The Wounds of God

Can we wrong God?

Nicholas Wolterstorff argues in his books ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs’ and ‘Justice in Love’ that we can in fact wrong and even wound God by failing to treat people justly. Wolterstorff ties these notions together by pointing out that God loves each person with love as attachment – to wrong that which you are attached to is to wrong you. To treat people unjustly is to treat unjustly that to which God is attached. Wolterstorff draws upon the thought of John Calvin to fortify his thesis – in his commentary on Genesis, Calvin argues that because of the image of God engraved on each person, ‘God deems Himself violated in their person’. Roughly, to harm a person is to harm God. ‘…no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God Himself.’ Wolterstorff develops this though in more detail but that’s the basic idea.

This relates to the doctrine of impassibility that I’ve been thinking on lately – Wolterstorff does not hold to the doctrine. Calvin, however, makes a small but crucial point: ‘God deems Himself violated in their person.’ So in a sense, it seems that Calvin and Wolterstorff are at odds. Calvin says that God ‘deems Himself’ violated or injured, while Wolterstorff argues that:

‘On account of God’s attachment to human beings, one wrongs God by injuring a human being.’ (‘Justice in Love’, p. 154)

Wolterstorff does not make Calvin’s distinction that it is God who ‘deems Himself’ injured – at least so far as I can tell. Wolterstorff would hold that God is indeed wounded by our treating fellow humans unjustly, while Calvin holds that God ‘deems Himself’ injured. There is a substantial difference here.

4 thoughts on “The Wounds of God

  1. facedownphilosophy May 28, 2012 / 11:00 pm

    Wow, I love the premise here. Very provocative. So here’s what I’m thinking…

    In this situation, harming a person by means of following, say, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and telling your wife that she “looks like a sausage too tightly bound in that dress” would naturally harm her. Her feelings would be hurt. Saying the same thing couched in euphemism (as all men know) will not ameliorate matters. The point here is that telling the truth will harm your wife, and thus, God.

    What options do you have to avoid this affront to both individuals? Little white lie perhaps? But then this is a direct violation of one of God’s principle commandments, and as we all know, “God hates liars.” (Somewhere in Proverbs 6, or 12. I can’t remember on account of being a little drunk.)

    So we find ourselves in a catch 22. Either choice forces us into discord with God. What is the solution?

    Yours in contemplation,


  2. whitefrozen May 29, 2012 / 3:39 pm

    That was a poor reply to your comment – but, in my defense, I was tired and didn’t feel like typing out more than that.

    But to elaborate a bit more: For the Christian, ethics are more than just aiming for ‘the right thing’ – life is more complicated to that and frankly I find categorical imperative thinking to be pretty impractical, because there are some times in which there is no ‘right’ thing to do.

    Bonhoeffer takes a fairly radical line regarding ethics – he rejects the idea that we can even know what good and evil are.


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