cases to be dealt with on the same principles as the normal cases, even if the application may be significantly different.)

Therefore, by 'norm' I mean the state of rationality in which most people find themselves, at greater or lesser efficiency, throughout most of their lives. Barring special case-by-case circumstances (even in otherwise 'normal' individuals), what is the minimum necessary communication from God?

To answer this question, I think it is worth asking: what is the minimum necessary characteristic of existence itself?

If we look back to God, what shall we find as the 'lowest common denominator'? What are the properties of God's own interPersonal relationship?

I find at least two properties: self-consistent rationality; and self-consistent mutual service (the Begetting of the Son and the Abdication back to the Father forms the 'circuit of Self-Existence', so to speak).

Is one of these two qualities perhaps the characteristic I am looking for? I don't think so--although they shall certainly be the standard toward which God will expect us to attain. Yet each of these two qualities shares another quality: that of 'self-consistency'.

Literally speaking, the English term 'self-consistent' might mean the same as 'self-existent' (i.e., something 'consists of itself'); and self-existence is certainly a property of God. But I have been using 'self-consistent' somewhat more distinctively, to mean that these relationships entail no contradictions. They could not possibly entail contradictions, for no contradiction ever actually exists--if it could exist, it would not be contradictive.

An actually existent reality can never under any possible circumstances exhibit contradictions; even an atheistic reality, if it could exist, would be incapable of exhibiting contradictions.

I conclude therefore, that under even the barest minimum existent conditions, a communication from God to us shall inevitably consist, at the very least, of a reminder; an impression; an urge; something; to the effect that we should not ever accept (or even prefer) that a state we perceive to be contradictive actually exists.

Notice I have qualified myself here. Certainly, we would be constantly reminded by God ('in our hearts', so to speak) that contradictions should be rejected. Yet we ourselves are fallible, non-omniscient beings: we make mistakes. It is entirely possible that you or I might think that something is a contradiction when in fact it is not; or, we might think a proposal is cogently self-consistent, when the proposal is actually contradictory.

We can expect God to know the real truth of these situations, and to work to correct such impressions of ours. But assuming for the moment (as our experience certainly gives us grounds to conclude) that not every communication of God to us has effects immediately recognizable by us, then it follows that God knows quite well that in any given case (maybe even in most given cases) there shall be a 'lag-time' between His attempts at instructing us and our success in perceiving, understanding and accepting the instruction.

So, what should God expect from us during that 'lag-time'? By definition, during the lag-time we shall not have perceived and understood that what we thought was contradictive really is not (or vice versa). Shall we accept what we think is contradictive then, in the meanwhile?

I do not believe God would expect this of us. Our willing choice to reject contradictions in principle, is a far more primary act on our part than the correct estimation of any given proposal as a contradiction or not. If we get into the habit of accepting what we perceive to be contradictions, even as a makeshift, it will be a bad habit that can only cause trouble later--even if it happens that what we accept despite our perception of contradictoriness is in fact not contradictory.

Even in our thoughts about God Himself, shall we say, "I believe such-n-such proposition about God to be truly contradictive, but I say this is true of God anyway"? This either means saying nothing at all about God; or it means denying the reality of God.

Even if the honest person avoids this through sheer force of willed loyalty to God (for example, perhaps she doesn’t yet understand that if contradictions could be true about God, we would never possibly have any reliable knowledge either of God or of anything else), how shall she distinguish misunderstandings and misinterpretations later? She has learned to accept propositions as true, which she perceives to be contradictive; and misunderstandings and misinterpretations are inevitably contradictive at some point (although that 'point' may be very subtle). She would be willing to accept authority over what she perceives as being cogent; or even to accept her own wishful thinking over what she perceives as being cogent.

This is a dangerous state of affairs for her; one that shall spill over into her 'non-religious' life as well. Because sometimes what she will judge to be contradictory really shall be contradictory; and yet she will have learned to accept perceived contradictions as being possibly true and useful anyway (while remaining definite contradictions).

That route leads to disaster, for her and for others.

So, I think the very most primary notion God would want to communicate to that person, if He could communicate nothing else, would be: accept reality--do not accept contradictions.

He would know that due to her fallibility, this could mean she might reject something that He knows she needs to know, something that in fact (despite her misjudgment) is not contradictory. But better for her to do this, than for her to embrace apparent inconsistencies; for at least she shall be learning good habits. And God will not let her stay in her error forever; that would be inconsistent on His part. He will work constantly (even if He must lay ages of groundwork before His work succeeds) to help her understand the truth.

Such a basic communication lies at the ground of any further possible successful communication from God: whether His method is a divinely whispered ethical suggestion, or a metaphysical revelation, or even a historical document. It leads to more efficient clarity of thinking in all topics, secular or religious. It leads to more efficient interactions with God, and with God's creation. It transcends philosophies; it transcends particular ethical codes; it transcends languages, cultures, and ages. The youngest thinking person can make use of it to learn more, even if he cannot quite state it; the oldest thinking person can use it to pass her wisdom usefully to younger generations. It lies at the root of what it means to 'think' in the first place; and it lies at the root of honesty.

It can also be willfully denied.

And if it is denied, then eventually the denier shall suffer the consequences of the denial; not because God is spiteful, but because if people do not efficiently interact with reality then they shall end up 'bumping heads' against something greater than they are, to their detriment (like charging a locomotive straight on)--and because if people willingly choose to accept and propagate what they know to be contradictive, they do not leave themselves in a position to learn better: the two willed possibilities (accept what you have honestly judged to be falsehoods or reject them) are mutually exclusive.

To set one's will against contradictions, then, is to strive with (not against) the Holy Spirit.

But to actively embrace contradictions, means not merely to speak a word against the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (that could happen by honest accident): but to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit--to prefer, analogically speaking, the darkness of obscurity over the light of clarity and efficient accuracy. It means to willingly shut out what little light you have within you; "and if the light within you is darkness, then how great is that darkness."

I do not conclude that this urging is the only action the Holy Spirit can and does do in a person. I only conclude that this urging--to refuse what we discern as contradictions--must necessarily be the most basic, fundamental action the Holy Spirit does within each of us, in relating to us as Person to person. Only persons can have real intent; only persons can actively perceive and judge a proposition to be 'contradictory'; and certainly only a person can choose whether or not he will act as though what he perceives to be contradictory is nevertheless the truth.

God does not choose to accept what is contradictory; if He did, the unity of His self-consistency (and thus of His self-consistent existence) would be broken, and then all reality would cease--including our past, present and future. You and I are still here, so we can be assured that God never does this! At the same time, experience shows that we are entirely capable of preferring contradictions which we recognize to be contradictions.

But contradictions are not real, and are not reality. God, on the other hand, is the root and ground of reality--He is, so to speak, the 'most real' of things.

To choose as a principle to accept contradictions, therefore, eventually means going against reality: and God is the most real.

How and why is this possible? And what are the implications? In the next several chapters I will be discussing these questions.

In other words, the time has come for me to discuss 'sin'.

(In case readers feel apt to get panicky about the discussion moving hence to ‘sin’, especially by context ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’, let me reassure you I mainly mean to discuss my sinning, not other people’s. Which may be un-reassuring in other ways perhaps!--but I mean that I won’t be launching into finger-pointing about the sins of my-opponents-and-you-and-you-and-them-over-there. No need to do that; my own sins are quite sufficient enough for discussion of the principles.)

[Next up: contradiction and ethical failure]


Jason Pratt said…
[Footnote from the middle of the paragraph about coma victims]

I qualify myself here, because our ignorance currently puts up a wall behind which her personality might be sufficiently intact and capable of interpersonal communication; and God would certainly also still be with her in that state. "When I go down into the pit, you are still with me O Lord..."
Anonymous said…
So how long is this series going to go on for?
Jason Pratt said…
My goal is to finish by Easter (or pretty close afterward if not before. But ideally to finish a little before Easter.)

This is the longest section of chapters, and I'm not quite halfway through with it. The final section of chapters is probably the shortest; it's certainly the most informal, and doesn't have much argumentation in it. It's mostly an exercise in examining what I might reasonably expect God to do (and/or to have done already) in history in regard to sinning creatures.

I posted up most of the remainder of Section Four already several years ago, back in its second edition. I'm making a few alterations and a couple of significant additions for the third edition; but links to the older edition can still be found on the index page for the series (linked to at the top of every 3rd edition entry, including this one.)

Anyway, I'll be done with the whole thing by Easter. Thanks for asking!


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