Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More Thoughts on Edwards

The following quote is from Chapter 1, Objection 2: “Some may object, that to suppose God makes himself his highest and last end, is dishonorable to him; as it in effect supposes, that God does everything from a selfish spirit.” This is what I call “the narcissistic problem,” and it has been my main objection to the God-centeredness of God, or at least my main confusion about it. What follows is my reflections on this problem:

1. The problem arises from an assumption that is, in the end, false. Specifically, I have assumed that self-centeredness or ultimate self-interest is intrinsically corrupt, but this is true only insofar as the nature of the being in question is corrupt. Since God is infinitely holy and incorrupt, he cannot be corrupt in any of his thoughts, choices, or actions, even if that be to commence and consummate all things in himself, for himself. Thus, the nature of his self-centeredness is as infinitely different from ours as his character and perfections and holiness are infinitely different from ours.

2. The praise of worth rightly belongs to the source of worth, and since God is the source of his own worth, it is right for him to praise his own worth. What else shall he praise? The reason it is unbecoming for a person to praise his own worth is that his worth is derived from God, and thus, to praise himself is like a painting praising itself rather than the painter. But since God is the source of his own worth it is becoming of him, and others, to praise his own worth.

3. The measure of rightful praise is equal to the measure of actual worth. The reason it is unbecoming of a person to praise himself, and more so, to do everything he does with a view to the praise of himself, is that such praise is disproportionate to his actual worth. It is like a robot seeking praise for itself because it can walk, rather than seeking praise for its creator who has made it to walk. But since God is infinitely worthy, the measure of rightful praise of him is likewise infinite, and it is becoming of him to do all that he does with a view to his praise. God’s infinite delight in himself, far from being corrupt, is a proper assessment of his worth.

4. Two quotes help elucidate the next point: “And it is impossible that God, who is omniscient, should apprehend his interest, as being inconsistent with the good and interest of the whole” (Objection 2, answer 3). “This supposes that God having respect to his glory, and the communication of good to his creatures, are things altogether different: that God communicating his fullness for himself, and his doing it for them, are things standing in a proper disjunction and opposition. Whereas, if we were capable of more perfect views of God and divine things, which are so much above us, it probably would appear very clear, that the matter is quite otherwise: and that these things, instead of appearing entirely distinct, are implied one in the other” (Objection 4, Answer 1).

I think my main confusion about God’s self-centeredness, or ultimate self-interest, lies in a failure to comprehend the infinite difference between the nature and effects of his self-centeredness and the nature and effects of human self-centeredness. The nature of human self-centeredness is the vain attempt to fill up the emptiness of the human soul with that which is finite, e.g., praise, honor, fame, wealth, carnal pleasure, etc. Thus, in its effect it tends to devalue, demote, and suppress the worth of other things and beings, to puff up the self by degrading the other, or by misappropriating the value of the other. It is like a black hole that has to suck everything into itself in an attempt, however vain, to fill itself up.

The nature of Divine self-centeredness is delight in the infinitely and ultimately delightful, it is delight in fullness, and thus its effects are infinitely distinct, and opposite from, human self-centeredness. It is nearly impossible to comprehend, because we are finite and corrupt, that a creature so great as God can seek his own interest and seek the interest of the other simultaneously, and that this is no contradiction, but a necessary consequence of his nature and being. But this indeed is the case, even if we grant that the seeking of his own interest is superior to the other.

Enough for now, more musings to come.

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