Barth on Impassibility

‘But the personal God has a heart. He can feel, and be affected. He is not impassible. He cannot be moved from outside by an extraneous power. But this does not mean that He is not capable of moving Himself. No, God is moved and stirred, yet not like ourselves in powerlessness, but in His own free power, in His innermost being: moved and touched by Himself, i.e., open, ready, inclined (prpensus) to compassion to another’s suffering and therefore to assistance, impelled to take the initiative to relieve this distress. It can only be a question of compassion, free sympathy, with another’s suffering. God finds no suffering in Himself. And no cause outside God can cause Him suffering if He does not will it so. But it is, in fact, a question of sympathy with the suffering of another in the full scope of God’s own personal freedom. This is the essential point if we are really thinking of the God attested by Scripture and speaking only of Him. Everything that God is and does is determined and characterized by the fact that there is rooted in Him, that He Himself is, the original free powerful compassion, that from the outset He is open and ready and inclined to the need and distress and torment of another, that His compassionate words and deeds are not grounded in a subsequent change, in a mere approximation to certain conditions in the creature which is distinct from Himself, but are rooted in His heart, in His very life and being as God.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics’ II.1, p. 370)

Some More on Impassibility

Here’s a fantastic essay in favor of the impassibility of God by Thomas G. Weinandy:

‘I would acknowledge that the above arguments are, even in the brief summary form that I have presented them, intellectually and emotionally powerful, though often the emotional sentiment appears to far outweigh reasoned argument. Nonetheless, I believe that the entire project on behalf of a passible and so suffering God is utterly misconceived, philosophically and theologically. It wreaks total havoc upon the authentic Christian gospel.’

This is a concise and clearly written take on the idea that’s well worth reading.

More on Impassibility

I found this to be some fantastic background history on the ideas of impassibilty/non-impassibility by Alister McGrath:

The Q/A on God’s suffering is question 4, about halfway down.

‘Underscoring this question is another question before moving to answer the question of patripassianism or theopaschitism. This is the priority of Hellenistic philosophy (metaphysics) over the biblical understanding of God. The issue of whether God can suffer opens this question to scrutiny. Adolf von Harnack’s Dogmengeschichte theorized that many central Christian doctrines were influenced by non-biblical worldviews and that one could uncover the ‘fossilized’ doctrines through a method of redaction. One such issue is the imposition of the dualistic Greek notion of an ‘impassible’ understanding of deity which is removed from human passions (equated with materialism). Thus, cuing more from Plato’s perfect and unchanging (as passions were changeable) ‘deity’ of the Forms, Christianity came to understand God as unchangeable and thereby perfect. God, in short, could not change nor be moved from perfection lest in doing so God becomes less perfect and thereby, by definition, no longer divine. To suffer would be to ‘feel’ change, and immutability of substance or will becomes confused with immutability of experience. In Philo through to Aquinas, the thought that God could suffer would mean nothing less than the fact that God could be altered, by compassion or love, by the experience. The prime mover and un-moveable is moved or changed by human predicament or experience of that predicament. God’s compassion, a biblical motif, is naught but figurative and not an attribute or predication of deity itself. Harnack felt that this type of dogma was due to the imposition of alien metaphysics rather than the exposition of the Hebrew and Christian bible. Many believe, at some level, him to be correct.’




On Art

What is the role of art in the Christian life?

Taking a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis angle, I would say that one large part would be that we create as part of our having been fashioned in the image of a creator God. Creating is part of what we do, part of what makes us human – specifically, creating stories and myths. For Tolkien and Lewis, our creation of stories and myths points to our innate longing for God – Lewis points this out in his essay ‘Is Theology Poetry’ when he’s discussing the many other divine stories that exist in other cultures.

If Lewis/Tolkien are right, and I believe they are, then creating stories is a profound part of our being – a part of our being that comes as a result of being fashioned in the image of a Creator.

‘We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.’

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Another thought on Impassibility

‘God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.’
― Nicholas Wolterstorff

I’ll say it again: it seems that the Scriptures bear witness to a suffering God. I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the subject, and I have not yet been convinced by the arguments for impassibility. Perhaps I’m not understanding them, or they’re not presented well, or any number of things. I hold to what I said in a previous post on the subject: I am open to being convinced.

Music and the Holy

If there was ever a piece of music that came close to capturing the absolute other-ness of the Holy, it is this piece. I’ve heard no other music that comes this close to portraying the Holy – and this piece goes far beyond any words but Scripture in its absolutely solemn, Holy sound. There will probably be some posts in the future about the role of art and aestethics in Christianity in the near future.

Religion and Tragedy

‘For a truly religious man nothing is tragic.’

– L. Wittgenstein

This is both right and wrong. For the Christian, there are indeed tragic things – death, suffering, loss, pain, are all tragic things – things that aren’t supposed to be there. Death is the enemy of God.

But, for the Christian, there is more to the story. Death has been beaten – creation is being redeemed, wrongs being redressed. God is making ‘all things new’. The tragedies , while no serving some ultimate purpose in a cosmic moral equation, are being redeemed. The tears are being and will be wiped away.

So in an odd sense, there is genuine tragedy for the Christian – but there is genuine hope, not optimism, but real hope.