God Ordains Epistemic Distancing toward the end of Our Co-creative Self-determination but that doesn’t make sin necessary

God fittingly determines that the essential nature of human persons necessarily includes that measure of epistemic distancing sufficient to allow for our choosing among rationally desired eternal goods.

God thereby permits each of us to co-creatively self-determine our unique charismatic character, spiritually.

One thing such an epistemic distancing necessarily entails is the axiological ordering of higher & lesser goods, for it’s in our very deliberations between them that we will learn which of God’s gifts we most deeply desire to both receive & give back, thereby developing our unique spirituality.

For if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for? ~ Noel Paul Stookey

Now, it is necessarily the case that, because of such an epistemic distancing, at times, out of ignorance, we will unavoidably choose lesser goods. But, it is also the case that, eventually & inevitably, we can overcome such ignorance, precisely through this process of choosing.

What has never been the case, however, is that an ignorant choice of a lesser good is either necessarily culpable or ever irremediable, for to err, in & of itself, is not to sin and every mistake or sin lies within the scope of God’s mercy (cf. Romans 8).

Our human finitude, however radical, does not by design make sin necessary, although it does make its possibility unavoidable.

In pursuing our rational desires, even when we err, we can thereby erase a modicum of ignorance, or, in other words, close a measure of epistemic distance. It is only when one, with both sufficient knowledge & freedom, chooses a lesser good that one sins.

So, that very same epistemic distancing, which allows for our choosing among rationally desired eternal goods, thereby becoming who we co-creatively & self-determinedly choose to be, charismatically or spiritually, is also necessary for the growth of our freedom in choosing higher over lesser goods, virtuously or morally.

When we choose lesser goods, we sin in a measure commensurate to our current epistemic distance, ie some sufficient degree of freedom & knowledge.

So, the essential nature of human persons includes that epistemic distancing necessary for becoming free when deliberatively choosing both between lesser & higher goods as well as among eternal goods.

Beyond the co-creative self-determination of our unique charismatic character, spiritually, epistemic distancing allows us to grow a wholly virtuous character, morally.

A finally free person will only ever deliberate among rationally desired eternal goods, choosing in a way that fits one’s spiritual character.

How did Jesus experience His finitude or axiological-epistemic distancing?

Spiritually, He fully & perfectly expressed every charism. Humanly, He deliberated – not only among eternal goods, but – between lesser & higher goods and learned from His mistaken choices, progressively closing His kenotic epistemic distancing. He thereby even grew His human freedom, even as His need to deliberate between lesser & higher goods diminished with every epistemic closure.

Never did Jesus choose a lesser over a higher good with degrees of human knowledge & freedom sufficient to constitute a sinful refusal, a self-denial of Goodness, Himself.

Afterthoughts or Prologue or Whatever

Generally, I purposefully remain radically agnostic re probabilistic & evidential approaches to the problem of evil, but I’ll share my provisional “feelings.”

I would say that we’re sufficiently distanced, epistemically, to realize, operatively if not gnoseologically, Who & What we are as imagoes Dei sans mortality.

I could, however, imagine nonphysical, eg relational, forms of death being pedagogically indispensable to our fully realizing, both operatively & gnoseologically, who we most truly are, ie participants in a concrete, social Absolute.

BUT – would we be sufficiently distanced to realize, operatively if not gnoseologically, Who & What we can become theotically as similitudines Dei sans mortality?

YES!!!

Further reflections

I reckon Hick & Wykstra borrowed the term epistemic distance (dang, can’t use “ED” as it’s already taken) from applied linguistics (e.g. pedagogy) & probabilistic epistemology, where the concept of epistemic distancing refers to a linguistic modality re semantic meaning, pragmatic interpretation & cognitive learning.

Personally, I receive Augustinian & Irenaean approaches, including evil as privation, soul-making & free will defenses, as establishing a mere logical compatibility between classical theism & evil.

HOWEVER, I reject all evidential theodicies in their attempts to further develop such defenses probabilistically b/c they tend to trivialize the immensity of human pain & enormity of human suffering.

YET – I do provisionally accept Stephen Wykstra’s systematic, skeptical theistic reply to evidential arguments, precisely b/c he grounds it in the epistemic distance between us & God, for it at least succeeds in showing that our failure to explain evil doesn’t confirm atheism.

A choice is forced upon us: imagining either it’s the existence of evil or God’s character that must remain unintelligible.

BECAUSE OF – DBH’s game theoretic disposal of the antecedent-consequent decree distinction is decisive over against any eternal residue of evil’s parasitic existence … and because of

God’s character revealed in Jesus & discerned by the Fathers, who embraced apocatastasis …

God’s sufficiently intelligible … and

THAT gives me all the hope I need.

Still, what place might death & other horrendous evils have in our lives?

I can only say that – from the Logos, Who’s been eternally spoken – the only logoi going forth remain those of being, well being & eternal being.

Ergo, God’s got no-thing to do with & no place for death apart from its eternal vanquishment.

THAT, not how, all this may be true, I insist!

Finally, what gets God out of the dock needn’t be based in case theory (logical defenses, evil as privation, free will) & shouldn’t be circumstantial evidence (theodicies). Juries are instructed that they can rely on character witnesses, alone, for not guilty verdicts.

Thus surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, a holy host of others standing ’round

Who do YOU say …?

Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Did Hugh McCann offer a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or did he otherwise recognize that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, were definitely not necessary, and could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil, itself, having no ontological status?

Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appeared to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remained teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who, alone, would have directly intended such an evil, hence, alone, committing a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is all more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.