Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Impassibility of God

The following are some interesting links that directly or indirectly deal with the doctrine of God's Impassibility. I have a few things to point out and say before I post the links.

 In one of his blogposts Steve Hays points out two different ways in which the doctrine of Impassibility is often defined. I recommend reading his blog on the topic. Here's an excerpt:

1. Classic theism teaches that God is impassible — not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. 

Incapable of suffering or of experiencing pain 

Incapable of feeling 

Compare that to a more academic definition of the term:

2. Nothing created can cause God to change or be modified in any way…Many classical theists make this point by insisting that God is impassible. In this context "Impassible"…means "not able to be causally modified by an external agent"…God cannot be altered by anything a creature does. B. Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 3rd ed, 2004), 5.
In the comments box I wrote:

I personally don't think that an affirmation of #2 entails an affirmation of #1.

It seems to me that an author of a book can be emotionally moved by the contemplation of the details of the drama within his book even though he himself choose to write it the way it is written. Analogously, maybe God can be emotionally effected by human tragedies which He Himself has ordained will come to pass. Especially if God's choosing the second order goods He purposes and plans might logically constrain Him to permit things that of themselves (per se) He disapproves of. For example, God ordains every sin we ever commit, yet we're called to not grieve or vex the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; Isa. 63:10). Maybe not all the Scriptural data that speaks of God experiencing emotion is anthropopathic.

However, our experience of emotion is often tied to temporal consciousness, and therefore "emotion" (as we experience it) may not apply to God if He's timelessly eternal. But there might be something analogous to our experience of emotion that God experiences. Maybe more intensely than we do. At least that's what some Calvinists seem to believe (e.g. John Piper).
Then I quoted John Piper on God's Happiness which has implications for theodicy.

John Piper wrote:

It is not surprising, then, that Jonathan Edwards struggled earnestly and deeply with the problem that stands before us now. How can we affirm the happiness of God on the basis of His sovereignty when much of what God permits in the world is contrary to His own commands in Scripture? How can we say God is happy when there is so much sin and misery in the world?
Edwards did not claim to exhaust the mystery here. But he does help us find a possible  way of avoiding outright contradiction while being faithful to the Scriptures. To put it in my own words, he said that the infinite complexity of the divine mind is such that God  has the capacity to look at the world through two lenses. He can look through a narrow lens or through a wideangle lens.
When God looks at a painful or wicked event through His narrow lens, He sees the tragedy of the sin for what it is in itself, and He is angered and grieved: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 18:32).

But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through His wide-angle lens, He sees the tragedy of the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in relation to all the connections and effects that form a pattern, or mosaic, stretching into eternity. This mosaic in all its parts—good and evil—brings Him delight.5
- Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist page 39

John Piper also wrote:

God's Happiness Is A Great Part Of His Glory

In 1 Timothy 1:11 Paul focuses on the gospel as "the glory of the blessed God." The word translated "blessed" in this phrase (makarivou) is the same one used in the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-11. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." And so on. The word means "happy" or "fortunate." Paul himself uses it in other places to refer to the happiness of the person whose sins are forgiven (Rom. 4:7) or the person whose conscience is clear (Rom. 14:22). It is astonishing that only here and in 1 Timothy 6:15 in the entire Old Testament and New Testament does the word refer to God. Paul has clearly done something unusual, calling God makarios, happy.

We may learn from the phrase "the glory of the happy God" that a great part of God's glory is his happiness. It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy. He used the phrase, "the glory of the happy God," because it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is. God's glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond all our imagination.
- God is the Gospel page 100
God's impassibility, however one understands it should be seen in light of God's glory, sovereignty and wisdom.

Here are the external links:

More Steve Hays blogs

P.S. The doctrine of God's Impassibility has once again come under scrutiny in Reformed Baptist circles. See for example this link HERE.

The Monergism website's list of articles on the doctrine of Impassibility:

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