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Previous: 12.3 But we do appear to live! Up: 12. God is Life Itself Next: 13. God is both Simple and Complex

12.4 Appropriating life

Another way of stating the theistic claim is that we have to ‘appropriate’, ‘assimilate’, ‘receive’ or ‘take’ the love from God into our own lives. Even though God has all the life and power in the universe, there still has to be an act of acceptance on our part. Put bluntly, since we have to accept life, we have to eat and swallow it and then digest it. Only then can it contribute to our internal welfare. It can also be thought of as drinking.12.4 Whatever images are used, appropriation requires a balance between giver and receiver if it is to work at all well.

Let us look at the ways in which we might appropriate God’s loves ‘as if’ our own. We might, among other things,

  1. act from loves, urges which creep up on us and then appear to be our own,
  2. think from ideas which ‘suddenly occur to us’, and which henceforth we are very proud of,
  3. feel delight from those actions resulting from decisions which appear to be own own, and
  4. change in new and unpredictable ways as the result of our previous actions.
If we reflect on inputs to our minds in the light of our own experience, we remember that loves and ideas have often come to us unbidden. We are used to being given new desires and ideas. Often we say that “an idea just came to me”. Ideas are the most likely things to arrive this way, as our imagination is perpetually giving us new ideas, images and dreams.

New urges come infrequently and slowly. We observe that received loves can never feel impelled or imposed. Rather, changes can only be gradually insinuated if we are to gradually modify our loves. Here there are interesting questions of personal identity. How can we identify a person over time? Is it based on memories or on bodily continuities, as philosophers have debated, or is it based on our loves?12.5

What about making decisions and then acting on them? Is there any phenomenology of decisions being given to us? I think not. Rather, decisions and actions and delights are the things which we most surely regard as our very own! Aspirations and ideas may come to us from ‘elsewhere’, but what we decide to do is our very own.12.6We may acknowledge that we receive life from God before or after our actions but never during our acting: that stage of our mental life is our most private and individual. So we support:

Postulate 9   Our actions (what we actually do) are our own.

This means that if the life from God is to be regarded by us as our own, it must be what leads to our actions. Only then can it become embedded into our lives and appropriated from God into our own derived being.12.7The results of our actions must therefore select that life we receive from God, in the same way that appropriate circumstances select for the particular operation of a disposition, to use the schemes of Chapter 4. This can be seen as in agreement with the way that the character of an occasional cause selects the operation of a principal cause, to use the schemes of Chapter 5. This selection can be phrased as the important principle:

Postulate 10   The life we have from God is in accordance with what we have actually done.

It can be generalized to all living and non-living objects, by means what I have called12.8‘Divine Dispositional Immanence:’ that the dispositions of an object are those derivatives of Divine Life that accord with what is actual about that object. Here, we are taking definite historical actions or interactions as ‘what is actual’ about an object. In this way we talk universally of natural, living and human beings.

This postulate ensures that Postulate 8 holds--that we appear to live as if from ourselves--and that we enjoy doing so. Whatever life we have, it must act in such a way that the consequential delights are felt by us as our own and never imposed upon us. That this happens is my guiding principle within theism, and God’s bringing this about must be one of the overall purposes of creation. We will see in later chapters more of what contributes to our feeling delights as our own.

Note that God is not different for different creatures. The divine is equally present everywhere. What is different is us. Consider two analogies. God provides life as the sun shines on the earth. The sun shining on the earth is constant, but the energy received by the earth varies by days and seasons. We know that this variation is according to the earth’s distance and orientation: according to something actual about the earth and not because of variations in the sun. A second analogy is that God provides life as we are provided with food. Consider the way animals consume food in order to live. What an animal is capable of doing after eating depends on its digestive system and how it has assimilated the food. Different species will respond quite differently to the same food, according to how they are constituted.

Postulate 10 means that the loves which we can accept and retain may be a very small fraction of the loves that we need from God in order to live properly. Depending on our own nature, we may or may not be able to accept all the ‘good loves’ that we need from God. Our lives might not be lived in the most enjoyable and most useful way they could be, since we might not govern them properly with wise and unselfish loves. Unless we become aware of what is happening here, we will start along a path that diverges from what is good and hence develop selfish or other not-good loves. It seems possible that unwholesome actions in our past lead us to only be able to live with loves that cannot all be classified as good, even if they originated by the partial reception of some initial good love.

After all of our actions, when they have already been (at least partially) appropriated, is the right time to reflect on the general process of reception. It is time for us to acknowledge that the life is not really or originally our own but in fact comes from God. We should at least acknowledge that fact, according to theism. Most religions advise giving thanks to God for this his grace and mercy. It is not accurate to think that the life with us in fact belongs to us. If we should think that by mistake, the theistic religions remind us, then we turn ourselves away from receiving more than a little in the future.

In concluding, we note within theism the requirement of our appropriating God’s love into our own life. This places severe constraints on what God can do to us and with us. He may want to whisk us into a heaven of entirely sweet loves. We may, indeed, also want him to do that, but if we cannot appropriate to our own nature those new kinds of love, then such an experience would be at best a temporary grace, after which we would return to our normal lives. For long term projects, therefore, God has to work with the material at hand. That material is the nature of the life we have, which, according to theism, depends on the actions and loves that we have already made our own.


Previous: 12.3 But we do appear to live! Up: 12. God is Life Itself Next: 13. God is both Simple and Complex

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