Monday, April 23, 2007

Musings on the collective quality of being human

We reached the 50-comment limit on this Catholic/Orthodox discussion on original sin, but Perry Robinson asked me a good question that I ought to answer.

Perry said:
God could still have Mary as the Theotokos and have prevented everyone else from inheriting original sin.Why not both? This I think shows the inadequacy of appealing to her unique vocation to address the underlying worry about the problem of evil.

I replied:
I could have prevented the possibility of either of my children committing actual sin by slaughtering them after they were baptized. Why didn’t I do that? This I think shows the inadequacy of your underlying worry about the problem of evil.

There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.

Perry, as is his usual habit, asked a good question:
I don’t think you have given the proper analogy. God could have prevented lots of moral evil, not by doing some evil to human agents but by doing some great good to them. If you could have given your child a proverbial pill to prevent them from not only sinning but ever dying or any serious suffering, wouldn’t you do so? Now, you may object that your ways aren’t the ways of God. Fair enough, but given the imago dei, it is also true that we have via reason, barring Calvinism and Jansenism, a genuine notion of goodness. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be good to give them the pill. Do you?

My point was exactly that it isn't at all clear to me that God could have prevented lots of moral evil by doing some great good to them. For example, protecting people from evil is unquestionably a good, but it isn't at all clear to me that protecting every person from all evil (which God could assuredly do) would be doing humankind a great good. The reason I would present is that the interconnectedness between human beings isn't such that what grace was given to one or another person in some particular situation could be equally given to all in all situations without substantially disrupting the entire arrangement and diluting the context in which people have experiences that make them unique. The reason Catholics appeal to the Blessed Virgin's vocation as Theotokos is that this role is special in history, so that special intervention in this case is more fitting and consonant with the role that she plays, even though it most assuredly would not be for everyone. If this were done indiscriminately, then it would wash out all of the differences between people, and it would compromise their individuality as humans. Part of what separates us from the angels is that we each live our own lives in a fundamental connection to one another. Thus, we have an ability to experience God that is both more profoundly individual and yet closer even than what the angels have.

Therefore, I think the analogy is apt. I can deprive my children of their opportunity to grow and to have their own experiences and to be their own people. But it would not be good of me to do so. Why would I think that it would be any different with God? Certainly, God might tolerate evils as between people that have the same effect, but He has also revealed to us that they are tolerated, not caused by Him in any sense (James 1:13-18), and even these are tolerated for the sake of allowing each individual, even the wicked, a measure of life and opportunity (Rom. 9:22, 2 Pet. 3:9). So God wishes to preserve the fullness of human experience wherever possible, and in only one person's life in all of human history would it have actually been consonant with her particular experience to experience His presence for her entire life: the one who would bear His Son. It doesn't seem to me that the gift of sanctifying grace "out of order" (so to speak) would be a great good for all human beings. It would undermine the entire form of Christian life, including particularly the Sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist. On the contrary, I think that God values our individual existence as human beings, even with all the risk and vulnerability that it includes. Otherwise, He would have stopped creating with the angels.

And by the way, what counts as good in terms of God's allocation of graces and the circumstances that face us is thoroughly shrouded in mystery, and rather than speculating about the reason for these differences, we ought to admit the real impossibility for created intellect to know these things. Indeed, the entire rationale for imprecatory and intercessory prayer is that we do not and cannot know, coming to God and our brothers and sisters in the faith to pray for His mercy.

4 Comments:

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan --

About your remark here:

There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.


I would think that the purpose of such exposure to evil would be to allow for the act of the will by the individual and give him/her the freedom to choose good (and, in so doing, giving glory to God), no?

 
At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above was me -- e.

(Forgot to sign -- sorry.)

 
At 6:43 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Yes, all of those things are true, but they are a description, not an explanation. When it comes down to it, there is no general "why" for individuals; that has meaning in terms of our individual experience. The mystery is in how this collective situation is described by an overarching providence that yet allows authentic individual experiences. How our lives fulfill our individuality is hidden in the mystery of God.

 
At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mystery is in how this collective situation is described by an overarching providence that yet allows authentic individual experiences. How our lives fulfill our individuality is hidden in the mystery of God.

Thus, the omniscience and infinite nature of Divine Providence and the fact that He exists ever in the Eternal Present?

What I love about you, Jonathan, is your statements are quite rudimentary -- but boy do they contain much insight!

 

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