Friday, November 6, 2020

Conditional and unconditional desires, God's will, and salvation

Consider three cases:

  1. Bob doesn’t care either way whether Alice wants to go out with him. And he wants to go out with Alice if she wants to go out with him.

  2. Carl wants Alice’s desires to be fulfilled. And he wants to go out with Alice.

  3. Dave doesn’t care either way whether Alice wants to go out with him. And he wants to go out with Alice even if she doesn’t want to go out with him.

As dating partners, Dave is a creep, Bob is uncomplimentarily lukewarm and Carl seems the best.

Here’s how we could characterize Dave’s and Bob’s desires with respect to going out with Alice:

  • Bob’s desire is conditional.

  • Dave’s desire is unconditional.

What about Carl’s desire? I think it’s neither conditional nor unconditional. It is what we might call a simple desire.

The three desires interact differently with evidence about Alice’s lack of interest. Bob’s conditional desire leads him to give up on dating Alice. Dave’s creepy desire is unchanged. And Carl, on the other hand, comes to hope that Alice is interested notwithstanding the evidence to the contrary, and is motivated to act (perhaps moderately, perhaps excessively) to try to persuade Alice to want to go out with him.

One might query regarding Carl what happens if he definitively learns that his two desire to go out with Alice and to have Alice want to go out with him cannot both be fulfilled. Then, as far as the desires go, he could go either way: he could become a creep or he could resign himself. Resignation is obviously the right attitude. Note, however, that while resignation requires him to give up on going out with Alice, it need not require him to give up on desiring to go out with Alice (though if that desire lasts too long after learning that Alice has no interest, it is apt to screw up Carl’s life).

Now, it seems a pious thing to align one’s desires with God’s in all things. One “thing” is one’s salvation. One could have three attitudes analogous to the attitudes towards dating Alice:

  1. Conditional: Barbara desires to be saved if God wills it. But doesn’t care either way about whether God wills it.

  2. Simple: Charlotte desires to be saved. She desires that God’s will be done, and hopes and prays that God wills her salvation.

  3. Unconditional: Diana desires to be saved even if God doesn’t will it. She doesn’t care whether God wills it.

Barbara’s attitude is lukewarm and shows a lack of love of God, since she doesn’t simply want to be with God. Diana is harder to condemn than Dave, but nonetheless her attitude is flawed. Charlotte has the right attitude.

So, when we say we should align our desires with God’s in all things, that doesn’t seem to mean that all our desires should be conditional. It means, I think, to be like Charlotte: it desire an alignment

And there is one further distinction to be made, between God’s antecedent and God’s consequent will. The classic illustration is this: When Scripture says that God wills all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), that’s God’s antecedent will. It’s what God wants independently of other considerations. But because of the inextricable intertwining of God’s love and God’s justice (indeed, God’s love is his justice), God also antecedently wants that those who reject him be apart from him. Putting these antecedent desires of God’s, God has a consequent desire to damn some, namely those who reject God.

I think what I said about Barbara, Charlotte and Diana clearly applies to God’s consequent will. But it’s less clear regarding God’s antecedent will. Necessarily, God antecedently wills all and only the goods. It seems not unreasonable to desire salvation only conditionally on its being a good thing, and hence to desire it only conditionally on its being antecedently willed by God. But I think Charlotte’s approach is also defensible. Charlotte desires to be with God for eternity and desires that being with God is a good thing.


Michael Gonzalez said...

Does it affect the issue at all that, while Alice's will to date someone is a subjective preference matter, God's will to save someone is grounded in the other person's acceptance of His arrangement for salvation? In other word's, if (though this is ridiculous) Alice's will were based on who deserved to date her, on the basis of some objective criteria, then the matter might be more analogous to God's situation. God desires that all will accept the means for salvation and act accordingly, so that His justice will permit Him to save them. He does not will to save those that reject that arrangement.

Is this a relevant disanalogy, or not really?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Will take this one up with my spiritual director and report back.