August 8, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

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This is a dialogue about whether it is possible for the Islamic conception of God to be loving, kind, and personal prior to creation.

Jimmy Stephens:

It might be helpful to start by some charitable investigation of each other’s theology. It’s my understanding that the Qu’ran and most (if not all) traditions of Islam teach that Allah is eternally loving, yes? By this I mean that it’s an Islamic doctrine that an essential attribute of God is love.

Chris Matthews:

He’s asking whether an essential attribute of Allah is love. Isn’t one of the 99 names of Allah, “al-Wadoud”?

Muslim #1:

yea his attribute means the loving or the kind one (do not get this messed up with the all loving attribute )

Jimmy Stephens:

How would you unpack these attributes? For example, I’m curious to know how you mean to distinguish Allah’s being “the kind one” vs His “all loving attribute.”
In order to argue about your view, I need to understand it first. That’s why I asked you how you conceive of Allah’s love.

Muslim #1:

the loving or the kind one
same attribute in arabic
but id kwhat u mean concive gods aturbutes

Jimmy Stephens:

Okay, what do you think God’s kindness is?

yes pretty much

Jimmy Stephens:

You would agree Allah is one person, not multiple, right?

yes

Jimmy Stephens:

That’s problematic. If Allah is unipersonal essentially but He is also essentially kind, in what way is that kindness a reality prior to creation?

Muslim #1:

no such thing as prior with god / also god is personal

Jimmy Stephens:

Do you think creation is eternal?

okay, so if creation is not eternal, it came into existence by God, and God was kind prior to creation’s coming into existence, the problem is that there’s no social reality in terms of which God’s kindness makes sense.

Consider in contrast the Christian Trinity. On that view, God has a singular love that is possessed by three Persons, shared for each other. Each Member of the Trinity adores the other two members, experiencing eternal kindness for and from each other. It makes sense to say God is kind or that one of His attributes is love.

I don’t see how we can say Allah is loving or kind unless we mean He became kind once he created creatures with which to exhibit kindness. Before creating them, there was no one for Allah to whom He could share kindness.

Muslim #1:

the issue here is that u apply time to god
the hypostatic union is a logical impossibility but we can discuss that later

Jimmy Stephens:

how so?

Muslim #2:

Appealing to trinitarianism there is mere ad hoc rationalization to something that requires no explanation.

God is kind to creation, given creation

Jimmy Stephens:

That looks like a claim. What’s the reason to believe it?

Muslim #2:

right, God’s ‘kindness’ was simply not manifest prior to creation, doesn’t mean it wasn’t “there”

Jimmy Stephens:

What is non-manifest kindness?

Muslim #2:

you can think of it in terms of middle knowledge: Given the circumstance, God acts in x way

Jimmy Stephens:

Okay, so God’s kindness is a mere potential kindness subject to extraneous laws about how He can bring it to be actual?

Muslim #2:

wdym by extraneous laws?

Chris Matthews:

Laws outside of Himself and His nature.

Muslim #2:

naw we don’t believe in that stuff

Chris Matthews:

Right. Therefore, kindness must always be an actuality in God’s essential nature. But kindness is necessarily interpersonal.

And if you want to say that God became kind upon creation, then we arrive at several issues.
i.) God’s kindness is not intrinsic to His nature.
ii.) Kindness is merely a creaturely affair.
iii.) God’s attribute of kindness depends upon creation. So creation creates God just as much as God creates creation. God and creation are interdependent units of a system. And thus, he will never be absolutely independent and sovereign.

Muslim #2:

I’m granting you two contestable presuppositions for now, that God is essentially kind, and that “interpersonality” is a necessary condition for the manifestation of kindness
what makes you think that predicating kindness upon someone requires them to manifest it at the point in time in which kindness is predicated

To be “kind” is to be friendly, generous, and considerate. Do tell, how can someone be friendly or generous, except if it were towards someone else?

We may say that the person in question has a proclivity for kindness, one which is dependent upon the obtaining of certain “resources” (eg., other persons). But such interdependence and extraneousness cannot characterise an absolutely sovereign and independent God.

So, why are they “contestable presuppositions”? You haven’t justified that claim.

Your analogy concerning the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ doesn’t work. God’s graciousness is an attribute of the economic Trinity ─ i.e., the Trinity in redemptive history ─ and thus not essential in the same sense that His justice is.

Muslim #2:

well, I don’t know what it means for the persons in the trinity to be generous towards each-other, nor how one can cash that out given that they’re all supposed to be God? aren’t you implying that God is kind towards Himself, and if not, why isn’t your “trinitarianism” actually quasi-polytheism under a different name? ;o

right, the point w. the analogy is simply to show that the manifestation of a property is not a necessary condition for its’ actuality. God could be kind w.o ever manifesting kindness, because there’s nothing (apart from God) to manifest it towards prior to creation, or in a world where God simply chose not to create anything at all.

Isn’t God’s sacrifice an exemplification of greater virtue, than had He not chosen to?

Jimmy Stephens:

I do not think you understood the criticism. Some major confusion with your analogy is that it requires the context of time. Muslim#1 and I agreed God is timeless. Therefore, whatever kindness He has cannot be contingent on temporality in order for its predication (of God) to be intelligible. In other words, God’s kindness must be a timeless kindness. So far so good.

The problem is that you want a time-like distinction of God’s kindness to reside in His nature. If God is kind merely in the sense that He has a predisposition to treat others with consideration and generosity, but it is not “yet” manifest in God, that is to say some external law analogous to time presides over God and divides His essence between non-manifest kindness and manifest kindness. While that works perfectly for human beings – time divides us between moments of potential kindness and moments of actually displayed kindness – we have already agreed God is not subject to time. Hence the contradiction for Islam.

Regarding your intended objection to the Trinity, I do not understand it. Yes, it is legitimate to say that Father-to-Son kindness is God-to-Himself kindness. That is the beauty of the Trinity, that these relations have both distinct members in the persons and one member in the being.

Muslim #2:

I don’t buy into the premise that the manifestation of a property is necessary for it to be intelligible, the whole point is that you can (i.e.) have two sufficiently identical persons (in terms of lack of kindness manifested), one who we can predicate kindness unto and one who we cannot, because the reasons for their manifestation(s) are different. A poor person could be charitable without ever having given to charity, because his nature demands it given the appropriate circumstances. Similarly, we say that God is kind whenever the circumstances for kindness are viable and appropriate.

we have already agreed God is not subject to time. Hence the contradiction for Islam.

It seems incoherent to depict the timelessness of God in this manner. Is it coherent to say that prior to sin, God forgave sin? Or that prior to the incarnation, God sacrificed Himself? the obv response is that, if sin is a necessary condition for forgiveness of sin, and creation is a necessary condition for kindness, that God is not “timeless” in the way that you seem to imply, if the objection you raise is valid, then it’s equally applicable to you, and resorting to trinitarianism doesn’t solve any problems.

Jimmy Stephens:

I don’t have an issue saying that God has unmanifested kindness (if such “kindness” requires creation to exist). Similarly, God has unmanifested forgiveness & unmanifested justice (prior to sin). Is this supposed to be a problem?

Jimmy Stephens:

If God is timeless in the way that you implied, then it ought to be true that it is eternally the case that God sacrificed His son for the sins of humanity.

This is a non-sequitur. Nothing about God’s timelessness implies “eternality” of the Son’s sacrifice. Moreover, “eternal” as you’re using it is ambiguous. Do you mean timeless?

I don’t have an issue saying that God has unmanifested kindness

Apparently Allah is contingent on creation for his attributes then.

Muslim #2:

which sins was God forgiving before humans came to be? yeah, I’m equivocating between timelessness and eternality ;P

What are you talking about? Why does God need to forgive human sins prior to their occurrence?

Muslim #2:

the problem is not that God doesn’t, it’s that God cannot

so any manifestation of God’s forgiveness prior to sin is seemingly going to be deficient

Jimmy Stephens:

Forgiveness is not an attribute of God.

I agree, Muslim#2, that God cannot be forgiving to Himself. Forgiveness presupposes moral error. God certainly can be just with respect to His own moral exigencies. For example, it is just of the Father to elect punishment for those who sin against the Son. However, that does in a different sense presuppose creation. Mercy is more difficult because the term can be defined several ways, but like justice, can only occur in the context of creation.

Each of those are types of love, which does not require creation. God possesses love because God is the Triune communion.

Allah’s kindness, or his love, cannot exist without creation. This, because Allah has no one with whom kindness is shared. It is simply a place holder for an egg waiting to hatch in creation.

Muslim #2:

It seems like you’re subtly sneaking in some implications by implying that the love of God is in itself, contingent on creation. It seems more correct, given the analysis I presented of God’s “interpersonal attributes” (which I reject for other reasons), that it’s simply their manifestation which takes place, not simply when creation simpliciter is taken into consideration, but a variety of different factors. God’s forgiveness is manifested, given the appropriate circumstances (sins or/and errors done by creation) and so is His mercy, justice, kindness, grace, etc.

Now, why put the onus on God’s manifestation of love? It sounds like all this argument boils down to, essentially, is an aesthetics argument. What sounds better? God manifesting-love eternally and unconditionally or temporally and conditionally? Let’s suppose it’s the former. Why stop at love? Why not introduce a 4th person to the trinity (a quadrinity, maybe?), a sinning person that eternally requires the forgiveness of the other persons in the Godhead? And then why not a 5h person, necessitating the mercy of God, a 6th person, necessitating God’s justice, and so on? Why not introduce an infinite amount of persons so that God’s love is not just qualitatively “infinite” but also quantitatively infinite? 4 is certainly better than 3. The reason why you reject additions to the trinity is the reason why I reject your trinity simpliciter. All that’s required is a sensible analysis of God’s moral character. Given this, it’s not unclear to me why this trinitarian response isn’t just an ad hoc (deficient) solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

Jimmy Stephens:

It seems like you’re subtly sneaking in some implications by implying that the love of God is in itself, contingent on creation.

There is no subtlety about it. It is quite plain that Allah either possesses his perfect kindness in and of himself or in virtue of an external reality on which he then becomes contingent. If in virtue of himself, Allah’s kindness becomes vacuous as there is no social reality in Allah in which kindness can even inhere. If not in virtue of himself, then Allah is a creature and not the Creator. This is not a new or subtle argument – it’s as plain and simple as it gets.

It seems. . .that it’s simply their [interpersonal attribute’s] manifestation which takes place. . .

Fine, but then Allah’s kindness is not actual kindness but merely potential kindness in himself, and that mere potential becomes actual “given the appropriate circumstances,” as you say. Therefore, Allah (his kindness) is contingent on something outside himself in order to be identified as potentially vs actually kind.

It sounds like all this argument boils down to, essentially, is an aesthetics argument.

Not even close. You’re missing the argument as far as East misses the West. Your accusation that the Trinity is ad hoc fails on several grounds.

1.) The accusation is itself ad hoc. It is convenient to speculate this, that, and the other about Trinitarian theology, but so long as that’s just speculation, it can be dismissed off hand.

2.) The accusation is a straw man. The Trinity is not stipulated on the basis of imaginings while on the toilet. That may be good enough for other philosophers, but not so the Christian. There is more than one reason for Trinitarian belief, but the primary basis is exegesis, Biblical theology. So your open questions about stipulating this and that about God just misrepresents how Trinitarians go about the science of theology.

3.) The possibility of non-Trinitarianism is yours to defend. You have not given any reason to suppose that God could be anything other than the Trinity of Christendom, so your questions have no ground. If you could defend Islam, and so Unitarianism, then you can posit the possibility of non-Trinitarianism.

The reasons I reject polytarianism (more than three persons in the Godhead) is exactly the same reasons I reject unitarianism: these concepts are unbiblical, baseless, and incoherent.

All that’s required is a sensible analysis of God’s moral character.

That was the challenge you have walked right past without addressing. How can Allah have a moral character, e.g. kindness, if there is no social reality that makes sense of kindness in the first place? That would be like saying, “All that my eternal creation-defecating-rock needs is a moral character.” Rocks don’t have moral characters, friend.