God’s Time and Eternity

In eternity, God is unapproachable. For suppose God speaks to you, as He did to Moses, say. Immediately, not by any philosophical subtlety but simply by the meaning of the term “action” such as the action of speaking, God is brought into time. There is, for Him and you, the time before the speech, during the speech, and after the speech.

Any providential act tears God away from eternity and situates Him in the here and now of the senses.

In addition, in eternity, God does not act, because He is perfectly happy. He lives without care. He enjoys “every” singular “moment” of His “simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life.”

The moment God pays attention to what is going on in out little corner of the world, He must cease to be perfectly happy. Further, God’s love is perfect. Hence, as long as we humans are miserable, God is at the very least “concerned.” He is not indifferent to what happens to us. He “roots” for us and acts to guide the world into something acceptable. There are potentialities God considers, finds not to His liking, and prevents with careful action, such as moving a person’s will. He, like humans, distinguishes between good and bad outcomes and prefers the good to the bad. God, too, chooses.

God feels for us. He lacks nothing at first glance, yet as long as we exist, He misses His pre-creation carefree days. God is burdened by the weight of His crown. He lacks the state of affairs in which we humans are perfectly virtuous. God would be straightforwardly happier, if we were.

Now of course, this is fully our fault; God cannot be implicated in anyone’s corruption. Nevertheless, He wishes we were better people, and may even feel powerless to help. With all the evil in the world, surely, we must accept this limitation on God.

Moreover, the world is intricately interconnected. Individual human actions affect other humans. If God, in regard to His Providence, is a utilitarian or at least a utilitarian with respect to virtue, moral goodness, seeking to maximize it, then sometimes Smith’s lesser virtue may be traded off for Jones’s greater virtue. This is yet another limitation.

In short, God is not putting on a show, a movie with a “happy end” assured. There is fear, uncertainty, and doubt for all concerned.

God Loves More the Better Things

Such is the mysterious statement asserted by St. Thomas. Does it mean that

1. God delights in or enjoys contemplating more the better things?
2. God gives greater reward to better people?
3. God wills more good to certain people and therefore and because of this those people turn out to be better?

Hmm… God probably does enjoy through union by love human happiness, feeling with us. True happiness is the ultimate indication of goodness. Therefore (1) is probably true.

(2) and (3) each on its own is a considerable exaggeration. It is not the case either that God alone bestows good upon a man; or that man alone creates his own good.

For example, grace requires nature. But grace is the beginning of glory in us. So, glory, too, requires nature (and grace). Now God’s happiness lies in His own self. Human happiness is in external goods, especially God. (Well, the loving union is for both lovers. So, the vine and the branches are to an extent one, not so much as Jn 14:9 and Jn 10:30 but plenty good.) But enjoyment of God requires perfection of character; indeed, one sense of glory is clarity, lack of any desire to hide anything about oneself in shame. Character is built by means of earnest cooperation of man and God.

It is sometimes objected that “reward” seems mechanical: you push a lever and a piece of cheese drops down. Nothing so crude needs to be held: God simply agrees to give His own company and familial love to the blessed. That’s the only reward to be postulated.

But a man must make himself suitable for enjoying this good. A wicked person will not have fun in heaven. Hence, man’s own self-making.

The reward is the same: God. The capacity to enjoy God, to be happy, differs among men. Inequality is due to human complementarity not any arbitrariness or “respecting of persons” on the part of God. Inequality of nature and accidents and human doings and goings begets further inequalities of grace. Again, maximum possible grace (consistent with the good of the whole) is always given, but that maximum is different for every person at every moment in time. Thus, these differences are due to man’s own struggles and God’s taking every opportunity, as if an entrepreneur, to help.

(2) and (3) must then be paired and rightly understood.

Damned in the Actual World, Damned in All Possible Ones, Too

I’m starting to get some respect for William Lane Craig’s seemingly strange and offensive idea that if a person is damned in the actual world, then he is damned in all possible worlds, too; and for its corollary, “if a person is saved in one possible world, then God is duty-bound, lest He commits an injustice, to save him in the actual world.”

Craig’s interest lies in attempting to shore up the idea that non-Christians most likely go to hell. But an objection crops up: during the heavenly trial, can’t a non-Christian say that had he been preached the Gospels to, he would have believed and been saved? He is not at fault; his environment is. Craig says, no, this complaint cannot be sustained.

If Smith has any chance at all of being saved, i.e., if God predicts prior to creating that Smith would be saved in some possible world, then creating a possible world in which Smith is actually damned is “unfeasible” for God (for fear of “lawsuits”). God’s options as regards which world to create shrink to those worlds in which Smith is saved.

But this means that one is either necessarily (over all possible worlds) damned or necessarily (over all feasible worlds) saved. But then the situation is as if each person’s soul was essentially evil or essentially good from the day this person is born or conceived.

Why does this sound offensive? Because humanity then, according to Craig, is a species in regard to body only. With regard to the soul, it is actually a genus not a species at all which contains two subspecies: the subhumans who no matter what are damned and the supermen who no matter what are saved. The sheep are forever sheep, and goats have always been and cannot fail to be goats. This is “once a crook, always a crook” extended to infinity.

So, “my mama didn’t love me” or “I had bad luck in life” are not valid excuses for getting out of the hellish sentence, because in being condemned actually, one is revealed to be totally depraved and hell-bound in all sets of circumstances, as a matter of fact.

Humanity then is bifurcated in this manner into subhumans whom God hates with a purple passion and supermen whom God coddles by carefully surrounding them with a favorable possible world. A superman, too, can be broken and damned under various circumstances, but God ensures that he actually survives. Again, God is entirely powerless to save the subhumans whom he casually predestines for both sin and hell.

How about the argument that at best, if we could foreknow who was a subhuman, then we would be justified in wanting to abort them in the womb or kill them as children, so that they would not get an opportunity to make their ultimate evil choice as adults?

And at worst, killing them would at least cut the crap, drop the charade that there is any hope for them? What are these essentially evil goats doing in the world sullying it up in the first place, polluting it with their presence? “You are and have always been meant to go to hell, so just go there and leave the decent folks alone!”

If may be asked why a good God would create such monsters in the first place. Well, the saints need evil in order to fight it and in the process build their souls. Perhaps, the evil subhumans exist in this way solely for the sake of the supermen. Once their usefulness has been exhausted, they will be thrown out into the divine gas oven called hell. Their souls are sacrificed for the greater good. It’s harsh but inevitable and is justified as a necessary feature of the best possible world. If God had not created the subhumans, then much good would also have been forfeited. It’s the price of success.

Faith As Trust

Now things turn interesting. Each person, according to this understanding, is either a subhuman or superhuman, but he does not know which. Moreover, he cannot reason his way to the answer. Suppose, glory or glories, that God appears before him and tells him, “You are saved.” If the person is in fact damned, then there is no consideration due to him at all, including any imperative for God to tell him the truth. Perhaps, God is lying to him in order to use him for the welfare of the saints more effectively.

Moreover, being unsure of whether one is saved or damned is trouble, too. Again, hell is actually infinite evil, and heaven is only potentially infinite good. Any finite probability of the former skews life toward abject pessimism and despair. Is it worth to be born to be subjected even to a possibility of hell, no matter how small?

But despair is self-fulfilling prophesy. Thinking oneself hell-bound causes despair which causes sloth in regard to oneself, envy in regard to the “saved,” hatred of God for creating him like this (how can a Quasimodo of a creature love its Creator?), and thereby slouching further into one’s own personal hell. (There is no other.) This strengthens one’s conviction that he is, in fact, damned, and intensifies the despair. One starts wondering whether he should kill himself before he is confirmed in evil which is obviously cheating at life and itself punishable by hellfire. And down the drain one goes.

If reason alone is helpless here, then perhaps reason graced with faith is not. But what is faith? Here I consider the articles of faith, i.e., “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, …” to be only a constituent of something more important, namely, trust of God that “he has you” in all possible worlds and will assuredly guide you toward your last end regardless of the circumstances. A person might contemplate the idea that God the Son dies no less than three times for his sake: before creation to be uplifted in the intellect, upon being conceived for the sake of power, and upon crucifixion in the will to receive charity. The Father did not spare His Son; what else wouldn’t God do for your sake?

One might think, “I am a world in myself. Why would God create one world (the universe which is finite and has an aspect of infinitude only to the extent that humans are infinite, anyway) only to destroy another, me or other humans?”

God’s solicitude is precisely the infinite cause that counters and prevents the infinitely evil effect of hell.

The trust toward God is not rational, based on any calculation of its reasonableness, but childlike, extended just because it’s the thing to do.

We have it then, that faith is a self-fulfilling prophesy, too. It generates and preserves the other two theological virtues of hope and charity, just as its lack destroys them. It brings rightly-understood confidence, not to be confused with presumption that one is saved regardless of his actions. It nurtures the love of other people, insofar as one’s unshakable belief that God is supremely good indeed, leads him to a stronger (i.e., more ambitious) conclusion that no “price” needs to be paid for “success”; and in fact, every human being is a sheep, essentially good. There are no monsters among the humankind to destroy.

One confirms himself in goodness starting his journey, causally, from the beginnings of faith. The fact that God is so in control that He saves everyone or at least you in any set of circumstances (the latter is sufficient) yields the phenomenon of faith which in any person grows upon itself and causes him actually to be saved. God saves a person by nurturing faith; that person saves himself by having the consequences of faith overtake his soul.

It is true at the same time that God’s providence is unique for every human being and would be unique for any human being in differing circumstances or worlds.

Salvation then is by “God alone” as the force that checks any positive feedback toward spiritual self-destruction in humans; by “faith alone” understood as God’s initial instrument of or means to doing just that; and by “man alone” as the ultimate master of oneself making his own choices and whose happiness is within.

A Secret…

… that the old — or those with good fortune to grow old — guard from the young is that God makes all of your suffering to you personally worthwhile.

As a philosopher, I can’t, of course, leave it at that. There seem to be three obvious limitations on God’s ability to justify every sinner. First is the natural law. The law may be part of the essence of the best possible world, and God is the Author of it (as well as in various ways Creator of the essences of things in the world), but it also constricts what God can do. Apart from rare miracles which seem to coerce nature (I don’t want to go into the subtleties of this right now), God must respect all the natural inclinations of things He Himself created. He can’t change a human into a pillar of salt; such a thing is simply an annihilation of the human and creation anew of the pillar.

Second is human nature and in particular human freedom, and it is a murky area not so much to me who have stewed in the juices of Mises and St. Thomas for quite a bit, but surely to lots of people. If people have free will, isn’t that something God ought to respect? And in doing so, isn’t his power thereby limited?

It is true that God is not going to grind the world back into prime matter and recreate it. But the way to let go of these concerns is to grasp that God’s power may be “limited”; but His control over every aspect of the world He had previously affirmed is not. “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mt 10:30) is no joke and moreover, should not be interpreted as that God “knows” what’s going on but just “watches” passively. He has His hands on every lever and every stirring of the soul imaginable.

Third is the fact that all human, and even animal and plant, lives are interconnected on many levels. There’re the market and family and love with its spiritual union and mutual indwelling (which I like to phrase in an economistic way as the merging of values scales); there are complementarities and similarities within society that give rise to an astonishing variety of humans relationships. But then if God gives grace or whatever to Smith, then this action will reverberate via these inter-human links throughout the entire world.

Is it true that each person is separated from everyone else by just a few acquaintances? For every Smith and Jones, there exist at most 5 people A through E, such that Smith knows A, A knows B, …, E knows Jones. How is God able to foresee all of these complications?

Well, God is infinite and good (in this goodness being as much above humans as humans are above tables and chairs) and despite the awe-inspiring magnitude of the project He (glory be) decided to take on, viz., creation, He is sufficiently competent to untangle all of these links.

A related problem may feel particularly pointed to a person with a theoretical bent. Isn’t it possible that some Smith can be unsavable, because anything God could attempt to help him out would have such bad overall consequences as to make (reluctant) giving up on him the best choice on the whole? Again, Smith is sacrificed on the altar of the greater good. This is one of the themes of the previous piece and can be called the Nightmare of God the Utilitarian.

The Nightmare can be broken out of by means of a meta-argument. Suppose the contrary: I personally might be the guy slated from eternity to be sacrificed. But believing that or even that this is at least probable leads to horrible consequences, namely all manner of sin, despair, etc., as outlined below. But sins lead to damnation. So, it pays me to put this bullshit entirely out of my mind. But that would be hard to do, especially for those who take their philosophy seriously, if the Nightmare were real. Besides, why should I censor my own thoughts? There is no way God would have designed a world in which there was any intellectual trap whatsoever that could not be escaped. In this case, the only lasting escape exists if and only if the Nightmare is an illusion. Hence, it is an illusion. QED.

Whether God Sacrifices Individual Souls to the Devil for the Greater Good?

In so doing being a proper utilitarian?

I have written about this before, and my conclusion is that reason says no, via several lines of argument. Reason counsels me to trust God not just that I am “lucky” and will avoid being sacrificed by being on the good side of some divine random number generator but rather that no one, in fact, is sacrificed, ever. Everyone is eventually saved.

Faith, on the other hand, suggests that even if some are lost, firmly to hold that I personally am not, and this becomes in a way a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t Tempt God to Make You into an Example

Here are a couple of my previous notes on this issue:

A Secret…
Whether God Sacrifices Individual Souls to the Devil for the Greater Good?

One reason to sacrifice a man for the sake of society can be found during criminal trials. A man, Robinson, who committed a real crime (hurt someone or stole property) made it clear to everybody that he found it OK to sacrifice other people’s rights or welfare unlawfully for his own selfish ends. He is amoral; he does what he can get away with. It’s true that this time, he got caught, but he’ll be more crafty in the future, if he gets a light sentence.

As a result, the judge acquires the right to a symmetric retaliation: he throws the book at him. He punishes Robinson in part in order to make an example out of him to other people. The judge hopes to reinforce the deterrence stimulus for them against future crimes. The people are told: “This is how not to live. Behold Robinson’s disgrace and fall and avoid acting like him.” That may be a utilitarian decision by the judge.

(Or imagine a mother watching a public execution of Robinson with a young boy. “See him, Timmy?” she says. “Don’t be like him, or the monsters will get you.”)

Robinson becomes a tool, a means to an end, but then he considered other people his own tools. Turnabout is fair play.

In many ways, God will do unto you as you did unto others. If you never wickedly sacrificed any other person’s rights for your pleasure, or their greater happiness for your lesser happiness, then God will be prohibited by His own righteousness and goodness from sacrificing you. You will not be made an example of. You are in control of your own fate.

In short, produce more than you consume, bear fruit for others to eat, and you can be assured that God will not want to shame you for edification of all concerned.

Why Infinite Punishment for Finite Crimes?

When crimes are called “finite,” it is implied that their magnitude is limited. Smith murdered 2 people, stole $100,000, and tempted Jones to commit 1 adultery. Those are finite numbers.

But life has not only magnitude but direction, as well. It is a vector. And one can be moving upward toward the light or downward into the darkness.

These opposing directions specify where a person really, by his own preference, wants to be. And opposite directions of spiritual motion result in opposite destinations, namely, heaven or hell.

There is no coercion, no being “thrown” into hell against one’s will. One just sort of ends up in that place or in that state of the spirit toward which he’s been voluntarily drifting all his life.

If that’s heaven, then the magnitude of the upward vector determines the amount of glory earned. If that’s hell, then there may be second chances, or there may not be. It is permissible for a Catholic, I think, to hold any theory of the afterlife, even pre-existence of the soul and some sort of reincarnation. (For which there is some evidence.)

Consider a previous post of mine in which I discuss Craig’s idea of “transcircumstantial depravity.” It may be that Craig has simply added a pinch of utilitarianism to the Calvinist doctrine.

It’s not that there are subhumans and supermen; rather, everyone is a subhuman whose salvation depends on God alone and in no wise on himself; moreover, God saves people until a Pareto-optimal state is reached, in which for all damned persons X, saving X would cause at least two other saved persons Y and Z to end up damned.

God cannot create any more good without a greater amount of evil being created ipso facto. The reason is that the damned, like the devils, are needed to challenge or tempt the saved. This, of course, implies that X suffers positive reprobation,

the absolute will to condemn to hell and, in order to obtain this end effectually, also to sin… those who are reprobated positively are directly predestined to hell from all eternity and have been created for this very purpose.

What else can we conclude from the fact that God created Smith a subhuman, used him for external to Smith ends, and when Smith has outlived his usefulness, threw him in the gas oven? The Catholic Encyclopedia calls this a “repulsive doctrine.”

However, Craig would say in his defense, this is the best possible world, and a world in which a better outcome is achieved is “unfeasible” to God. For example, the only way to ensure the salvation of everyone might be for God to create a world with just 5 people in it. Clearly, such a world is worse than this one, despite the fact that in our world, some are damned.

In addition, the principle of double effect may permit positive reprobation. God foresees that X will be lost but does not intend it; what He does intend is for Y and Z to be saved, and the loss of X is the cost of doing business; besides, X’s failure is his own fault, anyway.

Be that as it may, let’s stay with my own interpretation. Heaven is only potentially infinite good, whereas hell is actually infinite evil. The difference between them is then actually infinite. Now suppose the contrary: Smith is damned (or damns himself) given the circumstances of his life C yet would have been saved, had he been surrounded by D. C and D are not infinite at all but finite. Hence, the difference between them is finite, too. Hence, a finite cause, namely, a change from C to D, would generate an infinite effect, namely, a change from hell to heaven. Which is impossible. QED.

But it follows from the previous post that a finite change (180°) in “direction” produces an infinite change in the final destination, heaven or hell. Is my argument therefore compromised?

I don’t think so. The direction specifies the end held dear, even if implicitly. These ultimate ends are infinitely apart. The magnitude reflects the intensity of desire to arrive to either end.

But “circumstances” have neither direction nor value. They are just “stuff that surrounds one,” including one’s body. Therefore, a change in circumstance can have no predictable effect on one’s moral vector.

Now there is the question of whether even saints would have spiritually perished if tested beyond their ability. Job was brutally afflicted yet remained faithful to God. But suppose he was tortured by the US government. Is it a given that he would have persevered even in those circumstances? In general, are circumstances completely irrelevant regarding one’s moral direction in life? If so, then my argument holds; if not, not.

Utilitarianism As a Path to God

Classical utilitarianism demands that one act in such a way as to produce the best consequences on the whole. Unfortunately, “on the whole” means for all human beings who live now and will live in the future until the end of time. Call this the “till kingdom come” requirement or TKC. Obviously, utilitarianism thusly understood is an impossible ideal. I will now prove that this is precisely what makes it so useful.

Logically, there are 4 possibilities for any human action: one does

  1. good; and good will come out in TKC;
  2. good; and evil will come out;
  3. evil; and good will come out;
  4. evil; and evil will come out.

Clearly, (4) is utterly wrong.

But so is (3) from the actor’s point of view: as I pointed out, if one does evil, yet good comes out of it in TKC, then it is shame to him, and glory to God. But, one shall reason, “God already has enough glory, and I, very little; surely, it will not diminish God’s greatness if I take a little of it for myself even at His expense.”

It follows that it is only rational to do good. But one is powerless to ensure or even know in this life that (1) will come to pass as opposed to (2). But the only way to inner peace is to hold that there is such thing as divine providence that will make sure that doing what seems good immediately will also produce good in TKC. Otherwise, man is not only a tragic figure who acts blindly without knowledge or prudence but a contemptible, disgusting one. For example, how can the doing of good be rewarded if it yields evil on the whole in TKC? Such a thing may be forgiven, but it cannot be praised or glorified.

If God loves His children, then He has to, lest those children suffer ignominy and be branded worthless fools, harmonize plausible basic calculations of common morality and remote consequences of following it all the way up to TKC.

Atheism or even deism which deny divine providence then sabotage the moral enterprise, as deists cannot be sure that their doing good is of any value in the TKC.

Deists then may be “good people” who do not kick dogs, but they can never be sure that abstaining from kicking a particular dog is not a terrible mistake.