Divine Hiddenness, pt. 2

Strange Notions cites an objection that has come up here a few times before:

“[O]n standard theisms, God supposedly loves us, and so desires our ultimate well-being. But that ultimate well-being necessarily involves having a positive relationship with God, and in order to have such a relationship one must first believe that God exists. So if God really existed and really loved us, He would make sure that all of us believed in Him. Yet the world is full of rational persons who blamelessly fail to believe in God. Consequently, one must give up some aspect of standard theism, and the aspect it is most sensible to drop is the very idea that God exists.”

Note first that the target of the objection is defined far too broadly: a Calvinist would be mystified by the positing of a world of blameless persons, all of whom God wants a positive relationship with. A Stoic or Aristotelian would be confused about how anyone could ever get the idea that God loves us and desires our ultimate well-being. A Muslim might be confused about how one could ever claim that Allah sees me and all of my family as blamelessly remaining infidels. A whole host of pagan religions might wonder why the objector completely fails to see the reality of the hatred or fickleness of the gods. Christian Universalists might insist that this is exactly why God will save everyone in the end. So are these all not “standard theisms”?

Sure, we all know that the objection is targeted at contemporary “unconditional love for everyone” Christianity. But even then the objection might be missing the point. These sorts of teachings might well be given pastorally, and things played in a pastoral key can’t simply be the target of this sort of theological objection. If I tell a little old lady that all she has to do is say prayers and trust in God, it would be crazy to make this a universal principle and then target it with systematic critique. It would be crazy even to universalize this advice as pastoral – as though a pastor would say exactly the same thing to an angry druid who barged into his office and demanded to be told about Methodism.

But let’s assume we can find some sort of systematic theology that God loves us and desires our well being universally. This still wouldn’t be enough: we’d have to find a theology which insists that God wants this in the sense that he wants it to be accomplished right now, in spite of any resistance we might have to the change. Good luck with that.

The deeper problem, however, is with an unthought supporting the objection, which is something like “if God wants to talk to me, I’m right here waiting”. This is simply to treat our predicament as though it were not deeply committed and given over to all sorts of impediments to divine relationship, impediments that arise not just from our own choices but also from broader social conditions. We might assume that these impediments would be obvious to us, but this is a colossal blunder to appreciate the usual course of our inner life. This passage from Tolstoy’s Resurrection  explains what I’m gesturing at:

It is usually imagined that a thief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, acknowledging his or her profession as evil, is ashamed of it. But the contrary is true. People whom fate and their sin mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. In order to keep up their view of life, these people instinctively keep to the circle of those people who share their views of life and their own place in it. …

And in this manner Maslova had formed her views of life and of her own position. She was a prostitute condemned to Siberia, and yet she had a conception of life which made it possible for her to be satisfied with herself, and even to pride herself on her position before others…

This problem is compounded through our social existence among others doing exactly the same thing, and so what was convincing enough as merely a personal opinion of our faults becomes even more convincing when it is glorified in a philosophy, a heroic work of art, a beloved song, etc.. The upshot of this is that even if we are speaking of God’s unconditional desire for a relationship with us, the right metaphor to compare this to is an abused wife’s unconditional desire for a relationship with her husband. I personally know women in this position, and there are husbands who might well insist to their dying breath (in the face of documented and indisputable abuse of every kind) that they did nothing wrong. There’s nothing even controversial about claiming that this is the usual state of affairs: you could conclude to all of it a priori from the basic findings of cognitive dissonance theory.

The fact of the matter is that this is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw from the hypothesis of divine love. The correct and rational response to such a hypothesis is the horror over the unspeakable crime that have all committed and keep cluelessly committing. If God really loves us, then at the heart of existence there is an unspeakable wounding, abuse, and sorrow in the heart of God himself. Hell is simply the place we flee to in the face of what we’ve done, or perhaps the infinite continuation of our kidding ourselves.



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