When the Buddha first turned the wheel of the dharma with his inaugural discourse at Varanasi, he articulated the first pressing reality (i.e., the first “noble truth”) of life as the truth that “Life is suffering.”
He could just have easily said, “Life is time.”
Gotama claimed this “stainless insight” into the order of experience on the basis of an intensive, first-person phenomenological investigation of life as it is lived. 20th century phenomenology is in fundamental agreement: the transcendental horizon of experience is time.
Time is troubling. This being troubled is the stuff of life and the condition of possibility for experience. This trouble marks the impossibility of any pure presence or direct immediacy.
The ceaseless rush of time constitutes the present moment as real but always passing. As pass-ing, the present is given as suspended between the past and the future and constituted by their mediation. The “immediacy” of the present moment depends on the troubling loss of what has passed and on the troublingly open character of what is not yet given.
Experientially, the focal character of the present as focal depends on a network of only tangentially given background objects, feelings, memories, expectations, and signs. This withdrawn background is what structures the present as coherent even as it bars the present from being definitive. The present, in order to be present, can never be self-sufficient or definitive because, as present, it is always passing.
Chapter 10 of The Attributes of God addresses God’s contingent knowledge. Ostler’s view is that God’s knowledge is “contingent” and in the long middle section subtitled “Is Contingent Omniscience Consistent with Scripture?” Ostler is at his best when he argues that a notion of contingent omniscience is consistent with scripture. (I love when Blake engages in these close readings of scripture. He really shines.)
I’m in agreement both with Ostler’s conclusion and with his motives for pursuing the argument. The conclusion is motivated by Ostler’s position that “time is real” (325) and that God’s knowledge, in order to be “perfectly understanding and compassionate” (316) must include experiential modes of knowing that are similar to ours. “It seems impossible for [God] to know what the experience of smelling the rose is like if he has never experienced smelling a rose” (315).
But I have a hard time following, especially in light of these commitments, Ostler’s claim that God’s omniscience gets a supercharged boost by his omnipresence such that God is capable of relating directly and without mediation to everything all at once. In this vein, he says:
God knows all things because he is perfectly related to all reality. God is understood in Mormon though to be omnipresent in the sense that he is the supremely related being, immediately present to but not identical with all things. Thus, he experiences all things immediately or unmediately. (310)
He knows all things from every perspective because he experiences every perspective. (311)
My confusion stems from the way that this kind of direct, unmediated, and total omnipresence seems to disregard time.
(Perhaps this is related to Ostler’s additional claim that “thoughts are not spatial-temporal entities” (312). Thoughts may not be spatial, but surely thoughts are, in fact, temporal? What would a non-temporal thought be?)
I’m just not sure what it would mean for a relation (i.e., literally, a re-lation) to be direct and immediate. Similarly, is it possible for an experience (i.e., literally, an ex-perience) to be internal and unmediated?
Would the “immediacy” of a direct relation amount to a claim that no third parties are involved? That the relation occurs against no withdrawn background? Or that no aspect of the relation is deferred?
Is an unmediated “immediacy” compatible with the reality of time?
Ostler asks: “Is God more worthy of worship if he is perfect Impassivity than if he is perfectly related to all reality? These categories of perfection are mutually exclusive: God cannot be both wholly impassible and perfectly (internally) relative.” (314)
I suppose my question is: Is God more worthy of worship if he can sidestep the always troubling, always mediated character of time?
Or is his worthiness most manifest in his commitment to and redemption of this trouble?