David Bentley Hart Quotes

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Categories: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Providence then - and this is what is most important to grasp - is not the same thing as a universal teleology. To believe in divine and unfailing providence is not to burden one's conscience with the need to see every event in this world not only as an occasion for God's grace, but as a positive determination of God's will whereby he brings to pass a comprehensive design that, in the absence of any single one of these events, would not have been possible. It may seem that this is to draw only the finest of logical distinction, one so fine indeed as to amount to little more than a sophistry. Some theologians - Calvin, for instance - have denied that the distinction between what God wills and what he permits has any meaning at all. And certainly there is no unanimity in the history of Christian exegesis on this matter. Certain classic Western interpretations of Paul's treatment of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart and of the hardened heart of Israel in Romans 9 have taken it as a clear statement of God's immediate determination of his creatures' wills. But in the Eastern Christian tradition, and in the thought of many of the greatest Western theologians, the same argument has often been understood to assert no more than that God in either case allowed a prior corruption of the will to run its course, or even - like a mire in the light of the sun - to harden the outpouring of God's fiery mercy, and always for the sake of a greater good that will perhaps redound even to the benefit of the sinner. One might read Christ's answer to his disciples' question regarding why a man had been born blind - 'that the works of God should be made manifest in him' (John 9:3) - either as a refutation or as a confirmation of the distinction between divine will and permission. When all is said and done, however, not only is the distinction neither illogical nor slight; it is an absolute necessity if - setting aside, as we should, all other judgments as superstitious, stochastic, and secondary - we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.

David Bentley Hart
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A higher understanding of human freedom, however, is inseparable from a definition of human nature. To be free is to be able to flourish as the kind of being one is, and so to attain the ontological good toward which one's nature is oriented; freedom is the unhindered realization of a complex nature in its proper end (natural and supernatural), and this is consummate liberty and happiness. The will that chooses poorly, then - through ignorance, maleficence, or corrupt desire - has not thereby become freer, but has further enslaved itself to those forces that prevent it from achieving its full expression. And it is this richer understanding of human freedom that provides us some analogy to the freedom of God. For God is infinite actuality, the source and end of all being, the eternally good, for whom mere arbitrary 'choice' - as among possibilities that somehow exceed his 'present' actuality - would be a deficiency, a limitation placed upon his infinite power to be God. His freedom is the impossibility of any force, pathos, or potentiality interrupting the perfection of his nature or hindering him in the realization of his own illimitable goodness, in himself and in his creatures. To be 'capable' of evil - to be able to do evil or to be affected by an encounter with it - would in fact be an incapacity in God; and to require evil to bring about his good ends would make him less than the God he is. The object of God's will is his own infinite goodness, and it is an object perfectly realized, and so he is FREE.

David Bentley Hart
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