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What is a ‘thing’?

According to the Nicene Creed, God is the creator of “all things, visible and invisible” and according to the Gospel of John, it is through the Logos (Christ) that “all things came to be”. It is in that sense that I talk of things: objects, events, quanta, waves, thoughts, emotions…quite literally everything that is! If you can say “this-not-that” then you have identified a ‘thing’ in the sense I’m using that term in this essay.

Now all things come to be by not being what already is. If a thing already is then it doesn’t come to be, and if it doesn’t come to be, then it isn’t a thing. Things emerge as negations. An emergent thing executes judgment on everything that is and finds it wanting.

Wanting what? What is lacking in the world as it is? Harmony. That vision, the vision of what is coming to be, is what entices the emerging thing to negate everything that is. In that sense, all things have a common origin, a common goal, a common purpose.

So the emergent thing is not what already is and it is also not what is coming to be. “Neti, neti”, not-this, not-that. The emergent thing is trapped between what is actual but not yet ideal and what is ideal but not yet actual. It is the vocation of the emerging thing to bridge that gap, to make what is actual ideal and to make what is ideal actual. That is why (and how) things come to be in the first place. That is what things are.

If there were no vision, no lure, there would be no judgment, no negation and then there would be only no-thing. In another essay in this collection, Nietzsche, we encounter Nietzsche’s assertion that “…there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole…But nothing exists apart from the whole!” Were that true, there would be nothing. Nietzsche  didn’t realize it but he was putting us on a road that could only lead to nihilism.

Our pathological “common sense” view of the world is inclined to assign what is to an irrevocably unchangeable “past” and what is coming to be to entirely uncertain and contingent “future”. But that model simply won’t work. There is nothing to motivate or enable the emergence of a new ‘thing’.

There must be some sense in which what is can be changed so that the strife and discord we experience in the actual world will somehow be subsumed in the harmony that is coming to be. Likewise, there must be some sense in which what is coming to be already is; otherwise, whence the vision?

The emergent thing is negatively defined by what is and by what is coming to be. But the emergent thing is positively defined by how it is not what is and by how it is coming to be what is coming to be. How the emergent thing is different from what already is and from what is coming to be, how it is bridges that gap, that is what the emergent thing actually is.

The emergent thing did not choose the world from which it arose nor did it invent the ultimate end toward which all things are trending. But it chose to bridge that gap and it does choose the way in which it bridges that gap; that’s what makes it unique, that is what makes it “present”, and that is the sense in which no two things can ever be the same.

No two pasts can ever be the same and therefore no two bridges to what is coming to be can ever be the same.

How does any given thing transform the antagonistic multiplicity of what is into the harmonious unity of what is coming to be? Each emerging thing makes that decision 100% freely with no conditioning from what is and no coercion from what is coming to be. This absolute freedom is what gives every thing its zest for being; it is what makes creativity the fundamental character of the world. It is what constitutes every thing as co-creator with God.

So the emerging thing is both one thing and three things. It is a single, absolutely unique entity but it is also what it is not (i.e. what is), what it is coming to be (i.e. what is not) and how it is both what it is not and what it is coming to be. It is itself as the negation of what is, it is itself as the anticipation of what is coming to be, and it is itself as the process by which it transforms what is into what is coming to be.

As not-what-is, the emerging thing consists entirely of values, the values that inspired its rejection of what is in the first place. As what-is-coming-to-be, the emerging thing is perfectly concrete. It is a settled matter of fact and it derives its meaning from the entirety it helps create and in which it eternally resides. Finally, as how not-what-is comes to be what is coming to be, the emerging thing is pure process.

Returning to the Nicene Creed, we now see that the ontological doctrine of Trinity does not just apply the structure of the Divinity but also to the structure of every thing that is. Every thing is one; every thing is three: three personae, three persons. Each person ultimately is the thing itself, whole and entire. And yet the thing itself would not be the thing it is, in fact it would not be a thing at all, without its two other persons.

So it turns out that the secret life of things is nothing less than Trinity, the life of God! This is not to say that every thing is God. Far from it! No “thing” is God. But every thing, qua thing, is “God-like” in the sense that, and to the extent that, it participates in the universal process of Trinity, which is God’s inner life.