The Matter of Necessity
How many parents have raised their children on frequent outbursts of “You have to make your bed!” “You have to brush your teeth!” “You have to go to school!” How many children have expressed similar sentiments: “Do I have to go to bed?” “Do I have to eat my spinach?” “Do I have to be home by 10 o’clock?” “Have tos” represent necessity. Necessity refers to something needed for existence. It concerns essentials and requirements. It involves the unavoidable, the inevitable, the noncontingent (unconditional, certain).
The Necessities of Death, Law and Self-Existent Being
From the dawn of human consciousness, man (male and female) has recognized that death is a necessity. There apparently is no final way to avoid it. As John Carroll has stated:
Necessity reduces ultimately to one thing, death. When necessity rules, mankind finds that it has subjected itself to the most severe of all metaphysics, that life is under the command of death, that mortality rules.1
Mankind also has recognized that law is a necessity for the continued existence of this material world and cosmos. Furthermore, mankind has recognized that existing life and created reality require the final necessity of God — Self-Existent Being.
Therefore, Self-Existent Being, law, and death are three fundamental necessities. Man could never have come into existence without the creative initiative and power of the Divine. Man could not have further evolved from the “lost paradise of animality”2 without divinely ordained law. And, in a rapidly-evolving, contingent universe, creaturely man would long ago have been overwhelmed apart from death. As an acquaintance once said of a religious organization suffering from gridlock, “What this body needs is more funerals.” Just recently, while a retired colleague and I were discussing the kaleidoscopic changes today taking place in our culture and civilization, he said, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to live through much more of this?”
The Disadvantages of Necessity
However, as mankind evolves toward ultimate human personhood, necessity has marked disadvantages. Necessity is largely outside of mankind’s will and control. It is applied and imposed through reflex or instinct, through law or predatory possession, and through the imagined radiation (emanation) and indwelling of divine presence. These real and supposed agencies lie outside the realm of human decision and action. We cannot control instinct. We do not make the fundamental laws. We are the victims of predation. And we ourselves are not the source of divine transcendence or presence.
The Italian astronomer and theologian, G. Tanzella-Nitti, states, “Indeed, if all our actions depend on the courses of the stars, all we do is done of necessity; and necessity preclude[s] either virtue or vice.”3 If I have to be or have to do something, I am not free. And if I am not free, I am not responsible.
Necessity, even when it is God’s necessity, eliminates moral responsibility. There is no point in me trying to be a better person if I have no will of my own; whether I behave badly or well is determined by God, outside of my control, so my only rational response is to resign myself to what is given.4
Furthermore, if I have no responsible purpose, my life has no meaning, value or virtue. If I am bound by static, unchanging, immovable necessity, I have no dynamic relational existence, no interactive individuality. Finally, if I am not free to give or to receive, I have been stripped of all love and compassion.
Thus, the necessities that are imposed on existence ultimately deprive mankind of the very possibility of existence as human beings. In this sense necessity, in the form of inevitable death, imposed law and Transcendent Being, represents the “fallenness” of mankind. “Fallenness” is simply a metaphor for man’s subjection to Self-Existent Being, to law, and to death. Man is a living paradox, a walking contradiction, a collection of opposites — longing to be free yet bound to necessity. Somehow man must be delivered from the bondage of necessity if he is to be truly human. For such deliverance there is just one possibility. Only the creative power to surmount death, to transcend the noncontingency of legal constraints, and to genuinely fellowship with God can deliver mankind from enslavement to necessity.
Creative Experience and Human Existence
As we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, the solution to the human problem is more and more widely recognized. That solution is creative experience. “ . . . [C]reative experience is the ultimate reality.”5 Even now we know that we “have, or are, a mind, in the sense of a stream of experiences.”6 We recognize that such experience involves our perception of objects, thoughts and feelings and our perceived involvement in events or activities. Experience therefore involves relationship and interaction among distinct entities and individuals. Such experience is fundamental to human existence.
Without experience, no aims or purposes can exist . . . no creativity in the sense of self-determination or final causation. With no final causation toward some ideal possibility, no role exists for ideals, possibilities, norms, or values to play. . . . With no self-determination aimed at the realization of ideals, no value can be achieved. With no experience, even unconscious feeling, there can be no value received. . . .
. . . [Without experience] no role exists . . . for purposes, values, ideals, possibilities, and qualities, and there is no freedom, creativity, temporality. . . . There are no norms, not even truth, and everything is ultimately rneaningless.7
However, experience, as we now “experience” it, is not fully creative. Man is still bound by necessity. He cannot surmount death by his limited will, feeble power, determination and capabilities alone. He cannot surmount creaturely reality bounded by law. He cannot reach the heavens to fellowship with Self-Existent Deity. As the ultimate reality, creative experience is beyond the grasp of mankind — beyond all will, reason, knowledge, sensation and motion. Thus, for creative experience to become the ultimate reality, we envision a profound transformation of this world and the entire cosmos (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9). Such a transformation will remove decay, death and annihilation. It will exclude predatory possession and submission. And it will bring Creator and creature, not into merged identity, but into experiential relationship and fellowship.
The Ultimate Realization of Creative Experience
The creative experience required to lift mankind beyond necessity can be found only in the incarnate God — Jesus Christ. From the beginning God knew that the only way to deliver, liberate, ransom and redeem the creature from bondage to necessity was for Ultimate Necessity to create such experience. For this reason Self-Existent Being came down to this earth and adopted the creature as his own reality. As Jesus, he himself endured the noncontingent8 legal boundaries of earthly existence and the final necessity of death. He thus plumbed the depths of hell. His intent was not to endorse the eternal necessity of law, of predatory domination and submission, or of death. Nor did he intend to endorse the eternal necessity of “Self-Existent Oneness” devoid of experience. Rather, God condescended as the Christ to adopt the creature in order that God might fulfill all necessity and thus ultimately and eternally annihilate all necessity — whether the necessity of death, of bondage to law, or even of bondage to Self-Existent Being.
By his incarnation, life, suffering, death and resurrection, Christ inaugurated a new reality — creative, relational experience. That
creation is the work of love. . . . [I]ts shape cannot be predetermined by the Creator, nor its triumph foreknown; it is the realization of vision, but of vision which is discovered only through its own realization.9
It now is our supreme privilege, freedom and responsibility to consider God’s ultimate gift of love — that creative experience revealed through Jesus Christ. Here we behold that unique experience born in a manger, treading the dusty roads of Palestine, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, forgiving sinners, feeding the multitudes, raising the dead, manifesting egalitarian love, agonizing on Golgotha’s cross, rising from the grave, and soon to be revealed in glory10. But that gift of creative experience must be more than considered. It is a gift intended to be known, sought, received, treasured and shared both now and forever. Thus, we today perceive this vision, recognize and in faith embrace the gift of creative experience, knowing that we shall shortly become co-creators with Christ.11 This imminent experience will involve a transformation of the entire Creation from the old order of emanation, predation, litigation and annihilation to a new order of continuing Creation with him, through him and by him — world without end. This is not a matter of necessity. It is a matter of transcendent opportunity and freedom.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. — Romans 8:19-23, RSV.
- John Carroll, Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 5. (go back)
- Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 91. (go back)
- G. Tanzella-Nitti, Questions in Science and Religious Belief: The Roles of Faith and Science in Answering the Cosmological Problem (Tucson, AZ: Pachart Publishing House, 1992), p. 49. (go back)
- Carroll, Humanism, p. 49. (go back)
- David Ray Griffin, ed., The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988), p. 39. (go back)
- Ibid., p. 17. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 2, 3. (go back)
- As Jesus, God also endured, fulfilled and consequently transcended all contingency. (go back)
- W. H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977), p. 63; quoted in John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality: The Relationship between Science and Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), p. 83. (go back)
- That revelation is often termed the Parousia or Second Coming. The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Second Coming, Terminology” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming#Terminology. See also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2006: “Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit” (p. 299). (go back)
- See Johannes A. Mawuli Awudza, “Science and Religion: A Ghanaian Perspective,” in Jan Fennema and Iain Paul, eds., Science and Religion: One World — Changing Perspectives on Reality (Papers presented at the Second European Conference on Science and Religion) (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), p. 194. (go back)
This article was originally published January/February 1996 under the Destiny imprint.