God, Experientiality, and the Cross

I've been having an interesting discussion with Dr. Keith Parsons, an old friend, roommate and sparring partner of a friend of mine (Dr. Victor Reppert of Dangerous Idea) over at the Secular Web channel of Patheos, specifically in the comments of Bradley Bowen's article "This Knee Won't Bow".

Because Disqus (the comment engine at Patheos) gets kind of screwy trying to keep track of the threads of a conversation, and doesn't always indicate when a comment has been properly posted (leading to inadvertent double-posts), I'm going to try to collect our side of the commentary discussion (there are several threads) here for further reference. (Although Blogger's comment system has an intrinsic wordcount limit now, so we probably won't be able to continue in our own comments below, even if Dr. P wants to.)

This isn't my Easter "sermon" this year (I never really know if I'm going to do one of those beforehand), but a much more technical discussion, although on a very (and very properly) emotional topic. So unless you want to chew through a bunch of technical mulch from me, DON'T CLICK HERE ON THE JUMP!! {g}

Victor had replied to part of a thread talking about eternal conscious torment compared to annihilation, with the observation that some Christians (like myself and Tom Talbott, although he didn't use us specifically as an example) have been Christian universalists.

(Note: while what follows isn't explicitly an argument for Christian universalism, I should take a moment to caveat that not necessarily everyone here at the Cadre would agree 100% with what I'm saying.)

Dr P replies:


Well I certainly think that universalism is progress. One question, though: Does universalism really mean the EVERYONE will be saved? Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Dick Cheney--literally everyone? This would seem to assume that there is some part of such persons that is salvageable, some latent, untapped, goodness. Is this plausible? Can't there be total monsters? Will it be OK with survivors of Auschwitz if they run into Hitler in heaven? All is forgiven, right? "Sure, you gassed my entire extended family, but, hey, bygones are bygones, right?" Or what about people--like me--who don't want to be "saved?" Of course, I don't want a future shoveling hot coals with devils sticking pitchforks in my backside, etc. But I have never heard a description of heaven that sounded like something I could stand for half an hour much less eternity. Spend eternity with God? But I consider him a greater moral monster than any of the miscreants I listed above (even Cheney). I guess all that will be explained to me, and I will see that omnipotence could do no better than to inflict slow torture on innumerable innocent persons and non-human animals to achieve some incomprehensible greater good. But what If I still don't buy the explanation? If I am forced to spend eternity with a God I despise, wouldn't that be hell?

 My reply (and alternating green and red text for our replies respectively afterward):

Dr. Parsons,

Isn't this largely a question of metaphysical realism? Whatever characteristics ultimate reality happens to have, we have to deal with it the best way we can, rather than pretending otherwise, don't we? If theists are called to that by atheists, it seems fair enough to expect otherwise the other way around.

As for any of the moral monsters listed above, which of them ever sacrificed themselves to save their enemies, or even (only!?) in solidarity with innocents caught in the path of their authoritative decisions?

If orthodox trinitarian Christianity is true (or even some of the theologically simpler versions of Christianity), God would have to be less of a moral monster than any of them, on that basis alone.

And yes, universalism means (at the minimum) that God persists in acting toward saving all sinners from their sins and reconciling them with their victims, not stopping short of getting it done. (Technically that could still involve a neverending stalemate--what counts, for soteriological classification, is whether God keeps at it for everyone or not.)

And there have been victims of the Holocaust even in this life who reconciled with their penitent tormentors. So that isn't intrinsically impossible. I seem to recall that those who reconciled weren't even all necessarily Christian (although I also recall that helped in some cases). :)

No one is asked or expected to reconcile with people who are impenitent about what happened, just to be prepared to do so when the opportunity finally comes. That preparation in itself might take a lot of time, healing and growth. No one said reconciliation with enemies is always easy. (That guy hanging from the big plus sign illustrates how hard it can be sometimes!)


Sorry, but I do not follow the reference to "metaphysical realism." Of course I hold that "whatever characteristics ultimate reality happens to have, we have to deal with it...rather than pretending otherwise." I hold that human beings are physical creatures in a physical universe. End of story. I hold that this is metaphysical reality and I have long argued that theists should "deal with it...rather than pretending otherwise."

So, God's sacrifice (dying on the cross, I presume) makes him not a monster? You don't see Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. as sacrificing themselves for the higher good? That is how they saw themselves. There are two kinds of despot: One has the attitude of the Renaissance pope who said "God has given us the papacy, now let us enjoy it." In other words, belly up to the table, boys, and dig in. Their aims are 100% mercenary. Of course, they may use propaganda to fool the hoi polloi, but in their cups they laugh at the suckers they are draining of their last drachmas.

Dr. P,

Whatever Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. thought about themselves (and I have trouble seeing that they thought they were sacrificing themselves at all, for some good higher than themselves or otherwise), do you seriously see them as sacrificing themselves to save their most dedicated enemies or even in solidarity with innocents caught in the path of their authoritative decisions? Because that was the explicit distinction I mentioned. Stalin did not voluntarily go to the gulag to die working with those whom he sent there, much less continually suffer all the pains of everyone ever sent to a gulag after freeing those he sent. Pol Pot did not starve to death and continue starving. Hitler did not give himself to his own gestapo to be tried, sentenced and executed as a Jew; much less did he give himself to Stalin on the doorstep of the Wehrmacht's push into Moscow.

I allowed that you might still think someone was a moral monster who sacrificed himself for his worst enemies, and/or who voluntarily suffered and continues to suffer with all those who innocently suffer under his authority. But you seriously don't think such a person would be less of a moral monster than the other persons you mentioned? You actually think such a person would be more dangerous than a despot whose aims are 100% mercenary?!

Moreover, a true believer sacrificing himself (or herself) for the sake of his worst enemies, or in solidarity with the oppressed who suffer under the believer's authority, whatever else may be said about such a person, is not pursuing "an idealized vision". Idealized visions, by their nature, are abstract principle goals; they aren't about people actively reconciling with people. The "heaven" of the Bible, relatedly, is often pictured as people, especially including former enemies, cooperating in mutual self-sacrificing support with one another.

You might not agree with that as a goal (a goal from which the early Marxists drew their own goals of a classless worker's paradise, by the way), but it isn't a mere blank. And I don't recall Marx putting his principles into practice so far as to let his greatest enemies torture him to death for the sake of those enemies.

Dr. P: {{Can you point to any principle of ordinary human morality that exculpates the infliction of horrible suffering by the bestowing of later benefits?}}

Even ordinary moral humans have generally recognized, throughout human history, that if the authority volunteers to suffer their imposed conditions with them, that counts strongly in favor of his intentions in authorizing the conditions, even if the reasons for the conditions are obscure large-picture issues. That's why the most beloved generals, for example, have often been the ones who trained and fought with the troops, and who were willing to sacrifice themselves (even to torture and death) to save the troops.

In this case we're talking about a general-king who also stands with the villagers suffering all the depredations of the war with them (including when his own troops can't even be trusted to do better than to kill everyone in their path rather than siding with the enemy); and who also stands with his worst enemies suffering the defeat that he is inflicting on them.

And who then keeps on voluntarily suffering those effects forever afterward, even after bringing everyone else (including his worst enemies) past them into the later benefits.

Dr. P: {{This world needs lots of things--rationality and compassion more than anything else.}}

Rationality and compassion are the fundamental ground of all existence, if trinitarian theism is true, and so will be what everyone receives sooner or later. If any kind of atheism is true, rationality and compassion is something that some people are never going to get, and which is what all people will lose (even if they somehow managed to get it) sooner or later.

Dr. P: {{It does not need salvation. We don't need saviors of any sort.}}

So much for anyone ever getting any of the rationality and compassion you agree the world needs, then. Being saved from irrationality and selfishness (which is fundamentally what the world is about if atheism is true, and so what is the "end of story" that atheists should "deal with rather than pretending otherwise"), requires a savior of that sort, rather than no savior of any sort.

(Presumably you yourself are at least a little savior by trying to increase the amount of rationality and compassion in the world. :) The world needs you, too.)


How are we to understand God's suffering? What does God's suffering amount to? Does God suffer as a human being does? What is the connection between the suffering of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and the suffering of the eternal, transcendent God of the omni-predicates? Does God, qua eternal, transcendent God, suffer physical pain or emotional torment? How can an eternal entity existing in timeless perfection feel grief or pain any more than can, say, the number seven or the set of all integers? Was God the Father grief stricken when Jesus died on the cross, knowing ahead of time that he would be resurrected to glory and, forty days later, be sitting at his right side? Was God the Holy Spirit likewise in mourning? Did they rejoice, when, though unsurprised, they saw him rise on the third day?

I am not offering these questions flippantly or with blasphemous intent. I really wan tot know. Your main claim in defense of God is that he suffers with his creatures, but I find such alleged suffering incomprehensible. Can you answer these questions? I don't think so. Indeed, I think nobody can, I don't mean that you cannot feel confident about an answer, I just see no possible grounds for such an answer. Whatever answer you gave would have to be based on arbitrary and unverifiable (if not incoherent) metaphysical speculations.

Besides, to respect someone who suffers with me, it must be that the suffering is seen as worthwhile. If someone shoots me for no reason, would it redeem him in my eyes if (like the recent mass shooters) he then turned the gun on himself? If God's whole Grand Scheme of Salvation is mad, it is just more madness if he subjects himself to it. So, appeal to God's suffering just begs the question as to the point of the whole sorry scheme.

Dr. P,

Don't worry, I don't regard your questions as flippant or with blasphemous intent.

There is a rather dry-sounding and obscure technical dispute among theists about whether the foundational fact of reality statically or actively self-exists (i.e. whether privative or positive aeeity is true). Many Judeo-Christian theologians have followed the notion of classical theism on this, claiming that God only statically exists rather than existing in active self-generation; but a fluctuating minority of us (myself included) regard that position as being tantamount to atheism for various technical reasons. Ironically, throughout Christian history trinitarian theologians have most often come down _against_ the idea that the ultimate independent fact of reality is both actively self-begetting and actively self-begotten. This principle inconsistency leads to a lot of problems further down the line, in my experience.

There isn't any way I can begin to sufficiently cover the issues in a forum post (although I've written about it very extensively elsewhere). But if I thought privative aseity is true, I would not only regard God as being something like "the number seven or the set of all integers", I would also agree that it's nonsensical for such a foundational entity to even voluntarily suffer in any way, including on the cross. In fact, I would probably be an atheist! So I can sympathize in principle with your problems there.

(I said as much last year on the Cadre Journal, for example, over-against the attempts by Ed Feser to avoid atheistic critique of doctrines of hopeless punishments by appeal to "classical theism" vs. "theistic personalism". http://christiancadre.blogspot... )

Put very shortly, after deciding (in order to avoid a formal logical problem involving any argument I could make about anything) that I should deduct atheisms broadly from the metaphysical option list, I follow the implications of theism vs. atheism thus developed into concluding 'if theism then positive aseity not privative'. After that I start following out the implications of positive aseity which develops quickly into (at least) binitarian theism (which thereby introduces the concept of the self-sacrificial action of God at and as the foundation of all reality including God's own actively eternal reality; which in turn has various implications about the relationship of God to any not-God reality (such as evidently myself); which in turn has various implications about the relationship of God to derivatively generated not-God systems of reality; which solves a leftover problem of whether theism also fails the formal logical issue that previously led me to reject atheism; which leads into the topic of the logic of interpersonal relationships (and eventually along a bit of a side-road to trinitarian instead of only binitarian theism later); and thus into ethical theories; thus into the problems with various broad groups of ethical theories (including ethical theism); which problems are solved by (at least) binitarian ethical grounding; but which leads into the topic of unethical behavior and the relation of that behavior to God (my own unethical behavior being the primary example for consideration); which leads among other things to topics of accidental/natural suffering as well as the active infliction of unjust suffering; and how the implications of such suffering factor into the previously developed account; and then to what I should expect God to do about the situation; including in natural history; thus what I ought to be looking for to happen, or to have already happened, in natural history. {inhale!}

While there might be logical incoherencies in there (which ought to be corrected if so), they aren't "arbitrary" metaphysical "speculations" (and certainly aren't any more unverifiable than atheisms broadly speaking). There are carefully cautious reasons for taking each step while keeping the previous steps and their implications in the account.

(I can't imagine why anyone but me would want to read an 870ish page book on the topic ;) , but it can be downloaded for free here at {{http://www.evangelicaluniversa...}} While I don't recommend skipping the first two sections, since naturally I can't do much more than briefly recap their results and rationales as I go along, the specific train of analysis mentioned above starts with Section Three. I work pretty hard at being sympathetic to sceptics along the way, especially in although not limited to Section One.)

I agree that it's important to know whether the shared suffering is worthwhile (or at least necessary for other things we regard as important to exist), in order to respect whether someone authoritatively involved in the suffering suffers with us. But you asked for a common human moral example, so I stuck with a common human moral example (with some uncommon extensions). And it isn't as though the claim of common suffering is being made in an absolute vacuum about the character of the authority otherwise: aside from metaphysical rationales there are traditions of the authority being concerned with loving enemies and helping the oppressed.

It isn't intrinsically impossible that a destructive and self-destructive madman might also be concerned with such things, of course. Still, you asked for a common morality example and I gave it; and the option does thereby open up the possibility of respecting the authority, who doesn't merely impose the circumstances from on high but shares in the unpleasant results. We might be talking about a different kind of madman than Hitler and Stalin, but we aren't talking about that kind of despot categorically.

(And considering that I previously and repeatedly allowed that you might still think someone was a moral monster who sacrificed himself for his worst enemies, and/or who voluntarily suffered and continues to suffer with all those who innocently suffer under his authority, I don't think it's quite fair to say that I'm just begging the question as to the point of the scheme. I was careful about how far I suggested the point under the circumstances.)

Following up afterward (while Dr. P is replying to Victor elsewhere):

Dr. P,

Btw, I'm not trying to avoid answering your questions, they're just massively complex and technical, which is why I linked to the huge book where I talk about such things in conjunction with other issues as I develop the line of overall argumentation. (I have various theological and mystical traditions across Christendom in mind along the way, but I don't usually cite them directly because I don't want to distract from the progression of the argument.)

It's a little easier to address your latter set of questions in light of the theology I'm talking about, though, so I'll try a brief stab at it.

Dr. P: {{Was God the Father grief stricken when Jesus died on the cross, knowing ahead of time that he would be resurrected to glory and, forty days later, be sitting at his right side? Was God the Holy Spirit likewise in mourning? Did they rejoice, when, though unsurprised, they saw him rise on the third day?}}

In the systematic theology I'm talking about, God (in all three Persons) acts at right angles to all of natural history (to borrow a physical metaphor for describing the action), and has an attitude toward all states of persons including intentions of all derivative actions, the mode of which attitude differs in relation to the various circumstances, but the character of which attitude is rooted in God's self-existence as an active mutually supporting interpersonal relationship. (The point to a lot of these qualifications is to keep from proposing that something forces God to react involuntarily: that cannot happen to the one and only independent fact of all reality, only to derivative facts.)

The upshot is that (on this theory) the Persons of God actively assess and relate to all and every injustice in a way to which our natural grief (and anger) is a derivative resemblance. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (and God the Son!) grieve in substantial union as much over Jesus dying on the cross as God grieves over every injustice, except that "grieve" is too weak a concept to describe what's actually happening.

That attitude toward injustice also expresses in a different mode simultaneously with the attitude toward the justice of what's also happening on the cross; and that attitude is actively eternal in relation to all points of natural space-time. So God grieves over injustice to the maximum extent while also rejoicing to the maximum extent over the justice, while being actively omnisciently and experientially aware of all suffering and all injustice, but also actively and experientially aware of all justice. Whenever you or I or anyone is unjust to anyone else (even a little), we're acting against the unity of fair-togetherness between persons which grounds all reality (including our own existence), as well as against the other person (if the other person isn't God per se). That abuse of the grace of God (including when we abuse other not-God persons) isn't something God can put behind Him in a linear history--it's always present and real to Him. But He voluntarily allows it rather than treating us like puppets; similarly He doesn't poof us out of existence when we sin, since then He would not be able to fulfill fair-togetherness with us (and so would also be acting against His own active principle of self-existence.)

Consequently, the cross is an emblematic expression in history of what God voluntarily suffers eternally so that we can be real boys and girls (even though misbehaving ones): the cross is what God is always doing for all of us. It isn't that we're adding to the suffering of the 2nd Person of God on the cross whenever we sin, but what we do when we mistreat other people even a little is historically focused and expressed, through the eternal overarching reality of God, in what the Son suffers on the cross.

(Disqus didn't look like it was posting the whole comment, so I broke it into a second part here. I forgot to include it in my original collection yesterday for this thread, however.)

The same concept applies, although in a somewhat different way, to natural inconveniences: in order for derivative not-God persons to exist and interact with one another, a neutral field of merely reactive existence is required as an operative framework, but as such it has to be allowed to go about its own business (so to speak) with only relatively rare interferences. But God's self-sacrificial connection to the ongoing reality of Nature (or of all Natures if more than one exists) means He experientially omnisciently knows every possible and actual suffering that the behavior of Nature can and does generate in rationally conscious entities. God doesn't just experientially know my migraines, all at once, always (from His eternal perspective), but every possible migraine I might have under various circumstances, and every other way I can and do suffer in ways that are consciously inconvenient to me to every small or great degree. And not only me, and not only every rationally conscious entity who has ever been and ever will be created, but every conjoined possibility, too. No one may ever burn to death at the center of our sun, but God experientially knows what it would be for everyone who might ever possibly be created to burn to death in that sun and in every sun. And always experientially knows this.

And that's also included, in a historically focused expression, in the suffering on the cross, even though God doesn't need the cross to actively and utterly know all that.

So it isn't as though such-n-such things happen (by God's authority) and then God decides to suffer some of the same things (like e.g. the mass shooter who then turns the gun on himself). By voluntarily choosing to create any not-God reality at all, God voluntarily chooses to experientially know all of what can possibly and does actually happen, far more completely and intimately than we can and do ever experience it with our limited consciousness, and He never ever stops experientially knowing all that; and then He voluntarily suffers in history what He is always voluntarily suffering above (and as the root of) all natural history, in relation to all natural history.

(I'm not trying to present the rationales for this position, of course, only trying to describe the position in a way relevant to your questions.)

All of which is also related to (and per the theory follows from) the self-sacrificial action of God, not only in creating any not-God reality at all, but in self-coherently existing at all. In order for God to actively self-exist at all, God Self-begotten must always loyally submit to God Self-begetting. If God chooses to do anything beyond merely self-exist, the next category of action (ontologically speaking) would be for each of the Persons to give one another the same distinct gift of God Most High (in a third Person) to one another, rather than trying to keep such a procession for themselves. If God chooses to do anything more than that, then that requires generating a not-God system of reality, which must involve the self-sacrificial action of God expressing in a way different from the other two prior ontological ways: the Son, the primary action of God, voluntarily dies (while still ever living with God's own intrinsic self-existence) a somewhat different way so that not-God reality can exist, and so that derivative not-God rationalities can exist and interact with one another. But even if rational creatures were never created, God would still experientially and simultaneously know every possible result of every behavior of the natural system and how every possible conscious entity would experience that behavior.

Actually creating entities doesn't add to that divine experientiality; creation only actualizes (for us, the created derivative persons) a tiny limited amount of possibilities (although to us the actualities aren't tiny and don't even feel limited, because to each of us the actuality is our whole life experience, including as much of other persons' life experiences that we're able to share, plus to some degree what we can imagine sharing.)

I don't mean by this that our sufferings are less than what they actually are, or even less that what we personally experience: I suffer chronic pain every waking hour and there have been times that pain was so strong I have begged God to just kill me and get it over with. I am also well (if imaginatively) aware that my puny sufferings are eclipsed by the sufferings of perhaps 4/5 of humanity currently alive, and certainly of 99% of all persons (human or otherwise) who have ever lived up to this time on our planet. That doesn't mean I hurt less, I just know enough to have a larger perspective by comparison. But I also know (assuming my logic is correct) that if God exists, God's experiential knowledge includes all my pain, whether actual or possible, and everyone else's who will ever exist, in utter totality, forever -- and would do so whether or not God had created me and/or anyone else.


Honestly, your response seems to prove my point far more effectively than anything I could say. I asked you how we are to conceive of God as suffering. We might observe the MAN Jesus of Nazareth suffering, but the basic question is how the suffering of the man relates to the suffering of the deity. In response you give me precisely the kind of preposterous metaphysical gobbledygook that I suspected would be the answer. In short, you haven't a clue.

And, no, you did not offer an adequate response to my request for a common moral principle that would justify the claim that sharing the suffering exculpates the imposition of suffering. I gave you a counterexample to show that the claim does not in general hold, and you have not dealt with that example.

And, yes, you do beg the question if you continue to insist that suffering-with, per se, somehow justifies the imposition of suffering. It is that claim that I specifically deny, and I have yet to see from you any reason that I should not deny it.

Here in Southeast Texas, if you dig deep enough you always hit water. In debating a Christian apologist, if you dig deep enough you always hit gibberish. At that point you have to end the discussion, which I am now doing.

Dr. P,

The question of privative vs. positive aseity is generally regarded as a respectable debate among philosophers, and has more than a little relevance to atheistic apologetics. So I wouldn't have thought you'd think that was "gibberish". Everything else follows from the implications of going with positive aseity instead of privative; but really, if you ask hard technical questions and say you really want to know, why would you be surprised if you get an in-depth reply about various related philosophical topics?

I realize, and specifically noted, that I was mostly describing not arguing out the position, but am I supposed to carefully hash out several dozen interrelated issues in a forum comment? Or even a handful of comments?

Should I have assumed you weren't serious when you told me you weren't kidding and really wanted to know? -- because your reply is rather like asking a theoretical mathematician why the square root of negative one is important, or a theoretical astrophysicist why anyone would believe string theory, and then complaining that his relatively brief answer on an internet comment thread is preposterous gobbledygook. Maybe it is, but It was going to look like that under the circumstances even if it isn't!

Since I never said that the claim in general always holds, that sharing the suffering exculpates the imposition of suffering, I never intended to give "an adequate response" defending that proposition. (Similarly, neither am I begging a question I didn't propose or defend in the first place.)

I did however give you a historically common and important moral example when you asked for one, and I did deal with the counter-example you gave, and talked (at preposterous length ;) ) about how the comparison doesn't hold up once we leave common historical moral examples and are talking about the fundamental ground of all reality instead (also indicating in various ways that my historically common moral example barely analogizes in comparison to what I'm talking about in regard to God. But you asked for any common moral example at all and I gave you one.)

I also bent over pretty far backward allowing (for example) that you might still regard someone who sacrifices himself to save his own worst enemies as being a tyrannical despot. Is it really that hard for you to grant that such a person couldn't be as much of a tyrannical despot (at least) as Hitler or Stalin etc.?

Well, even I make fun of how long-winded I can be, so I can hardly complain about you complaining about that. :) But considering that you yourself claim to think there ought to be more rationality and compassion in the world... {shrug}

Compassion means "to suffer with". And this weekend 1/3 of the world is celebrating what is demonstrably the most important and influential claim of compassion from fundamental Reason in world history.

Due to the topic, that claim is going to be complexly detailed in ways that won't fully (or even at all) apply to any other compassion, even if it's true. Any simple answer, even if true, will be too overly simple.

(And you aren't going to want an overly simple answer either!--nor should you be satisfied with an overly simple answer, not being a five-year-old.)

Peace at last to you and with you someday, Keith.


 I'll try to remember to add new posts as/if we get to them.


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.
David said…
"But I have never heard a description of heaven that sounded like something I could stand for half an hour much less eternity." — is this guy serious? Actually, after reading the rest of it, apparently not. Does he tell physicists that quantum mechanics is "gobbledegook" so they haven't a clue? Or that evolutionary biology is "gobblebegook"? Or advanced mathematics? It's not worth arguing with someone who has such an anti-intellectual attitude, but I'm glad you have the patience to do it, if only for the benefit of onlookers.

Anyway, I don't think it's quite right to say that the "classical" view of God is static, exactly... that would be to make it the flip-side of "theistic personalism", but God is supposed to be beyond either way of looking at it. Finite creatures resemble God's infinite perfection each in different ways; so something that is "static" rather than active reflects how God has all His being at once, never lacking anything. And something "dynamic" reflects God's vastness of being by being lots of different ways (at different times). But God doesn't have to change to be "active", nor does He have to remain static to be "complete". The problem, of course, is that we can't in any way imagine what it's like to be outside of time, so we usually instead picture something temporal-but-motionless — like picking a single frame out of a film. God is something like the whole film all at once, not a single frame, nor changing frames... just everything altogether.

Of course, I don't think you're trying to say that God changes exactly like a creature either... I would guess you and Feser aren't as far apart as it might appear. (On this particular point perhaps, I don't think he'd go for universalism. By the way, does that include Satan too, or just all men?)
Jason Pratt said…

No, I'm certainly not saying God changes (like a creature or at all). Natural circumstances vary from spatio-temporal point to point, and created rational intentions change -- I expect the intentions of the 2nd Person Incarnate (thanks to the fully human and fully divine natures) could change in fashions unrelated to God's intentions, too. That would certainly fit with a number of details in the Gospel accounts (most pertinently for this weekend the prayer in Gethsemane: "If it is possible, take this cup away from Me, but Your will not Mine." I expect the Incarnation goes very far in explaining a lot of the personalistic imagery and behavior of YHWH in the Old Testament, too. Be that as it may. {g})

Dr. Feser is certainly aware that the Trinity is personal and is more than "classical theism", and I certainly don't mind him parrying critiques by appeal to the classically theistic characteristics of the Trinity; what bothers me is when he tries to get rid of the personal qualities of God (the way the non-trinitarian classical theists would), even the intrinsically personal characteristics, as a way of avoiding critiques.

Re: Satan, too, yes I expect God to persistently act toward saving Satan from sin, too. That's even part of my technical theodicy.

(Not all Christian universalists go that far, for various reasons, but most of us do.)

That isn't something I'm going to argue for on the Cadre, though; I prefer to stick with defending and arguing for Nicean-Chalcedonian Creed doctrines and historical apologetics. (Gregory of Nyssus, the bishop elected head of the Chalcedonian Council, who was regarded as the Father of Orthodoxy and the Orthodoxy of the Orthodox, fully believed God would finally save Satan from sin, too, but he didn't press that while in common defense of the Catholic faith.)

Jason Pratt said…
I should however add that I tend to mention persistence for all when contributing sermons for the Cadre.

The occasional sermon, in commentary, and maybe trivially in passing in a main post (such as when I mention that I'm not against the idea that Judas ends up in heaven after all, so if I'm arguing that Jesus wasn't referring to Judas in relation to the thrones promised disciples, it isn't because I'm ideologically opposed to the idea, it's because I find the textual data doesn't add up that way).

Those are the bounds I stick to when discussing my trinitarian Christian universalism at the Cadre. If we hadn't quickly moved off the topic over at the SecWeb thread, I wouldn't have posted the collation here at all. (There are Christians who can agree God voluntarily suffers for all people, on the cross and even at the level of God's eternal reality, without being universalists; even some Calvinists affirm that, although they don't believe God enacts it usefully for helping save some people: they agree the sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all but not applied for all.)


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