Metaphysics and Delight


Editor’s Note: This is part 4 in our Lyceum Disputation series on metaphysics and the Christian. Stay tuned for further installments which can be found here when available. As with all our work, the London Lyceum publishes a range of viewpoints to encourage thinking.


Elsewhere I have suggested that the history of philosophy can be divided into three epochs, with a different discipline of philosophy taking the central role in each epoch.[1] The central discipline in the Classical era was metaphysics, the central discipline in the Modern era was epistemology, and the postmodern era is centered on ethics and aesthetics. This assertion is obviously broad but meant to in part characterize the general flow of understanding in a particular period, as well as to note what has been the cause of one of the most detrimental impacts philosophy has had on the world, namely, Modernity. Modernity is a cultural and philosophical movement that began when Descartes changed the central question of philosophy from, “What is real” to “What can I know for certain?”  This pivot from metaphysics to epistemology as the central question of philosophy opened the door to a never-ending skepticism because epistemology was given a task that it is not equipped to handle. The postmodern has fared a bit better by correcting many of the errors of Modernity, however, it places the axiological disciplines in a position for which they as well are unprepared and ill-equipped. This task of course is being the foundation, or the center, of the whole of philosophy, a position that can only be filled by metaphysics.

Metaphysics, in its most basic definition, is the study of reality. When one does metaphysics, she is asking questions related to what exists, what makes a thing what it is, and ultimately, what it means for something to be. Within philosophy, the study of “being” is known as ontology, and often seen as a subdiscipline of metaphysics, but as I see it, metaphysics is ontology, plus the notion of truth. In metaphysics, we are not merely asking what it means to be, but we are asking what is real. Reality is related to existence, and truth is related to a subject’s relation to existence, and to that extent, I see metaphysics as overlapping with epistemology and absorbing the concept of truth somewhat, leaving epistemology to address questions related to knowledge, and metaphysics to address questions about existence and the subject’s relation to existence in a manner that adheres to reality.

In this manner we can see that the other disciplines of philosophy naturally flow out of the questions related to metaphysics since questions related to knowledge, goodness, beauty, etc. are all contingent upon the existence of a real world, and upon the relation of the subject to the real world, a relation that can be understood as world creation, or perhaps better stated, world interpretation. The subject exists and lives in a world of existing things, and the interplay between those things exists in a real manner, however, the subject interprets those interactions and in so doing constructs a version of the world in which he lives and operates, which can reflect the actual world to various degrees of accuracy. This interpretation and interaction with the real world will serve as the basis of every other discipline of philosophy, and to invert matters ultimately harms a person’s ability to do philosophy properly, and as I believe is historically evident has massive repercussions for society as well.

Here we should pause and introduce the concept of the relation between metaphysics and Christianity. It is my contention that Christianity is necessary for a completely accurate metaphysic, but also that it is impossible to speak about Christian theology outside of metaphysics. Note, I said Christian theology, not Christianity. It does seem possible to speak about the general religion of Christianity without addressing any of the metaphysical issues we are concerned about; however, one cannot go far into the religion without making metaphysical claims. Christianity believes that there is a literal God who is self-existent. That God exists as a singular plurality, or one being in three persons, of which the second person took on humanness in full, lived, died, and rose again, and through that death granted salvation to the lost so that they might not face a just punishment in hell, but rather are granted a gracious eternal glory in heaven. All of these are metaphysical claims. Does that mean that one must be trained in metaphysics to be a Christian? No, merely that one makes metaphysical claims by default anytime they make a statement about reality, and Christianity makes statements about reality, therefore it is inherently metaphysical.

It is also important to note that Christianity was established in the first century CE, and is a continuation of the Old Testament Israelite religion that dates back much further. This means that no matter how it is conceived, the whole of the religion was established during the Classical era, and as such was developed with a mode of thinking that centered on metaphysics. It actually does seem that the primary philosophical discipline of an epoch naturally is embedded in the essence of religions that originate therein. This is why Christianity and metaphysics should be seen as natural compatriots in the same manner that religions constructed during the Modern period (such as Christian Science) naturally center with epistemology, and religions developed in the postmodern period (such as Wicca) see knowledge and reality as secondary to axiological concerns.

Christianity developed in the Classical period, and as such, properly orders the philosophical disciplines to see metaphysics as primary, with epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics as contingent on questions related to reality. However, what do we know of this reality? Metaphysics is inherent to Christianity, but is there an inherently Christian metaphysic? We know that God is real, and we know that all things are created by Him, for Him, and that all things are held in existence by Him (Gen 1; Col. 1:16), therefore a Christian metaphysic will prioritize the fact that the natural world is actually less natural than God. By “less natural” I mean to indicate an interesting phenomenon in language in which we describe ourselves and our world as “natural” and the realm of the divine as “supernatural” or above the natural; however, in reality God is the only entity in existence whose essence predicates existence. God is self-existent, and therefore exists by nature, making anything that He creates not something that exists by nature, but rather as subnatural, or as existing by divine fiat. The cosmos does not exist by nature, rather it exists by the will of the only one who does exist by nature.

A Christian metaphysic will therefore be a study of the nature of created objects, and the manner in which created subjects relate to them, and to the one who created them. Further, we know that creation is distinct from God, and yet it has a type of union with Him, or rather bears the marks of being created by Him. As we approach the cosmos, what we know is that the heavens declare the glory of God, day and night they speak to and reveal knowledge of their creator (Psalm 19) and the character and attributes of God are revealed in His creation (Romans 1). What a Christian metaphysic will entail is understanding that however we approach reality, it is not approached in a Parmedian static manner in which motion is an illusion, but rather we approach the cosmos as a moving, dynamic creation that is constantly revealing the content of the nature and character of its creator.

Further, a Christian metaphysic will need to correct a great error in the Modern world in which the Modernist understands the human to be observing creation, and observing, the universe, as opposed to being a part of the created order itself. While no Modern thinker would actively assert that humanity is not finite, the Cartesian shift did seem to construct a wall between an individual and the created order.[2] That wall must be broken down, and we must understand the human as one among the plethora of created entities in the cosmos, but also as the highest of those created beings. Mankind is made a little lower than the heavenly beings (Psalm 8), and is the only thing in creation that is made in the image of God (Gen 1). Being made in God’s image means that humanity does not just exist, but also has a sense of morality, a sense of duty, a sense of aesthetic appreciation, a sense of rationality, and a sense of intentionality. The image of God means that humans exist not merely as objects, but as subjects. A Christian metaphysic then is one in which we understand the world as created by God, and interacted with and interpreted by human subjectivity.

For Christianity to be true, Jesus must have come in the flesh, had a physical body, died a physical death, and physically rose again. Any metaphysical speculation that denies the existence of the physical is outside of the bounds of Christianity, and therefore outside the bounds of reality. Further, Christianity fully affirms the spiritual realm and a metaphysic that presents a strict naturalism is also precluded. These parameters indicate that a Christian metaphysic must be dualistic in some form, be it Platonic, hylomorphic, or some other variant; however, at this point, I do not believe it is clearly delineated that one of these forms is mandated over the other. What I do believe is necessary in our metaphysical speculation at this point however, is not a consideration of the nature of the physical objects that exist, but rather the nature of the relation between the human subject (a physical/spiritual entity) and the physical world. What is the proper metaphysical world that the Christian ought to construct, or rather, how ought the Christian interpret the world that she inhabits?

My contention is that, if all the foregoing is true, then the heavens are declaring the glory of God, and the created order is revealing something, about the nature of God, even humanity by our existence and inherent morality and abilities point toward something related to the character of God. The whole of existence is created to testify to the greatness of God. Humans are created to glorify God (Isa 43:6-7). Creation is made to glorify God objectively by its existence and to reveal His nature to humans who glorify Him by their objective existence, and subjective by their intentional relation.

This appears to be the crux of what a Christian understanding of metaphysics hinges upon. God is love (1 John 4) and He has existed in a perfect loving union as Father, Son, and Spirit for eternity. He does not create out of need, He does not create out of lack, He creates out of love. God, out of love, creates a universe that houses rational, intentional human subjects, and through creation displays His greatness to them so that they have the honor and blessing of glorifying Him. The proper Christian metaphysical construction of the world is one which responds to the perpetual revelation of love and glorying being poured forth by nature, and that response is delight. Heidegger asserts that humans are attuned to the world in particular manners and that such attunements dictate how a person projects themselves on and constructs the world they inhabit. Earlier in his career, he states that boredom is the most fundamental attunement a person can have because it allows them to define their authenticity.[3] He later suggests that these attunements follow epochs with the ancient Greeks being attuned to the world in wonder, and the contemporary world attuned by the lens of doubt or anxiety.

How often do we hear people talking about how they “cope” with life? About how they handle the struggle of living? Might I suggest that much of the pain, heartbreak, and strain in the present world comes from an attunement that teaches people to read the world through a lens of pain, harm, fear, anxiety, and suffering, while a Christian metaphysic doesn’t have a category for “coping” with life because life is not to be coped with, but delighted in? Pain will come, tragedy will come, but the fundamental heartbeat of all of creation is to testify to the nature of a loving God who created and holds all things in creation so that we can delight in His glory and the beauty of His creation. The result of a Christian metaphysics seems to be one that drives a person to interpret the world rightly, and therefore inhabit a world infused with perpetual dynamic love, and respond in perpetual delight.


[1] Sam Welbaum. “Christian Metaphysics and Postmodernism.” Essay. In Four Views on Christian Metaphysics, edited by Tim Mosteller. Cascade Books, 2022.

[2] Charles Taylor discusses this at length chapter 7 of his A Secular Age. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018.

[3] Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 84

Author

  • Sam Welbaum

    Sam Welbaum (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at California Baptist University. Dr. Welbaum researches and teaches on a variety of topics, including experiential aesthetics, existentialism, boredom, postmodernism, and modernity. He contributed a chapter to the volume Four Views on Christian Metaphysics.

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