Sunday 13 July 2014

Christians don't *really* believe that God is omnipotent (or, if He is, then He has a funny way of doing things)


The evidence is simple: the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

This implies that God the Father could not do what Jesus Christ has done - therefore He either was not, or is not, omnipotent (by any simple or sensible understanding of omnipotent).


With suitable qualifications, this is a powerful and basic truth; and may serve to help shake free from the deadly and paradoxical tyranny of over-focusing on God's abstract, absolute omnipotence.


Note: If this statement sounds fanciful - try to imagine how Christianity looks to a Non-Trinitarian strict-monotheist - who would surely find it incomprehensible that a genuinely omnipotent God (who supposedly created everything from nothing and makes absolutely everything happen absolutely according to His will); apparently cannot achieve what He wants to achieve for Man without the rigmarole of incarnating Jesus Christ as a Man at a particular point in history!

My impression is that the underlying situation is that real Christians don't really believe that God is omnipotent - but don't like to state that He is not ; are indeed scared to state that He is not omnipotent - since this sounds disrespectful, asking-for-trouble, and is certainly liable to lead to vehement accusations of blasphemy.

But I regard this as evidence in favour of the truth of the statement that God is not omnipotent - since to be deterred by fear, when God is our loving Father, suggests that omnipotence is in fact a demonically-inspired error; because to submit to a God conceptualized as being of un-limited power, from terror of the consequences of denying His power - is profoundly anti-Christian. It is indeed to subvert and invert God. 

That is why this error of omnipotence needs to be tackled head-on.



Hostem Populi said...

"This implies," is the problem with the argument, and it isn't even a new one. It's been gone over and over, time and again, a good example being Aquinas' exploration of the Incarnation and Atonement in either the Summa Contra Gentiles or the Summa Theologiae.

The simple argument, from a Christian perspective being, that God was gratuitous to create the universe to begin with, so he can be gratuitous in whatever manner he chooses to redeem it stands.

Now if your contention is actually that the Incarnation and Atonement, and everything else regarding the God of Christianity just don't make coherent sense, that's another argument entirely.

Or if you mean that Christians don't comprehend God, well, they'd agree.

I'm agnostic, but I am fascinated by theology.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HP - Yes, these are the explanations - but have you ever heard somebody argue this, and looked around to see how people are taking it?

Or have you ever tried to use these explanations with children, simple people, or anybody who is not already a Christian?

The fact is that these arguments/ explanations are just not very convincing - indeed they sound contrived, sophistic and rather pathetic when you hear the words coming-out of your own mouth.

To argue that creation is gratuitous has a prima facie incompatibility with God loving us. To say that Christians cannot understand *basic* matters about their faith and should not try to is pretty much to advocate submission.

This is why Christianity is losing out to its most formidable rival among people who demand upfront clarity and consistency.

Valkea said...

Or omnipotent God saw that the only way to convince people without forcing them was to speak in their terms, in their own "language", in a way that they understand and respond positively to, so God send a divine man to convey the message.

Bruce Charlton said...

@V - I think that is probably the best explanation from the perspective of Classical Theology - as Pascal said Jesus's divine status was verified by him fulfilling the prophecies and doing many miracles.

This does raise the question about why God made us with characters and placed us in circumstances where were are so hard/ impossible to convince.

Anonymous said...

God is omnipotent.

God could have created a perfect world, with no free will, but that would be like the Teletubbies. All the good and valuable things, all aspects of love, would be limitless, have no contrast and so be valueless.

In a world with free will these things are incredibly valuable, and the true nature of God is clear, in contrast.

Adam G. said...

I think I'd rather accept that God can't do arbitrarily anything rather than that God acts on a whim.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - There is a vast area between this world on the one hand, where the most terrible things happen, the most extreme suffering and prolonged agonies - and on the other hand Disneyland/ Teletubbies or some kind of unreal daydream of unvarying happiness.

There is no *need* for some people to be tortured, raped, mutilated, be born with or get the most horrific diseases, starve and all the rest of it - moderate and/ or temporary sufferings are all that is 'needed' for this world to have scope for freedom, trial and error, and to be really-real to us.

To try and argue (to a non Christian) that these and other horrors are *needed* - more than that are actually good and the best world that an omnipotent God could have designed, is to be seen as a moral monster justifying the way beyond utterly unjustifiable - try it some time, or imagine trying this explanation on a child, a simple person or any non-intellectual.

The look on their faces will tell you all you need to know about the feebleness of this line of reasoning.

No - the only satisfactory and satisfying explanation is that this world is as good as God could make it - given the constraints of BOTH his objectives AND his powers.

Hostem Populi said...

I've come to gravitate to the conclusion that a "God" exists, in so far as there is something, more like a mind than anything else, behind reality. But this is entirely provisional, and simply because I find it more plausible than positing hard atheism. And this doesn't have anything at all to do with Jesus. Azathoth could just as easily be God.

Calvinism, which I've been studying lately, is the exemplar of this tendency you're getting at. God predestines some to Heaven, others to Hell, and it's totally random. The Calvinist wouldn't put it that starkly, but that's what it comes down to, and they explain away any objections that a sane person would have to such a reality as "our rebel nature."

It is a brilliant sophistry, I must give it that, and a somewhat seductive one if you're just looking for existential certainty.

Most Christians don't think that hard about it, fall in love with the sophistry of their pet theology (if they go that deep into things), or maybe there is something to that "gift of faith" that they talk about.

Orthodox said...

The issue might be that the only time people hear about the Devil is from something like a South Park movie.

It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it. -Ronald Knox

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. -Usual Suspects

ajb said...


"Most Christians don't think that hard about it"

Most people don't think that hard about anything, and most atheists in West society are people who don't even know what the word 'atheist' means.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HP - You may be interested by another of my blogs


@Ortho - I agree that the Devil is real and a proximate explanation of much evil - but in an ultimate sense the creation and continued existence of the Devil is hard to square with an omnipotent Gog.


In the end, all thoughtful Christians are forced either to regard God as not-omnipotent, or omnipotent but inexplicably self-constrained when it comes to ameliorating (not eliminating) suffering.

For example, severe endogenous depression certainly seems to be a prolonged state of almost total existential despair. Why cannot an onmipotent God meliorate this despair? It is not acceptable to talk about the benefits of 'depression', or to say that we cannot always be happy - this kind of illness goes way beyond that, to a realm of utter, unrelieved torment.

The fact is an omnipotent and loving God not only could but certainly would ameliorate the extremity of severe endogenous depression.

The honest Christian must simply choose between love and omnipotence - and it is hard to justify a Christian doing anything but choose love (especially as omnipotence is a remote, abstract, philosophical concept).

The fact that, despite this, many Christians do not reject omnipotence, ought to give them pause for thought about *why* they are *clinging* to this philosophical and unnecessary abstraction - when it clearly causes such extreme theological problems, has proved such a stumbling block, and makes so many decent people reject Christianity as wicked and/or incoherent.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - As a general rule, I agree - but THIS is something (perhaps the one thing) that modern Christians DO think hard about to a significant extent - and the majority of decent non-Christians think about it even more.

Seijio Arakawa said...


"have you ever heard somebody argue this, and looked around to see how people are taking it?"

I've become curious -- I seem to remember that you used to lean much more towards Catholic formulations of Christianity (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy) which imply and depend on an absolute God. Was it, in fact, attempting to justify this feature of the theology to other people that caused your subsequent disillusionment with it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - I think what pushed me away from Orthodoxy came some time before I was decisively drawn towards Mormonism - it was the realization that the Orthodox tradition was broken (and by its own account, this situation was irrevocable), was nonviable in a non-Orthodox society, was alien to England, and that Russian Orthodoxy was broken by schism related to the attitude to modern Russia.

I then tried to make Anglicanism work for me, by being very, very selective - and then could not do this any more at about the same time I properly began to understand Stirling McMurrin and then read Terryl Givens.

ajb said...

OT, but what are your views on Mormon scriptural claims about (North? Meso-?) American history, where there seems little to no corroborating archaeological evidence, anachronisms, and so on?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I believe that the BoM is true, and I believe that the Bible is true - both in the same kind of way: essentially true (i.e. in essence), overall and broad brush - and NOT line by line, verse by verse interpreted as isolated literal factoids. Indeed, the same way as an field of science is true.

Bookslinger said...

@bc, there are some obvious (to me) rejoinders and modifications to your thesis/reasonings, but they rely on several tidbits you may not be aware of; some things in unofficial, but commonly held, beliefs/theology. I've picked up some of them in such books as Articles of Faith by Talmage, Doctrines of Salvation, Jesus the Christ by Talmage, Discourses of Brigham Young, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, McConkie's Messiah series, Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F Smith, and many articles in the Ensign.

The church has backed off those "higher doctrine" stuff and focused more and more on the baiscs ever since "correlation" in the 1960's.

Many/most of those things aren't currently actively taught. But some have actually been "deprecated", and either explicitly or implicitly been relegated to private speculation.

People need to remember that outside of our standard works (canonized scriptures), our one year Gospel Essentials sunday school class for converts/investigators (48 lessons in the book Gospel Principles, geared to about an 8th grade reading level and comprehension), and four year cycle [OT/NT/BoM/D&C] of adult Sunday School class (geared to about a 10th to 12th grade level), and college level "Institute" classes taught to LDS students at universities and singles branches (see the CES curriculum at, the church has no "official" doctrine.

So assuming one has been in the church at least 5 years as an adult, all theological learning beyond that is on one's own (or with CES material, but that mostly just explicates scripture), under the guidance of the Holy Ghost (who teaches _all_ things), using as one's material the same things mentioned above as official _and_ unofficial, plus the temple ceremonies.

The Holy Ghost teaches which things in those non-official sources (Discourses of BY, for instance), are correct and which are not. And, to scare you even more: the Holy Ghost will only teach you what you are ready for, often giving a null response, neither confirming nor denying the thing for which you are seeking a confirmation.

As you read the scriptures for the umpteenth time, new things are unfolded, and the Holy Ghost teaches you what is written between the lines, or left unsaid. You then start to see the connections between scriptures and those unofficial books, you start to see HOW and WHY Brigham Young or Joseph F Smith said those things. And you realize, WOW, that was in the scripture all along, but it was hidden in plain sight, and your attention, along with everyone else's, was distracted by 1900 years of false traditions of westernized and protestantized man-made interpretations.

Your thesis is correct, that God the Father is not absolutely omnipotent in the way that the watered-down-protestant man-on-the-street would think of the term.

But I pretty much disagree with your reasoning. First, because mainstream christians think God the Father and Jesus Christ are the same being/person, a la the Nicene Creed.

Bookslinger said...

But also keep in mind: Christ created untold numbers of other planets and is their savior/redeemer too. For some reason he had to be born and die on this one. Of all those planets peopled by our brothers and sisters whom we knew in the Grand Council, both Jesus and Satan came to this one.

There is a scripture that says that the only angels who minister to this planet are the people/spirits who _pertain_ to it, we may assume that the demons/spirits also have the same restriction and are "assigned" to one planet.

So while those other planets may have their own demons who rebelled with Satan, and Satan's followers may have been divvied up between the various planetary creations of Christ, the head honcho demon came here.

That makes sense in several ways. For Christ to descend below and comprehend all things, he had to come to the _worst planet_, a planet where the inhabitants would torture and kill their God/Savior. And he had to die in the worst and most painful way physically possible, in order to comprehend the worst suffering of everyone else.

Therefore one may deduce that crucifixion is the most agonizing death possible.

So in a way, yes, this -had- to be the worst possible of all worlds, with the most suffering, torturing, etc.

Why did you and I come here to be embodied and not some other planet created by Jesus? We can only assume it was wisdom in the Father for it to be so.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Books - If the above theory of the atonement works for you then stick with it - but I'm afraid it doesn't work for me? In particular, I do not think it mattered *how* Jesus was put to death, except as fulfilment of the prophecies that identified him as the Christ. (and that he was executed by Man, and did not die of accident or natural causes). The fact that we both believe the work of atonement was commenced and mostly (not wholly) accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane emphasizes this. My own current understanding of the atonement is mostly along the lines of Christ learning (by His experience) how to save us.

In some very partially understandable way that involves Christ enacting the trajectory which we may from then follow. He was born and suffered and died - as all incarnate men always did and still do; but then He continued to resurrection and ascension - as all men may from then also do, on condition of acknowledging Him and His work. This 'process' worked because Christ and Man are equally Sons of God.

It was not possible to God the Father to save us (or else He would have done so), presumably because he had not learned from experience of mortality.

You can tell that these explanations regard existence as a learning/ growing/ progressing process - for all entities, including the divine (which includes ourselves); and where learning takes place located in space and over time, and that there are many situations in which learning can *only* be accomplished by specific experiences (such as mortal incarnate life).

Anonymous said...

This does raise the question about why God made us with characters and placed us in circumstances where were are so hard/ impossible to convince.

Because God loves you and me, personally; not some other hypothetical people that he may or may not have also created.

Bruce B. said...

The answer to these questions just seems so obvious. Just as God “can’t” create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it, God “can’t” create a deterministic world for subordinate beings that have radical free will like his.

Do you think it’s possible that existential despair is, in some ways, chosen? You have often stated that Hell is freely chosen.

Bruce Charlton said...

@zippy and BB - I'm afraid I don't understand the points you are making.

Seijio Arakawa said...

@bgc, Zippy

My attempt to get a read on Zippy's argument may not be the most accurate or sympathetic, but here goes.

So, let us suppose God is considering between making a Sugar Bowl world with rainbows and My Little Ponies, or a miserable Earth world with war, starvation, and endogenous depression. Because the circumstances of the worlds are so different, the people (ponies?) will be quite different as well; some Pony Bruce Charlton who never had to go through certain unpleasant experiences would not be even remotely similar to the actual Bruce Charlton in the non-Sugar Bowl world. Extending this argument, the existence of every single person in the miserable Earth world is contingent on the fact that the Earth world is, in fact, miserable in the way that it is; so no person in the Earth world can question the justification for the Earth world's existence, without also undermining the justification of their own existence as a very specific person who was shaped by the experiences of that world.

So, in order to create, say, Bruce Charlton who looks at the world a certain way because of his experience treating patients with endogenous depression, or who has turned to Christianity because of his experience documenting the cancer of political correctness, God needed to first create a world in which there are people who suffer endogenous depression. By that logic, it is then a bit rich for Bruce Charlton to turn around and blame God for creating people with endogenous depression, or, say, for permitting Political Correctness to virulently devour the world, when all of those things causally precede the existence (as the person that he is right now) and turning of Bruce Charlton to God in the first place.

I may be misreading the entire flow of the reasoning, but this strikes me as in line with the more fatalistic mode of traditional-Catholic reasoning; similar to the reasoning employed on a different Catholic blog I've seen:

So, in the above article, thus the eternal damnation of some (most!) people is not merely an unfortunate side effect of free will, but aesthetically desirable in order to make the few people who are saved properly understand the gratuitous nature of God's mercy.

I compared this to having to see someone else starve to death in order to properly appreciate having one's own food, to which the reply was that food is a matter of justice, whereas salvation is a matter of mercy. Only now I'm beginning to understand how that reply misses the point.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
- Epicurus

So is your answer, God is "willing to prevent evil, but not able [to prevent evil]".

If that is so, there is that to which God is subordinate. What is it, and is it subordinate to something, et cetera? Is infinite regress an acceptable answer?

So what are we to make of a non-omnipotent "God"? Without the three omni's God is merely a powerful entity, not The Almighty God

Of course, Epicurus's other alternatives are not exactly flattering either, but his 2 x 2 matrix of possibilities is perfectly logical.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF: "So what are we to make of a non-omnipotent "God"? Without the three omni's God is merely a powerful entity, not The Almighty God"

This described view is what I have termed 'clinging' to omnipotence - for psychological reasons which amount to preferring philosophy over the relational understanding of God as our Father. Because omnipotence doesn't come from the Bible - although of course it can be, has been, derived from it.

@Arakawa - You perhaps see how valuable it is to hold fast to the primary understanding of God as our loving Father? It allows us to put ourselves in God's situations and ask 'would I treat my beloved children like that?' - to ask whether we would inflict horrors and agonies on one child for the 'benefit' of another - and would refuse to ameliorate the extremity of suffering.

As I keep saying, these thought experiments - such as the one you outline - are terribly misleading - because they generally presuppose that which they attempt to prove.

Of course, by my account, there cannot really be a thought experiment concerning omnipotence because the notion is far beyond human experience.

But the idea of a God who can ameliorate the extremity of suffering but refuses to do so - despite that HE may have inflicted himself the suffering (directly, or indirectly) is not tenable for a loving God - so I am not surprised when Mainstream Christians cannot 'get' this consequence of the omnipotence upon which they absolutely insist.

But I now have a post to write on this subject!

Anonymous said...

Evil and suffering aren't needed, and they don't come from God, but from Satan and evil humans. God *could* have created a world in which evil was not possible, but chose to create one where he would be freely worshipped and not under a condition of no choice or compulsion.

My personal suffering is not much in the greater scheme of things but it's nothing to sneeze at either, and I don't lightly dismiss anyone's suffering or hurt.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - yes, and natural disasters and accidents as well.

The explanation is fine, and if it satisfies there is no need to take things further.

But some people cannot stop themselves asking why God created and tolerates Satan and the demons - especially if they also believe He knew exactly how things would work out.

Samson J. said...

Bruce, this is the sort of post from you that drives me batty. What is it about Bruce B's comment (which took the words directly out of my mouth) that you "don't understand"?

Epicurus' puzzle (supplied here by Nick Fulford) articulates the typical 10-year-old understanding of "omnipotence", but nobody with an ounce of background reading - which you ought to have! - thinks "omnipotence" means God can do ANYthing. It only means he can do ANYthing that is *logically possible*. So, for instance, the answer to the shopworn "Can God make a rock so heavy he can't lift it", is, no, he can't, because a rock so heavy God can't lift it is a logical impossibility; this is what Bruce B means. In the same way, God can't make a world without evil, or do any number of other things, but these are not violations of "omnipotence".

This is elementary stuff, my man!

Bruce Charlton said...

@zippy - I think that if you apply that line of reasoning it will take you somewhere you do not want to go. It is close to the fatalism of the other major monotheism.

The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned - our job is to submit.

@SampsonJ - I still don't understand it. Maybe you only think you understand it?

After all, it is trivially easy to make something so heavy that you cannot lift it - so you must mean something non-commonsensical by this point.

What is interesting is that MY point seems impossible for people to understand - that there is too much suffering, that the suffering is too intense - and that a loving Father would not allow some things to happen in the world which have happened and do happen - without stepping in to (at least) reduce the degree of suffering.

Imagine being a Father standing in a room watching one of your innocent children being tortured by another of your children - how could you allow this to continue if by any means you could stop it? What could possibly justify allowing this to continue? At least you would want to make the victim's agony bearable.

Anonymous said...

I think that if you apply that line of reasoning it will take you somewhere you do not want to go. It is close to the fatalism of the other major monotheism.

The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned - our job is to submit.

You are seeing Fate where I see Love.

It isn't fatalism to accept reality as it actually is and logically must be: to accept non-contradiction. It isn't possible for me, my actual self, to personally be here at all without my logical/metaphysical preconditions.

God loves me personally so much that this world was made literally just for me. All of the evil in it is "my fault" in an existential sense: I could not be here without it. Nonetheless God accepts all that and redeems me, and the world, because He loves me (us) that much - personally. Evil is a terrible affront to God, and indeed to all good creatures. But God tolerates it and redeems the world from it for my (our) sake - personally and actually, not as some abstraction of other creatures similar in some ways to us that he might have made (and perhaps even did make).

Bruce Charlton said...

@z - That's fine.

The stuff I write isn't for people who have discovered or worked out their own satisfactory answers, but for people who haven't, can't accept or understand the usual answers - and have got stuck.

TE said...

A few principles I have for thinking about this--

-"Infinite compensation is always just (and more than!) compensation for finite suffering, no matter how great." In other words, no matter how great a mortal man's suffering in mortal life, if the ultimate goal of God's design for this man is infinite happiness (salvation and heaven) for the mortal, then ANY amount of finite suffering can be justified.

(Yes it is still difficult in many cases for the human mind to grasp this; and in the heat of suffering, either our own or others' it is not always easy to justify, but we must understand that we mortals do not have a God's eye perspective)

If you deny this, then you are setting yourself up as the judge of "how much finite suffering can be justified in exchange for infinite compensation."

There are several problems with this. First, since you are a mortal, incapable designing and implementing an effective plan of salvation (leading to infinite compensation) for other mortal souls, you are obviously not in a position to decide how high a degree of finite suffering is acceptable for inclusion in such a plan.

If you do conclude that you have the right to decide how much suffering is acceptable for such a plan, and that less suffering is desirable, this will eventually lead you to the absurdam that no suffering is preferable, and that therefore an omnipotent god, if he is loving, could only create a universe with absolutely no suffering.

Yet we see from our own lives that suffering is sometimes necessary and becomes beneficial to us later on. Therefore, we can easily imagine a just and omnipotent God who allows some amount of suffering; and to say that God cannot be just and omnipotent and allow X amount of suffering (X= a given amount determined by us, finite mortals) is to assume that we can as finite mortals are in a position to judge what amount of finite suffering can be justifiably allowed by an omnipotent God capable of giving salvation and eternal life to finite mortals.

Regardless of whether or not you believe in an omnipotent God, I think it should be clear that you are not in a position as a finite mortal to decide what degree of suffering an omnipotent God can justly allow. No finite mortal is able to disprove the theory that he is unable to justify the workings of a just God only because he lacks a God's eye perspective.

TE said...

"The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned - our job is to submit."

This is not exactly right, I think the book of Job is especially useful here. The book of Job makes it clear that man *can* justly ask God "why?" Even cry out to him in anguish and express in quite heated language his inability to comprehend why God allows his suffering. It is perfectly fine to find it *hard to believe* that a just God allows such suffering, and even to demand answers-- the point is to have faith in God's righteousness even if answers are not immediately forthcoming.

What is not permitted is to impute evil to God. I think you are to some extent doing this, even if only indirectly, by saying that an omnipotent God cannot allow certain things and remain moral.

This is where I think part of your problem is, that you are confusing suffering with evil. The book of Job makes it clear that God allows suffering, even to righteous men, and that this is not evil for him to do; and in fact he does it for their good. (I think the book of Job indicates that as a reward for his suffering, Job had a vision of Christ and salvation long before the incarnation-- which is quite a reward indeed.) This is because allowing suffering is not the same as causing evil. It is of note that the Psalms say "you are not a God who wills iniquity," but do NOT say that he is not a God who wills suffering (and it's constantly indicated that God does will suffering). This is because suffering can lead us to redemption and be good for us in the long run.

If you can comprehend that suffering is in SOME cases necessary and beneficial, you should see the merit in the theory that from God's perspective suffering is always necessary and beneficial (not that he would not wish us to reduce our suffering by freely choosing good over evil, but simply that we are not in a position to decide how much suffering is justifiable).

PS, the Brothers Karamazov also deals with this question quite well in my opinion. Aside from the book of Job, it is one of my favorite writings dealing with this question specifically.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TE - I'm afraid that I regard this an an example of how when an infinite term is introduced into an argument, it sends the whole thing haywire. Human reason can't truly deal with infinities.

My point remains.

Bruce Charlton said...


I'm not confused - I am presenting a very real problem - a huge stumbling block. It cannot be disposed of by talking it away.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TE - Leaving aside Job - which I cannot use to explain anything, because I find it the hardest part of the Bible to understand; my difficulty with the argument (which is in Pascal's Pensees - hence highly worthy of consideration that the infinity of Heavenly bliss (infinitely) outweighing ANY finite amount and severity of mortal misery - is that this utterly destroys any goo things in life as well. In fact, it renders our mortal lives completely worthless.

This may not be a problem for some people, if they simply take for granted that mortal, earthly incarnate human life is valuable, has purpose and meaning BUT for me, and for many other modern people, the value of mortal life cannot be taken for granted - indeed it is THE main problem for us!

So saying that the pain and suffering and evil of this world are nothing compared with what is to come makes things even worse! Because life is reduced to a pointless pause before getting on with the real business of being in Heaven - indeed, our mortal life can only do us harm (if we are damned - or rather choose damnation) - but cannot do us any good; because if pain has no significance in eternity, then nothing in this life has any significance in eternity.

Life then becomes a yearning for death as soon as possible, now please! - restrained *only* by the Christian prohibition on suicide.

So - this is too powerful an argument - which for alienated modern man throws out the baby with the bathwater. It does not only destroy 'the problem of pain' but everything else in mortal life.

TE said...

"So saying that the pain and suffering and evil of this world are nothing compared with what is to come makes things even worse! Because life is reduced to a pointless pause before getting on with the real business of being in Heaven - indeed, our mortal life can only do us harm (if we are damned - or rather choose damnation) - but cannot do us any good; because if pain has no significance in eternity, then nothing in this life has any significance in eternity. "

I can understand this as it used to be my main block regarding Christianity, but coming from a different understanding. I grew up mainly knowing about the sorts of Protestant Christianity that have a strong emphasis a once time declaration in believing a certain proposition about salvation as causing salvation, and this being the only real important thing. Indeed, there doesn't seem any point in living on after one is "once saved," under this system, the only important thing in life is believing the truth value of a certain proposition relating to Christ; after that it is better to die as fast as possible.

What solved this for me was seeing salvation as more of a continuous process (EO teachings about theosis and RC about purgatory and such are relevant).

So the real issue here is, I think, seeing salvation as something that is not totally divorced from mortal life, not totally disconnected from what came before.

The reason I don't think that the infinite rewards of heaven would blot out all meaningfulness from the truly good, yet finite pleasures of mortal life is that heavenly existence after death is a continuation of mortal life in a new form, but still arising from and intimately connected with the previous (mortal) form. Just as I see heavenly purification as having the possibility to give meaning to suffering that was incomprehensible and seemingly senseless in mortal life, so I see it giving even more meaning to the good things in mortal life that will continue to be good into eternity.

Basically, I see heaven as a transformation and transfiguration of mortal life, such that our mortal life, the good and the bad, becomes ever the more and more meaningful for eternity. It's not that heaven will be so bright and powerful as to blot out all meaning from mortal life, but that it will be so good as to ever illuminate more meaning into mortal life than could be imagined.

For a mortal being, the roots of infinity spring from mortal life.

Samson J. said...

Well, Bruce, I still don't understand how you don't understand my point. I am not claiming to be making some deep, arcane argument; quite the opposite, my argument is theology 101 as far as I was aware.

God cannot make 2 + 2 = 5. He cannot make a rock too heavy for him to lift. He cannot make a world with free will without evil.

What is interesting is that MY point seems impossible for people to understand

Bruce, we understand it... we just reject it!

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - All I can say is that you have not said anything to indicate that you DO understand (yet reject) the point I am making.

For example, mathematics is tautologous - so God's inability to make 2=2 = 5 is nothing to do with omnipotence and nothing to do with the matter under discussion.

God's supposed inability to make a rock too heavy for him to lift is just a poorly-formed thought-experiment - a mere assertion which is contradicted at the common sense level - where people often make things too heavy for themselves to lift - from cars and houses, to a mother who 'makes' a son who is too heavy for her to lift. It is just a nonsensical, pointless thing to say!

My thought experiment is quite different - well, there are at least two - the extremity of suffering from severe endogenous depression and torture - and they are quantitative and empirical.

The attempted refutations persistently misrepresent the argument I am making - therefore they are not valid (unless it could be shown that the superficial misrepresentations is NOT a misrepresentation at a deeper level).