Sunday, April 10, 2016

Why Would God Love Us? God's Love and The Depth of Beimg


Poster on Religious forums
Let's say there is a omnipotent creator being who likes to be called God. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-capable. This dude is the single most powerful being in existence and created this whole universe because he got bored one day and decided to brighten up his surroundings. Why the hell would such a powerful infalliable being care about a puny, measly race such as the human race? What makes us so special that we get promises and covenants with this superpower? Why does he give flying **** whether we know he's there or not? Why does he care what I eat on Fridays, or whether I beat my meat, or whether I lied to my mother? It makes absolutely no sense in my mind, this basic principle of a creator being who cares so damn much about the impotent human race in our microscopic section of the universe.[1]

I have seen this view expressed in many ways in many forums. This particular one is average in many ways, maybe a bit more cynical and snide than most. They seem to reflect the idea that God is too  big to care about us. First let's put to rest the misconceptions unique to this expression. God not a dude. God is not "the single most powerful being in existence." Tillich says this explicitly.[2]  God is not a being but being itself. Thus, God is not the most powerful being but the basis of all being.

This guy just reads into the proposition the idea that God created out of boredom. This is very telling because in asserting a trivial or time killing reason for creation he just denigrates his own existence and all the rest of existence., We are just an  after thought God doesn't really care. A sick flawed God reflects this guy's view of himself. This guy is ascribing it all to absurdly cynical reasons. This tells us more about him then it does about God. Joseph Campbell once said "cynicism appears as insight to the cowardly mind.[3] It's actually cowardice that negates us ever looking for the positive, preparing for inevitable failure. Even apart from this extreme version the whole "God is too big care" ideas really self pity anyway. Perhaps it's also fear of failure. If we accept God's love then we feel more is expected of us.

It may be that the basic question "why would God care?" is a valid question at some level. Assuming so cam we give a good answer? Of course we should be prepared to find that we can't fathom it. God's love is beyond our understanding as is everything else about God. Why should we think we could understand this aspect of God? But we may find some valid reasons. Yet we have to remember that weather or  we understand It. Understanding why God loves us is not necessary to the fact that he does. Yet I have huge reasons to believe that he does. These are demonstrable. The overwhelming sense of love that accompanies mystical experience is enough to confirm God's love in a way that can never the doubted. This is well documented aspect of mystical experience.

The question has to be differentiated still further. There is no doubt that great insights and revelations are profoundly felt in mystic or peak-experiences, and certainly some of these are, ipso facto, intrinsically valid as experiences. That is, one can and does learn from such experiences that, e.g., joy, ecstasy, and rapture do in fact exist and that they are in principle available for the experiencer, even if they never have been before. Thus the peaker learns surely and certainly that life can be worthwhile, that it can be beautiful and valuable. There are ends in life, i.e., experiences which are so precious in themselves as to prove that not everything is a means to some end other than itself."[4]

In addition ot the empirical fact of God's love it makes sense that God would love, it is God's nature to love, God is love. We know that God is the ground of being, or being itself. Tillich makes this connection. Tillich says that if We know being has depth we can't be atheists:
"The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."[5]

What this means this depth of being is that there's more to being than just the fact of things existing. Part of that is modes of existing, such as necessity and contingent, part of it is the existential dimension and the phenomenological dimension. One such aspect is transcendent truth. IF we could know there is a transcendent truth we could know there's depth tha would give us a handle on the kind of depth that is a clue toward realization of the divine. Tillich did not make a formal argument stating "here is my ontological argument." Many see implicit in Tillich's work a new approach to the ontological. In other words It is God's nature to love because God is the basis of all being and there is a connection in the nature of love and the nature of being.
I believe that when the Bible says "God is love" it means it literally. In other words, we should put an "itself" there. God is "love itself,": the thing that love is actually the essence of what God is. Now you may ask how can God be both being itself and love itself? Because these two are inextricably bound up together. Love is giving, the idea of seeking the good of the other, according the other full human dignity equal to one's own, these are ideas that entail give over, supplying the other with something. It's a positivity in the sense that it supplies an actual thing to someone. Being also shares these qualifies. Being is giving in the sense that it bettors itself upon the beings and they have their existence. It is positive in the sense that it is something and not taking something away, it's not a void as nothingness is, but moves in the direction of filling a void; nothingness becomes being, the existence of things.

So love and being are really the same impulse and they both unite in the spirit of God. God is the basis of all being, of all reality. God's character is love; that is God seeks the good of the other and bestows upon us the ultimate human dignity of being a child of God. At this point I turn to the other great theologian of Being itself, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

The common human tendency is to think God created because he needed something. Balthasar is hinting, I think, that God creates because its his nature as being to foment more being, in other words, its creative and God is Creative. It is not for God’s need that he creates but for what will become our need once we are created. In other words, God created us so that we can enjoy being, not because he needed us because once a part of being we would need and would be fulfilled in the need by love.

No Philosophy could give a satisfactory response to that question [why did infinte create finite?] St Paul would say to philosophers that God created man so that he would seek the Divine, try to obtain the Divine. That is why all pre Christian philosophy is theological at its summit. But, in fact, the true response to philosophy could only be given by Being himself, revealing himself from himself. Will man be capable of understanding this revelation? The affirmative response will be given only by the God of the Bible. On the one hand this God, creator of the world and of man, knows his creature. “I who have created the eye do not see? I who have created the ear do not hear?” And we add who who have created language, could not speak and make myself heard?” This posits a counterpart: to be able to hear and understand the auto-revelation of God man must in himself be a search for God, a question posed to him. Thus there is Biblical theology without a religious philosophy. Human reason must be open to the infinite.[6]

Notice how he capitalizes “B” in being and refers to being as “himself.” He personifies being and clearly speaks of it as the creator.
Balthasar sees the understanding of the revelation of “being himself” (my phrase based upon his) to humanity as rooted in the most fundamental human relationship. He says, “the infant is brought to consciousness of himself only by love, by the smile of his mother. In that encounter the horizon of all unlimited opens unto him.”[7] What he means by that is it is only through being por soir, for itself, in other words, consciousness, that we are able to comprehend the infinite and that only in contrast to the finite. Before we can do that, however, we have to become aware of ourselves so we can know we are finite. I think he’s making an implication that love is a link to being itself, and that through our encounter with love, the mother, we encounter the father, so to speak—by way of encountering love. We can see this in four truths that Balthasar finds rooted in this encounter:

(1) realizing that he Is other to the mother, the only way the child realizes he loves the mother; (2) love is good, therefore, being is good; (3) love is true, therefore, being is true; (4) love evokes joy therefore being is beautiful.[8] Notice the link between being and love. He is one of the rare theologians to point out this curial link.

The one, the true, the good, the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of being, because they surpass all the limits of essence, and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals—between those of the creature and those in God.[9]

In this quotation he as much as equates being and God, since he speaks of the attributes of being then connects the understanding of these to the link between God and the creature. There is more to be said about Balthasar based upon this observation and it will figure importantly in two more chapters, including the last one, and the over all conclusion.

we don't know what God's purpose for us is but if God is too "out there" for us to believe he loves us then we can't second guess his purposes and thus we have not right to doubt his love.


[1]godlikemadman, Religious Forums, feb 26, 2011
accessed April 10, 2016

[2] Paul, Tillich, The Courage to Be, Yale University Press; 2 Sub, 2000, 182.

[3]  Joseph Campbell, The Hero with A Thousand Faces.

[4] Abraham H. Maslow, "Appendix D. What is the Validity of Knowledge Gained in Peak-Experiences?" Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. New York: Penguin books, 2014.

[5] Paul Tillich, The Shaking of The Foundations

[6] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “A Resume of my Thought,” in David L. Schindler, Hans Urs Von Balthasar: His Life and Work. San Francisco:Ignatious Press, 1991, on like version p1-2 URL:
[7] Ibid, 1
[8] Ibid., 3
[9] Ibid.



Eric Sotnak said...

I've got mixed feelings about the line of thinking under scrutiny here, which I see as an instance of an argument from scale. Your brief summary gets to the heart of it well enough, I think: “God is too big to care about us.” I think even theists sometimes share the feeling here. I have a friend who became more convinced that theism is true upon reflecting that Jesus (=maximally perfect God) cares about him (= maximally imperfect human). His thinking is along the lines of, “You want to know how great God is? He's so great that he even cares about little old me!” And that seems to me the right way to go IF you already accept theism. As I see it, the general counter to most arguments from scale is to emphasize the cocktail that you get from mixing God's omniscience with his omnibenevolence. God's omniscience renders most comparisons of scale meaningless; nothing is epistemically more or less significant than anything else. That is, the mistake is in thinking that if x seems insignificant to S, it must therefore also be insignificant to an epistemically greater being.

On the other hand, though, consider the corresponding principle: if x seems significant to S, it must also be significant to an epistemically greater being. We reject this principle all the time when someone thinks their own personal problems are objectively concern-worthy. You're upset because the store is all out of your favorite brand of mustard? Just look at the all the people who have nothing to eat at all. Taking a broader perspective is all about re-evaluating concerns in light of considerations that have previously been excluded.

So if someone says, “God cares deeply about what materials your clothes are made of.” we can go in either of two directions. We could take the view that God, in his greatness, cares even about such apparently trivial concerns as what clothes are made of, or we could take the view that concerns about what clothes are made of wrongly elevates something that might be of concern to finite beings like us, to something that would also be concern-worthy of God. In a lot of cases, I would have to say the latter route seems greatly preferable.

Joe Hinman said...

that's the thing about being a "mystic." I am theoretically at least. For a mystic not knowing is not a draw back. So the feeling that God is too immense to love us is not a reason to think he doesn't.