Sunday, May 11, 2008

Helm's Deep: Analysis 11: The will of Calvin's God - Can God be trusted?

Helm's Deep: Analysis 11: The will of Calvin's God - Can God be trusted?:

This is Paul Helm's analysis of the issue of Calvinism and theological volutarism.

"For God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God's will, which cannot be found. Let men's rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what does not exist. (Inst. III. 23. 2 Italics added)."

Helm claims that this is consistent with denying that Calvin is a voluntarist. His view, which is picked up by the Triabloggers and also defended in a paper by Sudduth, suggests that Calvin is saying that God's reason for reprobation isn't nonexistent, but rather opaque to humans. There is a reason in the order of being, but it cannot be brought into the order of knowing by human beings.

The question I have is why Calvin uses the language that he uses. He says that there is nothing higher than God's will and that if we ask for God's reason we are asking for something that does not exist. The plain sense of the text seems to be not that we don't know what the reason is, but rather, that there just is no reason, that God's willing it is reason enough. To be consistent with Helm's interpretation, shouldn't Calvin have said "Let man's rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what we cannot know?"

18 comments:

Paul Manata said...

Helm and Sudduth both answer that very question, Victor.

Paul Manata said...

"He says that there is nothing higher than God's will and that if we ask for God's reason we are asking for something that does not exist."

I summary: It's that there is no reason *outside* of God that stands as an *authority* to God.

It's not that there is no reason whatever.

Calvin's not speaking about the *existence* or the reason but, rather, the *location* of the reason.

Victor Reppert said...

I see what they say there. He appeals to Calvin's belief in divine simplicity. I don't think they explain why Calvin says puts it the way he does, I think he just points to other Calvin passages which support their own interpretation. That doesn't mean that this text is not most naturally interpreted in voluntaristic terms.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think anyone is looking for a reason outside God will. If someone is not a Calvinist and one wants to know why Adam was permitted to fall, the answer is could be that God is love, and to enable someone to love God has to permit the beloved to freely refuse his love, and that's exactly what Adam and Eve did.

We could ask "What is it about God's character that leads him to save some and damn others?" We would be looking for an answer within God's own character, not somewhere outside of God. Yet, Calvin is saying that this is a wicked question to ask.

Paul Manata said...

Well I'm not going to debate Calvin exegesis with you. Debate how he should have put things.

For my purposes it's enough to show that Calvin can't be read voluntaristicly when one takes into account all the evidence.

So, no one is talking about looking for a reason outside of God's will. I was simply telling you how his statement should be interpreted. My answer shows that he shouldn't be read in a voluntaristic way.

Hopefully this helped.

I'd recommend the Sudduth article as well, if you haven't read it yet.

Jason Pratt said...

{{I summary: It's that there is no reason *outside* of God that stands as an *authority* to God.

It's not that there is no reason whatever.}}

Fwiw, Paul, I understood that to be the claim, too.

That being said, if this is Helm's actual point, it must be said that he hasn't put it very well. We can in fact ask why God has willed something without referring Him to judgment according to a standard beyond Himself. Otherwise all inquiries concerning God would be totally futile.

The problem is that Helm's position is indistinguishable from arbitrary voluntarism; which of course is precisely why the defense is tried, that no this isn't voluntarism but we're simply incapable of understanding the reason. (If the reason was known to be merely 'because God does it', then that would be the same as affirming voluntarism!)

Then the problem comes in for how we know it is impossible for us to ever (or in this life, if you prefer) understand the reason. Simply because we don't know the reason now?? But if that was the case then any ignorance of God would be impossible to cure--and we are all born ignorant of God (as well as everything else). Nor would the action of the Holy Spirit be able to help, for God cannot do what is intrinsically contradictory (such as lead a non-omniscient entity to knowledge available only to an omniscient entity.)

If claim X is made about God, I want to know how X is to be distinguished from a mistake on the claimant's part. Is it an inference from evidence? Then human reasoning must be involved; and in principle I ought to be able to check the data and the validity (inductive or deductive or abductive, as it may be). Is it a mere assertion on the part of the claimant? Then I literally have no reason (insofar as the mere assertion itself goes) to accept it as true.

If you claim, against a face value reading of Helms (for example), that this does not represent divine arbitrary voluntarism, but then you tell me that the actual reason is utterly inscrutable, I at least want to know your reason for claiming the reason to be utterly inscrutable. Otherwise I have no way of distinguishing that position-claim from a special-plead attempt at avoiding critique of the prior claim (that God does X but X is not merely arbitrary voluntarism as an action of God.)

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Correction: "available only to" should read "capable only by". Inaccurate phrasing on my part.

JRP

bortendahl said...

Professor,
I certainly appreciate you sharing your website with our class. Withe the question that you posted here,"What is it about God's character that leads him to save some and damn others?" and also as you stated that God leaves others to actually let people decidedc on thier on to love God or not, and that is exactly what Adam & Eve did. They denied the Lord, the questioned the Lord. The di not deny Satan and for that they experienced death, (spiritual death)

Bob Ortendahl
Springfield, Missouri

Paul Manata said...

udkdpxJason,

First, there are more posts by Helm on this subject. Also, I'd recommend the paper by Sudduth on this very issue.

The voluntarist reading depends on "the distinction" which separates God's "justice" from his "will." Calvin repudiates it,

==========
That Sarbonic dogma, therefore, in the promulgation of which the Papal theologians so much pride themselves, “that the power of God is absolute and tyrannical,” I utterly abhor. For it would be easier to force away the light of the sun from his heat, or his heat from his fire, than to separate the power of God from His justice. Away, then, with all such monstrous speculations from godly minds, as that God can possibly do more, or otherwise, than He has done, or that He can do anything without the highest order and reason. For I do not receive that other dogma, “that God, as being free from all law Himself, may do anything without being subject to any blame for doing so.” For whosoever makes God without law, robs Him of the greatest part of His glory, because he spoils Him of His rectitude and justice. Not that God is, indeed, subject to any law, excepting in so far as He is a law unto Himself. But there is that inseparable connection and harmony between the power of God and His justice, that nothing can possibly be done by Him but what is moderate, legitimate, and according to the strictest rule of right. And most certainly, when the faithful speak of God as omnipotent, they acknowledge Him at the same time to be the Judge of the world, and always hold His power to be righteously tempered with equity and justice.
==========

Calvin denies that God can do anything whatever without being subject to blame, and he denies ex lex as well. Calvin also says God has reasons. They are just hidden (see below).

JRP: "I at least want to know your reason for claiming the reason to be utterly inscrutable."

Sure, reprobation, as Reformed have traditionally understood it, lies in the secret council of God - which is supported by passages like Deut. 29:29. There, Jehovah tells us that some things are secret and that they are hidden from us (contrasted by "revealed" to you and your children).

Reading our systematics would tell you why we place reprobation and election in the secret council of God.

We believe God had a good and holy reason for what he did. But that we might not be able to figure it out fits right in with another staple in the Christian diet - the incomprehensibility of God. An uncontroversial reading views this putting God and his ways far beyond on own because they are infinite. Many times in the Bible the writers have to stop and just wonder at God because of "how unsearchable are [his] ways."

We have traditionally called the reason for electing and reprobating a "high and holy mystery." Since mystery also has a revered and distinguished pedigree within the history of the church, we find nothing negligible on our part by locating this doctrine there.

So, it seems to me that all the moves I can make are moves that have been made by Christians throughout the church, and even in the Bible. It seems to me, then, that the only complaint would be *what* we include as mysterious, or secretive. But if we're correct in our understanding of the text, then this move is *perfectly* acceptable and finds *explicit* warrant in Scripture (as well as in church history).

So then I guess one might want to debate the texts. But then we're right back into the Calv/Arm/Kath/Cath debates! And so instead of a reason to disbelieve I find these questions restatements of that disbelief.

I should also add that I am not saying that it will remain forever inscrutable. If God reveals it, and the reason or answer is something a finite mind could understand (we have to allow that some things we will never understand, given the creator/creature distinction, the infinite nature and plan of God, etc), then it moves from "the secret things" to the "revealed things."

To say we should complain that this issue is a secret things seems to me to say that the people should have complained to Moses about their being secret things. But the text and the doctrine of God as lord make it obvious that the existence of secret things isn't cause for us to chide God.

So:

[1] If X is part of "the secret things", then the reason for X is inscrutable until it becomes part of the revealed things.

[2] The reason for election and reprobation are part of the secret things.

[3] Therefore, the reason for election and reprobation is inscrutable until it becomes part of the revealed things.

God's willing something, for Calvin, is not what makes it just, but that God willed something should function, for us, as our reason we can regard it as just. God's willing X reveals that X is just, it doesn't make X just.

Calvin said to separate God's will from God's justice was "diabolical blasphemy." He was just concerned that we don't look outside of God for a reason. Some kind of Platonic form over above him. Calvin would have agreed with Aquinas that Calvin is merely restating Augustine and Aquinas: “Nothing is greater than God’s will. Therefore, no cause for it should be sought” (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a.19.5) (See Sudduth for elaboration on many of these points).

So, though I doubt you're ever going to become a Calvinist, and thus I don't post to convert you, I hope to at least have shed some light on this issue. Calvin wasn't a voluntarist. Critiques should be sought elsewhere.

steve said...

Election and reprobation are morally arbitrary in the sense that since St. Paul and Judas are both sinners, there's nothing about either one which would supply the differential factor to explain why God elects Saul but reprobates Judas (or chooses Isaac over Ishmael or Jacob over Esau).

Even that is far from morally arbitrary in the voluntarist sense. For purposes of election and reprobation, both parties are considered in their sinful identity. Equally guilty. God doesn’t damn or predamn the innocent.

On the other hand, it doesn't follow that election and reprobation are rationally arbitrary. At a general level, election and reprobation illustrate the mercy and justice of God.

And at a specific level, a world in which God elects Saul and reprobates Judas has a very different history than a world in which God elects Judas, but reprobates Saul (or chooses Ishmael over Isaac or Esau over Jacob).

Human beings aren't discrete, interchangeable parts. And some human beings are clearly pivotal figures in world history. The Bible itself stresses the impact of genealogy on history. The Bible respects historical causation.

So it's not hard to imagine that God would have a reason for preferring one possible world history over another possible world history. These are not indiscernible alternatives.

Of course, God hasn't revealed his reason, so, to that degree, his will is inscrutable. But it's not inherently inscrutable in this respect.

Jason Pratt said...

Paul,

I'm quite sure we non-Calvs are more concerned with implications that God’s justice is only what He wills to do.

And, to the contrary, if someone attempts to claim to me that there is some distinction separating God’s “justice” from His “will”, then I reply that this means God Himself is appealing to a standard of justice higher or even lesser than Himself, ontologically. The latter case would be bizarre as an option; the former case would be admitting that God is dependent upon something other than Himself. I reject either one, but I certainly wouldn’t consider such a separation to be equivalent to a doctrine of the arbitrary decree of justice by the will of God; which I also reject (specifically as a trinitarian theist), and which is what I (also Victor) was critiquing as a commonly applied position of Calvinism.

I don’t believe anyone here is debating Calvinism as if that school of theology presents an appeal to justice separate from God’s will--far from it. If however this is what you understood ‘voluntarism’ to entail, then allow me to clarify that by whatever name the doctrine may be called, what we are critiquing in Calvinism is not the notion that God’s justice and His will are somehow ontologically separate, but that God’s justice is only and merely whatever He wills. I know I understood that position to be ‘voluntarism’; but if I am incorrect and ‘voluntarism’ (despite the apparent implications of the name!) is better attached to the doctrine of separation of will and justice, then so be it--I will gladly drop the confusion-causing term.

This leaves over the doctrinal position that I (and Victor, it seems to me) clearly am aiming to critique: namely that the justice of God is merely whatever He chooses to do. I would call it Ockhamism, but I understand that he was a deist (if I’ve heard correctly), so that wouldn’t be fair to attribute to a nominally orthodox Calvinist position-set.


What I perceive, however, is that in the quote you gave, Calvin rejects the dogma “that God, as being free from all law Himself, may do anything without being subject to any blame for so doing.” I applaud his rejection; but I note that what he is rejecting is quite different in principle from a distinction separating between God’s justice and God’s will.

I don’t doubt Calvin rejected that as well. (I know of no reason why he would have accepted it, anyway; and you appear to clearly affirm later that he rejected it.) However, in order to coherently reject both these positions, Calvin would have had to be positively appealing to the self-existant interpersonal relationship of the First and Second Persons of the Deity; the active fair-togetherness of which would in itself be the most primary expression of God’s justice and the standard toward which all other actions of His must in their proper regards be fulfilling. If he avoids, or refuses, or doesn’t know to do this, then theologically speaking he will inevitably end up affirming one or the other of those Euthyphro horns.

I have to say, though, that even if Calvin talks about this here or there, he clearly must not be implementing it coherently; otherwise we wouldn’t be having this debate right now, and you would have been immediately and repeatedly pointing us in that direction rather than making any other claim, assuming we had a question about it. (Relatedly, I wouldn’t have been so anathema’d by Steve a few months ago, for appealing to the justice of God in such a manner myself.)


Put another way, God can only be “a law unto Himself”, in a fashion not reducible to mere arbitrary decree-of-justice, if God is a singular multi-personal self-begetting/self-begotten entity as the ground of all reality. i.e., if orthodox Christian theism is true. Otherwise we only have something like Islam except with a modalistic Christ Incarnation perhaps. (Or else some kind of Arianism.)

If I ever once saw a Calvinist agreeing with that, I would instantly cease complaint and critique in regard to a Calvinist understanding of the justice of God. (Though it might take a lot more work to convince me that this has always been a nominal Calvinist understanding, some inept exponents of the doctrine notwithstanding. {g})

However: I then would insist on out-working the soteriological corollaries of that position. And you ought to be able to guess, if you don’t know very well already, what results I am reaching with that. {s} (Hint: it does involve us being able to trust God to persist in saving whomever He intends to save from sin. Which I understand to be a key Calvinist doctrine, fwiw. {g} It also involves a key Arminian doctrine, though.)


{{There, Jehovah tells us that some things are secret and that they are hidden from us}}

First, this passage has nothing at all to do with claims of intrinsic inscrutability of a doctrinal claim to human reason.

Second, this passage doesn’t even have anything to do, in context, with some non-revealed obscurity; on the contrary, God is warning the people of Israel in advance, through Moses, that He’s going to punish them when they fall away, and so when that punishment comes they won’t be hopelessly wondering why it happened. Any obscurity at that point will be due to willful refusal to repent of their wrong; it won’t be due to the topic being too difficult for human understanding or some currently-non-revealed secret of God or whatever.

Third, the whole context of this passage (and the surrounding chapters, for that matter, out through the culminating “Song of Moses”), is specifically aimed at promising a message of hope of deliverance from sin after a period of forewarned punishment.

So: the passage isn’t about telling us that some doctrine of God’s justice (particularly in regard to some kind of hopeless punishment) is held to be an unrevealed secret by God (much less one too difficult for human minds to ever be able to possibly understand.) It’s about a specifically hopeful punishment being foretold, in sufficiently clear terms so that the human audience will understand why the punishment is happening.

If someone sold this verse to you as evidence that the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation is intrinsically inscrutable to humans, then you got rooked. {s} Admittedly, the passage is about real ‘re-probation’; but it clearly isn’t about the ‘reprobation’ being critiqued by non-Calvinists.

Also admittedly, you might not have meant to refer to the verse for purposes of answering my specific question but only for purposes of finding some testimony that God (the omniscient) has secrets we (the non-omniscient) don’t know. But aside from the fact that no one in the debate is disputing that; and aside from the fact that I hardly need a Bible verse as testimony that God has secrets we don’t know about; I at least recommend choosing a different verse next time as an example for preliminary reply to my particular question.


All you’ve told me consequently is that reprobation, as Reformed theology has traditionally understood it, is a secret council of God (which cannot of itself mean the doctrine is intrinsically inscrutable, as God reveals secrets otherwise to be learned and understood), because the Reformed say so. {s}


{{Reading our systematics would tell you why we place reprobation and election in the secret council of God.}}

I have read some specifically Calvinist systematics, and have yet to see one that doesn’t involve special pleading on this topic; but I haven’t read everything yet, so I was asking you.

I am not impressed when I am met, when asking why one doctrine is supposed to be (ever or only currently) utterly incapable of being understood by humans, with a broad appeal to “the incomprehensibility of God”. That could only work as a specific answer to inquiry if no doctrine about God was supposed to be capable of being understood by humans; but then, that would include whatever use the replier is making of the doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility, too (to say the very least.)

{{Many times in the Bible the writers have to stop and just wonder at God because of "how unsearchable are [his] ways."}}

Yes, I know. One of those is in a paean by St. Paul right after he reveals that all have been shut up into stubbornness so that God may have mercy to all. {s} However, you may notice that I don’t appeal to God’s incomprehensibility as a defense to a defense against critique of universalism (where that critique asks for reasons and/or calls what reasons it sees incoherent and my defense is that the doctrine of universalism and God’s justice is of course intrinsically inscrutible to human minds.) I don’t do that, because I would consider that to be cheating to save my position from scrutiny by non-universalists.

I haven’t made a mistake in my theology!--my theology is inscrutable to human understanding. Ignore the fact that it looks like a mistake to you--that’s how any legitimate theology of the incomprehensible God would look, of course! Besides, someday God might put it in some fashion that you can understand, though for all I know it’s impossible for us to ever understand. Either way, you should accept it now, because God says so, as I can demonstrate by appeal to these and those verses. So what if my appeal doesn’t seem coherent to you, or even erroneous. Do you, the human, dare to judge the unsearchable ways of God??

(If you counter with Rom 9, well, there we go, neither one of us can scrut past it, and our doctrines cancel one another out. Unless you mean you have reasons for believing what you do in regard to the right interpretation of those places. I assure you I do--otherwise I would be hiding behind a shield that might be only protecting an error from ever being found out and corrected.)


{{Since mystery also has a revered and distinguished pedigree within the history of the church...}}

As a revelation and thus as a secret no longer, even if it was a secret before.

But admittedly, the other more modern meaning of ‘mystery’ has also had a revered and distinguished pedigree within the history of the church. (Which is why it has that more modern meaning now. {s}) As has the concept of divine secrecy, including in canonical days.

{{It seems to me, then, that the only complaint would be *what* we include as mysterious, or secretive.}}

Which was specifically what my question was about; I had already allowed that something might be intrinsically incapable of human understanding now or ever.

While the answer might well be somewhere in Reformed systematics, you could have spent your time addressing that answer rather than trying to justify something I already was willing to agree with in principle.

{{And so instead of a reason to disbelieve I find these questions restatements of that disbelief.}}

If so, then your own position can and does amount to nothing any better either; for I could play that same tactic from the other way around, and protect my position just as cleanly. (However clean it is to use that tactic.)

Which I don’t do. I make sure to offer positive reasons for my positions, and I do not take refuge behind claims of inscrutable rightness for them. Whether my reasons are good or bad, they’re out for potential correction, revision or improvement, or even rejection, if necessary. That includes both scriptural exegesis and metaphysical principle-analysis.


In any case, if I ask why X seems unreasonable or even erroneous as a doctrinal claim, and I am met with the answer that it is part of “the secret things”, I want to know why it should be considered part of “the secret things” and not rejected a mistaken doctrine.

If the reason for why it should be considered part of “the secret things” is that certain texts when interpreted in such-n-such ways testify to doctrine X, then insofar as X still seems unreasonable or even erroneous (perhaps even including the attempted interpretation as to context, for instance), then first I ask why the texts should be interpreted in an apparently unreasonable manner instead of a more reasonable manner (by which I mean theologically coherent), and second I complain of non sequitur, since what I had asked for was not textual witness apparently for X doctrine but why X doctrine should be counted among “the secret things”.


Moing back to a prior topic:

{{God's willing something, for Calvin, is not what makes it just, but that God willed something should function, for us, as our reason we can regard it as just. God's willing X reveals that X is just, it doesn't make X just.}} [italics original to PaulM’s comment]

I actually agree with most of that. (Though I suspect we mean something at least a little different from each other on the topic.) However, an intrinsically inscrutable ‘revelation’, insfoar as its inscrutability goes, is thereby not in fact a ‘revelation’ (despite the attempt that was made)--with no understanding there is no content successfully revealed; and if it’s impossible (now, much less ever) to understand, then revelation cannot even possibly take place until the conditions for understanding can be met.

To claim that an element or application of God’s will is inscrutably “just”, is to say that no revelation can currently take place on that topic. That may be the case; but then there is no way, until the conditions change for understanding and actual revelation, to tell whether the position as given is in error. Inscrutability isn’t a defense; it prevents defense. (Unless there is some positive reason for understanding that further understanding on the topic must be inscrutable to a human mind. That positive reason, however, cannot be defended by another appeal to inscrutability; the rationale must stand or fall.)


JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

In effect what you've said is that:

1.) condemnation isn't morally arbitrary.

2.) salvation however is morally arbitrary.

3.) and neither condemnation nor salvation is rationally arbitrary.

I agree with Elements 1 and 3, for what it's worth. But Element 3, in the fashion you've presented it (which has to do with historical results but not with any moral concerns), and particularly in apparent distinction from at least one of the first two elements, tends to put a schism between morality and reason (at least insofar as salvation goes). I could accept that kind of qualitative schism in regard to the actions of a human sinner, perhaps, but not in regard to God's actions. Not if orthodox trinitarian theism is true (which I believe it is.)

Meanwhile, the distinction between elements 2 and 1, has to indicate a schism in intentions between condemnation and salvation. At the very least, it means justice in one case (salvation) must be only morally arbitrary--which is precisely the complaint at hand from opponents to Calvinism--or possibly it means that justice has nothing to do with salvation from sin (or with condemnation of sin instead?) None of which, again, are positions I can coherently accept and affirm as an orthodox trinitarian theist.

Notice that I still believe I am both rationally and morally obligated to disagree with the divorce of justice from an act of God or else with the moral arbitrariness of a "just" act of God (which concept I consider to be a contradiction in terms anyway), even when the schism might appear to be in my favor! I reject the notion that God is being morally arbitrary to save me from sin; and I reject the notion that God is somehow being unjust or acting against the fulfillment of justice to save me from sin.

If I was a Muslim, this might be less of a problem for me. (Actually it wouldn't be less of a problem but I might not realize it; Muslim scholars being quite fond of appealing to inscrutability to protect its doctrines from critique. {s}) But I'm not. I'm an orthodox trinitarian theist.

Even if I was a mere monotheist, though, insofar as I taught (as PaulM demonstrated Calvin affirming) and professed that God does nothing amoral or arbitrarily moral or unreasonable, I could not coherently continue professing that while also claiming that God's salvation from sin was morally arbitrary, or claiming that God's salvation from sin has nothing to do with fulfilling justice (or even goes directly against the fulfillment of justice), or claiming that justice was in any way morally arbitrary; or implying (perhaps by accident as it may be) that reason and morality, in God, do not have fundamentally necessary connections.


Instead, precisely as an orthodox trinitarian theist, I affirm that salvation from sin is moral, rational and just; and I affirm that condemnation of sin (and thus of sinners insofar as we continue to insist on sinning) is also moral, rational and just. I affirm that these propositions are true of God; and I affirm that these propositions are also true in regard to humans, at least when we aren't busy sinning. {g} (However, if these particular propositions are not true of God then they cannot possibly be true of us, either.)

JRP

Paul Manata said...

Jason,

"but that God’s justice is only and merely whatever He wills."

Right, and I showed that wasn't the case.

I don't know how else to spell it out.

If Helm, Sudduth, Hays, and almost all Calvin scholars, nor my puny arguments convince you, what else should I do?

To me it seems almost self-evident that Calvin wasn't a voluntarist.

To point out that some things God might will would be unjust, as Calvin clearly states, seems to undercut your case.

Anyway, my use of Deut. 29:29 was used to show that there *are* secret things contrasted with revealed things.

This distinction is almost universal with theologians.

I locate the "reason" there. In the hidden council of God.

That explains, perfectly it seems to me, why I can argue that "the reason" (and Victor has been asking for more specific reasons than just any reason) is inscrutable . . . for now.

I really have no clue what your objection is.

You asked how *I* could have a reason the reason was inscrutable. I told you. I am convinced by my systematics. You aren't. That's fine. But you didn't ask me to convince *you* that *you* had a reason to view the reason as inscrutable, but how *I* could.

Thus, if the arguments in our systematics are correct, if my take on the matter is correct, I have fully answered you.

I am only trying to render the position internally consistent. I never had the illusion that people wouldn’t still have external critiques. Especially since many (maybe not you?) have a hatred for Calvin and Calvinism. Are morally repulsed by it, etc.

Thus, given the truth of my claims, Victor now has his answer. You and him may not be convinced, but I didn't think you would be.

steve said...

jason pratt said...

“Steve,__In effect what you've said is that:__1.) condemnation isn't morally arbitrary.__2.) salvation however is morally arbitrary.__3.) and neither condemnation nor salvation is rationally arbitrary.”

That’s an accurate summary as far as it goes. But you then proceed to take my usage out of context, although I carefully qualified my terms.

“Tends to put a schism between morality and reason (at least insofar as salvation goes).”

No schism between morality and reason. Rather, if God could do more than one just thing, then justice alone doesn’t dictate a particular course of action. God is rationally free, consistent with the aforesaid moral presupposition, to exercise discretion.

“Not if orthodox trinitarian theism is true (which I believe it is.)”

Yes, we know how you like to monopolize “orthodox Trinitarian theism,” as if only a universalist can lay claim to that title.

“Meanwhile, the distinction between elements 2 and 1, has to indicate a schism in intentions between condemnation and salvation.”

In the Biblical sense that God has a salvific intent for the elect, and a damnatory intent for the reprobate. Or, we could bracket Calvinism for the moment and just make the more general observation that since not everyone is heavenbound, God has a different intent for the heavenbound than he has for the hellbound. Eschatological destiny is the mirror-image of protological intent. God’s will is inferable from the outcome.

I’m quite comfortable with that “schism” because it’s a factual schism. This is how God has actually arranged the course of history.

I’m not going to abstractly postulate that such as schism is inelegant, and then confabulate a theological system like universalism to placate my aesthetic anxieties.

“At the very least, it means justice in one case (salvation) must be only morally arbitrary.”

Morally arbitrary in the sense that if everyone is a sinner, then God would be just in damning everyone. Conversely, no one is intrinsically entitled to salvation.

This is not the abnegation of justice. Rather, it takes the (logically) prior moral state of the elect or reprobate into account.

“Or possibly it means that justice has nothing to do with salvation from sin (or with condemnation of sin instead?)”

God saves the elect by redeeming the elect. Hence, justice is requited. And in that extrinsic sense, if you’re redeemed, then you are entitled to salvation—due to the vicarious atonement of your Redeemer. (As a Calvinist, I subscribe to special redemption.)

“I reject the notion that God is somehow being unjust or acting against the fulfillment of justice to save me from sin.”

This piggybacks on your distortion of my position. That’s because you’re not interested in explicating my actual position. Rather, you’re using what I said as a pretext to plug universalism.

“If I was a Muslim, this might be less of a problem for me. (Actually it wouldn't be less of a problem but I might not realize it; Muslim scholars being quite fond of appealing to inscrutability to protect its doctrines from critique. {s}) But I'm not. I'm an orthodox trinitarian theist.”

Now you’re demagoguing the issue. I carefully qualified my usage about divine inscrutability. You disregard my qualifications so that you can them attempt to besmirch my position through guilt-by-association.

Your final two paragraphs merely reiterate your previous caricature of what I actually said.

There’s a schism between your superior intellect and your unscrupulous conduct.

Paul Manata said...

Victor quotes Wesley before. I'll quote him again:

Deut. 29:29 The secret things - Having mentioned the amazing judgments of God upon the whole land and people of Israel, and foreseeing the utter extirpation which would come upon them for their wickedness, he breaks out into this pathetic exclamation, either to bridle their curiosity, who would be apt to enquire into the time and manner of so great an event; or to quiet his own mind, and satisfy the scruples of others, who perceiving God to deal so severely with his own people, when in the meantime he suffered those nations which were guilty of grosser atheism and idolatry, might thence take occasion to deny his providence or question the equity of his proceedings. To this he answers, that the ways and judgments of God, tho' never unjust, are often times hidden from us, unsearchable by our shallow capacities, and matter for our admiration, not our enquiry. But the things which are revealed by God and his word, are the proper object of our enquiries, that thereby we may know our duty, and be kept from such terrible calamities as these now mentioned.

Jason Pratt said...

Paul,

Sorry for the delay--submittals and drawings and quotes to be done at ‘work’ work.

Also, in advance, my previous comment could have been trimmed down substantially to better fit your previous comment, since much of it (I mean mine) was dealing with speculation on options that you in fact had clarified in your previous comment. i.e. what got posted was an early draft written on an as-I-went basis, which hadn’t been topically consolidated yet. Life-outside-posting intervened, though, so I posted an unconsolidated comment. That’s my fault, because it resulted in a comment that you shouldn’t have largely had to deal with. Sorry.


{{If Helm, Sudduth, Hays, and almost all Calvin scholars, nor my puny arguments convince you, what else should I do?}}

It’s one thing to say that God’s justice is not only and merely whatever He wills. It’s another thing to say what God’s justice is, and why. If you say there’s no why--then we’re back to it being only merely arbitrary.

Our problem isn’t that Calvinists don’t (sometimes) affirm that God’s justice is not only and merely whatever He wills; but that you don’t seem consistent about this under examination, especially when it comes to talking about soteriology. Steve being a case in point--why didn’t he get the memo that God’s morality isn’t arbitrary? Isn’t it a blatantly obvious tenet of Calvinism that God’s morality and justice are non-arbitrary and applicable to all God’s actions?


{{To point out that some things God might will would be unjust, as Calvin clearly states, seems to undercut your case.}}

This sentence could be read a number of different ways, and I don’t want to be unfair to what you meant to say.

If you meant that Calvin and I both agree that some propositions of what God might will, would be unjust, and therefore we can be sure that God doesn’t do those proposed actions, then that hardly undercuts ‘my case’, one way or another. (Whether either of us is theologically consistent in our application of that agreed position is another matter.)

If you meant that Calvin clearly states that we can expect God to possibly will something that would be unjust, then that definitely doesn’t undercut my case! (On the contrary it would mean Calvin clearly states elsewhere that God does unjust things. Which I’ve seen Calvinists defending occasionally.)

If you meant that Calvin clearly states that anything God might possibly will, whatever that might be, would necessarily be just if He did will it, even if it would be unjust until then, then again that definitely doesn’t undercut my case! (On the contrary, it would mean Calvin clearly states elsewhere that whatever God might do will be good if God does it. Which I’ve also seen Calvinists defending occasionally.)

I actually hope you meant the former. But I have seen Calvs trying to defend one or both of the latter two.


{{Anyway, my use of Deut. 29:29 was used to show that there *are* secret things contrasted with revealed things.}}

Which no one here was disputing; so you needn’t have wasted time establishing it. (As you note, the contrast between secret and revealed things is almost universal with thelogians. That includes Victor and I.)


{{I locate the "reason" there. In the hidden council of God.}}

Then, since the reason is secret, you might discover your interpretation in favor of the doctrine is wrong after all. You have absolutely no way to tell, one way or the other.

Put another way, if the reason is secret, then you don’t and can’t know the reason; and so you yourself can have no good reason to prefer a doctrine of hopeless reprobation (i.e., a ‘re-probation’ that isn’t a re-probation after all) instead of a doctrine of hope for a sinner’s salvation from sin.


{{You asked how *I* could have a reason the reason was inscrutable. [...] But you didn't ask me to convince *you* that *you* had a reason to view the reason as inscrutable, but how *I* could.}}

What I actually wrote in my first comment (which you seem to be referring to here) was: “If claim X is made about God, I want to know how X is to be distinguished from a mistake on the claimant's part. Is it an inference from evidence? Then human reasoning must be involved; and in principle I ought to be able to check the data and the validity (inductive or deductive or abductive, as it may be). Is it a mere assertion on the part of the claimant? Then I literally have no reason (insofar as the mere assertion itself goes) to accept it as true.

“If you claim, against a face value reading of Helms (for example), that this does not represent divine arbitrary voluntarism, but then you tell me that the actual reason is utterly inscrutable, I at least want to know your reason for claiming the reason to be utterly inscrutable. Otherwise I have no way of distinguishing that position-claim from a special-plead attempt at avoiding critique of the prior claim (that God does X but X is not merely arbitrary voluntarism as an action of God.)”
(Where ‘voluntarism’ is to be understood as arbitrary morality/justice by mere divine decree.)

Earlier in the same comment, in regard to what I called the “face value reading”, I had written, “The problem is that Helm's position is indistinguishable from arbitrary voluntarism; which of course is precisely why the defense is tried, that no this isn't voluntarism but we're simply incapable of understanding the reason. (If the reason was known to be merely 'because God does it', then that would be the same as affirming voluntarism!)” (Where ‘voluntarism’ is to be understood as etc.)

We’re still precisely back to what I was objecting to in my first comment: the reason that claims such as Helm’s don’t amount to merely arbitrary morality/justice, is a secret reason that cannot be understood by any human (at this time and/or ever), including the people trying to explain that Helm’s claim doesn’t amount to merely arbitrary morality/justice.

When that claim is matched up, as a defense of another claim, to an affirmation that God’s morality/justice is not arbitrary, then insofar as I agree with that affirmation (which I do) I have proportionately positive reason to reject the doctrine being defended against face-value charges of disaffirming the agreed position, where that defense involves appeal to a secret inscrutable reason for why the defended doctrine isn’t about arbitrary morality/justice after all.

In principle, I think secret inscrutable defenses against a charge that a position is mistaken, should be rejected as defenses. Otherwise we have no way of even identifying much less rejecting mistaken interpretations: any argument of identification could be annulled by appeal to some secret inscrutable reason.


Incidentally, in Wesley’s reference to the prophecy of Moses in Deut 29:29: Moses doesn’t comment that the hidden and unsearchable judgments of God are (despite their hidden unsearchability) matter for our admiration (though not for our inquiry). His comment is restricted to observing that the hidden things belong to God, but the revealed things belong “to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Maybe Wesley was thinking of another place where Moses said that? {shrug})

Moreover, the prophecy isn’t about utter extirpation, much less final extirpation--despite the imagery-language used before the end of chp 29 (where Israel’s coming punishment is compared to Sodom but worse, for example. A notion far from unique in either OT or NT scripture.) God immediately continues with the promise that if the punished people will repent (which He hopes the punishment will lead to) then they’ll be restored--even moreso than their fathers will have done before the punishment.

Not-incidentally, St. Paul understands the “command”, or word, rather, spoken of by Moses later in chapter 30 (involving the repentence and redemption of those who have been so hellishly punished; Wesley is correct about the langauge being extreme, at least), to be Christ Himself. Moses seems to have meant the Law. St. Paul goes further, to the source of salvation Himself, Whom no one needs go to the heavens to find, nor down into the abyss to bring up--or across the sea, in Moses’ language--but Who is near each of us, in our hearts and in our mouths. Christ Himself is the first of preachers Who brings the good news of salvation from sin.

Our place is to follow our Leader in this.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

{{That’s an accurate summary as far as it goes. But you then proceed to take my usage out of context, although I carefully qualified my terms.}}

The context can only develop the positions insofar as they’re accurate representations (which you agreed that they were). The other option would be for the context to demonstrate that my summary of your positions isn’t accurate.

{{No schism between morality and reason. Rather, if God could do more than one just thing, then justice alone doesn’t dictate a particular course of action.}}

He can choose to act toward saving a soul from sin, and He can choose to refuse to act toward doing this. These are mutually exclusive options (and especially so in Calvinism’s distinction between the elect and non-elect). If two mutually exclusive options in regard to the same object are both being presented as equally “just”, then we’re talking about ‘whatever God decides to do is just because God decides to do it’. Or possibly two completely different justices of God are being talked about; in which case it wouldn’t make much sense to say they are equally just.

Moreover, a claim that God is equally just to act toward saving or damning the same soul, has to mean that salvation is not morally arbitrary, if it doesn’t mean that justice is logically arbitary.


{{Yes, we know how you like to monopolize “orthodox Trinitarian theism,” as if only a universalist can lay claim to that title.}}

On the contrary, I’m hoping to appeal to your acceptance of that theism over against some other kind of theism. Rather like Calvinists have a tendency to appeal to acceptance of scriptural authority or acceptance of the doctrine of omnipotence. My point is that if you accept the numerous positions inherent in trinitarianism, there are corollaries which follow from that combination of numerous doctrinal positions. One of those corollaries is that salvation from sin is not morally arbitrary, for instance.

However, if between the two of us I’m the one who isn’t treating the specifically trinitarian characteristics of God as being incidental to soteriology, then you really don’t have anything to be complaining about: the proper answer is not that I am monopolizing trinitarian theism, but that you don’t believe trinitarianism has anything to do with salvation by God from sin.

I’ve claimed before (and can point to Victor’s recent link to WLC’s report of his debate against Louise Antony on objective morality, as yet another example), that Christian theologians have a habit of discussing morality and justice as if only supernaturalistic theism (or only theism per se??) had to be true. So, be clear: would the Calvinist understanding of God’s justice be equally viable for a Muslim or any other mere monotheist?

If the answer is ‘no’ (as I would answer in regard to Christian morality anyway, Calvinism notwithstanding), then stop complaining when I bring up trinitarian theism as the paradigm of God’s characteristics within which we should be seeking the doctrines of His justice.

If the answer is ‘yes’, on the other hand, then stop complaining about me “monopolizing” the position: if you refuse to take it yourself, in the discussion, you’re the one creating the monopoly by refusal. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain at all; but at least complain correctly, that those characteristics of God are irrelevant to soteriology if Calvinism is true. I mean if they are irrelevant to Calvinist soteriology.)


{{In the Biblical sense that God has a[n arbitrary] salvific intent for the elect, and a [non-arbitrary] damnatory intent for the reprobate.}}

The bracketed additions are relevant to elements 2 and 1 (respectively). You can deny that 2 is morally arbitrary; or correct that 1 is morally arbitrary, if you wish. Either move would (at least) remove the principle-schism I was talking about in the place you quoted me from.


{{Or, we could bracket Calvinism for the moment and just make the more general observation that since not everyone is heavenbound, God has a different intent for the heavenbound than he has for the hellbound.}}

I think you meant that the other way around: since God has a different intent for this person than that person, such that some are heavenbound and others are hellbound, then we can make the more general observation that not everyone is heavenbound. The way you wrote it, the logic would be Arminian of some kind (God ratifies the choices of sinners to love and practice their sinning.)

But maybe your point was that even Arminians would agree that God has two completely different intentions: to save sinners from sin, and to actively ensure (or passively ratify in the case of Arminianism) that sinners shall never repent and be saved from sin.

Which wouldn’t be exactly the schism I was pointing out between elements 1 and 2 (that was about condemnation being non-arbitary yet salvation being arbitrary.) But I would agree that Calvs and Arms both agree (in their own way) about this other schism of intention being true, in regard to sinners and sinning, too. {s}


{{God’s will is inferable from the outcome.}}

But the question is about the whether the outcome is being properly understood. Which is why I appeal to a not-intrinsically-inscrutable property-characteristic set of God’s, directly related (not-incidentally) to His most basic and eternally chosen action. I’m pretty sure this procedure is not entirely foreign in principle to Calv or Arm theologians, either!--that the outcome is inferrable from God’s will. (Or wills, I suppose you would say. {s})

{{I’m quite comfortable with that “schism” because it’s a factual schism.}}

I’m amazed that you can be comfortable with such a schism in God’s intentions, since there is nothing to distinguish your possible fate from any other sinner’s. You don’t really know your outcome yet; and anything you think you know about it could be God leading you into that misunderstanding for a secret inscrutable purpose of His. Those who did miracles and exorcisms in His name and cried to Him “Lord Lord” would most naturally have thought they were of the ‘elect’, too.

The persistance of God to save whom He chooses from sin, is a doctrine I heartily agree with, and which I frequently point out to Arminians is an essential one if we are to have any assurance about our own salvation from sin. But by absolutely dividing between the elect and non-elect as to whom God chooses to save from sin, and by bringing in secret inscrutable plans of God in the matter, you leave yourself no room to be assured that you’re one of those ‘elect’. Arminians at least believe that whoever they are, they can trust that God does intend to save them from sin; they at least can say they have a chance, whoever they are. If God gives up, well, at least He did give them a chance. But then, they don’t have assurance of salvation, either--because God might give up on them, the sinners.

The only thing I have not-to-be-comfortable-with, on the other hand, is my sins. {s} I can trust in God to intend to save me from sin, whoever I am; and I can trust in God to continually persist at this, whoever I am. I can also trust God to punish me, if that’s what it takes to lead me to repentence; and to not give up on punishing me, if that’s what it takes, too.

Not-incidentally, I don’t have to have a schism in God’s intentions, either. {g}


{{I’m not going to abstractly postulate that such as schism is inelegant, and then confabulate a theological system like universalism to placate my aesthetic anxieties.}}

Would you bother to placate any coherency anxieties, though, if you recognized incoherencies in your theology (rather than only abstractly postulating that something is incoherent)? Or would you reply that God, according to your theological system, is schismatically incoherent, so the most true theology could only be expected to be incoherent, too? Or that God is coherent but the most true theology, that which is most right-seeming (i.e. ‘orthodox’) in speaking of God, could only be expected to be incoherent?

I have zero concern about elegance per se, or aesthetics. If my theology isn’t coherent, though, then I have no way to distinguish it from a mistake (which will be necessarily incoherent somewhere). Consequently, when I detect incoherencies in my beliefs and teachings, I seek their correction. That obligation is, I believe, part of being true to the Truth.

{{[Salvation from sin is m]orally arbitrary in the sense that if everyone is a sinner, then God would be just in [non-arbitrarily] damning everyone.}}

Except that by your own admission those are two completely different senses of ‘justice’. We’re talking about the same object here, Sinner X. If he isn’t intrinsically entitled to salvation from sin, he isn’t intrinsically entitled to be not-saved from sin, either--if the same justice is being applied one way or the other.

But then, it isn’t supposed to be about Sinner X’s intrinsic character anyway. It’s suppose to be about God’s intrinsic character. You want to have it both ways: that God’s intrinsic character is such that salvation from sin is only arbitrary, and that His character is such that refusing to save from sin is non-arbitrary.

I can certainly imagine one kind of God-character whose character is such that intrinsically he is wrath and only arbitrarily shows love every once in a while (not even ‘when circumstances warrant’). I protest however that such a ‘god’ is not the God Who is intrinsically love; moreover that such a ‘god’ is not and cannot be a self-begetting/self-begotten eternally coherent interpersonal relationship.

A God Who is love, must be at least two Persons in a coherent (and single-substance) relationship with each other. And a God Who is love will not be arbitrary either in love or in wrath; but His wrath will itself be an expression of His love to the object, acting toward fulfillment of that love, later if not sooner.

Even Calvinists admit that God can and does set aside wrath--which He couldn’t do if He was intrinsically wrath (assuming the latter was even possible, which I don’t believe to be true). The same goes with His love, though: if He sets aside and/or refuses to fulfill His love toward an object, even in His wrath, then He cannot be intrinsically love.


{{This is not the abnegation of justice. Rather, it takes the (logically) prior moral state of the elect or reprobate into account.}}

And how is justice fulfilled by ensuring that those who are unjust can never possibly be just themselves? If God refuses to act toward that, then He is in fact abnegating justice. (Or perhaps simply negating it.) Those who act against the hope for justice are sinners!--which is precisely why the unjust are punished as workers of in-equity (i.e. injustice).


{{God saves the elect by redeeming the elect. Hence, justice is requited. And in that extrinsic sense, if you’re redeemed, then you are entitled to salvation—due to the vicarious atonement of your Redeemer.}}

You seem to be leaving out some details in that description, though:

God saves from sin those whom He chooses to save from sin by redeeming those whom He chooses to save from sin. (Whatever ‘redeeming’ is supposed to mean here.) Hence, justice is fulfilled, in the case of those whom He chooses to save from sin. (Whereas the exact same justice would be fulfilled by God not-redeeming those whom He chooses not to save from sin? Or a different justice? Re-equity can hardly be said to have been achieved if God acts to ensure that doers of inequity will never themselves be sinners no longer: no ‘requital’ there.) And in that extrinsic sense, if you’re redeemed (chosen to be saved from sin? saved from sin by redemption already?), then you are entitled to salvation from sin—due to the vicarious atonement of your Redeemer.

It looks like you mean, by ‘redemption’, ‘chosen to be saved from sin’--otherwise one could hardly be entitled to salvation in that extrinsic sense. And such a term usage has some real Biblical grounding; a person chooses to free a slave, or to free a captive, or to confer the inheritance on a child, or in other fashions to ‘raise up’ the object of the redemption.

So far, despite my parenthetical questions, I don’t actually have any objection to your position as stated; I wouldn’t probably use the same terms in every case, but I can affirm just as completely as you do, that God chooses to save sinners from sin, and that it isn’t by some intrinsic worth of ours but by His grace (extrinsic to us--or put another way whatever intrinsic worth we have depends upon His extrinsic grace); moreover that justice is very obviously requited by His doing so, because re-equity has been achieved--when we no longer are sinners then we shall be fair, equitable, just, instead of unfair, unequitable, unjust. And again, the choice of God is what entitles us (extrinsically) to salvation. I would only add that this choice of God is, like any other action of God, an outworking and expression of His love. (But then, being an orthodox trinitarian theist, I understand and affirm that God is love; which means I don’t turn around later and try to get rid of the implications of that.) Consequently, while the salvation is freely chosen and given and enacted by God, it is neither morally nor rationally arbitrary; any more than the Two Great Commandments (love God, love our neighbor) are morally or rationally arbitrary.

But then, my position doesn’t require me to go on to try to call the salvation of sin morally arbitrary by comparison with condemnation of sin. {s}

Meanwhile, atonement is at-one-ment, or reconciliation. Is God supposed to be reconciling Himself to Himself? Then God, or one of the Persons of God, is a rebel sinner!This I vehemently reject. The reconciliation must be between God and sinners, as well as between sinners and their victims (under God), so that the Two Great Commandments shall be kept and fulfilled. The Son vicariously acts in representation of the Father, toward at-one-ment with sinners, by submitting to death at the hands of sinners on the cross; what sinners must undergo as penalty, God Himself undergoes as well, not as penalty, but in solidarity with even sinners.

I don’t deny, therefore, that the Son acts vicariously in representation of sinners, too, in some fashion; but I do deny that this is, or can be, any primary function or expression of the atonement. The Son must primarily be representing the Father--the Son does not show us what sinners do, but does whatever He sees the Father doing. In doing so He is the express revelation of the Father to us. (All three Persons reveal each other to us, in their various ways, come to think of it. {s})


{{As a Calvinist, I subscribe to special redemption.}}

Which, if I understand you correctly, is another way of saying that as a Calvinist you subscribe to a soteriology of non-election. Anti-soteriology, so to speak: against salvation from sin.

As an orthodox unversalist, on the other hand, I am against being against salvation from sin. {s} Being against salvation from sin, on the contrary, is the kind of attitude I have when I am being a sinner--kinda goes with the territory there. Whereas, I can still be a sinner and be quite vividly in favor of salvation from punishment, or from God’s wrath, or from God Himself (perhaps especially that one), or various other things of that sort.


{{That’s because you’re not interested in explicating my actual position. Rather, you’re using what I said as a pretext to plug universalism.}}

If your actual position is that you reject the notion that God is somehow being unjust or acting against the fulfillment of justice to save me from sin, then we have no disagreement there; which I am quite glad for. {s!}

But then we have to stick to it. And speaking as someone who holds the position stated, I wouldn’t have tried to say that salvation from sin was morally arbitrary in any sense.


{{I carefully qualified my usage about divine inscrutability.}}

So did PaulM; but he ended up with what I was objecting to in my first comment: a defense that X-doctrine isn’t a mistake, that relies on appeal to an inscrutably secret reason for X-doctrine to be true.

To be fair, though, I didn’t recall your comment having anything to do with inscrutability; the remark you’re complaining about here was aimed more at Paul, who had been specifically discussing it. But there was no way for you to realize that, I guess. My fault, not yours.

That being said, I will here recall my question regarding whether the Calvinist understanding of God’s justice would work just as well under Islam. I don’t mean that as guilt-by-association, necessarily; there are plenty of doctrinal stances that would work just as well for mere monotheism as for trinitarian theism (otherwise the two would be completely different). But I do want to know if you think that a Calvinist understanding of justice and salvation from sin are among that set.

JRP

Bert Power said...

CSL on Voluntarism from The Poison of Subjectivism:

...If we once grant that our practical reason is really reason and that its fundamental imperatives are as absolute and categorical as they claim to be, then unconditional allegiance to them is the duty of man. So is absolute allegiance to God. And these two allegiances must, somehow, be the same. But how is the relation between God and the moral law to be represented? To say that the moral law is God's law is no final solution. Are these things right because God commands them or does God command them because they are right? If the first, if good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the 'righteous Lord'. If the second, then we seem to be admitting a cosmic diarchy, or even making God Himself the mere executor of a law somehow external and antecedent to His own being. Both views are intolerable.

At this point we must remind ourselves that Christian theology does not believe God to be a person. It believes Him to be such that in Him a trinity of persons is consistent with a unity of Deity. In that sense it believes Him to be something very different from a person, just as a cube, in which six squares are consistent with unity of the body, is different from a square. (Flatlanders, attempting to imagine a cube, would either imagine the six squares coinciding, and thus destroy their distinctness, or else imagine them set out side by side, and thus destroy their unity. Our difficulties about the Trinity are of much the same kind.) It is therefore possible that the duality which seems to force itself upon us when we think, first, of our Father in Heaven, and, secondly of the self evident imperatives of the moral law, is not a mere error but a real (though inadequate and creaturely) perception of things that would necessarily be two in any mode of being which enters our experience, but which are not so divided in the absolute being of the superpersonal God. When we attempt to think of a person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it we are compelled to think of Him as either making it in conformity to some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it arbitrarily by a sic volo, sic jubeo (in which case He would be neither good nor wise). But it is probably just here that our categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories--ambulavi in mirabilibus supra me. But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it never could have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being between these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share the unity of their self-caused life. God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.