An Essay Featured in The Science of Things Failing, Inspired by William Wilson
The Theological Methodologies of Austin Farrer and Metaphor of Tolstoy
Explaining and Justifying Christian Thought
How do we know about God, and how do we live out that knowledge? Reason and revelation are often placed in opposition of one another, but from Austin Farrer we can learn to appreciate how reason makes it possible for us to ascent to a “vague God” that can make us “will” to experience “the particular God” of Jesus Christ disclosed in revelation. Without reason, we could never make it to revelation. This epistemology understood, we may also begin to find ways of grounding axiomatic positions in Christian theology, as well as unpacking the meaning of some of Christianity’s key phrases.
For Tolstoy himself to “jump” from the pages of War and Peace to War and Peace, he needed to see “the order” that he began writing to realize comprehended and expressed through the finished product. The novel War and Peace was a kind of “lens” through which Tolstoy could look back on the pages he wrote and see if they “went together” just as he hoped and worked to realize. Likewise, for a person to “jump” from non-belief to belief in God, one must see the world ordered in a manner that is grasped better through the “believing lens” than through “the non-believing lens.” For Tolstoy to make the described “jump,” he needed to see a real relation between “what he wrote” and the “vague vision” he started out to clarify through his writing. Likewise, the believer needs to see a connection between “the cosmological idea” and the order into which the finite world comes to fall.
People cannot understand if it is better to believe or not to believe until they make the “jump,” for until then, they have not seen through both “lenses” to determine which “the order of the world” is better grasped through. If colleges, society, or the like pressure people not to make such “jumps,” then people will never see a need to make that “jump,” and so they’ll feel wise to stay in place (and who knows, perhaps they are better off). Alluding to Isiah Berlin’s critique of A.J. Ayers, the student who does not get up to see if “it is raining outside” like a teacher claimed finds plenty of evidence proving that his teacher’s statement was meaningless. For one, the student does not see any rain; second, the teacher’s facial expression didn’t look very genuine; third, none of the other students said anything — and so on. (For those interested, this is expanded on in “Austin Farrer and the Problems of Verifiable Education” by O.G. Rose.)
If someone is told that “it is raining outside” and is stopped from looking because “he has no reason to look, just words,” the one who stops the student is like the Christian theologian who stops a believer from using reason because the believer has no reason to trust reason. The theologian believes the reason to trust reason must come from revelation, but it is by engaging in reason that one comes to revelation: we are not born with revelation and come to reason, but the other way around. Reason is always meaningful even if incomplete (perhaps lacking revelation); likewise, page one of War and Peace was meaningful long before War and Peace was finished. However, if I were Tolstoy and couldn’t verify “page one of War and Peace as page one of War and Peace” as meaningful until I finished writing the novel, I could have stopped myself and thought I was wasting my time, thus depriving the world of a masterpiece. Similarly, if I reasoned I should start “page one of living the Christian life,” but at the same time believed my reasoning was useless until I had “the whole Christian life” according to which I could effuse reasoning with revelation, I might never advance into and toward “the Christian life.” And who knows, maybe it would have all turned out to be a mistake anyway.
Had War and Peace never been finished, “page one” would have been verified as “scribblings by Tolstoy.” It was only from “the end” that the meaning of page one could be properly interpreted, but if War and Peace was never finished, that “proper interpretation” would have proven impossible to experience. Perhaps living in something like the “already and not yet” of the Christian, Tolstoy could have forever seen “page one” in the right light, but War and Peace would have stayed forever “vague.” When he started, Tolstoy had “enough light” of the finished War and Peace to continue, and perhaps to allude to Dante, he had “just enough light.” And perhaps like Dante ascending, Tolstoy progressed and gained increasingly more ability to handle “more light” as he went — not too much, and not too little. So perhaps it goes with the Christian regarding “the full Christian life”: reason guides him or her to proceed by “just enough light,” gradually and carefully, not too much or too little light at a time. All this hints at the importance of “mystery” in theology, a “vague vision” that can keep us going and “writing,” per se, when everything is yet to be clear in our vision.
For the student told “it is raining outside,” there is the knowledge of the statement’s meaning, and there is the knowledge gained by going and experiencing “the rain falling outside.” The “casual joint” between the statement “it is raining outside” and experiencing “the rain outside” is the act of the student standing from the desk and looking. The statement “caused” the experience, with meaning running through the whole schema, which “arose” consequence of will. Without the will of the student, the statement “it is raining outside” would have never been “caused into” experiencing the rain outside. The will of the student was the “casual joint” between the two, as the will of Tolstoy linked when he started War and Peace (perhaps without knowing it would be called such) with War and Peace, as the will of the believer links when he or she assents to God with when he encounters Christ.
The skeptic would contend that Austin Farrer argued for a vision of faith that made it “an in-house affair for the already illuminated” — Farrer could be accused of simply working out his own presuppositions, but this critique presupposes a separation between will and what is willed (“rationality” is only possible within a truth accented to by non-rational means, and in this sense everyone “works out their own presuppositions”).¹ But was it not the case that Tolstoy worked out his own “presuppositions” when he wrote War and Peace? Writing entails assuming — at the very least, the assumption that (part of) a vision can in fact be written. Tolstoy believed his characters existed before he wrote them, and he wrote them into existence because he believed they existed. And like the Spirit in Christ, the characters did exist in Tolstoy before they existed in the world, yet they always existed in the world insomuch as they existed in Tolstoy. Had Tolstoy not had these “self-centered” presuppositions and avoided using “circular reasoning” for a more academic or empirical approach, the world would be lacking one of its greatest novels (and, if the Christian believer did the same, the world might be lacking its greatest treasure: God). In fact, if no human ever “worked out his or her own presuppositions,” there would be no novels, no works of art, and no works of genius. Misguided critiques can be signposts to a life without living (and perhaps this hints at why some geniuses want nothing to do with school).
In his efforts to map out the “cosmological relation,” Austin Farrer argued that the fact that the joint (or “point of contact’) between the finite and infinite — the actualized and the considered — was “hidden” didn’t weaken the “specificity” of his metaphysical schema, ‘[f]or the grid includes, [makes] an assertive metaphysical point about, the absence of the point of contact.’² As Aquinas, to paraphrase, opens the Suma Gentilies arguing that we know God is “that which we know nothing about,” so Farrer argues that God’s existence can be known by outlining the line that connects and yet divides the finite and infinite, the knowable and the unknowable. Similarly, the line between the state of Virginia and the state of North Carolina brings those states into existence and so as “touching” and “existing,” yet also “defines” them apart. The states only exist to those familiar with a map; to those unfamiliar with it, Virginia and North Carolina are wild fantasies, created by those who worked out their own presuppositions: the states are one and the same thing (fields and forest).
Being a Christian is like being an artist: the believer is a writer, creation pages, and God the novel. The epistemology and justification of faith is lived: the believer lives like an artist. Does this mean God is a work of fiction? Even if so, works of fiction can be realer than people.
It is impossible to inescapably demonstrate God’s existence, for God is beyond the scope or framework any evidence supposedly “proving” Him would function within (ultimately, one must “go and see”). All such phenomena/evidence would be the effects of God, and though effects can “point to” a cause, they cannot prove a cause of a particular kind (only a cause in general). From the pages of War and Peace, a man on an island might be able to deduce the existence of paper, writing, fictional characters, authors, etc., but the stranded person will be unable to prove the existence of Tolstoy in particular or War and Peace. The castaway may assent to them, but he will not be able to prove them. Yet this does not mean War and Peace and Tolstoy don’t exist, only that the castaway cannot prove them in their particularity from the castaway’s framework. And yet the very fact the castaway is “pointed toward” something suggests that there is something being “pointed at.”
For the student told by a teacher that “it is raining outside,” there is the knowledge of the statement’s meaning, and there is the knowledge gained by going and experiencing “the rain falling outside.” Likewise, there is the knowledge of God (“as Being,” perhaps) and the knowledge gained by going and experiencing Jesus Christ. Because “God” (“as Being”) can be meaningful to people, it is possible for people to go and experience Jesus Christ (who is “in” the premise of “God” the whole time). If “God” was not graspable by reason, it would not be possible for me to meaningfully make sense of “Jesus being God” according to revelation. In a sense, when I’m told “it is raining outside,” it is because I have the reason to understand the statement meaningfully that I can then will to go and experience “the revelation” of the rain itself. In other words, it is because of reason that someone stranded on a desert island can deduce the existence of writing and a possible writer, and it is thanks to this reason that the person might be willing to discover War and Peace along with Tolstoy. Similarly, it is thanks to reason we can determine God “might exist” and thus will to encounter and “enter into” the revelation of the Bible.
Although it can be hard for Christians to realize it after years of habit-formation, we come to know God “vaguely” at first — as closer to “the God of Pure Being” — and then come to understand “Jesus as God” (as a particular person). If we are told “Jesus is God” before we understand the concept of God, the phrase likely means nothing to us: it is because we start in (or at least simultaneously grasp) an ontological, reason-based God that the idea of “Jesus being God” can mean anything to us at all (as unveiled by revelation), and from that point, our understanding of God undergoes refinement (like a sculptor chiseling out a statue). This point can be supported by the fact that usually when Christians think “God,” they naturally think of something like an abstract “Pure Being” and then think about Jesus Christ, while if you say “Jesus” to a Christian, they may first think “God” then. We all start in a “God of the Philosophers” and then move to a “God of (a) Revelation,” and it is human will itself that can be the “causal joint” between “a vague vision” of God and “the person of God” (Jesus Christ). The “vague vision” plays a necessary role, though it’s easy after “going through it” to think it was never needed in the first place. Similarly, after Tolstoy finished War and Peace, it was like his vision was never vague or never “had to be” vague at any point. A general awe of the infinite seems like it was never necessary, only the infinite’s “particular” manifestation into the finite, but a “vague awe” had a necessary role to play for us to reach an “awe of Jesus.”
Even if we happened to be born in a Christian household, without reason, we can never make it to revelation (and do note that means reason was utterly necessary before the Bible). If I am born directly looking at a Bible (tied down like in Plato’s Cave), without reason, I won’t be able to read it. Reason comes before revelation and makes possible for me to “will” and receive revelation (meaningfully). If hence my knowledge of God activates my “will” to experience Jesus Christ, then I and my will become the “causal joint” connecting God (as “vague ontology” or “vague vision”) with Jesus (as “finished vision”) (the same logic applies to the articulation of Christian life). In a sense, God is “the idea of War and Peace,” while Jesus (and technically “The Trinity”) is “War and Peace.” Because of “God as Being,” it is possible for me to have a will that can connect “God/Being” with “Jesus Christ,” but it is not forced. I am the metaphysical synthesis between “God as Being” and “God as Jesus”: there is no link unless I will one. Similarly, there is no link between “the idea of War and Peace” and War and Peace unless Tolstoy wills one and finishes the job.
As made possible by reason and revelation, it is my will that can allow “the infinite” to permeate my “finite” reality in a way I can handle, by “just enough light,” and into terms of finitude that I can understand. War and Peace, in a sense, was both finite and infinite, for there were infinite directions Tolstoy could take the story, and yet it was the finite expression of War and Peace that made those infinite options possible. With each choice, Tolstoy “opened up” different sets of infinities (all of which took place on the “ground” of the first infinity which “opened up” when Tolstoy had the idea for the novel). Considering this, the finite and the infinite are always related, as are potentiality and actuality.
“Nothingness” lacks any relation to infinity; infinity only exists where there is finitude, and grasping this point is critical. Infinity only exists where it can be limited (by experience, reason, etc.). Considering this, infinity only exists in relation to the very finitude which seems to disprove the existence of infinity, and since the infinite can only be experienced “realized” and “as finite,” there will always be reason to think the infinite doesn’t exist. And yet “infinity” can still be meaningful to us like rain a boy has not observed, and it is precisely because of hearing about “infinity” that we can go and see what it is all about. Unfortunately, whatever we see will always be finite, suggesting the infinite isn’t there even when we look at it. Similarly, when we hear about God and go to see Jesus, we see only a man. When we think about revelation, we experience it as reasoning.
There is a relation between the finite and the infinite because they always exist together, as there is always a relationship between potentiality and the realized (in a sense, there’s not a “relation” so much as they are identical, part of the same “thing,” but unveiled differently: finitude is a “degree” of infinity). If there is potentiality, there will be infinity, for there will be that which isn’t realized and thus not “in finitude.” If potentiality ran out, spacetime would freeze and we would surely die: the infinite must exist where there is life (likewise, for the Christian, so must God). In a very real sense, infinity is potentiality, while finitude is the realized. Infinity is always possible; infinity is never a realization. When we are talking about the infinite, we are talking about that which is always possible. But isn’t “the always possible” nothing at all? It could be, relative to humans, but relative to God the infinite is more like a landscape covered by mist. The land we can see is the finite, while the land under the mist is the infinite. Does the veiled land not exist?
Only God is “realized infinity in Himself”: everything that isn’t infinite is finite, and only God is infinite. The rest of us are finite, and so God is God alone. Can infinity enter into finitude? Of course, seeing as finitude is part of infinity (it already is and has been). Thus, it was possible for God to manifest into the particularity of Jesus Christ, because the infinite and finite don’t cancel one another out (even though they seem to do so because our phenomenological experience of the infinite is always translated into the finite, “veiling” the infinite). In fact, if God was to exist meaningfully beyond an abstraction to us, God had to enter into finitude particularly, in the same way that if the phrase “it’s raining outside” is to be fully meaningful, the student must get up and go see the rain (and also be given a will to make that act possible). Since God is good and must do what is good, since it is good for us to know God “as fully as possible” (according to what is humanly possible), it was necessary for God to manifest into history as Jesus Christ (and to give us a will by which we could “causally join” the idea of God to the person of Christ). Thus, if God is good, God is incarnational.
It is the finite which is infinite, as it is the particular which is universal. Everything universal is a particularity, as everything finite is an expression of infinity; a universal characteristic is particularity, as an infinite characteristic is finitude. When I walk a landscape, there are the sections I’ve explored and “realized” and the parts beyond the horizon: what I’ve realized is “finite” and what is beyond me is “infinite,” but both are part of the same landscape and only possible because of that landscape. We mark the line between the explored and unexplored parts of the landscape, as we mark the line between the finite and the infinite (and function as the “causal joint” between the two). We draw the border between Virginia and North Carolina, per se, when to someone else exploring the land, there’s no “visible” border at all (and when it comes to the infinite, only God can explore all of it).
Perhaps confusion on this subject is due to the double use of the word “infinity,” for the word “infinity” is used both to refer to the “ground” that makes finitude possible and “the unexplored horizon” finitude is yet to realize. Similarly, in Christianity, there seems to be a conflation of “infinity as potential” and something like “Platonic Infinity,” generating confusion. Perhaps we need a third term like “(in)finity” to help clarify, and say there is the finite which we realize, the infinite we are yet to realize, and the “(In)finite” that makes up the whole schema (a mixture of the Platonic and real). If this is the case, God is “(In)finite,” which makes sense in an incarnational belief system where God is both in and outside of history. In a sense, this means everyone is part of God and/or “in” God, but perhaps Jesus is so much part of God that it’s as if the rest of us aren’t part of God at all. Similarly, as Richard Niebuhr pointed out in his Radical Monotheism and Western Culture, in the Old Testament, there were other gods, but Yahweh was so much God that it was as if the other gods weren’t gods at all.
“God as Jesus Christ” was finite, infinite, and (In)finite: “the Ground of all Being.” For Christians, Jesus Christ is the ultimate manifestation of the “(In)finite” into finitude, but it is up to us to “will” to see “the (In)finite” in the finitude of Jesus (and all of creation, for that matter), which would thus make it possible for us to manifest “the divine order” into reality like Tolstoy’s belief in War and Peace made it possible for him to write the novel and “make it real.” Jesus Christ was the only “perfect manifestation” of the “the divine order or drama” that God wanted to write through us and invited us to participate in, and it was possible for God to enter into history because the finite consists of the infinite: they don’t cancel each other out, but consist of the same thing from different perspectives, as could be said of being and Being.
Many people are uncertain how the individual of Jesus Christ could be “the God of the universe”; in other words, how could God “fit” in Jesus, per se? Generally, people hold an idea in their heads of God as a “collection of all things,” like a smorgasbord of entities, and that makes it hard to understand how Jesus could be God. For if Jesus was a particular person and God an ontological smorgasbord, the entities couldn’t be one and the same.
A question that could help answer this: Are all the creations of a creator contained in the creator? In other words, is Tolstoy and War and Peace identical? Are the characters Tolstoy created “Tolstoy?” The answer seems to be yes and no, and in the same way, it seems to be both that we are all part of God and yet not God. We in some way reflect and “say something” about God, but none of God’s creations are equal to God’s self. That seems to be what is meant by the phrase “everything is God” — it seems to mean something like “War and Peace is Tolstoy.”
Considering this, perhaps we could make sense of the idea that God “is realized infinity in Himself.” Tolstoy is likewise “realized War and Peace in himself,” meaning that Tolstoy is all the potentialities made by War and Peace and is those potentialities realized. Seeing as “infinity” is the “canvas,” per se, on which (realized) creation operates, to say God is “realized infinity in Himself” is to say that God is the potentialities that made creation possible and is those potentialities realized (for God, the word “infinity” and “creation” seem identical, for infinity is the potentiality realized by finitude to give finitude form). Does that mean War and Peace is reducible to Tolstoy? Not at all, as God isn’t reducible to creation, and yet as War and Peace is in a way “in” Tolstoy, so God is “in” creation. As all the characters in War and Peace could meaningfully say “we all are (in) Tolstoy,” so we can all meaningfully say “we all are (in) God.”
So, let us ask: How could all of War and Peace “fit” in Tolstoy? Perhaps this is like asking “How could God fit in Jesus?” (especially if we understand God to be the preconditions that make creation possible). Let us imagine that Tolstoy wrote himself into War and Peace. Imagine he was a character in the story and other characters approached him and knew he was the creator of War and Peace (perhaps because the fictional Tolstoy told them). And imagine someone said to this fictional Tolstoy, “You are God”; imagine someone else said “You contain and sustain everything”; someone else: “You are us (War and Peace).” Would these statements be true? They would be and they would not be.
Insomuch as these phrases are meaningful when said about “Tolstoy the writer,” so these phrases would be meaningful when said about “Tolstoy the character” to the degree the character is “like” “Tolstoy the writer.” If the character is “fully the character Tolstoy” and “fully the writer Tolstoy,” then indeed the phrases would be meaningful when said about the fictional character, even if in some way “through a glass darkly.”
The character Tolstoy would not be ontologically equivalent to the writer Tolstoy, and yet, in a very real way, it could be said the character is “fully Tolstoy” (especially if Tolstoy the writer used his full powers to create a character just like himself). No, the character Tolstoy would not be ontologically equivalent to the writer, and yet the character could “fully capture” the person of Tolstoy the writer. Practically speaking, if you knew Tolstoy the character, you could know Tolstoy the writer — there would be little difference, if any at all. If well crafted, perhaps we could say the character is “fully a writer” and “fully a character,” as Jesus is said to be “fully God” and “fully human” (fully participatory in both ontologies)?
Do note that the only way the characters in War and Peace could know “Tolstoy the writer” would be through “Tolstoy the character,” and if Tolstoy wanted to let his characters experience him, it would be critical for Tolstoy to craft his fictional version perfectly. Also, remember, a great writer doesn’t know ahead of time what his or her characters will do and be — they are lead “by the genius in the fingertips” (to use Farrer’s phrase).³ In the same way, Tolstoy may have wanted to see what happened when he added himself to the story: what could occur could be interesting to him (for he could not know ahead of time). Perhaps this means Tolstoy had to take a kind of risk — maybe his characters would kill him, hurting his image of his own characters — but if Tolstoy wanted his characters to know him (perhaps motivated by love), Tolstoy had no choice but to face the unknown. Once Tolstoy chose to write War and Peace, this was the choice he found himself facing (which would not necessarily mean Tolstoy was “limited,” per se, since he chose to submit himself to this situation in choosing to create).
But doesn’t this metaphor suggest Jesus Christ was a fictional character relative to God? Not at all. First, is it true that fictional characters aren’t real? In one sense, yes, and in another, not at all, especially if the fictional character is based on a real person. Perhaps it can be said fictional characters aren’t real, but they certainly exist. Perhaps it could be said that fictional humans are simply humans “on a different dimensional plane,” only possible because humans exist — the question is ultimately what constitutes the ontology of fictional characters. Additionally, to maintain Christian Orthodoxy, we have to be sure that Jesus Christ is not in some way “less real” than God.
Perhaps relative to us, fictional characters are “less real” than we are, but though I think a Tolstoy analogy can help us understand the actions of God through Jesus in creation, it does not follow that Jesus is ontologically equivalent to an illusion. Indeed, Jesus Christ as experienced by humans is not “the fully expressed” Godhead, but it does not follow from this that Jesus isn’t “God.” Indeed, what humanity experienced of Jesus was “God incarnated,” meaning “God in ontological terms humans could experience” (and survive), not “a representation of God” (if by “representative” one means “someone or something on God’s behalf”). As finitude is a part of infinity, so Jesus Christ was “part” of God: to allude to the imagery of Dante, instead of thinking of Jesus as a “representation of God,” it is more helpful to think of Jesus Christ as the sun covering itself with clouds so that humans can look at it. Is the sun “less the sun” when it covers itself so that we can see it? No: perhaps it is “less bright,” but that is only relative to our perspective; relative to itself, the sun isn’t “less bright” at all. In fact, it could be said the sun is being “loving” to so shield itself, for not only are our eyes protected, but we can see the sun no other way. If we are to see the sun, a mixture of “veiling” and “unveiling” is required, an “(un)veiling” (which has no ontological consequences). Similarly, it could be considered “loving” for God to “(un)veil” himself in Jesus Christ, and if “God is love,” then it would follow that God would so act. Similarly, it could be considered loving of Tolstoy to write himself into War and Peace so that his characters could meet him (especially if meeting Tolstoy would help his characters feel like their lives had meaning, etc.).
As in the above example Tolstoy “wrote” himself into War and Peace so that characters could know him and experience him in terms they could comprehend, so God “translated” and “(un)veiled” Himself into creation in terms that humans could experience; otherwise, humans could have never known God beyond an abstraction, which if God could help, would have been unloving of God not to help. In no way whatsoever does this mean that Jesus Christ was a “reduction” of God — Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” — instead, Jesus was an “(un)veiling” that humans could handle (and was especially justified considering there was no other option for humans to encounter God non-abstractly) — it was also possible because finitude and infinity do not negate each other. If humans could handle experiencing God “fully,” then perhaps it would be “unloving” and “unjustified” for God only to “(un)veil” Himself versus “unveil,” per se, but only God can experience God “fully,” and so if humans are to be distinct from God, then humans must lack the capacity to “fully” experience God. Additionally, we have reason to believe that, since God is good, that God “(un)veiled” Himself in Jesus as much as humans could handle (and that God continues to do so relative to what each individual can handle, as individuated by the Holy Spirit)
Aren’t we mixing metaphors in combing the metaphor of writing and the sun? Well, when describing a God who transcends language, if there is to be any hope of understanding God, we will have to come at God from every angle we can muster. Also, could I describe a person and the actions of a person with a single metaphor? What metaphors do the best job explaining or representing a person changes relative to the persona and the action in question. That said, if we want to stick to the “fiction writing” metaphor but also don’t want to suggest Jesus is a “fictional character” relative to God, then that can be accomplished if we keep in mind that Jesus Christ is just as real as you and me. Perhaps in a sense we are like “fictional characters” relative to God, but it’s more like we were “birthed.” We are children of God, not mere creations, and yet there is a sense in which children are indeed creations of their parents. Perhaps it could be said Jesus “is like God’s child alone,” which mean Jesus has the same DNA as God and in a sense “is” God. If this was the case, it makes sense to say that “Jesus is the son of God.”
Is introducing birth another metaphor? Perhaps, but perhaps “birthing a child” is closer to “writing a character” then the sun metaphor from Dante. Regardless, there are multiple models by which we can try to make sense of how God acts in creation through Jesus without disturbing the internal consistency of Christian Orthodoxy. At the end of the day, only God knows which model is the case (if any); the job of theology is only to posit models lacking internal contradiction — to suggest possibilities that maintain Orthodoxy — it is not the job of theologians to say which model is “the model” (a right only God should be afforded).
But why must humans be distinct from God? Couldn’t God have made many Gods? By definition, only God can be God alone, so if there are many Gods, God would not be God. Well, so what? How can we be so quick to say that creation wouldn’t be better if we weren’t all Gods? Well, this becomes axiomatic, because if God didn’t choose to make everyone a God, it must mean that God knew in His omniscience that a creation in which everyone was God would not be best. Additionally, if it is true that there can only be one God, then perhaps God knew he couldn’t create Gods without committing suicide and negating all of existence? Perhaps God doesn’t have the power to create multiple Gods at all (though I hesitate to say this and prefer thinking God could but chooses not to because it would be suicidal)? But surely if God is good, then multiple Gods would be better, yes? Not necessarily, especially if God is already “the maximum amount of possible Goodness” (I will capitalize letters here), and indeed, perhaps God could only make “more Gods” by splitting Himself up, and perhaps a “unified Good” is better than “Good divided up?” Since God Chose to create a “Unified Good,” there is axiomatic reason to think that, and additionally if there were many Gods, would they not have to split control, responsibilities, etc. up amongst themselves? Perhaps, but why would this necessarily be worse? Well, if a single unified “will” shall always choose “the very best possible good” every single time, what additional value would having multiple such wills bring about? I can think of none.
By definition, God must be as “simple” as absolutely possible while generating the most possible good, and if no value will be added by creating multiple Gods, then God would be justified not to create multiple Gods. With multiplicity comes complexity and risk, and if no additional value or good can be gained from this risk, it is not good to take the risk (and do note that it is not in God’s nature to do what is illogical). Additionally, we have reason to think from the apparent failings of Democracy in the West (as of 2020) that multiple decision-makers isn’t always best. In fact, there is good reason to think a “benevolent dictatorship” is the best of all possible systems, but problematically if that system is corrupted, it becomes a malicious dictatorship, the worst of all possible systems. Humans seem to inevitably corrupt whatever they get involved in, so it seems inevitable that a “benevolent dictatorship” would eventually become a “malicious dictatorship” (like the greatest angel Lucifer falling into the Devil), meaning it’s not the best system on earth (but instead perhaps the best system on earth is a system that contains power). However, in God, a benevolent dictatorship will never be corrupted, and so God in His Goodness would pick that system, the best of all possible systems, with a “unified will” to run it (thereby eliminating the risk of corruption).
We have axiomatic reason to think that it is best there is only one God, and thus that it is best that God did not make us Gods. Consequently, God must relate to us through “(un)veiling” versus “unveiling.” At the same time, since God is good, we have axiomatic reason to think God made us “as much like God as possible” without causing all the problems stated above. Hence, the Christian tradition of calling humans “images and likenesses of God” is justified and expected.
But is War and Peace conscious? What I mean by this is to ask is “God as Being” conscious? We know Tolstoy was conscious, but what about Being? In a way, War and Peace is conscious, or at least bears the stamps of consciousness, and yet isn’t conscious. It certainly seems alive, as does “God as Being,” and yet isn’t. The sense of consciousness and aliveness comes from “the experience of reading War and Peace,” in the way that “God as Being” seems conscious and alive from “the experience of creation.” But though War and Peace is about conscious character and was a product of consciousness, it is not conscious in-of-itself; similarly, though creation entails conscious humans and was a result of a Conscious God, creation is not conscious itself. Thus, when we say “God is Being,” this does not mean that Being has the same attributes as God; rather, it is to say something like “Tolstoy is War and Peace” or “War and Peace is Tolstoy.” These sentences are admittedly confusing, and yet there is truth to them. So it goes with saying “God is Being.”
If we were characters in War and Peace and said, “Tolstoy (the writer) is Being,” this would be true in one way and false in another (and if we said this about “Tolstoy the fiction character,” it would be true to the degree the fiction character “participated in” the writer). Tolstoy the writer is not ontologically equal to us as characters in War and Peace, and yet Tolstoy’s unique ontology is the source of our own. Thus, it would seem valid to say, “Tolstoy is (a) Being while we are being(s),” for it is out of the Being of Tolstoy that the being(s) of ourselves emerged and were made possible.
As characters in War and Peace, we would be fictions relative to Tolstoy the writer, and yet relative to ourselves, we would be as real as anything else that existed. If we sat down and wrote a story in Tolstoy’s world, the characters we wrote would have different ontologies from ourselves, and an especially different ontology from Tolstoy (and so on ad infinitum). Therefore, when we say, “Tolstoy is Being,” it would be pivotal we meant something by “being” different from when we said, “we have being.” Assuming though we meant a Capital-B-Being when referring to Tolstoy, it would be correct to say, “Tolstoy is Being.” It might be confusing, but in Tolstoy being the source of War and Peace, the phrase would be valid.
But if Tolstoy (in his being) generated the being of War and Peace, doesn’t that imply a separation between Tolstoy and War and Peace, and therefore how could Tolstoy “be” everything that is War and Peace? Tolstoy is the conditions that made War and Peace possible, and War and Peace is “in” his world (it’s a book on his shelf, after all). The novel is in Tolstoy’s world, per se, and the novel wouldn’t be in Tolstoy’s world if he didn’t create it. The same goes with God and us: we are in God’s world, but God’s world is not in ours (or at least not beyond the degree God has “written it” into our world and so “(un)veiled” it) — being is in Being, but Being is not readily in being.
This certainly implies a separation between Being and being, but it’s not a hard separation, and the separation is more real relative to us in creation than it is relative to God. Likewise, the separation between Tolstoy and his War and Peace is less real to him than it is to his characters (who might not even know he exists). The separation is more of a matter of perspective, and indeed, though the physical object of War and Peace is separate from Tolstoy, the story itself is from within Tolstoy and — especially if Tolstoy had perfect memory like God — it would still be alive within him (especially if Tolstoy was in all moments of time at the same time: especially if Tolstoy was in every moment of the creative process simultaneously). The fact the story is in the physical War and Peace does not mean it is not “in” Tolstoy also: it’s now in multiple places, and yet basically the same entity. So it goes with Being and being: being is separate from Being but still contained in Being simultaneously. It is being that is more “at a loss” than Being. (Another way to put this is that War and Peace is from “within” the conditions of Tolstoy that made War and Peace possible. Similarly, creation is from “within” the conditions of God that made existence possible.)
To think of War and Peace as “being” and Tolstoy as “Being” might be strange, but there is a real sense in which the characters of War and Peace walk around in and on “the being” Tolstoy created and gave to them. He made the ground on which they walk, the feelings that fill their hearts — Tolstoy gave them their “totality,” and only the word “being” seems to capture that totality. Similarly, Tolstoy generated War and Peace out of the “totality” of himself: any artist worth their salt will tell you that their projects come “out of every part of them,” not just their minds and not just their hearts. Thus, it seems accurate to say that (the) “being” (of War and Peace) came from (the) Being (of Tolstoy). Totality generated totality.
Metaphors are always imperfect, but hopefully by thinking of our relation to God like War and Peace characters thinking about their relation to Tolstoy, we have helped clarify some confusing notions in Christianity. Additionally, by understanding the epistemology presented by Austin Farrer, we find reason to think that our relation to God is indeed like that of fiction characters to their writer. If we are to know our writer, we must do so according to the methods outlined by Farrer.
¹As found in “A Proof of the Faith: Austin Farrer’s Case for Theism,” a dissertation by William McFetridge Wilson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, 1983: 22–23.
²As found in “A Proof of the Faith: Austin Farrer’s Case for Theism,” a dissertation by William McFetridge Wilson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, 1983: 14.
³As found in “A Proof of the Faith: Austin Farrer’s Case for Theism,” a dissertation by William McFetridge Wilson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, 1983: 11.
1. If when meeting “Tolstoy the fiction character,” we said, “you contain and sustain everything,” this phrase would be especially true if “Tolstoy the writer” existed in all time at the same time, as does God. So it goes with phrases like “you are everything”; “you are being”; and so on — God is always in the creative act (of us).
2. Perhaps a problem lies with the word “God,” causing confusion. Perhaps Jesus, in a sense, is not “God,” but instead “The Trinity,” that the general signifier “God” never refers to Jesus, but instead only signifies “Being.” Perhaps Jesus is “God” in that Jesus is “the entity most like” Being/God in the universe, but Jesus himself cannot be reduced to “God.” Perhaps if we never said “Jesus was God,” but instead only said “Jesus was the Trinity” (and then asked “Is Jesus God?”), there would be less confusion. Certainly, the “God of Being” is everything, and everything is Jesus insomuch as Jesus “Is” the God of Being, but Jesus is not merely the “God of Being.” Perhaps we can say that God is particularly “The Trinity” and generally God.
3. Thinking of God as a writer can help us balance thinking “we are God” while at the same time not thinking “we are God.” Certainly, we are extensions of God in that we are created “out of” God, but we are indeed “out of” God. Indeed, it helps also explain how “God can be everything” but at the same time Christians not be pantheists.
4. Do you consider this paper metaphysics?
5. If Jesus Christ is in God “writing” Jesus Christ on earth, then even if in some sense the Jesus Christ on earth is “less God” then God in Heaven (which I do not concede), then Jesus Christ “in God” is still fully God. Hence, Jesus is still “fully God” and “fully human.”