Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The gulf between creator and created - qualitative or quantitative?

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For non-Christian monotheists, the gulf between God the Creator and Man - numbered among His creations - is qualitative: there is a difference in kind.

On the one hand there is God the creator; and on the other hand there is everything-else - that which He created.

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But for Christians things are not so straightforward. For Christians there is the example of Christ being both God and Man - and the clear implication that there is therefore a continuum between God and Man.

This implies that the gulf between God and Man is quantitative, rather than qualitative (accepting that truly vast quantitative differences are, for almost all practical purposes, qualitative 'in effect'.)

For Christians there is also the statement, the promise, that Man can be deified; that Men can become a Sons of God - and this again implies a quantitative continuum between God and Man.

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Therefore, for Christians there is ample evidence that God and Man are of the same kind, and although there is yet a truly vast quantitative gulf between - yet there is the promise and hope that this gulf can be bridged (by means of the God-Man Christ).

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The problem for Christians is therefore to understand how this (truly vast) quantitative gulf may be bridged: what kind of process could explain this?

The two main ideas about how the gulf between God and man may be closed are:

1. An evolutionary spiritual progression of Man towards God spread across vast time-scales of both pre-existence, and a post-mortal life. (i.e. The Mormon solution.)

Or,

2. An evolutionary spiritual progression of Man towards God spread across mega-multiple cycles of reincarnation. (The Hindu solution, also other Far Eastern regions - and one incorporated into various modern spiritual movements such as Anthroposophy, some New Age writers, and also William Arkle.)

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My point is that an acceptance of the (Christian) principle of deification and an acceptance of the centrality of spiritual progression, theosis, sanctification etc in Christian life; will, in combination, lead on to a need for explanations that:

1. Extend beyond mortal life, and

2. Extend across extremely large time-scales

...in order to make comprehensible how a Man may become a god.
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3 comments:

Jonathan C said...

There is a very interesting non-Mormon version of the first idea (a post-mortal progression of man toward God) in this (free) ebook:

http://www.heart4god.ws/index_htm_files/Gods%20Plan%20of%20the%20Ages.pdf

Probably worth your time, in my judgment. (But it starts out slowly--I recommend starting at page 17.) As you say, the explanation in the book extends beyond mortal life and, for most men, across vast time scales.

tgj said...

This is emanationism, which is a popular idea in Gnostic systems, the Kabballah, and the occult in general. It's never been a Christian belief, as far as I know. If it's a Mormon belief (I don't know enough about Mormonism to say whether it is or not), then it's another example of how Mormonism departs from Christian theology.

In Orthodoxy, the distinction between the created and the uncreated is key. The uncreated is God. Everything else is created. You cannot find two kinds that are more different than the created and the uncreated. The means by which the two are joined together is deeply mysterious, but they are never confused with each other, and neither one obliterates the other. Deification occurs within those boundaries.

After the schism, the West decided that the uncreated is entirely unknowable and that we cannot participate in it in any way. The Orthodox Church maintains, especially in St. Gregory Palamas, that the energies of God are uncreated, and thus God, and we can come to know them and participate in them and even distinguish them from created things through the life of the Church (including Orthodox baptism, the Orthodox Eucharist, etc), and that this is how we become gods like God without ever knowing or participating in God's essence.

There is no way to deification in Western systems. On the theory side, there is only Christianities or Christianisms (i.e. more or less "correct" dogmatic teaching without the life of the Church) and occultisms, all of which worship created things in one way or another. In practice, worshiping the creation does not lead to deification. It is idolatry. It can lead to participating in the energies very exalted created beings, such as Lucifer....

Bruce Charlton said...

@tgj - On the other hand, you could engage with the actual argument - instead of name-calling...