Prodigal, Let’s Go Home {pt.2} [GUEST POST]


Yesterday, I posted Austin’s first part to this final(?) reply to a series of discussions we’ve been having on the place of suffering and Evil in the world and the Nature of God. See that post for more background and links to the previous posts. I’ll have a few disparate thoughts about this whole exchange to share with all of you next week to close us out. Here, in this post, Austin sees right through much of my thinking to get at the root assumptions behind it. He also responds to five premises to my thinking that I laid out in my own last post.

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In all that I’ve written in all of these posts, it should be obvious that I believe stories to be of the utmost value. But I have to be clear that Story, if it is a metaphor for God, is but one metaphor among many. And I thank Paul for mentioning something along these lines. I’m not quite sure that I understand Paul’s notion of Story in enough detail. There are a few things that I do think need to be critiqued, if I have understood them correctly.

What I have to make mention of is the fact that, given his premise in number 1 (of his second response; “I’m a Heretic, I Fear“), Paul sounds like a pantheist and an occasionalist. I don’t like saying these things. But when one combines the notions of: “nothing outside of God’s storied nature”, with: “God being the fountainhead of all things” (an Author), one is deep in heretical territory.

Occasionalism, the belief that God is the only actual cause of things while everything else is just an occasion for God’s acting, is the chief heretical tendency of the Reformed tradition, something always to watch out for. That’s one thing. But saying that there is nothing outside of the nature of God is even more slippery. I’m sure Paul doesn’t want to be a pantheist, but I can’t help but think that he’s working from a conceptual ground that actually is pantheistic.

That is only confirmed in number 3, where he talks about Christ having only one nature. For the conversation to go any further here, we’d have to have a discussion concerning his definition of nature. It’s not at all clear to me. Then again, that’s what this whole discussion is about. Here’s the thing, though: if you allow that “story” is a metaphor, and that God can be described by other metaphors—as it seems Paul does allow—then God’s nature has to be something other than all of these things. That is my main contention with viewing God’s nature as Story.

It’s not enough. What saying that does, it seems to me, is to confuse Author and Story. Do we live in a story? In a manner of speaking: sure. But God, while he does participate in this story, is also outside of it. Even as I allow that we may consider ourselves to live in a story now, I wonder what is to be after the consummation of all things. Is the future going to be a story? It seems like the future blessed life will be more like a restful conversation in a café. That’s not so much a story as an unrolling dialogue. It’s not heading toward any denouement. The denouement is in every minuscule detail as it will all be glorifying to God.

We participate now in the grand “plot”—I still shy away from “narrative” or “story”—of creation, fall, redemption. But this plot is something that the cosmos is undergoing. It is not God’s life-story. God is not a Creation, a Fall, and a Redemption. God is Creator, the source of Life away from whom we have fallen, and the Redeemer of his creation. Creation, fall, and redemption are outside of God. Again, we have to distinguish between the Author and that which is written at the very least.

But we have to do more than that. The analogy of author and story breaks down in that God has created beings with wills that can operate contrary to his own. These beings are more than sentences on a page, even more than characters in a book. The orthodox notion of creation is that it is ex nihilo. It is outside of God. It’s something extra. It is not pantheistic or panentheistic. And creation is not evil. Orthodox Christianity is not Manichean. The orthodox Christian view of creation is that it was created good, even very good.

Ironically, it is this goodness that is the possibility of evil. Evil is a result of the willful, or at least neglectful, disordering of good things, which causes violence and death of various sorts. Of course, this disordering requires willful beings who can enact this disordering against the ultimately Good Creator. This is orthodoxy. That’s clear enough. The only meaningful argument that could be made against this is that it is somehow un-biblical. But to really get anywhere with that argument we’d have to go text by text. That is something I’d be more willing to do in a pub. I’m less willing to do it on a blog.

Let it be known, also, that I’m fully aware that I’m asserting my case rather than arguing it, at the moment. But what I am also doing, is asserting an alternate view to Paul’s. The details would have to be supported. As I said in a previous response, I’m not ready to argue my full view yet. I can only give directions and half-perceived vistas. My eyes are still settling into the light. But as I’ve said somewhere else, I know that there is no darkness—only light that is too bright for a time.

I’ll write a few more observations and assertions as I head toward closing.

The five points that Paul named as his motivations are each too involved to do justice to—even in a couple of already lengthy posts. I mentioned two points above, and those I will make a few more remarks upon.  Points 1 and 3 are involved in a similar conceptualization. They both eek toward bringing everything into one nature; whether all things into the nature of God (Point 1), or the classically conceived two natures of Christ into one divine (?) nature (Point 3).

I mentioned above about how this lurches toward pantheism, if it’s not already involved in it. What seems to be missing in Paul’s thought, from my perspective, is a solid distinction between the Creator and the creature. This seems to flow throughout his proposal, including especially the parts about Story. Paul mentioned Aristotle’s substance/accidents distinction. Along with that he mentioned Aquinas. Paul’s proposal might align to some degree with Aristotle; it will not align with Aquinas. Saint Thomas is firm on the point that there are no accidents in God; God is pure substance, pure act. This is the foundation of Thomas’s construal of the Creator/creature distinction. Actually, Paul’s ideas are much closer to another Medieval theologian: John Duns Scotus.

I have to confess my own love for Scotus. I’ve learned much from him. Ultimately, however, Scotus makes all Being univocal, different only by proportion. God has more Being than humans, but our Being is not so very different; it’s just not as fully realized. It is the theological tradition that follows this which Feuerbach rightly critiqued. This is the god who is a mere amplification of human potential, not really a god at all, or at most, a god like the ancient Greeks: storied forth in grand narratival fervor.

It is the Creator/creature distinction that sets orthodox Christianity apart from that pagan world. Creation ex nihilo was a theological battle cry. Much of the current trend in theologizing relies still upon Harnack’s old adage of the Hellenization of Christianity. But with Pelikan, Torrance, and other Patristic scholars, I’d like to start talking about the Christianization of Hellenism, which is arguably more historically accurate.

Sin thought that it would soon bring about the parting of their ways, but lo, love remained with it. And sin would thrust love away from it; it forces love to go a mile with it, but lo, love goes two; it struck love on the right cheek, but lo, love turned the other to it; it took away love’s coat, but lo, love gave its cloak also. Already sin feels its impotence, it cannot hold out against love, it will then tear itself away from it. Then it injures love as deeply as possible; for even love itself, sin believes, cannot forgive more than seven times. But lo, love could forgive seventy times seven, and sin sooner became tired of needing forgiveness than love did of forgiving.

—Kierkegaard, Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

We may wrestle with God. That is perfectly biblical. I mentioned Jacob. The Psalms, too, are filled with this. Like McCarthy’s novel, there are switchbacks to trod, rivers to ford, and forbidding deserts to cross. This is the landscape we have before us, but our Father would like us home.

Paul, we might never swing the thurible or feel the oils of ordination, but we may provide comfort for others in the desert.  Let’s ride together.

Peace be upon the Israel of God.

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