Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Grace Has a Face"

This is a very good, relatively new Christmas song by the southern gospel trio Greater Vision:

I especially like the lyrics of the chorus:

Hope has hands.
Freedom has feet.
Truth will stand.
The Word will speak.
The Holy and lowly will finally embrace,
For Love has a heartbeat, and Grace has a face.

It takes a special kind of philosophy of religion geekery to take an interest in this dispute between Ed Feser and Dale Tuggy about Perfect Being theology and its relationship both to logic and to Scripture. I confess that I take some interest in it, enough to have read all of Ed's most recent (as usual, lucid, well-written, carefully argued, and altogether classy) post on the subject, but not enough to keep up with it from day to day and week to week. I do think it relevant, as Ed has pointed out, that Tuggy is not a Trinitarian. That's got to be a count at some level against Tuggy's rather robust dismissal of classical theism.

At the same time, I have something of a tendency in Tuggy's direction (though needless to say, not in the direction of his loosy-goosey approach to the Trinity), as evidenced by the mere fact that I can't get into the debate over Perfect Being theology all that deeply. If I agreed entirely with Ed, I would doubtless think the debate a good deal more crucial than I can find it in my heart to think it. Moreover, a long time ago Ed and I had a collegial but intense and long debate over the design argument in which Ed vigorously rejected the types of arguments made by intelligent design writers in science as, allegedly, incompatible with Perfect Being theology. And if that's really the case, then I'm inclined to say, "The heck with Perfect Being theology, because the evidence is what it is, and it says what it says." The more stratospheric flights of Perfect Being theology leave me gasping for air, and when I'm quite sure that I won't know what I'm talking about if I take a definite position, I'm just not going to take a definite position.

Okay, that all sounds like a rather strange paragraph either to follow or to precede a discussion of a Christmas song. Here's the connection: One point Tuggy brings up that Ed doesn't have time to address (Ed's post being quite long, careful, and detailed enough as a response to Tuggy already) is that, whatever we say about God aside from the Incarnation, Jesus was an individual man with a real human nature. Hence Jesus was undeniably a specific self among other selves, which is exactly what Perfect Being theology says God cannot be.

I knew already that Perfect Being theology has to make a big bracket anyway for the Incarnation, because Jesus underwent change (growing, for example, from a child to a man, weeping and then ceasing to weep, and so forth), whereas the changelessness of God, who has "no potentialities to actualize," is a linchpin of Perfect Being theology. So a lot of this is going to have to be "apart from the Incarnation" no matter what. That actually makes sense to me and doesn't seem to me to vitiate Perfect Being theology in itself. After all, even a non-philosopher should say, "God does not have literal hands, aside from the Incarnation." So it needn't be too much of a problem to say the same about God's having literal emotions or undergoing literal change, and I suppose there is some perfectly precise locution the theologian can use for a similar point concerning God's "not being a self among other selves"...aside from the Incarnation.

Hence the connection with the song: Even if one is committed to Perfect Being theology, the Incarnation forces one to admit that all those abstract and perfect Divine attributes which go beyond personhood--Truth itself, Being itself, Intelligence itself, Holiness itself--came down to us and became one particular person, one baby, one child, one man, with a particular face. Somehow, if God really is all those superpersonal and abstract things, this must be possible, for it is the core of our Christian faith that God became a man. Love has a heartbeat, and Grace has a face.

On this, it seems, the classical theist and the less philosophical or at least less classical theist must agree, if they are both Christians. God became man, and in becoming man, did not cease to be God. God, who sustains all the universe by the word of His power, did not take a break from sustaining the universe, a time-out while he went down for a little thirty-three-year episode of being a man. No, the Eternal Son could not cease to be the Eternal Son. (There's something for the one who wants to scoff at Perfect Being theology to ponder.) On the other hand, the Eternal Son, by whom and from whom and for whom are all things, really became a person with a particular personality, a Jewish baby in a manger, a child playing with other children, a boy talking with the rabbis in the Temple, a man weeping over Jerusalem, a man dying on a cross. This is a great mystery, one of the central mysteries of our revealed religion.

Someday, when we are in heaven, we will not only kneel and adore but perhaps also talk together: "Of course. It must have been this way. I understand it all so much better now." Not that our minds, being finite, will ever be able to understand it all. But since we are assured that then we shall know even as also we are known (I Corinthians 13), there is some hope of those conversations. In those heavenly philosophy get-togethers, I trust that Ed and I, and hopefully Dale Tuggy, too (if he gets his heretical views on the Trinity knocked out of him in some purgatorial fashion here on earth or beyond), can raise a glass of some heavenly wine and together love, with our minds, the God who is Perfect and who also, for us men and for our salvation, became a man.


William Luse said...

I started to write a comment but, being very tired, my head started swimming. How the eternally unchangeable 2nd person reveals himself through a changeable, finite human nature (laughing, crying, sympathizing, suffering, etc.) just makes my...I already said that. I'll try to get back to you.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Bill! I'm glad I'm not the only one.

In all seriousness, it's a good thing we don't have to know everything.

William Luse said...

Okay, here's a question. Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, his friend apparently. Since the personal identity of the man known as Jesus Christ was in fact the eternally unchanging 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, it would seem that his human nature could experience no emotional fluctuation, such as sadness (or whatever caused his tears), unless so moved by its Divine governor. But the Divine is not subject, as Ed put it, to such a "mixture of potentiality and actuality," no variation in His emotional keel. In fact, though Christ's human nature can be said to possess the
potential for emotional variation, the Divine Person has no emotions at all, as we understand them, only a perfect and unwavering Will to the good of mankind, which (I presume) is identical with His undiminished, ever-burning Love for each and every one of us. Thus, from whence proceeds the sadness over Lazarus' demise?

Lydia McGrew said...

I think the idea is that in his human nature, Jesus _did_ have an admixture of potentiality and actuality, as can be seen physically in the fact that he was constantly undergoing physical change. Hence, in his human nature he could also experience changes of emotion.

As far as I know, the "classical theist" who is also a Christian affirms all of this. I'm sure that Ed does. But it's certainly difficult to wrap one's mind around.