Thursday, November 4, 2010

Counter-factuals and the Righteousness of God

I’ve been working on this post for several weeks now. Having finished it, while I believe the conclusion I come to is true, the assertions in this post are meant to be tentative rather than dogmatic. I do not usually enter into the arena of speculative theology, but perhaps after this post, it will be clearer as to why I have prefaced the post in this way.

So as to avoid confusion, the following is an outline several points I believe are biblically backed and to which I will refer throughout the rest of this post:

- God ultimately causes all things, meaning that it is by His will that this possible world is an actual world.

- A possible world is a world which God could have decreed to effect.

- God knows counter-factuals, meaning that He knows of possible worlds which He has chosen not to effect (e.g. Matthew 11:21).

- God is righteous, meaning He always acts such that the manifestation of His glory is the teleological end of all things; there is a correlation between God’s righteousness and His glory.

Theologians sometimes distinguish between types of knowledge in God’s mind:

1. Necessary knowledge - knowledge of what must be

2. Middle knowledge - knowledge of what could be

3. Free knowledge - knowledge of what is

One might say that the first type of knowledge is predicated on God’s knowledge of Himself, the second type on that which He is able to effect, and the third type on His eternal decree. One might also argue that God’s middle and free knowledge are predicated on the knowledge depicted in the higher wrung[s] of the above hierarchy, since, for example, it makes sense that God would have to know what “must be” to know what He “could effect” and would have to know what He “could effect” to know what He “has decreed will be effected.” Whether these categories of knowledge hold under scrutiny remains to be seen.

As I was flipping through Carl F. Henry's magnum opus, God, Revelation and Authority at the library some time ago, I found, in Volume 5, several sections on divine omniscience and immutability. Since I had recently been writing about both, I naturally skimmed through those sections, and when I did, I found the following question:

"Does the very notion of "events which could have been otherwise" violate divine omnipotence and omniscience?" - pg. 295

This question is asked in a context in which Henry is talking about process theology, so what Henry has in mind is probably God's "free" knowledge. But because I didn't realize this at first, the quote actually inclined me to think about whether or not there is an inconsistency between my notion of God's knowledge of counter-factuals - i.e. His "middle" knowledge - and His righteousness.

Why did God decree to effect this possible world over against all others? Because, it would seem, this possible world maximally manifests His glory. If this possible world, which God has decreed to effect, manifests His glory less than one which He has not, God’s righteousness would be called into question. Or, if we suppose two possible worlds would equally manifest His glory, it would appear that God arbitrarily chose to actualize this possible world – after all, since both worlds are consistent with His righteousness, what reason had He to choose to actualize this possible world over against the other? Scripture, on the other hand, depicts a God who chooses according to His good pleasure and desires. God had a reason for decreeing to effect this possible world over against another. If God had actualized another possible world, then, He would have done so for a purpose other than the manifestation of His glory. But this would deny that the telos of all things is the maximal manifestation of God's glory. Recalling that there is a correlation between God's righteousness and His glory, and that God is righteous, God's decree to effect this possible world implies that this possible world is entailed in God's decree to maximally manifest His glory; that is, given God's purpose to maximally manifest His glory, God necessarily must have decreed to effect this possible world.

But then – and here is the point – how is it that God even knows of counter-factuals? Apparently, God knows what is logically impossible: what would have happened had God acted inconsistent with His righteous nature. It is one thing for God to know what He cannot do (e.g. lie), it is another to suggest that God can know what would happen if He does what He cannot do (e.g. lie); the latter presupposes an ability to do the former, which is contradictory. Applying this argument to the subject of this post, it would seem that there is no such thing as “middle” knowledge – or, more precisely, there is no distinction between God’s necessary knowledge, middle knowledge, and His free knowledge.

This stumped me for a while, but after having thought about it, I believe there is a way to counter this dilemma, and that is to ask how God knows this world would more greatly manifest His glory than a counter-factual world. This question exposed a hidden presupposition in the above paragraph, viz. that God purposed to maximally manifest His glory because God is righteous. God's righteousness and His glory are indeed correlated, but the predication between the two is opposite to what I had thought: God is righteous because His eternal decree purposes the maximal manifestation of His glory as the end of all things.

In other words, instead of the idea that God's righteousness is an intrinsic attribute which determines God's choices be to the purpose of His glory, His righteousness is rather, like holiness and sovereignty, an effect of His eternal decree. If God’s righteousness is entailed in His necessary, self-knowledge - that is, if it is an intrinsic, causal attribute - it would constrain His middle knowledge such that He could not know counter-factuals, because for God to be able to decree to effect a possible world which does not maximally manifest His glory would contradict His so-called intrinsic righteousness.

Unlike holiness and sovereignty, however, both of which are contingent upon God's relation to creation, God's righteousness is ipso facto determined by whether or not His decrees maximally manifest His glory. This idea that God's righteousness is predicated on whether or not He decrees to effect a possible world which maximally manifests His glory is consistent with knowledge of counter-factuals. For instance: supralapsarians note that God’s eternal decree is teleological and implies no temporal displacement in God’s mind. With this in mind, God's eternal decree is, as noted earlier, predicated upon knowledge of various possible worlds. The supralapsarianism claims God decreed to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things. Decreeing in reverse proportion to the execution of his eternal decree (i.e. teleologically), God non-arbitrarily chose between several possible worlds - worlds which are, tangentially, logically possible, i.e. consistent with His necessary, self-knowledge - by choosing the possible world which would maximally manifest His glory.

Thus, although God could have effected another possible world, God's righteousness is not only correlated to His glory but is itself determined by whether He unswervingly upholds His glory, the telos of all things. He could have chosen to effect a possible world in which His glory was not maximally manifested, in which case one might argue that there is unrighteousness with God, but God instead, acting according to His good pleasure, chose to maximally manifest His glory as the telos of all things, a decree which, in effect, determines all other decrees, decrees which evince His righteousness.

32 comments:

Godismyjudge said...

John the Baptist said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Are you saying God couldn't have, since that would have been unrighteous?

God be with you,
Dan

Ryan said...

"John the Baptist said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Are you saying God couldn't have, since that would have been unrighteous?"

I cannot tell from your question in which way you correlate God's righteousness with His decree that all things should maximally manifest His glory. I am saying that God does not maximally manifest His glory because He is righteous; rather, God is righteous because He maximally manifests His glory. Hence, God could have indeed "raised up sons of Abraham from stones," but He didn't, because such does not conform to His ultimate purpose, the maximal manifestation of His glory. Insofar as that is the case, if God had done that, He would have been unrighteous, yes. But I am not saying that God's righteousness dictates the way in which He acts, as though it is a prescriptive rather than descriptive attribute.

Does that make sense?

grit said...

My poor ol’ brain thinks you mostly got the supralapsarian knowledge thing down pat, but I’d tweak the divine attribute presentation a bit.

"Does the very notion of “events which could have been otherwise” violate divine omnipotence and omniscience?" Can God know what is logically impossible in what may have been, which could not by His nature have been? Logically, God’s knowledge is not fractured into what He purposes by His decree and what might possibly be apart from His decree, which is impossible. There is no so-called middle-knowledge, nor counter-factuals, though we may speak of both. Is there a maximal manifestation of His glory? Only to eyes other than His, but never in Himself, even though He speak of it or suppose it in revelation to us for His purpose.

No. There is neither inconsistency nor conflict between God’s righteousness and His knowledge, God’s decree and His glory, all of which are perfect and complete in His aseity or self-existence, and without arbitrariness whatsoever, even in so-called counterfactuals, just as in an appearance of temporal ‘real-time’ binding in divine attrition – like, say, in “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2, NASB). It is both temporal and eternal without inconsistency of conflict or actualization. God necessarily must have decreed to effect this possible world, and that we imagine a possibility of other worlds or some manner of divine counter-factual knowledge is simply His decree of purpose through revelation for our benefit. To imagine that God is constrained by Himself simply works to assert His aseity, even though we flawed creatures may find in it some limitation of God or dulling of divine glory. All of God’s divine attributes, including holiness, sovereignty, righteousness, omniscience, glory, are eternally complete in Him and exist only by and for Him (and only for us as we are in Him). None of God’s attributes are in conflict of inconsistency, even though we may imagine them to be; that is, imagining whether He be transcendent of any or all of them or more one than the others.

That John the Baptist declared a non-realized possibility of manifestation of God’s glory does not alter nor detract from the actual manifestation of God’s glory; but that we or John may imagine some greater or lesser manifestation simply works God’s actual decree of purpose. It’s a different presentation of the same logic of decree and consequence involved with God killing God, which He cannot but must do; where Judas is responsible for betraying the Christ, the Jews and Romans responsible for His death, yet while no one takes His life from Him in the purpose for which He took on human flesh and died in sacrifice by decree before the world began.

I don’t know if that helps or confuses the issue, but God knows.

Ryan said...

I wonder how you would interpret Matthew 11:21, since you deny middle knowledge, knowledge of counter-factuals.

"That John the Baptist declared a non-realized possibility of manifestation of God’s glory does not alter nor detract from the actual manifestation of God’s glory..."

This seems to deny that "non-realized possibilities" would less manifest God's glory that "realized possibilities," in which case I wonder how you would respond to the argument in the post that such implies God's eternal decree is arbitrary.

The way in which I interpret Jesus' death is that it was voluntary, in accordance with God's eternal purpose. The means by which this death was effected was by the sinful Jews et. al., who likewise acted in accordance with God's eternal purpose. I confess I don't understand how your allusion to that pertains to this topic.

Godismyjudge said...

Ryan,

But I am not saying that God's righteousness dictates the way in which He acts, as though it is a prescriptive rather than descriptive attribute.

Understood, but I think there’s a bit more to this. Let me adjust my question. John the Baptist said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Are you saying God couldn't have, since that would not have maximally manifested God’s glory?

God be with you,
Dan

Ryan said...

"John the Baptist said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Are you saying God couldn't have, since that would not have maximally manifested God’s glory?"

Insofar as God decreed that all things maximally manifest His glory yes; insofar as God could have decreed something else to be the telos of all things, no. Raising up those stones would have been consistent with His nature, but it would not have been consistent with what He had decreed as the purpose of all things, the maximal manifestation of His glory.

Godismyjudge said...

Was God able to have decreed to raise up sons of Abraham from the stones?

God be with you,
Dan

grit said...

Forgive me, I’m always too long-winded. I’ll split my post, though I know it’s a fault not to be more succinct.

Matthew 11 begins with John asking by proxy, “Are you the Expected One…?”, to which Jesus replies, “Go and report to John what you hear and see…” (i.e., Jesus’ miracles and message). He then asks the crowds, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see…?”, and again, “But what did you go out to see…?”, and thrice, “But what did you go out to see…?” - their hearts having been predisposed to see or suppose a certain thing. Then, after declaring John a prophet, the Messenger, and Preparer, Jesus contrasts John, the greatest “born of woman” to the “least in the kingdom of heaven” – a very powerful contrast, especially to Jesus’ hearers. And on that note Jesus launches into His denunciation in woe of those cities witnessing His miracles, weighing the so-called counter-factuals of other historical cities of Biblical prophecy, and declaring to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum what certainly will be for them in the “day of judgment”, just as judgment had been witnessed upon Tyre and Sodom.

His benediction in prayerful praise sums it up, that the Father is praised and well-pleased in to whom Jesus is hidden and to whom He is revealed, clarifying that, “no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (v. 27); while yet inviting, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (v. 28), and “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 15).
(continued...)

Ryan said...

"Was God able to have decreed to raise up sons of Abraham from the stones?"

Yes. But because such would not have maximally manifested His glory, and because He has decreed that all things should maximally manifest His glory, He did not.

Godismyjudge said...

Ryan,

I see. But wouldn't it have been unwise to decree to create such a world? While we might be able to think of righteousness as simply descriptive, it's tought to think of wisdom the same way, since we normally think of God's wisdom as guiding His decree. Also would seem impossible for God to do something that is unwise.

God be with you,
Dan

grit said...

A knowledge here of so-called counter-factuals in the passage, of supposed what-ifs, actually denotes God’s factual intimate and complete knowledge of every human heart, both then as now, even as only the Father knows the Son. Christ knew that the hearts of many Jews witnessing His miracles were more bitter and hardened against His message than those of Tyre, Sidon, or Sodom, and so their condemnation will be greater - punishing none more than they deserve, and never withholding a necessary knowledge of the truth from any truly longing for it. He exposes the childish game that certain witnesses to His ministry are playing in the darkness of their heart, in similar fashion to their what-ifs (v. 16-19) - John “has a demon” for he does not dance and feast; “The Son of Man” is a “gluttonous… drunkard” with low friends in high places because He eats and drinks with such. “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (v. 19). Jesus turns the what-ifs back on them to show that the true judgment of wisdom is in what deed is revealed of the heart in feasting or mourning, in miraculous healing or sackcloth repentance, and not in mere appearance of outward blessing or sorrow. We might say Jerusalem appeared as the Holy City, and that the prosperous and miracle-witnessing Capernaum was blessed of God quite beyond a Sodom burned to ash by heavenly fire; but God need not suppose a counter-factual of good or evil demarcation in feasting or mourning in ministry, prophesy or miracle from God or demon, or outward human responses; He knows in free and necessary knowledge. God’s eternal decree as such is an expression of His glory. It only gives an appearance of being arbitrary in the necessary mystery involved by our creatureliness and dependence on His revelation, the totality of which as regarding His glory we are incapable of possibly witnessing or fully appreciating, though He provides a sufficiency to His chosen and a responsible general revelation to all.
(continued)

grit said...

Any supposition of repentance for Sodom, or a counter-factual knowledge of such, is according to human judgment of things, as like that of those coming out of Chorazin and Bethsaida to witness the Christ, some to God-given repentance, some to self-seeking earthly benefit, and some to mocking ridicule. One might say these listeners too would don sackcloth and ashes, as a supposed Sodom, even to seeking an earthly crown for the one miraculously filling their stomachs, but God has always perfect knowledge of the heart. God does not give sufficient grace to all men alike. Some ‘hear’ and others do not, but the invitation and message is declared to all. Had God decreed that Sodom or Capernaum be repentant and spared they of a certainty would have been. That they were not, are not, and will not so be spared, and that their judgment is measured according as the condition of their heart in degree of hardness in no way denotes a what-if of some other possible world or unfolding of redemptive history. Sodom of a certainty had to burn. Capernaum and Bethsaida had to reject. Judas of a certainty had to betray. Jewish priests and Roman officials had to crucify. Jesus had to die and raise to life again. But none of this denotes an arbitrary or impersonal deterministic absolutism, but rather a most personal responsiveness to secondary causes of human hearts under sovereign purpose to God’s glory.

Ryan said...

"But wouldn't it have been unwise to decree to create such a world?"

Of course. But that may simply be because to create such a world would not contribute to God's decree that all things should maximally manifest His glory. I'm shooting from the hip here, so to speak, and I don't mind saying so, but Ephesians 3:10-11, 20-21 seems to indicate that this is the case. What do you think?

Ryan said...

"Christ knew that the hearts of many Jews witnessing His miracles were more bitter and hardened against His message than those of Tyre, Sidon, or Sodom..."

If the miracles performed to the Jews had been performed in Tyre et. al., that is correct. The question is how Christ knew that, not that He knew that.

"We might say Jerusalem appeared as the Holy City, and that the prosperous and miracle-witnessing Capernaum was blessed of God quite beyond a Sodom burned to ash by heavenly fire; but God need not suppose a counter-factual of good or evil demarcation in feasting or mourning in ministry, prophesy or miracle from God or demon, or outward human responses; He knows in free and necessary knowledge."

I didn't follow what you are trying to say here.

"God’s eternal decree as such is an expression of His glory. It only gives an appearance of being arbitrary in the necessary mystery involved by our creatureliness and dependence on His revelation, the totality of which as regarding His glory we are incapable of possibly witnessing or fully appreciating..."

I don't think God's decree is or seems arbitrary at all. Only God can know what will maximally manifest His glory. The problem I was attempting to relate in the OP is that if God's righteousness compels Him to necessarily decree that His glory is maximally manifests (i.e. if His righteousness is prescriptive rather than descriptive), we are left at a loss as to how to explain God's knowledge of counter-factuals, since such knowledge presupposes an impossibility; viz. that God can fail to decree that which maximally manifests His glory. I do not see how you have addressed the fact Christ knew what would have happened had Tyre et. al. witnessed the miracles Christ's contemporaries did. That is knowledge of what could have been, not what was.

"God has always perfect knowledge of the heart. God does not give sufficient grace to all men alike. Some ‘hear’ and others do not, but the invitation and message is declared to all. Had God decreed that Sodom or Capernaum be repentant and spared they of a certainty would have been."

Precisely. But this means that 1) God knows what could have been had He decreed counter-factually, and 2) by extension, righteousness is not an intrinsic, prescriptive attribute which compels God to decree that which will maximally manifest His glory. The correlation between glory and righteousness, then, must be one which predicates the latter on the former.

"That they were not, are not, and will not so be spared, and that their judgment is measured according as the condition of their heart in degree of hardness in no way denotes a what-if of some other possible world or unfolding of redemptive history."

Of what could have been is not predicated on what is; as I noted in the OP, "God... would have to know what He “could effect” to know what He “has decreed will be effected.”" This is bolstered by a straight-forward reading of Jesus' words in Matthew 11, which suggests that He has counter-factual knowledge.

"Sodom of a certainty had to burn. Capernaum and Bethsaida had to reject. Judas of a certainty had to betray. Jewish priests and Roman officials had to crucify. Jesus had to die and raise to life again."

If God's glory is to be maximally manifested, yes. But you are seemingly misunderstanding or ignoring that to say these things "had" to occur superficially conflicts with God's counter-factual knowledge exhibited in Matthew 11, 1 Samuel 23:11-13, etc. This is the very problem I set out to resolve in the post.

grit said...

“I didn't follow what you are trying to say here.”

It’s a reflection on Jesus’ intent.
God has no need of supposing a so-called alternate possibility except for our benefit (or judgment). A supposed repentant Sodom was never an actual possibility, never a counter-factual except as purposed for imaginative consideration of those to whom Christ is speaking, by way of revealing the depth of their sin and judgment. In their hearts and in expression Jesus’ audience had self-justified a rejection of John in his solemn austerity as daemonic, and equally self-justified a rejection of Jesus as a gluttonous drunkard hanging with his fellow sinners. They claimed that Jesus’ miraculous power was of daemonic source, and thus declared God’s glory evil. God knew their hearts and their end before they were even born or actualised a self-justification of any rejection of God and His messengers. He knew it not as a possibility or probability or choice of possible worlds, but as a decreed and certain fact necessary of His aseity and being.

There is no loss of explanation where there is no alternate possibility. God’s righteousness does not condition any other aspect of His being. One certainly expects righteousness to act righteously, but God is not compelled to act righteously for any other purpose than that He is righteousness, by definition. He also is wholly glory, which eternally is manifest in maximum. We but witness of our own creatureliness degrees of God’s glory and qualifications in righteous acts. We agree there is no possibility of God failing, and it is as so oh His glory as it is of His righteousness. Counter-factuals are a contrivance for human perspective, so there is no conflict in God or a supposed alternate reality. The human concept of middle-knowledge was mostly a valiant attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, in the human strain of comprehending difficulties which are only difficult by human caveat and not in the clarity of actualisation to which God is privy by virtue of His divine being. There is no causal relation between God’s righteousness and glory, for God is righteousness and glory in actualisation. Any supposition otherwise, as if necessitated through so-called counter-factuals, is only an expression (of ‘what may have been’) for the benefit of human perspective in comprehension. It in no way affects or effects God’s attributes, which are rightly more of who God is than what God possesses, as if God’s righteousness and glory were in some manner of conflict or temporal causality. At least that’s how I’ve imagined it, as a supralapsarian Calvinist, which God has purposed for me to be.

grit said...

“I do not see how you have addressed the fact Christ knew what would have happened had Tyre et. al. witnessed the miracles Christ's contemporaries did. That is knowledge of what could have been, not what was.”

As I read it, an apparent counter-factual knowledge in Matthew 11 is plainly presented as an actual knowledge of actual human hearts in the only possible and actual world. Jesus’ declaration of what Sidonians would have done need not be seen as some alternate reality of response to His miracles, but as clear revelation of actual facts in the actual hearts that were the Sidonians. It need not be thought and is not plain that God is saying these Sidonians may have been Christians deigned for heaven in some alternate universe (nor that they were not so). Jesus is telling His very present audience the very wicked state of their own hearts in comparison with what He knows of the actual Sidonian hearts. It reminds me of elsewhere (in a parable) where Jesus in Abraham says to a dead rich man in torment, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” To which the rich man replies, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” In giving a similarly ‘counter-factual’ last word Abraham declares, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16). His declaration is no counter-factual at all, but, just as with Sidon, declares what is, even without the particular ‘counter-factual’ realization the rich man desires. The rich man’s five brothers will not be effectively persuaded, even if Lazarus were to rise and warn them. Oh, it would make an impression on them to be sure, just as did the ministry of John the Baptist and the miracles of Jesus to Jesus’ listeners in Matthew 11, or elsewhere where they determined (in their hearts) to make Jesus king, not in actual repentance, but because Jesus had filled their bellies (John 6).

I don't know if that further clarifies my position. I'm sure I've been awkward about it. But thanks for your post and the dialog.

- grit

Ryan said...

"God has no need of supposing a so-called alternate possibility except for our benefit (or judgment)."

That's not demonstrable, especially in light of the OP's point that God must know which possible world maximally manifests His glory. Your point that Jesus uses His counter-factual knowledge to explain the extent of the condemnation His contemporaries deserved is taken, but it is irrelevant to this discussion. The question has never been if God has counter-factual knowledge, and it hasn't even been to what ends God uses His counter-factual knowledge; the question has been how God has counter-factual knowledge, and the point in the OP which I do not think you've adequately addressed is that if it is the case that God must necessarily have chosen to effect this possible world, such knowledge would be impossible. Counter-factual knowledge is predicated on necessary knowledge, so by restricting the latter deterministically, you necessarily eliminate the former.

"One certainly expects righteousness to act righteously, but God is not compelled to act righteously for any other purpose than that He is righteousness, by definition."

That doesn't explain what righteousness is, though, nor does it explain its precise relation to His glory. You are fudging terms which require elucidation, as in the OP.

"Counter-factuals are a contrivance for human perspective..."

Here, you seemingly argue that so-called counter-factual knowledge is anthropomorphic. A friend of mine who has elsewhere commented on this post argued the same thing, and while such an argument may have merit with regards to Matthew 11, since Jesus has a reason to speak hyperbolically - viz. to demonstrate just how worthy of condemnation those who did not believe Him were - there is no similar reason for God to tell David that if he stayed in Keilah, the leaders would turn him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:11-13). A straight-forward reading of the passage prohibits a hyperbolic interpretation.

"The human concept of middle-knowledge was mostly a valiant attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility..."

Middle knowledge isn't necessary for that (cf. the last paragraph of this post.

Ryan said...

"There is no causal relation between God’s righteousness and glory, for God is righteousness and glory in actualisation."

That is not the implication of Romans 9:14-15 (cf. this post).

"As I read it, an apparent counter-factual knowledge in Matthew 11 is plainly presented as an actual knowledge of actual human hearts in the only possible and actual world."

In the actual world, miracles didn't occur in Tyre et. al. In the actual world, David didn't remain in Keilah. Your response doesn't make sense.

"Jesus’ declaration of what Sidonians would have done need not be seen as some alternate reality of response to His miracles, but as clear revelation of actual facts in the actual hearts that were the Sidonians."

Again, the actual fact is that miracles were never performed, so for Jesus to speculate that the Sidonians would have repented had miracles been performed connotes a connection between the miracles which were not performed (but could have been) and the minds of the Sidonians. The same point can be applied to 1 Samuel 23. You are attempting to abstract the minds of individuals from the circumstances God uses as the occasion by which He forms them, which certainly does not make sense in Matthew 11, since the minds of the Sidonians were actually hardened, whereas Jesus is positing that they would have been circumcised had God occasioned different circumstances.

"His declaration is no counter-factual at all..."

Actually, it is, in a fortiori fashion. I didn't even think about that passage though, so thanks for that and your continued presence :)

grit said...

”Again, the actual fact is that miracles were never performed, so for Jesus to speculate that the Sidonians would have repented had miracles been performed connotes a connection between the miracles which were not performed (but could have been) and the minds of the Sidonians. The same point can be applied to 1 Samuel 23. You are attempting to abstract the minds of individuals from the circumstances God uses as the occasion by which He forms them, which certainly does not make sense in Matthew 11, since the minds of the Sidonians were actually hardened, whereas Jesus is positing that they would have been circumcised had God occasioned different circumstances.”

My point is that we need not view Jesus as being speculative. He communicated actual knowledge of this factual world, not a counter-factual one; just as we might regarding if I touch fire it will burn – which does not necessitate a possible alternate world in which I touch fire and am burned. It’s the supernatural physics of the heart Jesus is emphasizing to His listeners, whose hearts are hardened to a greater degree than the Sidonians and theretofore of more severe condemnation. Similarly, in 1 Samuel 23 God is merely communicating to David what is in the heart and mind of the men of Keilah, an actual “free” knowledge particular to God, and not a “middle knowledge” of “what could be” had David not departed Keilah. As to Matthew 11, I don’t reason that Jesus is necessarily saying that in one non-realised possible world the Sidonians would have been saved, whereas they were not saved because Jesus’ miracles were not performed there.

You’re viewing, a fortiori, a what-if as a counter-factual to what is factual (Jesus performed no miracles in Sidon, so they did not repent in sackcloth and ashes), whereas the passage only demands that in denouncing their lack of repentance Jesus’ present listeners (of Chorazin and Bethsaida, or the cities in which most of His miracles were done) are being told of Jesus’ special knowledge of actual factual attitude of heart by which every man is judged, both Sidonian and Bethsaidan. We need not read that things might have been different for the Sidonians, if only… And we need not read that things might have been different for David, if only… Neither need be interpreted as counter-factuals, but might logically and rightly be interpreted as relating an actual condition of mind and heart.

Ryan said...

"My point is that we need not view Jesus as being speculative."

I agree, but I think you meant to write something else. Speculation is not knowledge; Jesus was indeed communicating something He knew, and this knowledge pertains to a world which God chose not to decree to effect. How could Jesus have known about such a world?

"...if I touch fire it will burn – which does not necessitate a possible alternate world in which I touch fire and am burned."

The question, though, is whether or not you really know that if you touch fire that it will burn you. How do you know that?

"Similarly, in 1 Samuel 23 God is merely communicating to David what is in the heart and mind of the men of Keilah, an actual “free” knowledge particular to God, and not a “middle knowledge” of “what could be” had David not departed Keilah."

Honestly, I do not think you've addressed my point that "you are attempting to abstract the minds of individuals from the circumstances God uses as the occasion by which He forms them." That is the key disagreement we have, I think.

Finally, this is not free knowledge:

1 Samuel 23:12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will.”
13 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

It can't be free knowledge, because the leaders didn't turn David over to Saul, because David didn't stay in Keilah. This isn't an assumption, it's a plain presentation of the facts.

grit said...

The Arminian argument is that Jerusalem’s choice in stubbornness dictates against Jesus’ perfect plan and ardent desire for them to be saved, and indeed for every individual to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4, where Calvinists usually distinguish God’s will as desire (thelo) from God’s will as decree (boulomai), and exegete “all” as non-exclusive of Jew, Gentile, men, women, king or commoner, as described in v. 1 & 2, 7, 8-15). The Calvinist is quick to point out we need not view a limitation of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty in concession to human choice – if God decreed and willed Jerusalem’s salvation, they of a certainty would be saved. Jesus’ statement merely indicates God takes no pleasure in sin and wants a unified people of His own, which He indeed has, by His own choice and decree before the world began. That God says we are stubborn in no way alters His plan or divine attributes. Similarly in Matthew 11, it need not be asserted that Jesus is relating special knowledge of a counter-factual alternate in which Tyre and Sidon, all Jerusalem, or indeed every man is saved. These were never possibilities, even if Jesus in fact alludes to them or appears to for our benefit (or, as in Matt. 11, judgment).

Otherwise, we simply disagree about an abstraction from supposed counter-factual circumstance of a supposed alternate non-realised reality where knowledge cannot possibly exist, even as middle-knowledge. Again, I find it a contrivance, though valiantly engaged. Our differences seem epistemological.

Ryan said...

"Similarly in Matthew 11, it need not be asserted that Jesus is relating special knowledge of a counter-factual alternate in which Tyre and Sidon, all Jerusalem, or indeed every man is saved. These were never possibilities, even if Jesus in fact alludes to them or appears to for our benefit (or, as in Matt. 11, judgment)."

As I said earlier:

//A friend of mine who has elsewhere commented on this post argued the same thing, and while such an argument may have merit with regards to Matthew 11, since Jesus has a reason to speak hyperbolically - viz. to demonstrate just how worthy of condemnation those who did not believe Him were - there is no similar reason for God to tell David that if he stayed in Keilah, the leaders would turn him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:11-13). A straight-forward reading of the passage prohibits a hyperbolic interpretation.//

"Our differences seem epistemological."

And with regards to 1 Samuel 23, exegetical. Yes.

grit said...

I apologise, I’ve been running into e-blogger software difficulty with their urls in posting. This post should have preceded the one beginning, “The Arminian argument…” Thanks again, Ryan, for your thoughts and posts.

It may or may not help clarify to relate that Arminians are often ripe to fashion an argument from Luke 13 (I’m using the NASB). Jesus begins by saying, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Further in the chapter we read of someone questioning Him, asking, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” Jesus cautions; “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able… And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
In verse 34 Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (bolding, mine).
(continued…)

Godismyjudge said...

Ryan,

I agree that it would have been unwise to do something that would not maximally manifest His glory. But God cannot be unwise, so it seems that He could not have so decreed.


Overall, I suppose I go down the other side. I think there were multiple worlds that would equally glorify God; His power and wisdom making such worlds possible for Him to create. Then He choose one. In a way, God's goal was secured from the very beginning by His very nature, all other worlds in which God fails being impossible. His choice or decree (i.e. which world to create) is moreso about how He would accomplish that goal, but it's not as if He could have failed.

As you noted this view is sometimes charged with being arbitrary. But with the alternative being that this world is necessary, I think even initially it's the better way to God. A necessary world sounds like it's heading towards a form of pantheism like Spinoza's.

Besides, each world God could have chosen would of had a reason and therefore would not have been arbitrary (i.e. without a reason). And as for why God choose this one rather than another, that can always be referred to the differences in this world vs. others; which God chose due to subjected preference vs. this world being objectivly better. But ultimatly choice or subjective preference is somewhat irreducable - since it's the source, the starting point you can't really seek what's behind it. It's just what God did.

God be with you,
Dan

Ryan said...

"God cannot be unwise..."

God is not unwise, but is really it contrary to His very nature to be wise? On what grounds?

"As you noted this view is sometimes charged with being arbitrary. But with the alternative being that this world is necessary, I think even initially it's the better way to God."

The alternative to arbitrariness isn't necessarily a "necessary world." That is one of the points of the OP.

"Besides, each world God could have chosen would of had a reason and therefore would not have been arbitrary (i.e. without a reason)."

Such a reason would seemingly have been something other than that this particular possible world manifests God's glory more greatly than all others, which is another statement I denied in the OP.

And if I am not mistaken, you have a Molinistic conception of possible worlds, which would be another disagreement we would have.

Godismyjudge said...

Ryan,

God is not unwise, but is really it contrary to His very nature to be wise? On what grounds?

Well, it's normal to think of all of God's attributes (exect His relational ones like His being merciful) as essental to God. I strikes me as a streach to say it's possible for God to be foolish and/or unholy.

The alternative to arbitrariness isn't necessarily a "necessary world." That is one of the points of the OP.

Oh I like where you are heading with this, and would gladly follow you on it, if I thought your attempt was sucessful. The jury is still out I suppose.

Such a reason would seemingly have been something other than that this particular possible world manifests God's glory more greatly than all others, which is another statement I denied in the OP.

Yes, that is a difference. Again, your answer would seem better than mine, if it were to work.

And if I am not mistaken, you have a Molinistic conception of possible worlds, which would be another disagreement we would have.

I am a Molinist, but I am not sure that's immediately relivant, since we are talking about God's freedom, not man's.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Bringing it back down from the clouds for a moment... When the bible says God cannot sin, or lie or break a promise or something of the sort, I think this is because He is essentially good and in this sense there is only one that is good, that is God. Do you agree? If so, would God still have been good had He decreed to create a world in which He rose up children of Abraham from stones?

God be with you,
Dan

Ryan said...

"When the bible says God cannot sin, or lie or break a promise or something of the sort, I think this is because He is essentially good and in this sense there is only one that is good, that is God. Do you agree?"

No, because I disagree with subsuming God's inability to lie under "goodness." "Goodness" appears to be a synonym for "righteousness." If that's not the case, you'll have to expound. Rather, I would say God cannot lie because He is truth and logic.

Godismyjudge said...

Ryan,

Well, generally goodness is a broader category than righteousness (i.e. a fruit can be good or bad without being morally evil), but that’s somewhat tangential. I guess at bottom, I find the idea that God could be bad, unwise or unholy just counter-intuitive. So while denying God’s essential goodness solves the “arbitrariness” problem it’s faces other problems.

God be with you,
Dan

Ryan said...

Your post left me with little idea of what you conceive goodness to be, so I am afraid I can't really make muster much of a response.

Anonymous said...

Ryan: Reading these comments on the OP is really a blessing to me. I like grits explanations, and I like your thinking.

an aside...though you havent started seminary, you talk like you have a masters in Theology. God knows just how your professors will handle you, I suspect with considerable care.

Love the blog
Marvin

Ryan said...

Thanks Marvin. I always appreciate encouragement.