Aaron: Welcome to Everyday Theology where we don’t tell you what to believe or why to believe it, but rather explore our Christian beliefs and why they matter for us in relation to God, to creation, and to others. My name is Aaron Ross.
Welcome to Everyday Theology Season Two, and to start off Season Two we have a bit of a special and it’s a two-parter at that. In this two-parter we have Drs. Chris Green and Tom Oord discussing open-theism together, and why the theories of classic or open theism, why they matter to us as Christians today and what we can do with them as a part of our spirituality and as a part of our engagement with the world around us. So buckle up, here we go, Season Two is underway and we’re excited for what we have in store for you this season.
All right so this is the beginning of Season Two of Everyday Theology, and for Season Two we had some ideas of what would be the best way to start this next season, and even though we’ve got a lot of great guests that are going to be coming up, I thought there was no better way than to bring two people back from Season One who we paired their ideas off from each other a little bit in separate podcasts. They’re some of the most loved podcasts that we’ve put out, so I
am super excited to have back with me Tom Oord and Chris Green to talk about God, and sovereignty, and about what this all looks like in relation to how God engages with the world. So Tom and Chris thank you so much for being with me again.
Tom: Hey, my pleasure.
Chris: Yeah, same here I’m excited about it. I consider Tom a friend and I consider you a friend so I’m glad to be here. Hopefully, that’s still true after tonight!
Aaron: I like being friends with both of you. It makes me feel good to have friends who are a lot smarter than I am, which is really not hard to come by. Tom if we can start here, I think one of the best things, and we were just talking about it before we even hit the record button, but maybe help our listeners from your perspective think about, or talk about why is it important that we think about how God engages with creation and humanity, and why you might want to say that God’s love is uncontrolling, or God can’t do certain things.
Tom: I think most people who believe in God, in fact a lot of people who don’t believe in God
struggle with the question that we oftentimes call the problem of evil. That is, why does there seem to be pointless pain, unnecessary suffering, genuine evil in our lives and in the world?
If God is perfectly loving, loves everyone and everything and God is powerful, then why wouldn’t a loving God prevent the crap that happens in our lives and in the world? I’m not just talking about pain in general, I’m talking about things that just don’t make any sense: pointless pain, horrific suffering, the kinds of things that not only keep people from believing there is a God, but those of us who do believe in God are wondering “Why in the world doesn’t God prevent those?”
I wrote a book not long ago called God Can’t which you kind of refer to and my view is that God simply can’t control anyone or anything. Before I go into the details of that I should just say that
this view is one that many people who are survivors of trauma, victims of evil, is a view they find
profoundly helpful and reassuring. I get letters every week from readers who’ve expressed their thanks for the book. Last night I got a Facebook note from someone I thought I would read, it’s just a few sentences. This woman wrote: “I started listening to your audiobook,” she’s here referring to the questions and answers for God Can’t audiobook that just came out, but she’d also read God Can’t previously. “I started listening to your audiobook last night. My twelve-year-old son has been sleeping in our room since the lockdown because he’s scared of the dark again. He was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a second grader. After about 15 minutes of listening to your audio book he said this: ‘Mom, I’m not a Christian anymore, but the God he describes is the one I can get behind.” I get lots of those kinds of notes that say some people return to faith, other people were in massive confusion, some people have walked away from faith, but now they have a different kind of faith. What they share in common is their appreciation for an idea of a God who really acts in the world, who’s real, but who simply can’t control anyone because of God’s uncontrolling love.
Aaron: Which is definitely a major concern. At the time of this recording I saw another post from someone who’s kind of big in the, at least they were for a time big in the Christian world and the Christian music and art world who posted that one of the reasons that they left their faith was that exact problem. They just couldn’t get behind a God that allowed such evil to exist within the world. It’s an old question that we’ve yet to really provide for so many people a sufficient answer other than just “Well who can know the mind of God?” “Who are you to say that God should do something or shouldn’t do something?” So I definitely think it’s a huge issue for a lot of people. Definitely after your last podcast came out the amount of people that even said that to me, that said this makes so much more sense, how I can actually love God or think about God in this way brings a lot a lot more reason to the suffering. Maybe not even reason, but just a lot more comfort in the suffering that I have had and I think that can be a really helpful way. But I know that Chris has a bit of a different view and so Chris if you wouldn’t mind telling us what your concerns are in terms of why you think this topic is really important, and where your kind of main crux is.
Chris: I, like Tom, I think theology needs to grapple with the problem of evil and I don’t think we can answer it ultimately. But I think we always need to keep that question in our hearing and then whatever we say we need to say it with that in view. The suffering, the unjust, meaningless, worthless abuses, and oppression, and corruption, and all that is so sick in our world. I think
theology has to be done in earshot of all that, in earshot of those cries. So I think Tom and I are on the same page there. I think for me the primary theological point is there a message of hope in which we can intelligibly say God can do something about this? So I think, and again I really don’t want to put words in Tom’s mouth so he should correct me here, but maybe a way to
characterize the difference is something like this. I think Tom’s approach is about the present moment. Why is God not keeping these things from happening? And he offers an answer to that. What I’m primarily concerned with is the future moment, the what in Christian theology is the Eschatological Moment in which God makes all things right. So theologically, for me,
that’s the true north. We need to be able to tell this story, talk about these things in ways that make that kind of claim intelligible. So Tom, is that fair? Or no is that not quite what you’re doing?
Tom: Well I think the question of hope is profoundly important and the theology I propose does have a hope in which God, what’d you say, makes things right? But the way that God makes things right is not in a kind of controlling or unilateral way.
Chris: So I think we’re agreed on that. I guess what I’m asking is, do you think for you the primary theological question “Why does God not stop evil from happening now?” Is that fair or is that just one of the concerns? I mean again I really don’t want to print on you.
Tom: Yeah that’s fair. Let me put it really starkly that might even make some of your listeners uncomfortable. I don’t want to go to heaven if God is a God who could have stopped the evil now and chose not to do so. In other words, people who say “Well we don’t understand why God doesn’t stop evil now, but we know in heaven we’ll find out.” or “God will fix it all then.” I just don’t want to go to a place in which a God who could have stopped the crap that happens now decided not to.
Chris: I actually agree, but I think I think probably theologically where we differ is our concept of divine being in relation to time. Like it’s probably a deep deep kind of, what do you call it, I wish I could think of a term that’s on the tip of my tongue, but anyway I think it’s probably a deep theological, metaphysical difference because I actually agree. I actually think it’s a mistake to talk about God allowing anything. I think that’s already a theological mistake, but for me, I guess to put it historically as you did but in my own frame is to say, I don’t want to live now if there’s no hope of a God who can actually make right what has gone wrong. So for me, theologically what I’m driven by is, what does it look like intelligibly, coherently to talk about a God who is not allowing evil now and in the end will be shown to have always been against it and capable of
overcoming it? That’s what I’m trying to do, trying to get said.
Aaron: I think if I can maybe pare it down a little bit for our listeners and weed through the kind big picture maybe is to say something like this. In so many ways both of you have expressed this desire of who God is, should be, or maybe who we understand God to be within, whether it’s scripture, or experience, or tradition, or any of those things, but why I think to some degree we might ask the question, “Why are we asking this of God?” I can in some sense hear someone say “Well who are either of you? Who am I, Aaron, to look at God and say this must be who God is?” or” I don’t want that God!” I don’t know who to go on that question, but it was just the one that came to mind.
Tom: A passage of scripture I’m guessing a lot of your listeners know is the one in which it says we ought to give an account of the hope that we have within us. I think it’s part of the Christian’s responsibility to give a witness to the God that Christian believes in. It doesn’t mean the Christian knows everything about God, I certainly don’t want to claim that, but I also think the claim that we just got to believe whatever people have told us the Bible tells us, the tradition tells us, my pastor tells us, my grandma tells us, that kind of blind faith in something or someone that doesn’t have any sort of personal responsibility or personal thinking. I’m against that kind of approach to living the Christian life. I think we really do have to wrestle with the big questions of what kind of God exists if there is a God, and we’re not going to always come down on the same page. Chris and I don’t on the question of God’s relation to time apparently, but I think it’s just part of the responsibility of being a Christian to work through those issues as best one can.
Chris: I agree, and I think it’s specifically the responsibility of people called to be theologians on behalf of the church. So I think theologians are people God has called to think with and for other people on their behalf and in intercession for them. It’s where Tom started with the testimonies he received about how his work is helping people, how God is at work in his work to bring peace and confidence to people. I think that’s why theologians do their work, and when I say what I say about “I don’t want,” it isn’t about, of course God isn’t someone I’m making. I mean that’s
clearly not the point. What I mean is, I think a more precise statement was “I don’t want any theology that suggests God is not capable.” So what the way that Tom and our framing it is about God, really what we mean is we don’t want a theology that says God is like this. I think that at some existential level it’s also true that if God turns out to be like that, it would trouble me too. So I think that there’s probably another level of which what Tom said and what I said is exactly right. What I mean is C.S. Lewis in his Grief Observed… so his wife dies, they had thought by the way for those who don’t know this, C.S. Lewis married a woman because she was about to be, she was a divorcee, and she was about to be taken back to the states. Her immigration status had changed and he married her so she could stay with her kids in the UK. And then he fell in love with her, and then she had cancer and then his priest came and prayed for her and she got healed. Then she got sick again and died and he wrote a little book called The Grief Observed about it. And he talked about how, there are a few famous lines in it, one of them is about how Mary and Martha must have grieved so much more the second time that Lazarus died. The other is that what he fears is not that God does not exist, but that God is evil.
What this experience had left him feeling was not that there is no God but, that God is a monster. And I know no one of your listeners is going to take that seriously, but for most of human history, people have believed that gods are monsters. I mean that’s not a new idea that there are powerful beings who don’t wish us good. And in that sense, if that were true, if there were beings in outer space who didn’t wish our good, I would hope I would resist them if they’re evil. So I think in that kind of sci-fI sense, I think it’s true, but I think the more narrow kind of down-to-earth sense is I don’t want any theology that makes God complicit with evil in any way,
for any reason. Let me just say this to be clear, not just suffering, evil of any kind. I want to say, we need to say it, so that God is not in any way condoning, allowing, using evil at all. And of course including horrific evils like the ones Tom was describing earlier.
Aaron: Which if I can, I don’t want to throw a red herring in here by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s true to me, to some degree that’s the main reason why in studying both some Reformed theology and other theology that I could never say, I could never be okay with the acceptance of Reformed theology for what it makes of God. I was more concerned about what it made of God and how God interacted with creation than whether I wanted that. I guess it directly influenced whether I wanted that God and when I saw this creation of how it created this God from my kind of theological understanding, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And thankfully there are other venues, there are other ways of thinking about God biblically, theologically that don’t require God to send people willingly or purposefully to hell or to do that as some kind of test case for his glory, and therefore I could keep going, theologically studying, but I think this conversation that we’re having is somewhat to that point. Who is God to us as people in our moments of suffering or in our moments of profound evil being kind of put upon us
whether by natural forces or unnatural forces Who is God to us in that moment and how do we actually relate with God? And I think that’s the thing that many people just kind of make blanket statements about God. “Well if God allowed this then there must not be a God,” or “If God allowed this, God must be evil,” or “If God was God, he would have fixed it immediately for me.”
To my understanding, those kinds of perceptions typically force God into something that God is not, rather than asking where God is within those moments.
Tom: I think there’s going to be theological assumptions that are at play. Even the way you’ve just addressed it kind of shows your hand. You said how God’s going to be present in those moments. Well that’s kind of a way of saying you think God is present in the midst of suffering,
not causing or allowing it. Well, I happen to agree with you on that, but that’s an assumption that you are, I think, placing on the table that we need to examine to see what are the advantages and disadvantages. A lot of theologians today want to talk about a God who suffers with us in the midst of our pain, and I’m totally on board with that, it’s just that a lot of those folks also
continue to have a view of God’s power that says that God could have prevented that pain in the first place had God wanted to. And to me that’s not a picture of a loving God, that’s back to the God allowing evil kind of idea. So I’m not against what you’re saying, I just think everybody’s got theological assumptions they bring to the table, and we ought to just lay them out there and examine them and ask what we think is positive or negative. What are the advantages and disadvantages? And we’re not all going to agree, but perhaps in the process we can make some progress towards some clarity, some better ways of living something that’s more, we think, is more biblically sound or consonant. Some kind of progress like that.
Chris: I agree and I think I would say too that just the process itself can be holy. It can be a prayerful experience. Just the very process itself, and I mean in terms of where disagreement is itself a way, I wrote a paper a few years ago for the Wesleyan Theological Journal “A Theology of Disagreement,” and one of the things I tried to argue in there is that God is capable of surprising God, and that therefore we should see our disagreements as an opportunity for that divine surprise to to emerge. If we engage it, and I don’t mean that in some kind of cheap way, I think disagreements are real and they need to be taken seriously, and some of them are critical, but I still think there’s a way to live with those disagreements, even the critical ones, in ways that open us up to God and I think even if we never quite get there, to an explanation that we all are satisfied with, just the wrestling is itself already a sanctified moment, or can be.
Tom: I agree. I’m thinking from the perspective of someone listening to this podcast and thinking “Boy, they’re sure on the same page on a lot of this stuff. When are they going to disagree?” So how about…
Chris has already pointed to one disagreement, and that would be, I think, Chris and I have a different view of God’s relation to time. I’m an open theist who thinks that God experiences time moment by moment, sequentially, and I don’t know exactly how Chris would characterize himself, but I think it’s not that. I didn’t listen to all of Chris’s response podcast from last season, but I listened to the first quarter or third or so, and he characterizes my view in a particular way, and I don’t think he gets me right so let me place something on the table here that’s at least quasI debating.
Chris: I like it. I like it a lot, this is really helpful.
Tom: Chris says about me at the beginning of the podcast, again I didn’t listen to the whole thing so maybe he changes his mind near the end, but he talks about me as dealing with the question of whether or not God can control us, and then he says that I think God can’t have
anything to do with whatever we’re doing. It’s entirely ours and not at all God’s unquote. And then he says I’m reacting against the model that says God breaks in and does 100% of the work, which that’s true, but then he says Tom says it’s the other way around that it’s a hundred percent of us until we choose to let God in. So my view is not that. My view, oh I should say also one other thing and it’s also this conversation’s kind of in the context of whether or not God and Creation are in competition. So my view as a relational theologian is that God never does 100% of whatever happens in the world. That would be God controlling to use my language, or being a sufficient cause to use philosophical language, and also that you and I and any creation can never act and do 100% of what happens. So I would say God is a necessary cause in everything that occurs in the world. So it’s never 100% one or the other. Now the question then becomes, okay well if it’s always both God and us, then what kind of responsibility does anyone have? And so here I’m kind of, I think I’m fairly traditional from the Wesleyan tradition that says that God acts first and empowers our response prevenient grace, and in our response we can cooperate with what God wants to have done in that particular moment, or we can fail to cooperate, we can sin, and there’s other options here depending on how you think of non-agents and natural the world but I’ll just leave it at that point for now. So I don’t like the idea of any time creatures doing 100% of the work or God doing 100% of the work, but I do think that sometimes we can credit God for things because God is the primary cause and creation cooperated with God. But when we say if we do “God did x,” we should never mean that God alone brought it to to account. There’s always some kind of creaturely factor. And if we say “The creature did x,” we should never say it was totally 100% nature or the creature acting, but we can say that the creature cooperated well with God or did not cooperate well with God. So let me stop there and see what you think about that Chris.
Chris: So I think I should have been clear, and I did try to in that podcast to say that I don’t want to misrepresent you, so I’m glad you’re getting a chance to clear that up. And I want to hear what you’re saying and I, this one I’ve read a couple of books. Ken Archer and I are really good
friends and he’s also read Reggie pretty well, and so a lot of these there may be a case where I’m hearing Ken’s view in your view, and there may be a case where I’m just misunderstanding, so I’m completely open to that, but what I meant in that statement that you quoted is really hard to articulate, and I’m not sure I did it well then, and I’m not sure I’ll do it well now. That is I’m arguing for a non-competitive view that sees God never making anything happen as a sufficient cause. One of the things I think I said in that podcast, but certainly something that’s central to me is that I don’t think God causes things. God creates. I don’t think God is a cause in that sense at all of anything. I think God creates, and that’s an altogether different thing from anything we know, that we cause things, we create in one way. God’s creation is something entirely other and so this is too simple, but just for the sake of conversation, what I’m advocating, I think, is something really close to what you’re saying. But once kind of from a distance they look very very similar, but up close I think they’re really pretty radically different, and I think it’s about, you several months ago now you put out on your blog, this is what I was thinking about by the way in that moment when I made that statement, you put out a blog in which you kind of sketched a few models of God’s agency, and you were talking about your essentially kenotic model right and distinguishing that from, among other things, God is kind of the one who causes everything that happens, but also distinguishing yourself, as I understood it at least maybe I just misread the model, as saying something even more radical than “God is self-limited,” that, and this is where I think what you’re saying is different from what Ken is saying so again I might be misrepresenting him. Aaron you’ll have to have Ken on to to correct my reading of him, this could go on forever, but as I understand Ken’s approach, Ken Archer is saying something like “God limits himself. He chooses for the sake of our freedom not to do everything he can do.” And you, and I think rightly, you say that that won’t work. We have to say something about not something God has chosen to do, but something that’s essential to who God is. First of all because we can’t distinguish what God does from who God is, that’s already a theological mistake, and I think you’re 100% right about that. I think where you and I part is at that point, because I think that God does not limit himself at all. He is essentially Kenotic, but I think of kenosis not as emptying, but as filling. So when I think of Philippians 2 and just the theology of kenosis I don’t think of the cup that’s empty after the water’s been poured out, I think of it as the water being poured in. The act of pouring is the kenosis, and this leads me to a theology of theosis right, that salvation is the work of God filling all of Creation with himself and therefore, I think everything that happens creaturely happens because God is filling it with himself. And creatures are either, as you say, they’re either yielding to that or resisting that, and yet what’s coming from God is always the same overflow. It’s always the same pouring out of his
own life. And what we mean by the Eschaton is the event at which that becomes decisive for all of creation. It’s the moment in which that pouring out and creation’s receptivity are matched.
And I’ll let you respond to that. I mean maybe that starts to get at some of the differences. So what I meant, by the way just to be clear, so what I meant when I said where you and I disagree is you think that that’s not about us at all, what I meant is I think when I will anything good, whatever it is, to forgive or to take correction or to help someone who’s in need, that actually what I’m doing is coming into alignment with the emptying of God, with the filling up of my life of God. I’m just stepping into the flow of who God is and that to me means that anything that’s a hundred percent me, truly mine, is by definition 100% God’s because it’s only God in his fullness that could enable me in my fullness. I mean to live in my form. Sorry, so I went on for a while there, but hopefully that starts to show you a little bit of what I’m trying to say.
Tom: Yeah that does help. I think some ways we’re a lot closer than I thought we were until that 100% thing at the end, but I’ll come back to that. I’m not of the opinion that God voluntarily self-limits some, I don’t know where Ken is on that, but some open-theists are in that view and you’ve rightly characterized me as not. One of the things that I don’t do is I don’t translate kenosis as self-emptying, I translate it as self-giving others empowering which sounds pretty close to what you do, so we’re closer to that one than I realized. Theosis, yeah that I like, there’s obviously a number of ways to think about theosis. I don’t think of it as us becoming literally divine, but I think of it as, I like your language of aligning with what God wants, so we’re on the same page there. One place we differ is I’m comfortable saying God is a cause, never a sufficient cause, and I think saying “God creates” is analogous to saying “we create”, so I’m not willing to accept God from the metaphysical causal category.
Chris: There’s our difference right? That’s what I thought it was, and I think that’s exactly it. I don’t think of God as a being in the realm of existing things who has an influence. So for me God is beyond and under and around all of that, the source and the guide and the goal of all of that. So that, I think that right there is where our difference is.
Tom: Are you a Thomist by chance?
Chris: I’m a Thomist via Robert Jensen. So Robert Jensen is a Lutheran, ecumenical theologian. So I mean there’s not a Thomist in the world that would accept me as one of theirs, but essentially what I’m doing is I’m using Thomist language to affirm, which I don’t think it’s just Thomist so a Maximus Confessor is my other major kind of figure here that I’d think in that line of pseudo-dionysius, Gregor, Misa, Origin, and then I think Maximus is kind of the culmination of all that. The God who’s beyond being, the God who’s not, and in that way, that’s where I think Thomas and where I am Thomist, even though again the Thomists wouldn’t have me. So yeah you’re exactly right about that. Let me give a specific example and see how you would respond to this right, so I often give this example as a way of showing how what I’m saying works in the world. If someone suffers something horrific, let’s go back to the boy you mentioned the woman, the mother who wrote to you, did she give his name, or I don’t know if you’re comfortable with sharing it anyway, but let’s say that boy’s name is his Michael, let’s go Michael. Let’s say your name is Mike. I think there’s a version out there of Christian theology and theodicy more narrowly that wants to tell Michael “God allowed this to happen to you because he’s got something down the line he wants to make from it. So if 20 years from now Michael starts a ministry for abused children, I think a lot of us are tempted to say “Oh, that’s why God allowed it. God allowed it because he was going to make good out of it.” I’m on the record in sermons and podcasts and in academic works saying I think that’s absolutely aberrant. I don’t think that we can say that at all without making God responsible for the evil, and because the thing is, God doesn’t need any of that. If I’m right about who God is, if Christian tradition is right about God being omnipotent truly, then he doesn’t need anything to bring about any good. He can create from nothing, so he doesn’t even need our good to bring about good, much less evil. He doesn’t need a father to bring about the birth of Jesus and Mary, and as Jesus himself says he could raise up sons of Abraham from these stones. So he doesn’t need this good, much less evil, to bring about the good that he wants. So what I want to say instead is if Michael grows up and starts a ministry for these abused children, that’s because at that point in his life the fullness
of God has healed Michael to the point that it becomes clear that God was always against the evil, that Michael’s life is now bearing out witness to the fact that God was against the evil always at every point, in every way on Michael’s behalf, and that God will continue to be until
God is all in all, until this eschatological event that we’re awaiting, that we hope for. It brings that fullness about. So how would you tell that story? Because, again, I think it’s similar to what you
would say, but there are differences too that I don’t want to miss.
Tom: We both agree that God never wanted what happened to Michael, that God was always against evil, to use your language, that it wasn’t some part of some mysterious plan that twenty years later when he does something great, God had it all worked out in advance. But we would differ, I think, God needs Michael. So I don’t think God can get the job done in terms of making love flourish unless we cooperate. So I have no problem saying there are certain needs, that God has to overcome evil, and God needs our cooperation. So if Michael becomes that, what I can’t remember exactly how you characterize them, some sort of virtuous person, I say well Michael cooperated or, to use your language, Michael chose in various ways to come into alignment with what God wanted. If Michael doesn’t end up having, this is a bad situation because Michael’s a victim of something that someone did to him, but let’s say it’s an example of Mike being the perpetrator of evil, I’m going to say in that case, well Michael didn’t cooperate with God, and therefore the good that God wanted to see couldn’t have been done because God needed his cooperation.
Chris: So let me let me just fire a couple questions at you and you can rapidly get back. One is the reason I can’t go there, because I think that what you’re proposing, this is what I’ve said to Ken many times and to Aaron I think, I said it on that podcast. I think that what if you’re going to kind of own an open-theist view in which God is in continuity with the world in that sense, which God is one cause among others, I think that you’re essentially saying the best thing that can be said, at least the thing closest to what my heart would be, maybe that’s the better way to say it. I think you’re saying what’s closest to my heart. But I don’t know how to reconcile that with God creating, in the first place, which had nothing to do with us in terms of our cooperation, and most of all, even more importantly, I don’t see how to reconcile that with an eschatological hope
in which God actually makes wrongs right. I believe the hope of the Gospel is that God is going to keep working until all wrongs are made right, not just those who did wrong reconciled to those
they wronged, but all wrong things actually altered in some way. And I don’t know how that’s possible if God depends upon us. I don’t know how he creates in the first place, and I don’t know how he brings about that. So how does the creation happen without cooperation? How does eschaton happen without cooperation?
Tom: Okay, so I’m gonna say three things if that’s alright. First creation, eschatology, and then I want to go back to God being a cause among other causes and my criticism, I don’t know about of you, but of Thomistic views. So I reject creation out of nothing. I think God’s always been creating everlastingly, and God creates in one moment out of that which God created in a previous moment. Now it is true that we are created against our own will, I mean that’s Heidegger right? We’re thrown into the world our parents… yeah we didn’t we didn’t say you know “I think i’ll get my parents together to have sex so that people will be born.”
Chris: I really think this is an important point that I think will change the way you say what you say next. Just to be clear I don’t think of creation as a violation of will. This is where I think Heidegger is wrong. I think creation is what establishes the possibility of our will. Creation is good, it is what makes good possible. That’s that’s what I’m arguing right now, not that God does what he does sometimes in spite of us, but that everything good is sourced from God. So I just want to make that clear that I’m not advocating…
Tom: Yeah, I’m totally on board with that. I think the point with creation out of nothing comes back to how we want to think God is causally active. If god can bring something out of
absolutely nothing, you and I can’t do that, and that creates certain obstacles to, I think, overcoming the problem of evil. Go back to our Michael example. If God can instantaneously create something out of nothing, why didn’t God do that to stop the sexual abuse he endured? So we have I think of some different views of creation that probably stem from different metaphysical assumptions. In terms of eschatology, we both have the hope that God can overcome evil, but I do think you’re asking of God something that my view can’t do, and that is, as you put it, make all wrongs right. I don’t know what it looks like for your metaphysics to make that happen, but let’s take our Michael example again. Is Michael someday in the future going to look back and say that sexual abuse, that was right after all?
Tom: I doubt definitely not so. Whatever it means to say God makes all wrongs right, it can’t mean that.
Chris: I agree.
Tom: So I’m not quite sure what’s involved there, if it’s something like reconciliation, if
it’s something like, you know, the person who wronged Michael realizes that and confesses and whatever. I can think of some options there. So yeah, maybe that’s just sort of a semantics issue, but I think that might be a difference. So the final thing I want to say is going back to a bigger and broader thing, and that’s why I ask are you a Thomist, I think this isn’t a criticism of Chris unless he wants to accept it, but so I’m going to make this a criticism of Thomists in general, and here I’ll use as my whipping boy Michael Dodds who wrote a nice book several years ago on divine action in the age of science and religion, and I really liked the book not because I agreed with it, because I totally disagreed, but I think he was totally clear and plain about what Thomas domestic theology following Aristotle and his primary and secondary causation those ideas ultimately end up with, and that is I think ultimately the Thomistic here, I’m making generalization so forgive me because they’re sure there’s exceptions, but Thomas I’ll say Thomas Aquinas as the theologian ultimately plays a big mystery card because he ultimately places God’s action, God’s causal action you might say is a final cause or formal cause or whatever as something different from creaturely causes. So Chris here talked about God being one cause in the world and he was opposed to that, whereas I’m embracing that
and you know that can mean a lot of different things, but basically what I’m saying is that we should think about God’s action, God’s causation as analogous to our action and causation. If we don’t, if we say God is different in that kind of way, I think we play a kind of mystery card that
creates more confusion, lack of clarity, and so that’s one of my major criticisms to at least the
standard domestic response, and Thomas Aquinas in particular. What do you think?
Chris: I think that’s a really helpful way to move the conversation forward. I’ll take those in reverse order. So let me let me start with the end. So Jensen has really influenced me here in that I think mystery is often appealed to as a get out of jail free card. To kind of play on your analogy, and I don’t mean to do that here, but I do think that the divine life is mysterious, not and that’s where I remember I’m talking about Maximus Gregory Nessa, pseudo-dionysius right? So a lot of what’s shaping me is this idea that God, so Carl Rauner is another major voice for me and what Ronner says about the incomprehensibility of God, not that God might not be good, but that his goodness is infinite and therefore incomprehensible in that we can never take it all in it’s all good and nothing. But good, but it’s goodness that exceeds our capacity even Ronner would say even in the Biotic Vision, we can never catch up to the fullness of God, and Gregory of course as you know has something similar to say about that in his Life of Moses. Right that we’re kind of always eternally moving toward the fullness of God and never arriving because that fullness is itself alive. You know God is infinite so I think the metaphysical difference is, no I don’t think I’m using mystery and I’m not sure what does either, but I’m not really, I don’t think Thomas needs me to defend him, so I mean I’m happy to depart company with Thomas on this. I don’t agree that using mystery is a way you can’t have serious conversations theologically. If you’re just going to throw down mystery, right, but what I’m saying is that there is a mysterious dimension to all reality, and that mysterious dimension is the life of God. That God’s life is essentially mysterious, not that we should use mystery to, but by mystery I don’t mean something unknown in a sense of well it could be anything, could be anger, could be wrath, could be, list your attribute that’s not what I mean. What I mean is it’s infinite goodness and therefore you know it’s the life in which we live and move and have our being like we live in God, God lives in us, and it doesn’t displace our humanity, it grounds it and orients it.