God is, Edwards says, “self-existent from all eternity, absolutely perfect in himself, in possession of infinite and independent good . . . above all need and all capacity of being added to and advanced, made better and happier in any respect.”
Edwards also says things like this: “That nature in a tree, by which it puts forth buds, shoots out branches, and brings forth leaves and fruit, is a disposition that terminates in its own complete self. And so the disposition in the sun to shine, or abundantly diffuse its fulness, warmth, and brightness, is only a tendency to its most glorious and complete state. So God looks on the communication of himself, and the emanation of the infinite glory and good that are in himself to belong to the fulness and completeness of himself; as though he were not in his most complete and glorious state without it.” And this: “in some sense it can be truly said that God has the more delight and pleasure for the holiness and happiness of his creatures.”
There are those qualifiers that leave him room to move: “as though” and “in some sense.” Yet he’s talking about a full bucket that fills up more.
How? Sang Hyun Lee (The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 203) suggests this explanation:
“Edwards’ ad intra/ad extra distinction becomes important. And Edwards’ dispositional conception of the divine being according to which God can be fully actual and yet remain essentially disposed toward further exercises and toward further self-actualizations functions as the key. God, in other words, needs no self-realization ad intra; however, God through the external exercise of his inexhaustible dispositional essence, is capable of further self-actualizations ad extra. Since God ad intra is fully actual, God’s further self-actualization ad extra can only be a repetition of what is already actual ad intra. Self-communication as self-repetition, then, is the positive meaning of Edwards’ phrase ‘in some sense.’ Thus, Edwards speaks of God’s self-communication through the creation of the world as ‘an increase, repetition or multiplication’ of his internal fullness. What one might call an ‘external fullness’ of God’s internal fullness is what is aimed at through God’s act of creation. In short, God’s self-communication in creating the world does not ‘add’ to his own fullness since this self-communication by God is the exertion of God’s original dispositional essence. However, this act of God’s self-enlargement through the creation of the world is not God’s self-realization as God but rather his external repetition of his internal actuality. The created world, then, is not internally related to the triune God in the sense that the world adds to God’s self-realization ad intra. But, the world is internally related to the triune God in the sense that the world repeats God’s internal prior actuality through God’s external exercise of his original dispositional essence.”
Lee says this is consistent with traditional uses of the ad intra/ad extra distinction, but what is new in Edwards is “his conception of God ad extra not only as God’s relation to the world but as God’s external repetition of his own being.” And this depends on the notion that God’s being is essentially dispositional: “God’s essential actuality together with Edwards’ doctrine of the immanent Trinity and the ad intra/ad extra distinction enables Edwards to remain faithful to the orthodox doctrine of God’s absolute prior actuality and aseity. And Edwards’ doctrine of God as essentially the disposition to repeat this actuality in all kinds of the disposition’s exercise enables Edwards to see God’s own life as inexhaustibly repeatable – even in the form of God’s self-repetition in time and space” (204).
Some obvious questions come up: This ontology implies that all creation is a set of “images of divine things”; it is a symbolic or typological ontology, or at least an ontology that supports typology. I like; but then what does one do with sin and evil? Surely that cannot be a repetition of God’s own life. A privation theory of evil helps but doesn’t solve the problem. It is also not entirely clear how the language of “repetition” differs from pantheism. The ad intra/ad extra distinction will be brought into play, but according to Lee it is God’s own life that is “inexhaustibly repeatable.” Though he uses a variety of different ideas, Edwards doesn’t avoid the use of “emanation” to describe the Creator-creation relation.
I take it that Edwards has answers to these questions, but Lee doesn’t provide them.