Five Thoughts on Grace — #5, The Impassibility of God
Psalm 86:1 15-16; Mark 13:36; 1 Corinthians 11:25
The idea that God cannot
feel any pain or suffering
has been taken to mean God cannot not be
moved or changed or swayed
or have the Godly Mind changed
by any created creature.
GOD CAN NOT BE MOVED!
Or can God?
THE QUIBBLE is that while
the divine nature of Jesus cannot suffer,
the human nature of Jesus can,
and therefore the divine being
is informed of the suffering,
but nonetheless is not changed—
THE REALITY is that this God, then,
would be an insane God that cannot feel feelings.
The very nature of God is to both
change and not change—
it is that nature that cannot be changed.
The nature of constant change
cannot be changed!
ANOTHER QUIBBLE: we must
not make God human—with human characteristics,
a worthy enterprise—
ANOTHER REALITY: but that would mean a God
with no self-image,
and if we are created in God’s image… ?
It was the hope of the Scholastics to define God in such a way that left no know room for any human attribution, and so a nature for God was defined, but as a God having no heart or soul. The Doctrine of Impassibility claims that God cannot be moved to feel, but nonetheless is not indifferent to human suffering. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, states, “Those who ascribed impassibility to God have been much concerned to avoid the suggestion that God can be acted on or affected in his nature by anything created” (S.V. “Impassibility,” passim). This statement gives me some issues with which to deal.
First, if this is true, how then can God answer prayer? Second, if God cannot be acted upon, how could there be a Christ or a Holy Spirit–these are purportedly personas of the Divine Reality that, indeed are touched and acted upon. Also, and third, if it is true that God cannot be “acted on, or affected by anything created,” then the incarnation is a total impossibility, and any argument to attempt to justify any dual nature of Christ is simply gobbledegook! If God is truly impassible, then how could there be a coming together of two distinct natures—divine and human? It would seem that if God is impassible, then there would be no coming together, and God would be akin to something described in the DSM-4—wacky as a loon, and totally undesirable as an object of our worship.
Then how will we look at this idea that God cannot be moved to feel? I begin with the early Church Fathers who wanted to make a clear distinction between God and human. These early theologians saw the incredible difference between an entity that is never beginning, never ending, always being, and they felt it important to make a dramatic separation because all adjectives applied towards this divine being were just too puny to work. The God of the Old Testament was considered to have been made into something too emotional, passionate—dare I say, human-like?
And it is probably OK to make such distinctions, except that these distinctions took hold, and became doctrine and absolute conditions for God. Once the doctrines froze up, God became so unchangeable in God’s dogmatic context that God ceased to be God, theologically. God became a kind of a Cosmic Mannequin.
I believe that God is God! I do not believe that theology/doctrine/dogma can make God other than what God is. I also believe that all statements and conditions for God that theology had devised are simply and only small parts of any definition of God. I am also not sure that it is possible to make any sort of categorical and final statement about God at all. I do believe that it is correct to state as, theologians, the conclusions we have drawn about God that are based upon our own personal experiences of God. I do not consider those statements to be binding on God, or me, but to be simply part of a larger, very large, conversation about God.
What are the conclusions I have drawn concerning the nature of God? I have experienced a God of love, tolerance, gentleness, generosity, latitude, change, growth, hope, and grace. For the God I have found to be worthy of my worship, I have discovered a God who is personal, values hospitality above piety, and is so much a part of creation that God grows and stretches, cries and moans, withers and shrinks with the singular exigencies within the whole of creation. The process of evolution is the process of my heart and soul, and the very process of the God of all.
I move back to Grace again. If God were truly impassable, then there would be no Grace, there would be no Jesus, there would be no Holy Spirit, and certainly, there would be no Creation. IF God cannot feel the feelings of created beings, and if God cannot be moved, then God is just plain stuck in Eternity, unable to be God. The God I find worthy of my worship is a God of surprise, wonder, AND the God of Jesus! And, Jesus has taught me all I need to know about God, and Grace—talk about surprises!