God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil

As always, there are some depthful conversations going on here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/if-god-is-going-to-deify-everyone-anyway-why-not-deify-everyone-immediately/

While no systematic theology can avoid all mysterian appeals or some degree of skeptical theism, those strategies should be reserved for matters involving divine modal identities & ontologies (that, what, this, where & when), as Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic.

We should not engage them in our existentialist & personalist understandings of God (how = Who) or of His operations (why), as gifted by revelation.

So, I thus hold fast to the belief that the divine nature remains sufficiently intelligible in terms of humanity’s shared aesthetic sensibilities & moral intuitions. To remain existentially satisfying for & rhetorically persuasive to me, no theological anthropology should sacrifice such intelligibility.

Pastor Tom Belt has well explicated what he calls DBH’s moral argument or what I refer to as his game theoretic analysis, which is an element integral to DBH’s multi-pronged defense of universalism. It demonstrates why the infernalists cannot coherently invoke the antecedent – consequent divine will distinction without sacrificing God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility, eschatologically.

Faced with a choice between consistency & completeness, our accounts must remain consistent with revelation (e.g. per exegetical & patristic sources) vis a vis God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility. We must otherwise accept the incompleteness of our metaphysical explanations.

To otherwise pretend that we have consistent metaphysical accounts, e.g. henologically & ontologically re the trinity, creation & incarnation, but an inadequate account of God’s moral character, seems bassackward to me.

Now, some seem to be arguing that what’s good for the game theoretic eschatological goose seems to be good for the morally inculpatory temporal gander.

Admittedly, on its face, that argument would appear to ignore the difference between an infinite & eternal quasi-Manichean parasitic evil and a finite & temporal one. But, even once stipulating to that quantitative & qualitative difference, the more salient takeaway that’s being urged is that the antecedent – consequent will distinction can’t salvage God’s moral intelligibility vis a vis finite, temporal parasitic evils, either. And I’m wholly sympathetic to that stance: God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous suffering. FULL STOP.

What we do not adequately grasp is not God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibilty. Rather, we lack formal definitions for the other Anselmian divine attributes, all in terms of “that which is greater than which cannot otherwise be conceived without falling into theological contradiction, anthropological absurdity & metaphysical incoherence.”

Our creedal contours define apophatic constraints on the God-references of our exploratory meta-heuristics. They don’t pretend to provide formal God-definitions in terms of explanatory metaphysics. That’s a feature – not a bug – of any coherent systematic theology.

Guess what. A materialist monist nihilism is also a mere exploratory meta-heuristic & not a robustly explanatory metaphysic. It, too, must avoid mereological contradiction & metaphysical incoherence, even as it asserts anthropological absurdity.

There are Gödel-like constraints on ALL theories of everything. Given the ineluctable equiplausibility of many competing worldviews, it’s eminently reasonable to choose among them based on their varying degrees of existential actionability.

God is love – yesterday, today & forever. He has nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil, eschatologically or temporally, instrumentally or permissively, antecedently or consequently. Death & evil did not ensue in the wake of some ontological rupture located in the past, even though they indisputably interfere with our teleological strivings oriented to the future.

We do profess an adequate understanding of divine omnibenevolence & omnipathy, theologically, even as our grasps of divine omnipotence, omniscience & omnipresence remain rather inchoate, metaphysically. Such a theoretic metaphysical incompleteness is no more fatal to classical theism than it is to a nihilistic materialist monism (which apparently prefers to grapple with gratuitous beauty).

I wrote the following (link below) musing before encountering DBH’s game theoretic analysis in TASBS. While the arguments in TASBS aren’t advancing a theodicy, I appropriate them as an indispensable prerequisite to any coherent logical defense or evidential theodicy, as well as for any exegetical & patristic inventory of the divine character (the latter sufficing for me).


Addendum – my contribution to a related thread at EO

I am deeply sympathetic with the earnest affective dispositions toward and grateful for your thoughtful probity of the problem of evil by various contributors at EO. That said, I do most strongly resonate with the stances shared by Robert, DBH & Jordan DW.

What eventually got God out of the dock for me, to use a criminal law metaphor, wasn’t mostly based in case theory (logical defenses, soul-making, evil as privation, free will) or circumstantial evidence (theodicies). Juries are instructed that they can rely on character witnesses, alone, for not guilty verdicts. Ergo, revelation satisfied me, existentially, i.e. Jesus revealing God as Daddy, Romans 8, etc

I can’t explain why God’s not guilty given the circumstantial evidence but do tenaciously hold THAT He simply can’t be morally culpable.

I still vacillate regarding – not only whether evidential theodicies could succeed, but – whether they’re even morally defensible, as they can risk trivializing the enormity of human suffering & immensity of human pain. So, I mostly take refuge in a skeptical theism.

BUT – I have speculated, nonetheless, looking for something – not just sufficiently compelling for me, but – more widely compelling to other earnest seekers.

This is not a suitable forum to go into the details but, generally, I adhere to versions of divine simplicity, although weakened, & impassibility, except with a thin passibility.

If creation is Incarnation, then, per an eternal simultaneity, God will have self-determinedly & kenotically opened Himself to a divine omnipathy. God will have known, then, how every creature will have felt, retro|pro-spectively vis a vis Romans 8, i.e. eternally aware that every scintilla of any Karamazovian nyets will have been replaced by Marian fiats, once affectively energized by the realities of universal restoration. God thus knows, eternally, via divine omnopathy, that no tickets will have been returned by Ivan, by any lion or lamb, by any quake or quark.

Beyond that, I have speculated, re creatio ex nihilo & ex Deo, that they needn’t necessarily be conceived as incompatible with a co-eternal prevenient  chaos or tehomic  profundis. Why must a co-eternal void (or abyss or  tohu va bohu or chaos or  tehom), whatever else its ineluctable logic might necessarily entail, be conceived in absolutely dualistic terms, i.e. as if any quasi-Manichean residue would have to remain eschatologically?

The exnihilating dynamics of creatio ex nihilo & Deo may also be operating ex chaos & profundis across a multiversal plenitude of incipiently telic realities?

It seems coherent to me to conceive of a dualistic, even pluralistic reality, without conceiving it in robustly Manichean terms. The bigger caveat would be the need to avoid a wimpy, nominalistic process God. I believe that folks like Joe Bracken & Norris Clarke navigate such conceptual shoals. And they can precisely accommodate the brilliance of those who anticipated them, e.g. especially Maximus, Bulgakov, Bonaventure, Eriugena, etc

I more exhaustively address such matters in my notes:


To be clear, I rely on neither my putative accounts of divine omnipathy (which doesn’t impair intrinsic perfections) nor of creatio ex chaos (non-Manichean dualism) to resolve the problem of evil, nor on logical defenses or evidential theodicies.

But I’m not wholly dismissive of such attempts & haven’t desisted from same, myself. Rather, I essentially take refuge in revelation and a nuanced mysterianism.

It is my fervent prayer that all may attain the consolations I have come to enjoy and avoid the desolations that can afflict us all, when beset by doubt, deep suffering or the existential angst that can set many on such a theodical quest.

Apart from the life of prayer, there can be no talk of doing theology.

We all engage, whether explicitly or implicitly, in a philosophical triad of saying, unsaying and weighing.

We aspire to descriptive accuracy of God in saying what He, analogically, is like, then unsaying what He, literally, is not, or analogically, is not like, weighing the cumulative evidence presented by tradition, only ever coming up with successful references to — but, not descriptions of — God.

This is often called natural theology or philosophical theology but it’s, essentially, philosophy. It provides no proofs. It frames up questions but gives no conclusive answers. It does demonstrate that our existential leaps in faith can be reasonable, a reality most seem to know, implicitly, in their very bones and via common sense, but which, for others, needs to be worked out, explicitly, in our heads.

A theological triad, however, engages in saying, unsaying and praying, telling stories about our encounters of divine immanence, quieted by our encounters of divine transcendence and reflecting on our experiences in prayer:

how our cooperating with the Spirit in synergia, loving God, others, cosmos and even self, has, theopoietically, taken us from image to likeness

how our surrendering in the loving contemplation of theoria has, theotically, gifted us unitive experiences of divine communions, partakings and participations in the activities, works and energies of God!

The divine antinomies of theology — as expressed in scripture, tradition and reason — are not finally resolved philosophically but get dissolved existentially by an Answer that arrives in the form of intimacy via a robustly, Personal relationship.

Apart from the life of prayer, then, there can be no talk of doing theology.

Now, there can be a philosophy-speak that takes place within the life of faith and after the leap of faith, a true theology of nature. But it’s much more closely related to psalmody and scriptural allegory than it is to philosophy. It’s moreso a prayer of the heart.

So much of the impulse for philosophical theology today seems animated by the search for a persuasive evidential theodicy, which, for all sorts of reasons, I believe is misguided. For one thing, theodicies seem rather cold, hence cruel, responses to many of life’s victims. For another, theodicies can be so summarily and cursorily dismissive of the enormity of human suffering and immensity of human pain. Let us eschew, then, specific theodicies in response to the evidential problem of evil and be content, rather, with general defenses in response to the logical problem of evil, as have been handed down and refined in our traditions.

The most effective response to a world disoriented, lost, hungry, wounded, marginalized and deformed, then, will come from a missiology, wherein we cooperate with the work of the Spirit in the fivefold Christological mission that will

  • orient us, eschatologically
  • save us, soteriologically
  • nurture and heal us, sacramentally
  • empower us, ecclesiologically, and
  • transform us, sophiologically.

The problem of evil doesn’t finally resolve, philosophically, but dissolves, existentially, through the realization that we are be-loved. Far more than any conceptual map-making, our participatory imaginations will gift us divine communion along with all the gifts it entails.

What return shall I make?