Sunday, April 15, 2007

God & Self-Restriction

We all know the common logical argument made by the theological question: “Can God create a stone he cannot lift?” The paradoxical nature of this has led many people to believe that God is not omnipotent, while it has led some theologians to defend the omnipotence of God, not by arguing the logic of that paradox, but merely by looking at what omnipotence really means (and redefining it if necessary).

I’m not really concerned with whether or not God is omnipotent, but what I do find interesting is the idea of God’s self-restriction or self-limitation. One of the main arguments against the paradox cited above is that God could do anything at one stage, but can’t do everything anymore. This is the argument proposed by William of Ockham, where he suggests that there are “two powers” of God (potentia absoluta – the absolute power of God; and potentia ordinata – the ordained power of God). The first is the “primal” conditions of God, before anything every happened – it is God’s potential, which includes the ability to do anything (and everything), whereas the second is how it is now: God with self-imposed limitations.

To many people unfamiliar with theology, this might be a shocking suggestion – a limited God (even if it is a self-inflicted limitation). However, I feel the following quotation from Thomas Aquinas offers a good explanation of this idea when he discusses whether or not it is possible for an omnipotent God to sin:

“It is commonly said that God is almighty Yet it seems difficult to understand the reason for this, on account of the doubt about what is meant when it is said that “God can do ‘everything’”…. If it is said that God is omnipotent because he can do everything possible to his power, the understanding of omnipotence is circular, doing nothing more than saying that God is omnipotent because he can do everything that he can do…. To sin is to fall short of a perfect action. Hence to be able to sin is to be able to be deficient in relation to an action, which cannot be reconciled with omnipotence. It is because God is omnipotent that he cannot sin.”

Now, let’s come back to the idea of divine self-limitation. Is this possible? Does it make logical as well as theological sense? If we explore the Kabbalah, we come across the notion of “tzimtzum” (restriction), which is where God (who is everywhere) restricts himself so that the universe can be created. This might not make sense at first, but let’s explore it further. God is, by his vary nature, spiritual (as opposed to physical), and lies, in truth, beyond the Three Negative Veils of Existence (i.e. the “unmanifest” nature of God – an eternal, boundless Light). In order for God to become physical, he must restrict himself, because this is a world of form, and form requires boundaries for it to take shape (Binah, the first Sephirah of Form is seen as a restricting force in the Path of the Lightning Flash down the Tree from Kether and Chokmah [Force], and just as Binah is the Superior Mother, so is Malkuth [the physical] the Inferior Mother, being the ultimate birthing place of Form – us, our world, our universe). Because the physical is much denser (i.e. more closely packed together), it is, by its very nature, a restricting element.

Then, of course, if we consider God to be Light, the creation of Darkness can only logical occur by an absence of light, so in order to remove light, God must remove (and thereby restrict) himself. This “darkness” could be seen as the gross nature of the physical, yet, and I must stress this, the physical is but a mirror of the spiritual that, through its density, has been closed in upon itself, so that the spiritual element has become, in essence, “trapped”, yet it still remains. I cannot theologically or spiritually advocate the idea that God removes himself from creation so much so that he simply ceases to exist in creation or in the lives of humanity (afterall, we all have a divine spark within us that betrays this conclusion about God).

We can also think of the stories of God revealing himself to the world through incarnations in people such as Christ (and others, though he is especially of note here). In order to make himself known to humanity (which is none other than himself in a restricted form, opening up the possibility of sin through humanity’s imperfect nature), he had to restrict himself into the form of a human, which includes the “imperfection” of death. This ties in nicely with the depiction of Judas being the Gnostic apostle who set the spirit of Jesus free (thereby removing the restriction) through handing him over for the crucifixion, which, as we all note, was not stopped by God, who, “surely” (if he were omnipotent), could do something about it. Or could he? If God was Christ at that time, was he also God as “God”? If he restricted himself to the form of a human, would he have had to have been freed from that form in order to be a “god” again? And, indeed, is this all just a matter of perception?

Feel free to tell me ;)

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