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The Table Video

Eleonore Stump

Union with God: Love, Joy and Peace (Eleonore Stump)

Professor of Philosophy / Robert J. Henle Chair in Philosophy, Saint Louis University
March 19, 2018

Philosopher Eleonore Stump and CCT Director Evan Rosa discuss why the concept of union with God matters in the context of suffering. Dr. Stump explores God’s frequent use of second person language in the Scriptures.

Eleonore, one of the components of your work in Wandering In Darkness, is establishing as a centrality the union, or the united love between God and human persons. A kind of desire for that union on the part of God, and really perhaps a remote, perhaps broken, but a present desire in human persons as well. Can you speak to why union matters in the context of answering the problem of suffering?

Well, see, everything depends on what you take union to be. You take hydrogen and oxygen and unite them in the right certain way and you’ll get water. And there are people who think about union between God and human beings in the same sort of way, you unite them and them you get some divine attributes that show up in the human nature or some human attributes that show up somehow connected to the divine nature and so on. But that actually is not what we really mean when we talk about union between persons. For union between persons we mean something second personal. Something where there are two things, each of which counts as having a mind and a will, and so being a person, and each of these two persons are somehow in a position to say you to the other one.

There’s an I, thou relationship.

Exactly. And the interesting thing to notice about the deity is God likes to say you to everything. So when, in Job, God says to the ocean, God wants to determine that the ocean has boundaries and doesn’t overflow its boundaries, God speaks to the ocean with second personal address. “Thus far your waves go and no further.” And when Christ is determined to punish the fig tree for not producing figs, he doesn’t say may this fig tree be blasted, or he doesn’t say I’m blasting the fig tree, or the fig tree won’t bear figs anymore. He says “No man eat fruit of you forever.” He addresses the fig tree as you. And Jerome, commenting on a similar place where Christ rebukes the waves by saying to the waves “you be still,” Jerome says “this is what it is to be God. “These things are your creatures. “And so you can say you to them “and they can say you back to God.” That doesn’t mean panpsychism is right, Jerome says, it means that that’s what it is to be in a relationship of creature to creator. If even the waves and fig trees can be addressed as you by God or the incarnate Christ, then see, we can also.

Man: And how much more.

And how much more. And so union is a matter of being in a position, you might say, to share attention with God, to share face to face interaction with God. And the old lore about the fruits of the Holy Spirit goes like this, every Christian, every person in grace, has the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the fruits of the Holy Spirit begin like this, love, joy, peace. Love because your Beloved is yours and you are His, Joy because you have a joy in the presence of your Beloved, and peace because what is more worth wanting than anything else is yours already. That’s what union is. And you don’t get love, joy, and peace because your Beloved is yours and you are His, if all we’ve got is that you get some divine attributes. So people who think of deification, or theosis, as a matter of somehow underneath the level of consciousness you’re getting some really cool stuff in your nature, they are missing what is actually on offer. What is actually on offer is to be in face to face relationship with your maker, who loves you. That’s the idea. And nothing can be better than that, nothing can be greater than that, nothing can be more glorious than that, and nothing besides that, in the end, will really bring you love, joy, and peace.