The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Monday, 20 June 2011

How can God be Love?

The question as to how God can be "love" in any meaningful sense is one that has occupied my attention for a long time. The difficulty becomes apparent once one attempts a generic account of love along the lines of:

"Love is the desire, attraction or movement
of one object or agent (the lover)
for or towards
another object (the subject or beloved)
which is (rightly or wrongly) perceived or understood or believed or known
to be good, beneficial or useful for the lover."

This account of love is sufficiently broad to allow for all "rational love" ranging from "cows love grass" to "Plato loves Theaetetus". In particular, it allows for the love of a child of its parents.

However, this account does not allow for "irrational" love, such as the love of parents for children - and, arguably, sexual (as opposed to friendly erotic) love: for the objects of these attractions are not really even falsely perceived as beneficial to the lover and in fact are certainly not beneficial. The basis of such loves is the benefit of the species or life itself or "the selfish gene" - however you wish to put it - not the individual who loves.

Now the Divine Nature is entirely One and entirely self-adequate, so how can God be identified with love? Love requires a lover and a beloved: an agent and an object of desire. Moreover, desire requires a perceived benefit which is not actually possessed by the lover. On each of these grounds, it would seem that love is entirely foreign to the Divine Nature and in fact a characteristic of imperfection and contingency.

It seems to me that this objection should be answered in the following way. First by extending our account of love still further and second by a postulation regarding the Nature of the Divine Unity.

The extension of the account of love is as follows:

"Love is the
desire, attraction, movement,
of or with
one object or agent (the lover)
for or towards or with
another object (the subject or beloved)
which is (rightly or wrongly) perceived or understood or believed or known
to be good, beneficial or useful for the lover."

In the case of "possession or secure association or integration" love can be said to be "fulfilled" and is also known as "joy". As is remarked in Symposium, love can be understood as the lover's desire for completion and this indicates its terminus in secure association or integration with or possession of the beloved. In the sense of "love as joy" God's nature can be said to be love (and ecstatic erotic love, at that!) because God utterly and entirely possesses the only good that is good for God: namely the Divine Nature itself.

The postulation regarding the Divine Nature amounts to the Catholic dogma of the Trinity, which Mystery was celebrated yesterday in the Roman Church. This doctrine teaches that the One Divine Nature is substantiated by the love of three persons or hypostases which both underpin as foundations the single Nature which is their fellowship and common life and also each posses, motivate, comprehend and actuate that One Nature.

The joy or love that is characteristic of God cannot be "emotional" as human beings experience joy or love: for emotions are a function of mutability and passion, and these are entirely foreign to the Divine Nature. Rather, this joy or love is the love of which Diotima is recorded as saying that it is possible for a human soul to come to share in at the terminus of the process of enlightenment, when any true disciple of love can come to be a friend of God and to understand and contemplate what beauty, justice, wisdom and truth really are in themselves.

This leaves two further questions unanswered:

1. Why and how did/does God as Demiurge create the world?
2. Why and how did/does God as Redeemer justify and divinise the world?

Regarding the first: given that God is Necessary Being and immune to all constraint or impetus, it must be the case that once the Act of Creation is rightly understood it must be seen to be inevitable and necessary, without that inevitability of necessity implying a lack in the Divine Nature considered apart from the object of that Act. Moreover, if one is going to maintain the Judeo-Christian doctrine of "creation ex-nihil", so that the Cosmos is entirely distinct from the Divine Nature, which itself is unperturbed by the Act, this would seem to be impossible: for apart from the Cosmos it would seem that the Divine Nature must lack anything that of necessity belongs to it and if the Cosmos is truly autonomous (apart from the Act of Creation itself) and not conatural with God then it must be legitimate to consider God and the Cosmos apart from each other, with only the Creative Act relating them.

I think that it is impossible to give a definitive answer to this question; but I wish to propose what I consider to be a plausible speculation for your consideration.

If God is truly omniscient, then God necessarily knows every detail about every Cosmos that might coherently exist. I grant that this might be an infinity of infinities of knowledge, but what is this to God? The fact of this knowledge is not in any way a limitation on God: quite the opposite, of course! Now the question immediately arises: "What is the difference between God knowing every detail about a possible Cosmos and God giving creative reality to that Cosmos?" I, for one, cannot conceive of anything which could be added to such exhaustive Divine knowledge in order to "elevate" it to some more "substantial" reality. What could be "more real" than an exhaustive account in "the mind of God"?

If I am right that the Act of Creation is identical with God's inevitable and necessary exhaustive knowledge of every possible Cosmos, then the paradox of creation is resolved. God's knowledge of all that might be, contingently, is not in conflict with the Necessity of the Divine Being: rather, it is necessitated by that Being. Moreover, the attractive idea that the Act of Creation is somehow an exuberant and ecstatic overflowing of the Divine Nature is given a rational basis.

A major implication of this hypothesis is that God must be conceived of as having created a plurality of universes: in fact every possible coherent universe must "exist", if God is truly omniscient and omnipotent and if the Divine Act of Creation is identical with the Divine Act of Cognition. Hence "Multiverse Theory" (so beloved by atheistic theoretical physicists) would seem to be predicted by a rigorous analysis of Monotheism.

Regarding the second question (which amounts to "Why does God bother about and have concern for the welfare of created things) I suggest that this is a matter of coherence and harmony and so of justice. When God conceives of a Cosmos as coherent and possible, a major constraint is apparent: namely that the Cosmos being conceived is being conceived by an omnipotent and absolutely just conceiver. It is inconceivable that such a conceiver would conceive of a Cosmos which was futile or fundamentally unjust - at least in its final resolution. In other words, any Cosmos that God conceives of must inevitably reflect the Divine Nature and must in some sense have its teleos or purpose or end or resolution in God. It would not be possible for God to conceive of any other kind of Cosmos: it would be an affront to the Divine Nature and so is absurd. Any Cosmos that required some kind of extrinsic intervention to justify it would necessarily attract such intervention. Hence: God so loved the world, that He gave us his only-begotton Son; so that all who believe in Him would have everlasting Life.

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