Thursday, 4 November 2010

Why we are here (maybe)

Yesterday I posted a rather open-ended question as to why we are here, in which I admitted to my own ‘necessitarian’ view on creation and my relief on finding someone else who thought the same way.
I suspect, however, that both I and Norman Kretzmann are using this term in a somewhat specialized way. Neither of us, for example, is saying the world had to be the way it is. (This, I gather, is the more general understanding of ‘necessitarianism’.) In the passage I quoted, Kretzmann specifically repudiates this, insisting that God has freedom with regard to the ‘facts’ of how the world is.
Indeed, one could go as far as to say there is no feature of this world which is precisely ‘necessary’ in the form it takes, because there is nothing which could compel God to make it so, and nothing within God which requires that it be so.
Moreover, the ‘necessity’ here does not require that God lacks anything, for which he therefore needs to create something. This, I understand, was Aquinas’s objection to the whole concept, and it is one with which I (and Kretzmann) entirely agree. The same point is made tellingly in Paul’s speech to the Athenian Council:
God he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25, NIV)
The suggestion arises, however, when we consider, as much as we can, how God is within himself, and this takes us into the difficult question of time and eternity.
Augustine of Hippo was quite right when he identified time as a created ‘thing’ (see his Confessions). That being the case, however, we cannot conceive of God as existing in or experiencing any ‘temporal’ framework. As Augustine put it, God does not experience days coming towards him, or receding away from him, as we do. Rather, there is simply a ‘now’ — which is, of course, completely impossible for us really to comprehend.
To put it simply, God is unchanging in the sense that ‘change’ corresponds to a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Time allows (or forces) us to experience God as if he were ‘stretched out’ along a time-line. So we can read in Scripture of God saying one thing, then ‘repenting’ and doing another. But we must no more read this as a change in God’s inward character than we should read references to his ‘face’ as indicating he has a head with a front and a back.
That being the case, however, ‘creating’ is not something which God one day ‘decided to do’. And yet God clearly has created (we are here!). Therefore God is a creator-God.
Kretzmann, if I have understood him correctly, attributes this to God’s goodness, and argues further that Aquinas should have allowed himself to reach the same conclusion. Creation is ‘of necessity’, not because God has to do it, but because God is ‘that sort of God’.
My own route was rather more simple, premised on the notion that God does not change and yet (self-evidently) creates. However, I would again agree with Kretzmann (and Aquinas in principle) that it is God’s goodness which is the source of his being the Creator.
But I would want to go on to say (and have said in my booklet The Eternal Cross) that God is also, therefore, a saviour-God, not as a result of a decision to create and then a realization of the need to save, but because the two — creation and salvation — go together.
Where this is leading, however, and where I found myself reading Aquinas and then Kretzmann, is to the idea that there is, in Creation and Salvation, an exitus et reditus — a ‘going out from’ and a ‘returning’ to. Or to put it another way, there is diversification from the Unity of God, and (re)union between God and that which is created by God. The phrase is attributed to Platonism, but the idea is there in Aquinas and — I want to argue — is also firmly there in a Christological reading of Genesis 2.
It’s a mouthful, I’ll admit. But I have to stop at this point (a meeting beckons) and will hopefully resume another time.
John Richardson
4 November 2010
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