No Beauty We Could Desire: Thoughts on Beauty and Faith

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Understanding Predestination via Final Cause

So in my last post I had an aside about predestination, which I thought I’d follow up here.

If the claims of that post are correct and most thoughtful pre-Enlightenment people throughout the world thought that final causality was self evident, whereas most post-Enlightenment people have lost touch with the concept of final causality, then we modern folks might have to do some translating when reading ancient, medieval, Renaissance or Reformation texts that deal with questions of causation, especially divine causation.  We might have a tendency to misunderstand such texts, assuming that these older writers are all thinking about cause in the very narrow way that we tend to think about it.

For most of us, the only sort of cause that we recognize is efficient cause.  And so, when we read old texts (including the BIble) that talk about God controlling human life, we have a tendency to assume that those texts are talking about God moving us about as if we’re pieces on a chess board.  But what if the sort of cause being assumed is final cause?  Or maybe formal cause?  What if God’s primary way of exercising providential control over our lives is via the design that He builds into us or the destination toward which He draws us?  That’s a very different picture.  We all have a natural desire to understand the design and the purpose of our lives.  Since the Enlightenment, naturalistic science has told us that these are things we construct, that there is no design or purpose in the cosmos other than what we invent for ourselves.  What if the claims of naturalistic science are wrong?

Efficient cause works within the natural order, which is why it’s investigable by science.  When we understand God’s causal work solely in terms of efficient cause, we limit God’s action to our own sphere of activity, which then makes it hard to understand how God’s control and our freedom could possibly co-exist.  Formal and final cause don’t conflict with our freedom, because these are actions that don’t occur within the natural, investigable order.  So it makes sense to talk about them as primary or meta causes upholding and enabling our sphere of activity, while talking about our personal freedom as a genuine secondary cause within that sphere.  Only our Creator can implant a form or design within us that then works outward to shape and change us.  Only the One for whom we are made can be our final cause, giving us a vision of His own glory that is so compelling, so irresistible, that we are drawn to Him as a magnet.

So what does this have to do with predestination?  In traditional, pre-Enlightenment thought, the concept behind fixing a destination was naturally, obviously, inevitably a way of talking about final cause.  How different would our conversations about predestination be if instead of trying to defend the idea of God as the great puppet-master we presented the idea of God as the Irresistibly Beautiful One, who shows His Glory/Beauty only to those whom He has chosen?

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