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Rockwell, God's Freedom and Man's Indecisiveness

Nothing which implies contradiction
falls under the omnipotence of God.
THOMAS AQUINAS


If Martin Heidegger had his hut in the Black Forest where he could read and write in isolation, take long walks along woodpaths (Holzwege) and wait reflectively in the clearing (Lichtung), I have a poor man's imitation of it in the form of a small condominium unit in Rockwell. I locked myself up there for the past few days.

My press release was that I was going to study and start writing; and that I couldn't do it with the "distractions" around me at home and in the city. And I did in fact succeed in the first but failed to reach the second goal; I am as slow in reading as I am as fast in writing; hence all these spelling mistakes, missing words, etc. But I prefer to call it a "retreat"--taking the word literally and divesting it of all "religious" or "spiritual" connotations. A retreat from the everyday, from the people, from my usual self.

I figured that it was high time for me to have some time alone. I know it's been bandied around like pirated DVDs how we all need some "alone-time," or "space," or "time to think," etc. Well, I agree that such solitude is a basic need of man without which he will either be reduced to a worker ant or simply (and slowly) become insane; but to qualify, that shopworn notion of solitude as "time away from things," (what "things?") was not I was looking for. I was looking for time away from that very solitude; not because I was lonely or anything but precisely because I was rather in a good mood and I had no one to share it with. Of course, there are family and friends. But sometimes that silent joy has to be displaced and distributed to more and other objects of affection.

In other words, I threw myself into the anonymous crowd--which Kierkegaard says is the "untruth" and Heidegger calls the "They" (das Man)--over the past few days, spreading good cheer to waiters and security guards, noting all I could about the science of construction of condominiums which ran all day and night, listening to anti-climactic Christmas tunes in the mall dismissed by indifferent law students, trying to understand how the world works in that make-believe city that used to be a power plant, shopping and staying as long as I want in bookstores (the damage: Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body; Greek Science from Thales to Aristotle; The Portable Nietzsche; C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain and Collected Sayings; Encyclopedia of Symbols; and endless pens and index cards), having coffee in Starbucks, Seattle's Best and UCC with the air of seriousness, pretentiousnesses, and business-mindedness (respectively), carrying with me a resigned heart against the to and fro of all the busy bees, eating heavily, smiling at the weary, and begging for company.

Now that is why I was unable to start to write. My mentor will surely be disappointed. "Naglakwatsa ka lang!"

***


But of course, that is only part of the story.

The majority of the time was spent on "confronting" Heidegger's lectures on Schelling's Treatise on the Nature of Human Freedom and Some Matters Concerned therewith. The title is surprisingly more boring than the actual text. Let's cut the story short by saying that it's about the problem of evil and the question of where it comes from--man's freedom and/or God who created man freely. This is nothing new. But what struck me was instead of preaching like a theologian, Schelling explores the metaphysical grounding of man's-having-to-decide-between-good-and/-or-evil; this is just a fancy term for explaining how it comes about that man has to choose. The answer? Because man is essentially an undecided being.

Of course, common sense and experience will nonsensically tell us that we already know this and thus we can stop short of any essential reflection upon it. But let me bore you for a while and let Schelling explain the conditions of the possibility for man's indecision.

Freedom is commonly thought to be the ability (power, if you wish) to decide, on either this or that. To keep it simple, freedom is the faculty of deciding between good and evil--not in the moralistic or religious sense but in the existential sense or how we experience it phenomenally. Man builds or destroys, makes peace or war, loves or hates, etc. He can be a sinner or a saint. But herein lies the problem: if man is a created being in the image and likeness of the God, it can then be deduced that his freedom, this ability to decide between good or evil, comes from the God himself; and at bottom this means that the God is the ground of both good and evil.

Of course, this is the classic "problem of evil" passed around like gossip on a Sunday afternoon: what kind of God then is a God which not only allows evil but is also the source of it? True, he may be Omnipotent and Omniscient; but he can never be believed to be Benevolent. Thus, the God is an ambivalent God--ambivalent towards good and evil. Ultimately, this God is a Good and Evil God.

Now the deeper problem is thus: God, as Omnipotent--able to do anything over everything--is Absolutely free. Free to decide whether to be good or evil, free to decide whether to shower happiness to his creation (angels which fly around) or inflict suffering on them (Job and his boils). In other words, everything is up to his whim or fancy even if it is a wise whim or an intelligent fancy. Thence comes the classic position of fatalism before an Absolutely free God. Thus, we are not really free as everything is determined by the God.

Schelling's key insight into this impasse is his deeper determination of freedom, especially God's freedom.

He argues that freedom is essentially not merely having the ability to decide. It is something deeper. If God is still to be believed to be all-Benevolent and--this is the key--since He cannot contradict Himself, then he cannot choose evil over good because that is not in his divine nature. Why not, you say? Because his third divine--and all-too forgotten--name is agape, that is, Love. And love cannot do anything but to love--for to stop loving and start hating would be to contradict himself and disqualify him not only as Love but also as Absolute. And this is impossible.

The key insight into God's freedom is this: real freedom means no longer having to decide. With God creating all creatures by uttering the Word (logos) of Love (agape) "in the beginning," everything was already decided upon all eternity--not that everything else (creatures) is determined but precisely he himself determines that he himself will be the God of Love.

And perhaps (this is no longer Schelling or Heidegger but poor me) this is where his Omniscience and Omnipotence come into play: that it is his wisdom which informs that eternal decision of Love and it is his power that performs and sustains that very decision.

Now, obviously, this is not the case with man. As creature--in body, in time, etc.--man has to decide and continuously decide whether to be this or that, to either be good or evil, to love or to hate. Why make a creature that has to carry this weight of having to decide, that is, who has the burden of freedom? Well, both Schelling and Heidegger are silent on this. But Descartes somewhere early in the Meditations (sorry, I'm out-of-town and without books) already said that it is not man's understanding that best mirrors the God who is divine Wisdom; it is man's will that is perfectly God-like, that is, at bottom both Creator and creature can say "yes" or "no" or love and hate. The difference being God has already decided. You and I haven't.

Heidegger, in a sudden and rare advice as if talking to adolescents in a quarter-life crisis, adds:
To have to decide or to want to decide means that you do not know
what you really want.

Animals do not decide as they were not asked. But the God who has spoken first still waits for man's decision and re-sponse.

But you may still ask (well, I do at least), what is this God which cannot take back his decision? How can this God be called Almighty when he cannot take back his Word? This is no powerful God at all. Maybe he is a God of the weak (Nietzsche) because he is a weak God after all. Maybe?

As weak as a fragile love? As weak as a broken body hanging on a wooden cross?

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