Friday, December 9, 2011

How can we distinguish between divine and human actions in the world?

Let me give a short answer presupposing the ontological framework of theistic science described in my book: it does not stand alone. I will also try to answer the question without using the word 'good' (though, if I could, the answer would be a little simpler). I will take the question as referring mainly to our own actions: trying to separate what is from ourselves from what comes from God.

There are 4 kinds of actions that should be distinguished here:
  1. actions by God directly, such as creating, visiting, etc
  2. actions done by God, by means of us.
  3. actions done by us, with concurrence by God.
  4. actions done by us, with permission from God but not initiation.
One purpose of my book is to show how the kind 4 can exist: we can redirect loves and dispositions from God to our own purposes quite distinct from his.
The challenge is to distinguish kinds 2 and 3. In general we only begin to distinguish them after the fact. That is because, during their operation, we tend to interfere if we see what is really happening.

The kind 2 requires no interference: we have to be almost distracted or looking the other way; at least with no self-consciousness. We still feel the delights soon afterwards, though. If we interpose our own ego, then actions get contaminated to some extent. For this kind, we will have to have previously 'cleaned the inside of the cup' by avoiding temptations and the later the desire for what was tempting.

Kind 3 is when our egos are still partially involved. That is the case for most of us on the path. In this case we ask for grace, and try to make way for it when it arrives. The actions will still be ego-connected, but, we pray, not too much.

This is necessarily a very brief summary of some different kinds of spiritual development, as we learn to turn away from selfishness. Some people, of course, would deny the very existence of these things. That is why my book deals mostly with ontology--what exists--rather than what we should be doing. In practice, of course, there are in us many desires pointing in various directions, and many partial insights that inform us of some of these directions. When it comes to actions by other people, it is more difficult again to tell.

As we all realize, distinguishing these aspects should be part of ongoing reflection about our own lives. For both theoretical and practical reasons.

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