A Note to My Readers -
I've decided to remove my Sunday posts from the weekly cycle. Although I hope they've been of benefit to some of you, they are necessarily secondary to my regular work of sermon preparation each week. I've found that having that extra post to write simply added to the burden of my work. For those readers who would still like access to my weekly work in Scriptural exposition, I would ask them to access the podcasts of my sermons (available through a link in the sidebar), since that remains the primary form of my Bible teaching each week.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

95 Theses, #7-9: The Best of All Possible Worlds

(To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction)

7.) The Best of All Possible Worlds - Since God is all-good and all-powerful, and since he created the universe in love, we can expect that he created “the best of all possible worlds.” This claim, however, needs to be made in context: this is the best of all possible worlds (1) given the goals God had in mind for his creation, and (2) in reference only to God’s responsibility in creating it (not in reference to the freely-made choices of creatures within that creation). Thus it would be possible to conceive of a universe initially created such that its creatures were not capable of choosing evil, and which would thus be a more harmonious world, but that world would not fit God’s goals of a creation in which freely-choosing creatures grow towards love; or it would be possible to imagine a freewill universe in which the creatures freely and consistently choose good instead of evil (though this is a dubious proposition, perhaps an impossible one), in which case their resulting world quite probably could be “better” than ours, but the “betterness” of that world, in contrast to ours, is attributable to the decisions of its creatures, not the initial design of God. So we can restate our thesis thus: This is the best of all possible worlds for bringing forth creatures capable of entering into a self-chosen relationship of love with their Creator. God certainly could have created a world of static natural perfections, in which a race of angelic beings would unceasingly render him their undying homage. The only trouble there is that the creatures of such a world would not quite be capable of self-chosen love for the Creator in the same way that you and I are capable of it (more on this idea in future theses). Thus, though it would contain a lot less suffering, it would be a less perfect world for attaining the end that God had in mind. While the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds might seem to be falsified by our own observation of the universe and the suffering that is an inescapable part of all living existence, we can infer several conceivable reasons as to why it is so:

8.) The Free Will Defense – First—(and here we follow the Eastern Christian tradition of putting our primary theological emphasis on God’s loving commitment to enter into a relationship of synergeia with his creatures, investing them with free will, rather than on God’s active and overriding sovereignty as pictured in the Western Christian tradition)—it was God’s intention to create beings that are self-determined and thus able to choose for themselves whether or not to follow God. There is thus always the potential that self-determining beings will choose to inflict suffering on others. This seems to be true not only of higher-consciousness beings like humans, but of the entire material creation, which has been endowed both with indeterminacy (for instance, at the quantum level) and with a context fruitful for the development of life into many different forms. Thus, God allows all creation, even those without any real “mind,” to be self-directed creatures, culminating eventually in conscious creatures who fully embody the freedom of creation to respond to its Creator.

9.) The Virtue Defense - Second, it is God’s intention that these beings be capable of moral progress, of growth in virtue (ultimately, of becoming like him in his nature of love). Our experience tells us that suffering is an essential requirement for such growth—several virtues, by definition, cannot develop in the absence of pain (patience or courage, for example). And love, the highest virtue, the one that God most wants us to grow into, is one that cannot be gained in its fullness except by the hard road of learning the practice of love—turning away from the choice of self, towards other-centered choices; that is a road that for individualized beings like us necessarily requires pain and may in fact be aided by pain. (For God, however, who already exists as a full unity-in-plurality, and thus is by nature self-giving rather than self-seeking, love is his essential nature and requires no development.) One might ask, however, why God did not simply create beings which were already fully capable of love. One answer might go thus: If God were to create beings already in a full state of moral development, they would have the detrimental attribute of not having freely chosen that course themselves; in a sense, they would be automatons rather than true persons. But beings who have grown through suffering by choosing the hard road of virtue have become like God not only in moral nature but also in their volitions. The love they have is their own freely-chosen love, and thus it is love in the truest sense.

Next Week: Evolution as a Way to Imagine Orthodox Theology

(Painting, inset, right: “Peacable Kingdom of the Branch,” by Edward Hicks, c.1830, oil on canvas. Picture, inset, left: “Pacientia” (Patience), by Hans Sebald Beham, 1540. Both images are in the public domain.)

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