Kids ask amazingly complex questions that we often given very simple answers for, simply because of what their brains can comprehend. That sounds like I’m talking about my children as if they can’t understand as much as me – when really, I hardly understand a sliver about the totality of God either. Imagine a road trip from San Fransisco to Augusta, Maine. Whether you’re just leaving town (my kids), or you’re about 10 miles out of town (me), it’s still quite a distance to Augusta. That’s how I feel about our respective understandings of God. As we get older, we can simply understand larger words. It’s amazing to me that a thousand years ago, people were writing and posing such wonderfully complex questions, and many of them are approached by new people today as if they’ve never been thought of.
Peter Damian did a lot of thinking/writing in the realm of forgiveness. Putting it in the realm of virginity (since most sins can be seen as a loss of “innocence” in whatever area they are in), when one is forgiven, can God go back in time and make something that has happened as if it never happened?
The response is a bit humorous.
There was a large focus in their day (and still today, even if we don’t talk about it or give name to it) on this aspect of “being” (ousia). Damian believed that God could do anything that was good (in God’s nature), not to be limited by any aspect of ousia (space/time/matter/etc.). That the goodness of God stands outside of being….not bound by it and whatever that all means.
But because “ousia” is something that is brought into existence by God, that means for something to have “being” it must be something good, for that is the nature of God. So if something has previously happened that is not good (i.e. “evil”), that thing that has happened has a sort of “non-being”, since it obviously did not come from God, source of all ousia. It doesn’t actually have “ousia”. Damian’s initial response, therefore, would be something like “why would God have to undo something that isn’t?”.
But Damian would eventually concede in a way that, although focusing on God’s superhero omnipotence, still offers us something helpful in our thinking of God. He would say that because God could have stopped Rome from becoming Rome (before it happened), God still can today. This follows the logic of God being not bound by the realms of time. He talks a bit about the most faithful way of speaking about God is ALWAYS in the present tense. (Gotta love that. If we take away nothing else, to remind ourselves to speak of God always in present tense. Not so much “could do”, or “will do”, but “is doing”. ) So even though something evil that has happened lacks “ousia”, and doesn’t actually “exist” as most things do, God can go back and alter that future just as much as He could have stopped it before it happened.
But when my daughter asks me,”Daddy, what is God’s forgiveness like?”, I can simply answer “It’s as if you’ve never done it.” Someday we’ll get all ontological…but maybe we shouldn’t.