Ye Shall be Like Gods: Natural Law and the Need for Grace
Christianity invites us to a new way of being fully human
In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that man has only three alternatives before him in his quest for happiness, but only one of them right: (1) to be God; (2) To be like God and to participate in God's goodness in a way consistent with man's creaturehood; or (3) to be miserable. There is no fourth alternative. The second option--to be like God and to participate in a manner consistent with his created nature--is the central thought behind the natural law.
Leibniz's error stemmed from the fact that he forgot the notion of nature and what is its due. He seems to have overlooked the difference between negation, the simple absence of a good, which is not necessarily an evil, and privation, which is the absence of a good that is an evil because it is the absence of a good which ought to be there. Negation deals with "is" and "is not." Privation deals with "ought" and "ought not."
As St. Thomas Aquinas put it in the Summa Theologiae (Ia, q. 48, art. 5, ad 1) "evil is the privation of good (privatio boni), and not a pure negation (negatio pura). . . therefore not every defect of good is an evil, but only the defect of the good which is naturally due."
Using examples to stress his point, St. Thomas notes that a stone is blind, but that the absence of sight in a stone is not an evil, since it is not the stone's nature to see. The absence of sight in a stone is simply a negation, not a privation. The lack of sight would, however, be evil in an animal such as a cat, because it is the nature of a cat to see. The absence of sight in a cat is a privation, an absence of something that ought to be there.
It is not man's nature to be God, since his nature is a created nature and being God is not due a created nature. As St. Thomas puts it, "it is against the nature of a creature to be preserved in being through itself, because being and conservation come from one and the same source," namely God. "Hence," St. Thomas concludes, "this kind of defect is not an evil for a creature."
Simply put--and against Leibniz's view--St. Thomas insists that it is not evil for man not to be God, but instead to have to rely on God for his being and for his continuing in being. Since being God is not due man as a creature, it follows that it cannot be a metaphysical evil if man is not God. Man's perfection consists in being man, not in being God.
Leibniz's error is analogous to thinking that it is evil for an earthworm to be an earthworm, because the earthworm would be better in being a cat. The fact is that an earthworm can be a good earthworm without being a cat. In fact, an earthworm that (per impossibile) tried to be a cat would be a bad earthworm. The point is that perfection--our good--is determined by reference to our nature, and not by reference to another's nature.
Leibniz really did get it wrong. It is not a metaphysical evil for man not to be God. In fact, it is a moral evil for man to want to be God.
There is a huge--indeed infinite--divide between God and man, between God and his creation, and this divide affects God and creation and their respective perfections. It belongs to God's perfection not to be creature, and to the creature's perfection not to be God.
In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that man has only three alternatives before him in his quest for happiness,but only one of them right: (1) to be God; (2) To be like God and to participate in God's goodness in a way consistent with man's creaturehood; or (3) to be miserable. There is no fourth alternative; quartum non datur.
The second option--to be like God and to participate in a manner consistent with his created nature--is the central thought behind the natural law. The natural law--which is the creature's participation in the Eternal Law--is the path to follow if one chooses the second option of those C. S. Lewis identifies. In following the natural law we "learn to eat the only food the universe grows--the only food that any possible universe ever can grow," C. S. Lewis says. If we don't eat this food, we must "starve eternally."
To be miserable seems the opposite of happiness, so we need not spend a great deal of time talking about that option other than stressing the need to avoid it.
Some opt for the first option that C. S. Lewis gives, namely those that live a Nietzschean fantasy and really believe we can kill God, then take the place of God and live autonomously without regard to our nature. Witness, for example, the words of the song "To Be Or Not To Be (God)" by the progressive/power Italian metal band Eldritch:
I lie, still and kill, then I'll ...
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