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Free Will and Creation in Light of the Multiple Goods in God


At first it didn’t make sense to me how evil, free will, multiple goods and whether or not creation was absolutely necessary, were connected. To be honest, it’s still a relatively new area of study for me. Perry Robinson at his blog “Energetic Processions” has countless of posts about this very topic. And showing how it touches upon all aspects of Christian theology. As it it first and foremost, a deeply Trinitarian issue. And how ones understanding of God, sets the framework for the possibilities of how to deal with these problems. Or ones conception may indeed be part of the problem itself. A great book on this is Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor by Joseph P. Farrell. Luckily a free pdf is available at Energetic Processions.

In discussing Jonathan Edwards with one of friends, some of the issues at hand began to dawn on me. Which lead me to a short essay on the topic. The key point in the essay, is the idea of a multiplicity of goods in the good. Without affirming this, then ones theology has the same problem as Edwards. To make sense of this, I’ll try and lay out how I understand the Orthodox postilion of the Trinity.

The person of the Father enhypostasises/grounds the divine essence. There is no essence sans persons and no person not essenstialised. There is no priority of one over the other. Yet principle that grounds reality and the essence is the personhood of the Father. From his person the Son is begotten and the Spirit is spirated. And they share the one divine essence. The persons are not reducible to the essence. Nor are they from it. Rather the Father is autotheos, and the Father and Son are of the Father. Metaphysically distinct from the essence and each other. Yet inseparable. Both the persons and the essence are not being. Nor are they non-being. They are beyond being. They don’t share our ontology at all. Their activities however are manifestations of the powers inherent to the divine essence. They are activities of the divine persons and being itself. They are not substances or parts. Simplicity here entail that each of the divine persons are indivisible per essence thus in all their activities fully. Every energy has God fully present and thus can be called God. Whilst understanding that God is not reducible to anyone of them. These energies are God’s glory and the goodness. The ends/multiplicity of goods to which all things aim. Since they are infinite, they allow for free choice between alternatives in the eschaton. And participation and true contact with that which is divine (uncreated). Theosis by taking on the energia. Without being assumed into the ousia.

Level 1. [Uncreated/Beyond Being/Energia] Father (Ingenerate/grounds essence) -> Son (of the Father) -> Spirit (of the Father)
Level 2. [Uncreated/Being/Energia] The divine energies
Level 3. [Created/Being/Energia] Everything else.

As my friend put it “What Adam and Eve sought in consuming the forbidden fruit was Theosis, but they didn’t choose the right way towards Theosis.” Every inclination is towards a good, but not every manner of achieving the good is good. The question is, does Theosis (deification/glorification) have as its end one single good? Or are there a multiplicity of goods in the good?

Reformed theology has the further issue of having natures determine choice. How could Adam and Eve with natures created by God, be determined by them to sin?

“A moral ability is when you are bad enough to choose sin. There’s enough badness in you that you can choose sin. Jesus didn’t have it. There was no badness in Jesus. Therefore he did not ever, in his willing and feeling and in his perception of temptation, he didn’t ever rise to the point of going there. Because that’s evil in us!” [Piper, John. ‘Was It Possible For Jesus To Sin?’. Desiring God. N.p., 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.]

For John Piper, sin is not an option for Jesus, since there is no “evil” in his nature, thus it’s not an option for His Will. Ignoring for the moment the implicit Gnosticism of attributing evil to an impersonal substance, John Piper is now in the same dilemma as Edwards. Namely how could Satan, Adam, Eve and the fallen hosts ever sin, if being determined by their nature, they had no “evil” in them before?

What is the Orthodox take on simplicity? I could be mistaken, but so far this is my understanding on it.

That there is more to the divine nature than simply the essence. There are the energies of God. Which are plural, and divine (uncreated). Metaphysically distinct from the essence, not just conceptually. Without entailing that they are separable or amount to composition in God.

Thus there is a multiplicity of goods in the Good (God). Many logoi in the one Logos. Allowing for both free will and alternative possibility and impeccability. This is the position of Maximos and Gregory Palamas.

No multiplicity in the good would either mean that in the eschaton the saints lose the ability of alternative possibility or there is always the possibility of a fall (hence Origen’s endless cycles of falls and redemption, since for him the good was one and yet man had to remain free). And if one attains the single good, any choice to the contrary would be evil.

Or one could deny alternative possibility as necessary at all but that still doesn’t help the situation, and we are back to a sort of Calvinism/best possible worlds scenario. Where for the good to be maximally great, it must depend on evil. God either determines a world of evil by necessity of his nature, his glory depends on it, or he prefers it. But the idea that good and evil are necessary counterparts, isn’t Christianity. It’s Dualism.

You can’t reconcile absolute divine simplicity which denies metaphysical distinction in God, with the thesis that there are such metaphysical distinctions.

First thing is that simplicity which merely says God is not composed of parts, per the Cappadocians, Maximos and Palamas does not rule out metaphysical multiplicity.

If metaphysical distinction entails composition then either the divine persons are only conceptual distinct (modalism), or God is composed.

If metaphysical distinction implies seperability then either the divine persons are not metaphysically distinct or they are separable.

Thus the energies are not merely conceptually distinct (simply being aspects of the one essence) and nether is God’s simplicity denied.

And now there can be true participation in what is divine (uncreated) and union with God in his energies. Becoming all that God is in his energies (theosis), without partaking of the divine essence and becoming an extra member of the Trinity.

The alternative is that man never has participation in the divine (uncreated/God), but only in created effects/graces, to avoid being assumed into the essence. Man is thus united to God by a creature. A sort of soteriological Arianism.

If you believe the essence and energies distinction is correct then one can say God is his act of creation per energy, but he is more than that per essence. Given simplicity, God is completely in all his energies. And so one can say God is love, God is beauty, God is wisdom. It is also why he can’t contradict himself. But God is not reducible to any of these, since he is more than just energy. And the divine persons themselves are not reducible to the essence.

These issues of goodness, free will, free creation, are all connected. It’s becoming clearer to me as times go on, that if one gets it wrong with God, they’ll surely have issues down the road with everything else. Obvious when one thinks about it. But how exactly that plays out, is the trickier part. But that our running assumptions influence how we reason about things, speaks for itself. And regardless of whether one is speaking of Edwards, Piper, Calvin or Origen, there seem to be a similar foundation. And this foundation, whatever it is, is determining the possible framework they have for dealing with the issues of free will and creation. As Perry Robinson said to me before, “Put it this way, creation ex nihilo is not a Platonic doctrine.” And as the Scripture says, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

“In opposition to many of the authors in the philosophical tradition, they reject any attempt to understand the creation and ordering of the world as necessary by-products of God’s internal activity. Basil denies that creation took place without deliberate choice or “as the flame is the cause of the brightness.” Gregory of Nyssa likewise attributes creation to the will of God. It is true that Gregory also says that God necessarily wills the good, but this does not in itself exclude contingency, unless one adds (as Gregory does not) that in each case there is only one good.” [Bradshaw, David. Aristotle East And West. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.]


One comment on “Free Will and Creation in Light of the Multiple Goods in God

  1. Pingback: Active Persons and Alternative Possibilities (A.P.A.P) | Irish With A Tan

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