“The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott

Over the next few months I will be seeking to understand and critique the writings of Dr. Thomas Talbott and Christian philosopher who is a self identified universalist. I will be examining one of his works, The Inescapable Love of God essentially seeking to critique his particular world view in a charitable fashion.  Below is the first installment of what is likely to be a fairly long series of posts, this post dealing with Talbott’s understanding of Non-Ultimate reality.

 

 

Given that the focus of “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott is primarily concerned with reshaping Christians’ understanding of God’s love, the topic of non ultimate reality is not brought up in a straight forward manner. One must hunt through numerous statements Talbott makes and piece these together to construct even a rough sketch of Talbott’s concept of non ultimate reality. The book is broken down into three general sections, first ‘Some Autobiographical Reflections’, second ‘Universal Reconciliation and the New Testament’, and finally, ‘The Logic of Divine Love’. Perhaps the most helpful statements in regard to Talbott’s view of non ultimate reality come in this first section, which he refers to as his autobiographical reflections. Indeed it is in this first section that readers get a quick glimpse into some of the driving motivations for Talbott’s worldview and the factors that led him to adopt this particular world view. Of course, given the lack of a direct statement regarding non ultimate reality by Talbott, some inferences will have to be made in order to see clearly what lies behind Talbott’s work.

In this first portion of the book Talbott describes, what some might consider, a crisis of faith. Without belaboring his story, it took him roughly around the time that he first truly encountered the problem of suffering and began to read church fathers and reformers such as Augustine and John Calvin. As he read specifically the writings of Augustine, he reaches the conclusion that contrary to Augustine and Augustine’s conception of God, Talbott himself could “never worship a God less kind, less merciful, less loving than my own parents… I could not imagine my parents refusing to will the good for anyone.” (pg. 8) The key here lies in Talbott’s comparing God’s love and God’s actions to his parents. This relates to the discussion about non ultimate reality because distinctions between humans and God are rough ways of distinguishing between non ultimate reality and ultimate reality. In other words, here readers are allowed their first look at Talbott’s distinction between the physical and non physical. Now turning back to his statement it is easy to see that there is no real distinction between the two, at least in regard to the concept of love. From the very onset, Talbott accepts that his parents are loving and consequently if God acts in a way contrary to how he believes his parents would act in a similar situation, than God is not loving. This might seem like a small thing given that this only pertains to the concept of love. However the concept of love is the most essential concept in Talbott’s book and one would think that Talbott would at least consider the possibility that God does not relate to humans exactly how humans relate to humans.

The reason this seems like something Talbott would want to consider is because ultimately his opponents are left with an easy way out. For instance they might simply remark that God’s love does not happen to be anything like humans’ love and subsequently God can still be loving although it does not appear that way to God’s creatures.  Talbott in fact makes only one brief mention of this objection and that is a short quote before the beginning of the first chapter by John Stuart Mill. It reads like this, “To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?” Readers should take this as Talbott’s rather abrupt dismissal of any who claim that perhaps God’s love is a different kind of love than any types of love here on earth between created beings.

So although Talbott does not offer his readers a developed account of non ultimate reality he does provide his readers with an account of how the Ultimate (God) should relate to and interact with the non ultimate (God’s physical creatures).  The answer for Talbott is essentially that non ultimate reality does not differ in kind, though perhaps degree, from ultimate reality.

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