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A Theological Basis of Conservatism, Part 6

This entry is part of 7 in the series

"A Theology of Conservatism"

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In this series, we are establishing a theological foundation for conservatism, specifically the objective nature of aesthetic judgments. See part 1 herepart 2 herepart 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.

In the same way, the aseity of God is the ground for meaningful aesthetic judgment.

We are now in position to draw parallels between the implications of God’s aseity on truth and of God’s aseity on aesthetics. My argument at this point hinges on the assumption that there are meaningful parallels between these categories; I hope to demonstrate this in a fairly straightforward manner.

God not only believes that things are a certain way, but he values things a certain way as well.

Scripture speaks repeatedly about God’s valuings of all sorts of things.

God’s evaluation of his creation is that it is “good” and “very good.” God delights in sincere sacrifices, just balances, and his people (Ps 51:16, 19; Prov 11:1; Ps 147:11, Prov 11:20); he hates the worship practices of paganism, those who do wrong, and various evils (Deut 12:31, 16:22; Ps 5:5; Prov 6:16ff). We could multiply verses on those things which are objects of God’s wrath or his compassion or his love.

All of these verses tell us how God values things; these are not merely statements of God’s propositional beliefs about these objects, but of his disposition or emotion toward them. This truth is central to my thesis, and I believe it is unshakably supported by Scripture.

As God’s beliefs do not depend on things outside himself, nor do his valuings.

This is an important point of theological clarification. Theologians commonly list among God’s attributes impassibility: “This attribute, if true, would mean that God does not have passions or emotions.” It seems, on the surface, that such an attribute is obviously incompatible with the Scriptures we have just cited.

What would lead a theologian, then, to assert something like impassibility of God? Impassibility is an attempt to protect the aseity of God. It seems, from our experience, that emotion is (almost always) a response on our part to some thing or event outside us. If the aseity of God means that God’s inner life does not depend on anything outside himself, attributing emotion to God in any meaningful way becomes difficult.

Is there a way to account for the language of Scripture, which is full of emotion-language about God, while also preserving the aseity of God? I believe that there is. Recall earlier that we had to make a distinction between our knowledge as creatures, and God’s knowledge as Creator. I argued that God’s knowledge does not depend on the creation; God does not see something and then come to the conclusion that x is true. Rather, I argued, x is true because God knows it to be that way. This is, of course, not true of us, and we would err theologically if we simply took our creaturely capacity for knowledge, expanded it, and applied it to God. Rather, our knowledge is a finite replication of God’s; God’s knowledge is original and model, and his is therefore truly knowledge.

In the same way, I think we must avoid the error of taking our experience of emotion and attributing it to God. Rather, God’s “emotion” is original, and ours is derivative. Furthermore, I wish to argue that God’s emotion is like his knowledge in that it is not dependent on anything outside himself.

An illustration will help (hopefully). When God created the Garden, we have argued that it was factually what it was because God created it according to his own knowledge. Thus, God never looked into the Garden and learned anything. In the same way, I would argue that the goodness of the Garden was not something that God found out after he created; rather, the goodness that would be the Garden was already valued by God before the Garden was created. The Garden is good because God values it as such; it is unthinkable that God would have created the Garden and somehow, subsequently, found it ugly.

I suggest that the same idea can be expanded to the rest of God’s emotions. God’s loving of this and hating of that is true for him in a way that does not depend on him looking at the creation and reacting. God’s emotion, like his knowledge, is the archetype, the model for his image bearers, who then experience emotion in a finite, creaturely way. Furthermore, God’s emotion, like his knowledge, is revealed in his creation.

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About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.