The Table Podcast

Eleonore Stump

Wandering in Darkness: Eleonore Stump on Suffering, Evil, and Personal Encounter

Professor of Philosophy / Robert J. Henle Chair in Philosophy, Saint Louis University
April 15, 2019

“The heart of Christianity is personal relationship, persons sharing love with each other. And so for Christians, the greatest thing for a human being is not character development. But it’s loving personal relationship. And the idea in the Christian tradition is that something about suffering enables you—doesn’t make you, but it enables you—to open and open and open and open more deeply to God. When you are more open to God, you are also more open to other people. So that the best thing for human beings in the world is personal relationship. And that’s the thing that suffering enables you to have more of.” Eleonore Stump is an exemplar of faith seeking understanding, fides quaerens intellectum. She’s a philosopher in the Thomist tradition, which she brings fiercely and beautifully to bear in her incisive philosophical commentary and analysis on difficult matters.

She is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University, where she’s taught since 1992. She’s also an honorary professor at Wuhan University and the Logos Institute at University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She’s a professorial fellow at Australian Catholic University. She’s published extensively in philosophy of religion, contemporary metaphysics, and medieval philosophy. Her books include a major study of Thomas Aquinas. Her extensive treatment of the problem of evil, Wandering in Darkness, is the focal piece for this interview. Her most recent work on the atonement of Christ came out just last year.

In this interview, we discuss the core of what a Christian ought to care about most, the phenomenology and experience of suffering, Eleonore’s take on the question of whether God suffers and dies, and finally, how interpersonal union is intimately connected to finding meaning in suffering. Across each of these issues, you’ll hear in Eleonore a gentleness and kindness of spirit that’s equaled only by the carefulness and precision of her philosophical analysis.

Show Notes

  • 3:22—The problem of suffering in the West: “If there is some sort of supernatural entity that watches over human beings, if that entity or entities has care for human beings, and has power and mind, why do we suffer the way we do? What’s wrong with our world that it looks like this?”
  • 6:07—Suffering and the desires of the heart. “Another way to think about suffering, and it’s an age‑old way that is very wise, is to see suffering as a function of what we care about. We care about our own flourishing as the human beings that we are and the things that get in the way of that flourishing, those are the things that cause us suffering.”
  • 7:59—A different take on the problem of suffering. “[I]t’s what we care about that makes suffering. Therefore, the question is really something like this. If there is an all powerful, all knowing, all good, perfectly loving God, why wouldn’t He want you to have what is good for you and what you care about? That’s how you would feel toward your own child. Why wouldn’t the Deity think that about his children?”
  • 8:43—The starting point for the project of theodicy.
  • 9:32—Early Christians and the magnificence of being allowed to suffer.
  • 11:12—Suffering and the shaping of character. “It’s tied to the fact that you know that the children who grow up in highly protective, over protective rich cuddled surrounding where they never face suffering and they never face challenges, you know they’re not going come out very well.”
  • 12:22—Ad Break: “Charting a Course Through Grief”—A free 8-week ecourse with a variety helpful resources on grief.
  • 14:35—Loving personal relationship as the purpose of suffering. “The heart of Christianity is personal relationship, persons sharing love with each other. For a Christian, the greatest thing for a human being is not character development, but it’s loving personal relationship. The idea in the Christian tradition is that something about suffering enables you, it doesn’t make you, but it enables you to open and open and open and open more deeply to God. When you are more open to God, you’re also more open to other people, so that the best thing for human beings in the world is personal relationship. That’s the thing that suffering enables you to have more of. That’s the idea. Of course, it’s just an enabling, it doesn’t guarantee it. You can become bitter and hateful in suffering also.”
  • 15:55—On suffering as a means to human flourishing but in itself: a poison. “The morally sufficient reason for God to allow suffering has to do with the goods that suffering brings, but those goods, closer personal relationship with a loving God and with each other, that doesn’t make suffering any less awful and you must never get confused and think it does.”
  • 17:40—600 pages on the Problem of Evil in 60 seconds.
  • 18:28—Reaching out to others, vulnerability, and the horror of suffering. “The whole Earth is soaked with the tears of the suffering. That is a horrible fact.”
  • 19:55—We are both sufferers and perpetrators of suffering. “We perpetrate such ghastly suffering on one another. That’s part of the story. That’s part of the vulnerability we have to recognize too. We are prone to do these things to one another. That kind of recognition is also important for the problem of suffering.”
  • 21:10—Narrative, the details of human life, and the failure of philosophy to answer the problem of suffering. “It is important to understand that suffering has got a lot more human detail, a lot more human complexity to it than something as simple as intrinsic individual valuable characteristics of a person. It’s also important to see the details of what a trade could be in any individual life, what you lose in suffering. Think about it this way. In suffering, you lose something that you care about. And if God is going to be justified in allowing that suffering, it has to be that somehow, you get more of what you care about than you would if you hadn’t suffered.”
  • 25:07—Ad break: “Seeking Christian Wisdom for Life’s Biggest Questions” via Biola LEARN (15% off your next course)
  • 26:48—On the suffering of God. “When the Biblical text said, “Jesus weeps.” Who’s weeping? We have only one candidate. The person of the incarnate Christ is weeping. That person is divine. That’s God weeping.”
  • 30:22—Being face-to-face with God in uniting relationship. “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.”
  • 34:32—On art and suffering. “There is grace though, and wonder on the way. Only they are hard to see, hard to embrace for those compelled to wander in darkness.”

Credits

  • Hosted and produced by Evan Rosa
  • A Resource of the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation
  • Theme music by The Brilliance
  • Production and Engineering by the Narrativo Group. More info at Narrativogroup.com
  • Edited and mixed by TJ Hester
  • Production Assistance by Kaleb Cohen
  • Follow: @EvanSubRosa / @BiolaCCT / cct.biola.edu

 

Transcript

Evan Rosa:  “The Table Audio” is made possible by the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust.

[background music]

Eleonore Stump:  The heart of Christianity is personal relationship, persons sharing love with each other. And so for Christians, the greatest thing for a human being is not character development. But it’s loving personal relationship. And the idea in the Christian tradition is that something about suffering enables you—doesn’t make you, but it enables you—to open and open and open and open more deeply to God.

And when you are more open to God, you are also more open to other people. So that the best thing for human beings in the world is personal relationship. And that’s the thing that suffering enables you to have more of.

Rosa:  I’m Evan Rosa and you’re listening to the Table Audio, a podcast about seeking Christian wisdom for life’s big question.

Eleonore Stump is an exemplar of faith seeking understanding, fides quaerens intellectum. She’s a philosopher in the Thomist tradition, which she brings fiercely and beautifully to bear in her incisive philosophical commentary and analysis on difficult matters.

By my lights, she never loses a sense for the big picture, a sense for how things fit together. I suppose you need that gift if you’re going to write 600‑page philosophy books, as Stump is wont to do. In fact, you get the sense that every book Eleonore writes deserves the modifier “magisterial” in front of it, and honestly, rightly so.

She is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University, where she’s taught since 1992. She’s also an honorary professor at Wuhan University and the Logos Institute at University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She’s a professorial fellow at Australian Catholic University.

She’s published extensively in philosophy of religion, contemporary metaphysics, and medieval philosophy. Her books include a major study of Thomas Aquinas. Her extensive treatment of the problem of evil, “Wandering in Darkness,” is the focal piece for this interview.

Her most recent work on the atonement of Christ came out just last year. Here, in Eleonore, we have just another example of a rightly feeling intellect, to borrow a phrase associated with C.S. Lewis, orienting our philosophical insights around right feeling and an appreciation for the highest and purest desires of the heart.

Eleonore Stump interweaves into her version of theodicy insights that can only be had through narrative elements, Biblical and other ancient stories, poetry, even from anonymous sources, medieval hymns, and more. Through these insights, you see a lifting of human subjective values to their highest and deepest, the desire for God.

In this interview, we discuss the core of what a Christian ought to care about most, the phenomenology and experience of suffering, Eleonore’s take on the question of whether God suffers and dies, and finally, how interpersonal union is intimately connected to finding meaning in suffering.

Across each of these issues, you’ll hear in Eleonore a gentleness and kindness of spirit that’s equaled only by the carefulness and precision of her philosophical analysis.

Stump:  You know, the West has thought about the problem of suffering for many centuries, and, of course, not just the West. This problem is represented, can be found in the thought of every culture going.

It’s a thought that goes something like this. “If there is some sort of supernatural entity that watches over human beings, if that entity or entities has care for human beings, and has power and mind, why do we suffer the way we do? What’s wrong with our world that it looks like this?”

Now, there are some people who think, obviously, because we suffer the way we do, there can’t be any such supernatural entity that watches over us. There couldn’t be. The thought of these people is something like this.

“Look, if you want to tell me that you’ve just been diagnosed with leukemia, the dog died, the house burned down, and your mother got lost because she has dementia and no one can find her—she’s wandering somewhere in the city—I can understand what you’re saying.

“If you want to add in on top of this that there’s an all‑powerful, all‑knowing, perfectly good being who really loves you, then I’m going to think something’s wrong in this story.” And so that’s the problem of suffering. It seems as if these things don’t make sense. The story doesn’t make sense.

Rosa:  I wonder if you’d comment on what you take the nature, perhaps the psychological aspects, the phenomenology of suffering, to be. What is suffering?

Stump:  Well, that’s a good question. So, often, and unreflectively, we think suffering is a matter of pain. If you have pain, you’re suffering and if you don’t have any pain, you’re not suffering. But that’s a kind of limited way to think about suffering, for sure.

There’s a lot of bad things that happen to people that don’t have pain in them. And there are even some things that have pain in them that don’t really count as suffering.

There are women who strongly prefer what we call natural childbirth which is childbirth without anesthetic. And they suffer. For sure, they do.

Even after having tried it once, there are women who will want to do it again because something about that pain doesn’t seem to them to be aversive but it seems to them to be ingredient in something that they price and value.

And really, nobody says the fact that there are women who choose to have natural childbirth and suffering, that’s what shows me there is no God. People don’t talk that way. What this shows you is that pain is not necessary or sufficient for suffering.

So, another way to think about suffering, and it’s an age‑old way that is very wise, is to see suffering as a function of what we care about. We care about our own flourishing as the human beings that we are and the things that get in the way of that flourishing, those are the things that cause us suffering.

If you know that something about the oppressive society in which you live makes it impossible for you to give your child an education of any kind, you will suffer on behalf of your child because education is part of what goes into human flourishing.

So, there are all those things that make human beings the best they can be and when a person is deprived of some of those, she suffers. But on top of that, on top of that, there are the things that have value for us just because we set our hearts on them.

Rosa:  It’s our desires.

Stump:  Yeah, these are things we care about not because in themselves they are intrinsically valuable. On the contrary, they have value for us because we set our hearts on them.

So, I have children, you have children. I don’t think my children are more valuable than your children. I really don’t. But, I love my children way more than I love yours. [laughs]

So, my children have much more value for me than your children have for me. Not because I assessed the intrinsic value of the children that way but this is the case where something has value because you set your heart on it.

Rosa:  Something matters to you.

Stump:  Something matters to you and has value to you because it matters to you. So, Maybe your grandmother has passed away and was very dear to you. But before she died, she left you the quilt she had made when she was a young girl. And now that quilt, which maybe old and tattered and faded, this is a priceless object to you.

We have things we set our hearts on and when we lose those or we fail to get those, then we suffer too. So one way or another, it’s what we care about that makes suffering.

And, therefore, the question is really something like this. If there is an all powerful, all knowing, all good, perfectly loving God, why wouldn’t He want you to have what is good for you and what you care about? That’s how you would feel toward your own child. Why wouldn’t the Deity think that about his children?

Rosa:  That’s what sets up what philosophers call theodicy, an answer or an attempt defense to the problem of evil, to the problem of suffering. What are your starting points for thinking about theodicy?

Stump:  It goes something like this. People think, “OK, look, there couldn’t be a world that had suffering and God in it. There just couldn’t be.” Of course, that’s way too fast. The response is, “Yeah, but there couldn’t be if God had a morally sufficient reason for allowing you to suffer.” The question on the other side is, “Oh yeah? And what would that reason be exactly?”

Now, we are off and running on a project called theodicy.

Rosa:  That reason appears to be something that would be deeply tied to human purpose. Suffering is so rampant, so universal that whatever that morally sufficient reason is, it sounds like it must be tied fairly deeply to the core element of human purpose.

Stump:  Oh yeah, absolutely. What’s really interesting if you look at the history of the Christian west, is to see the way in which this problem has and has not come up. For us, it’s an obvious problem.

But if you look back at the patristic period in the first centuries After Christ, when the persecution of Christians was severe, it’s worth noticing that not only do the Christians of that period who are suffering in the persecution not ever, ever think to raise the problem of suffering, never even think about it and why you might ask. Why, but they don’t.

And not only that but they celebrate, they glorify the people who suffered.

Rosa:  There’s this expectation almost.

Stump:  There’s an expectation that there is something absolutely magnificent in being allowed to suffer in this way.

So Chrysostom, John Chrysostom, the famous patristic theologian, he knows that there are people who are scandalized at the sight of Christian suffering in these persecutions.

And he says, “People who are scandalized, that they’re suffering don’t realize that having this suffering is the privilege of those who are especially dear to God.” Not every age, not every culture sees suffering in the same way. If you think about your own children, you begin to have some idea of how to look at this problem in a different way.

So you get a magic lamp, Aladdin’s magic lamp and the genie appears and says, “What would you like? Evan, would you like me to make it the case that for each one of your children that child never has any suffering? No skinned knees, no failure to get a valentine at school on Valentine’s Day, no disappointments, no heartbreak. Would you like that because I can do that?”

And then you’re going to think to yourself, “Hmm, would a human being without any kind of suffering really be a human being I hope my children will be?” You can see the point right away. So it’s tied to the fact that you know that the children who grow up in highly protective, over-protective, rich, coddled surroundings…

Rosa:  Comfort.

Stump:  …where they never face suffering and they never face challenges, you know they’re not going come out very well.

[background music]

Rosa:  Stay tuned, plenty more from Eleonore Stump in just a moment.

Hello friends, thanks for giving us a place at your table. It’s a gift for us to bring these conversations into your life and we hope you find them meaningful and memorable. Throughout season three of the podcast, we’ll be offering a brand new online course. It’s free to all of our email and newsletter subscribers and free to sign up.

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Stump:  There’s something about suffering that goes into character formation, not in the sense that it makes a person courageous and temperate, but in the sense that it makes a person spiritually deep, wise, and so on. Christianity is characterized by a doctrine of God as trinity.

At the ultimate foundation of all reality, there are persons and you can’t reduce those persons to anything impersonal and you can’t reduce the three of them to anything else that is just one. The doctrine of the trinity says that though there is just one God, there are three persons and they don’t reduce to anything else.

The heart of Christianity is personal relationship, persons sharing love with each other. For a Christian, the greatest thing for a human being is not character development, but it’s loving personal relationship. The idea in the Christian tradition is that something about suffering enables you, it doesn’t make you, but it enables you to open and open and open and open more deeply to God.

When you are more open to God, you’re also more open to other people, so that the best thing for human beings in the world is personal relationship. That’s the thing that suffering enables you to have more of. That’s the idea. Of course, it’s just an enabling, it doesn’t guarantee it. You can become bitter and hateful in suffering also.

It is really important to see that neither for the Greeks nor for the Christians does this thought about suffering change it from being a bad thing to a good thing. To say that something conduces to a good end isn’t to say that it’s intrinsically good. Chemotherapy drugs are valuable. We’re grateful for them. They save lives, but in themselves, they’re just poison. They poison the whole system.

If you have a child of cancer and the doctor says, “Good news, it’s a very treatable kind of childhood cancer and we’ve got drugs for these. Of course, the bad news is the drugs are toxic and you’re child is going to suffer, but we will heal him with these drugs.”

Then you’ll be so grateful for the drugs because of the good that they produce, but in themselves they’re awful and suffering is like that. In itself is awful and you must never forget it.

There’s nothing about theodicy that can change that. Theodicy says that by means of this awfulness, the best thing open to human beings will be yours. But the thing in question that helps get you there is so awful. That’s the way it works.

The morally sufficient reason for God to allow suffering has to do with the goods that suffering brings, but those goods, closer personal relationship with a loving God and with each other, that doesn’t make suffering any less awful and you must never get confused and think it does.

[background music]

Stump:  Sometimes I have been asked can you condense your 660 page book on the Problem of Evil into just a couple of minutes for us.

[laughter]

Rosa:  I hope you say, “No.”

Stump:  Then I do it like this. I say, “I’m one of those people who hates talking to people on the plane. I get on the plane. I pull my book out real fast, so you know I’m not available for talking to you. I don’t want a conversation with you. I want to be by myself, alone. I want you to stay away. If that plane starts to go down, I will talk to anybody.”

Now, you begin to understand, it is something about the nature of suffering and the terrible thing that suffering is that opens us up…

Rosa:  It’s an opening.

Stump:  It opens us up in those circumstances. We will reach out to one another. We will reach out to God too. Without that, we will be inclined to withdraw in ourselves into a kind of willed loneliness that seems both comfortable and safe but that is in the end, the real toxic thing for us.

Rosa:  I recently heard a quote by the author Junot Diaz who wrote “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” He said that vulnerability is the pre‑condition to contact.

Stump:  I believe that that is true, really. I would turn it just a little. I would say, it’s your own perception of your own vulnerability. That’s the pre‑condition. The vulnerability, we all have constantly. A lot of us prefer not to recognize it or not to accept it.

Rosa:  That leaves us remain enclosed.

Stump:  That is correct. Here, I just need to say one more time. Nothing about this makes evil at all a good thing, doesn’t turn the world upside down in that way. Suffering remains lamentable. Each of us has a duty to do whatever we can to alleviate it, prevent it, and so on. The whole Earth is soaked with the tears of the suffering. That is a horrible fact.

One thing worth noticing is it’s a horrible fact about us. That’s who we are. We perpetrate such ghastly suffering on one another. That’s part of the story. That’s part of the vulnerability we have to recognize too. We are prone to do these things to one another. That kind of recognition is also important for the problem of suffering.

Think about our great heroes. For me, a great hero is Harriet Tubman. I have great admiration for her. I have awe at what she accomplished as a human being. I think her life is splendid and luminous. I think it is, in part, because of the terrible things she suffered.

Does that make me feel any more friendly towards the people who enslaved her or the people who afflicted her? It doesn’t. On the contrary, it makes me…I don’t know what. It makes me hate them. They deserve that kind of hatred because there is…The evil that was perpetrated on the slaves in this country, there is an evil really worth rejecting with as much vehemence as you can manage. Nonetheless, it is the case. She is a luminous example of a human being.

Rosa:  With vulnerability as our context with being open to relationships, [inaudible 21:16] say a little bit about story and narrative and reading these lives as a way of helping us to understand an answer?

Stump:  That’s where I was starting when I was saying to you, if you just look at these things in a pedestrian way, as philosophical claims, they have very little perches on you. When I tell you about the story about the plane, all of a sudden, the point comes home to you. In the same way, when we hear a story, if it’s a good story, a well‑done story, we see the myriad details that go into a human life.

I told a little sin story about Harriet Tubman. If you actually go to look at any particular detail of her life, it’s the details that are necessary for thinking about whether God was justified in allowing her suffer. She herself thought he was.

If you look at the way in which she herself understands her life and the details of the things that she suffered and the details of the heroic action she undertook, and so on, and all those details, you might say, “The problem of evil lives in these details about human life.”

You aren’t going to get details in abstract philosophical prose. That’s a point.

Rosa:  Certainly not. In fact, that’s what leads many people to respond to attempts at theodicy or attempts at answering the theoretical problem of evil. It leaves us understandably feeling cold, feeling unsatisfied.

Stump:  Or angry and offended and insulted. I understand that reaction entirely. This, I think, is also part of the story here. Often, these plain philosophical approaches to the problem of suffering, they think just in terms of character formation or they think just in terms of some individual intrinsic, good related to human flourishing that can be got at a suffering.

Then people feel in their hearts that this is an inhuman way of thinking about human suffering. You can see it if you think about Job. If you think that the point of suffering is character formation, then here’s what you’re saying to Job. “Hey, Job. I’ll take all your kids and kill them all. Don’t worry. I’m going to trade you something for this. Here’s what I’m going to trade you for. You’ll have a much better character than you otherwise would.”

Any decent person would say, “Keep your stupid character formation. Let me keep the kids.” It is important to understand that suffering has got a lot more human detail, a lot more human complexity to it than something as simple as intrinsic individual valuable characteristics of a person. It’s also important to see the details of what a trade could be in any individual life, what you lose in suffering.

Think about it this way. In suffering, you lose something that you care about. God is going to be justified in allowing that suffering. It has to be that somehow, you get more of what you care about than you would if you hadn’t suffered.

One way to think about the story of Job here is to notice that Job has the longest face‑to‑face conversation with God of any character, anywhere in the Biblical stories ever, ever. That’s part of the story, too. If you leave that out, it’s harder to understand what’s going on in that Biblical book.

[background music]

Rosa:  After the break, Eleonore responds to the question of God’s suffering and the nature and meaning of personal union for theodicy, the problem of evil.

[music]

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[music ends]

Rosa:  Sometimes, we say, “The devil is the details. Perhaps God is in the details.”

Stump:  Yeah.

Rosa:  What I wonder is, even in the midst of that conversation or beyond the conversation with Job, I wonder what your perspective is on God’s experience of suffering. Does God suffer? Does the psychic break within the human person and the break of relationship with God…What kind of pain does that cause God?

Stump:  Here’s the thing that really matters to me. It matters to me that Christians are literate in their own tradition. You can’t do any good in medicine if you try to figure it out for yourself from scratch. You have to learn from what everybody else has already done. In the same way, any culture cut off from its own tradition is correspondingly weakened.

There is a marvelous deposit of expertise for the Christian community in the theological tradition from the patristric period through now. Start with that deposit and look at it. Then you get the answer to your question that goes like this.

Does God suffer? Certainly not. A perfectly good, perfectly omniscient, perfectly powerful being and so on doesn’t suffer at all, point one. Point two, what is Christ? One person with two natures, a full human nature and a fully divine nature. Who’s the person? One person with two natures. Who’s the person? It’s the second person of the trinity and, therefore, God.

When Christ does anything, He does it either in His divine nature or He does it in His human nature. In His human nature, He can be hungry, in His divine nature, he can’t be, and so on. The only person doing anything is the divine person. When there’s somebody there who’s hungry, the hunger is in the divine nature. The only person to feel that hunger is a divine person.

Now, let’s go back to where we were. Does God suffer?

Rosa:  You might want to add that the hunger is in the human nature.

Stump:  Hunger’s in the human nature. The person is a divine person. Go back to the question, does God suffer? The answer is, certainly, of course, in the human nature, which God has in the incarnate Christ.

Let’s add in dying. Can God die? Of course, not. Certainly not, because a perfect being can’t die. Of course, when Christ dies, the only person there is to die, the only available person who’s the subject of dying, that would be a divine person.

It’s heretical to deny that God dies. That’s interesting. That’s a very complicated, interesting result. Now, let’s backtrack again to where you started. When we suffer, does God suffer? When the Biblical text said, “Jesus weeps.” Who’s weeping? We have only one candidate. The person of the incarnate Christ is weeping. That person is divine. That’s God weeping.

Rosa:  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 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?

Stump:  Well see, everything depends on where you take union to be. You take hydrogen and oxygen and unite them in the right sort of way, and you’ll get water. There are people who think about union between God and human beings in the same sort of way.

You unite them and then 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. Each of these two persons are somehow in a position to say “you” to the other one.

Rosa:  There’s an “I” in our relationship.

Stump:  Exactly. An interesting thing to notice about that the deity is God likes to say “you” to everything. When in Job, God says to the ocean, what God wants to determine that the ocean has boundaries and doesn’t overflow those boundaries. God speaks to the ocean with second personal address, “Thus far your waves go and no further.”

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.”

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 waves and fig trees can be addressed as “you” by God or the incarnate Christ, then see we can also.

Rosa:  And how much more.

Stump:  And how much more. 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. The old lore about the fruits of the Holy Spirit goes like this. Every Christian, every person in grace has the indwelling Holy Spirit. 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. At peace because what is more worth wanting than anything else is yours already. That’s what union is. You don’t get love, joy, and peace because your beloved is yours and you are his, if all we got is that you get some divine attributes.

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. 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.

Rosa:  What you do in the book with the use of art, poetry, literature, and story, it’s interwoven into your philosophical argument. You use epigrams every chapter to perhaps get at some of this kind of contact knowledge, this personal knowledge that can be done just through left brain means.

I wonder if, first, maybe read us an example of some of the things that you’ve included in the book.

Stump:  The epigram for the whole book is a little bit from a poem that was found in Auschwitz after the war and was written on the wall by someone who suffered horribly in an unspeakable by evil and it goes like this. It says, “There is grace though, and wonder on the way. Only they are hard to see, hard to embrace for those compelled to wander in darkness.”

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Rosa:  I want to thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your work. It’s an honor to host you here and look forward to your next book.

Stump:  Thank you. Pleased to be here too. Thank you for a good interview. Thank you.

Rosa:  Thank you.

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Rosa:  That’s it for this episode. If you’d like to check out a video version of my interview with Eleonore Stump, head over to our YouTube channel or our website. You can check the show notes for that.

Thanks for listening, friends. Peace to your wanderings, whether in light or in darkness.

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Rosa:  “The Table Audio” is hosted and produced by me, Evan Rosa and is a resource of the Biola University Center for Christian Thought which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust and the Blankemeyer Foundation.

Theme music is by the Brilliance. Production and engineering by The Narrativo. More at narrativogroup.com. Edited and mixed by T.J. Hester. Production assistance by Laura Crane.

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