A question concerning John Piper and affections in God

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I quite liked the below quotation from John Piper's latest book, with the possible exception of the word highlighted. Does Dr Piper hold to the impassibility of God, or, if he does, is it fair to conclude that he is just using the word affection in an improper sense, and he is not properly ascribing such passions to the divine essence?

Before creation, there were no standards outside of God. There was nothing outside of him for him to comply with. Before creation, God was the only reality. So when there is only God, how do you define what is right for God to do? That is, how can God’s holiness encompass not only his transcendence but also his righteousness?

The answer is that the standard of God’s righteousness is God. The foundational biblical principle is this: “He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). He cannot act in a way that would deny his own infinite worth and beauty and greatness. This is the standard of what is right for God.

This means that the moral dimension of God’s holiness—his righteousness—is his unwavering commitment to act in accord with his worth and beauty and greatness. Every affection, every thought, every word, and every act of God will always be consistent with the infinite worth and beauty of his transcendent fullness. If God were to deny this worth or beauty or greatness, it would not be right. The ultimate standard would be broken. He would be unrighteous.

John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2020), pp 32-33 (emphasis added).
 
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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
One thing worth keeping in mind is that Dr Piper does not seem to understand the divine simplicity. Immediately after the above-cited section, he makes the following comment: "The goodness of God is not identical with his holiness or his righteousness." (Ibid., p. 33) :(
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
I quite liked the below quotation from John Piper's latest book, with the possible exception of the word highlighted. Does Dr Piper hold to the impossibility of God, or, if he does, is it fair to conclude that he is just using the word affection in an improper sense, and he is not properly ascribing such passions to the divine essence

I believe in the impassibility of God. He is not like us--He is unchangeable. (Malachi 3:6) But I see in the Bible hundreds, perhaps thousands of anthropomorphisms that ascribe emotion to God. The best I can come up with is that there is in God something that we cannot understand where He can be unchanging and yet not uncaring about things on earth. I really can't say much about this because I don't know the secret things of God. It just seems odd that there would be joy in heaven over one sinner that repents--but not with God; that there would be sorrow over the death of His saints--but not with God. My conclusion is, that since God Himself freely uses the accommodating expressions of sorrow, joy, anger, disappointment and the like, that we too should be able to freely use those expressions when speaking to or about God.

Here's an example from my recent experience.
A friend of mine who I have been working with on an almost daily basis for the last year-and-a-half died yesterday after a bout with cancer. He died without me having assurance of his salvation. And for the past month while he was getting sicker and sicker I wasn't allowed to visit him, and he was unable to speak because of cancer in his throat. So the only thing I could do was fax him a letter using large print, for his eyes were too poor even to text though he has a cell phone. In my last words to him, I gave a simple gospel message one more time which included Christ as being sent by God to die for 'his' people. My Reformed teaching made me choose the words 'his people' rather than the world. If the Scriptures over and over again declares that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Who are we to correct the genre of the Word of God. Perhaps my little modification, in the hands of Satan, put a stumbling block before my friend. Maybe it caused him to pause and say "how do I know if I'm one of his?"

My conclusion is that I think it is both right and good to use the language of Scripture when speaking of God without filtering it through our Reformed Dogma. However, if I were teaching a class on the Trinity I would make the distinction between God's language of accommodation and the fact of His unchanging nature.

What do you all think?
 
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Kinghezy

Puritan Board Sophomore
I do not know John Piper enough to answer, but since scripture uses anthropomorphic language of God to explain things, I would assume that Piper is using it in that sense -- if there was a question. Secondly, my understanding of impassability (without passions) is that this doctrine means God cannot have emotions that rely on something else. Emotions (and this is straining the language) can originate from God but not be dependent. At least that is my understanding

I have a sample verse from scripture below and a link to monergism that has additional articles on.


Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.
— Deuteronomy 10:15

Affection:

2836 chashaq khaw-shak'

a primitive root; to cling, i.e. join, (figuratively) to
love, delight in; elliptically (or by interchangeable for
2820) to deliver:--have a delight, (have a ) desire, fillet,
long, set (in) love.

Love:
157 'ahab aw-hab'

or raheb {aw-habe'}; a primitive root; to have affection for
(sexually or otherwise):--(be-)love(-d, -ly, -r), like,
friend.

 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I believe in the impassibility of God. He is not like us--He is unchangeable. (Malachi 3:6) But I see in the Bible hundreds, perhaps thousands of anthropomorphisms that ascribe emotion to God. The best I can come up with is that there is in God something that we cannot understand where He can be unchanging and yet not uncaring about things on earth.

This is a common thing for many to say. To assume God does not care while holding to impassibility is simply incorrect.

It just seems odd that there would be joy in heaven over one sinner that repents--but not with God; that there would be sorrow over the death of His saints--but not with God. My conclusion is, that since God Himself freely uses the accommodating expressions of sorrow, joy, anger, disappointment and the like, that we too should be able to freely use those expressions when speaking to or about God.

Of course you are correct we are free to use anthropomorphisms to describe God, but don't stop short and think He has hands, feet, eyes or emotions.



My conclusion is that I think it is both right and good to use the language of Scripture when speaking of God without filtering it through our Reformed Dogma. However, if I were teaching a class on the Trinity I would make the distinction between God's language of accommodation and the fact of His unchanging nature.

What do you all think?

You ought to use Reformed Dogma if you want to teach the proper thinking on The Trinity.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Secondly, my understanding of impassability (without passions) is that this doctrine means God cannot have emotions that rely on something else. Emotions (and this is straining the language) can originate from God but not be dependent. At least that is my understanding

God cannot have emotions even if they arise from Himself. A better term to use is affections.

 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Piper is following Jonathan Edwards' dispositional ontology. Edwards, following Locke, broke with the traditional faculty psychology.

I have the reference in Paul Helm's book on human nature.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Since I agree with Dr. Oliphint on covenantal properties I don't per se have a problem with the language but I think divine impassibality is essential to God's character. I also have problems with faculty psychology, I don't think it's so easy to compartmentalize our experience that way.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Here are some notes on faculty psychology, with which Edwards broke.

“The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (Helm 81).

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared. Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105). As Flavel notes these are properties of faculties, not further faculties. When we die, certain habits are reduced to mere dispositions.

With Edwards, however, Scholastic faculties become “powers of the heart.
 

Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
I quite liked the below quotation from John Piper's latest book, with the possible exception of the word highlighted. Does Dr Piper hold to the impassibility of God

I can ask him.

Piper is following Jonathan Edwards' dispositional ontology. Edwards, following Locke, broke with the traditional faculty psychology.

Without asking him, this would be my guess.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
God cannot have emotions even if they arise from Himself. A better term to use is affections.

I’ve never really understood the whole concept of God being without passions or unable to change or suffer as a result of affection.

Is this not what Christ did when he suffered and became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us? Hence the “passion of Christ”.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
I’ve never really understood the whole concept of God being without passions or unable to change or suffer as a result of affection.

Is this not what Christ did when he suffered and became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us? Hence the “passion of Christ”.

That was the Son incarnate in the flesh. In other words it was due to his humanity that he was able to suffer, feel pain, etc. God in His essence does not change, He is immutable- impassible. Malachi 3:6
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
"Every affection, every thought, every word, and every act of God will always be consistent with the infinite worth and beauty of his transcendent fullness."
"The goodness of God is not identical with his holiness or his righteousness."

Both statements are compatible with correct views on the impassibility and simplicity of God, but would also be compatible with incorrect views. The first statement is correct if "affection" is understood with appropriate qualifications; and it was a better term to use than emotion or feeling. The second statement is also correct if it's understood from the side of our conceiving rather than from the side of God's essence. If we were not aware of so many people denying or distorting those precious doctrines, I suspect we'd give Piper the benefit of the doubt; but in the current climate, it's hard to be sure.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Both statements are compatible with correct views on the impassibility and simplicity of God, but would also be compatible with incorrect views. The first statement is correct if "affection" is understood with appropriate qualifications; and it was a better term to use than emotion or feeling. The second statement is also correct if it's understood from the side of our conceiving rather than from the side of God's essence. If we were not aware of so many people denying or distorting those precious doctrines, I suspect we'd give Piper the benefit of the doubt; but in the current climate, it's hard to be sure.

Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines. He may only mean that the attributes are different from the point of view of our conceptions, not different in God. He does make good statements in relation to the Trinity and the divine essence earlier in the same chapter, so we might be best to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I’ve never really understood the whole concept of God being without passions or unable to change or suffer as a result of affection.

Is this not what Christ did when he suffered and became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us? Hence the “passion of Christ”.

Christ suffered in his flesh. The classical tradition wants to safeguard the following:

***The divine nature is perfect. If it is perfect, then why does it need to change. Any change is a movement from an imperfection.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
Christ suffered in his flesh. The classical tradition wants to safeguard the following:

***The divine nature is perfect. If it is perfect, then why does it need to change. Any change is a movement from an imperfection.
Maybe I don’t understand impassibility, but there are too many passages throughout scripture alluding to God’s emotions to deny that He has emotions. He grieves (Psalm 78:40, Ephesians 4:30), rejoices (Isaiah 63:5), angered (Exodus 32:10), pities (Psalm 103:13), loves (Isaiah 54:8, Psalm 103:17), etc.

Are the emotions we’ve inherited not provided in the image of our maker? Are we only to hate sin and delight in righteousness, but not God in his Devine nature?
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
Maybe I don’t understand impassibility, but there are too many passages throughout scripture alluding to God’s emotions to deny that He has emotions. He grieves (Psalm 78:40, Ephesians 4:30), rejoices (Isaiah 63:5), angered (Exodus 32:10), pities (Psalm 103:13), loves (Isaiah 54:8, Psalm 103:17), etc.


Those are anthropormorphic terms when used describing God. The Bible has many instances of other human characteristics ascribed to God such as having arms, hands, eyes, ears and so on. I would suggest watching the video with Dolezal that was posted above on impassibility. Also The LBCF and WCF both state that God does not have passions and is immutable.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Maybe I don’t understand impassibility, but there are too many passages throughout scripture alluding to God’s emotions to deny that He has emotions. He grieves (Psalm 78:40, Ephesians 4:30), rejoices (Isaiah 63:5), angered (Exodus 32:10), pities (Psalm 103:13), loves (Isaiah 54:8, Psalm 103:17), etc.

Are the emotions we’ve inherited not provided in the image of our maker? Are we only to hate sin and delight in righteousness, but not God in his Devine nature?

I'm not attacking emotions, per se. Here is the question: Do emotions change the divine nature?
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
Here's a great resource on impassibility from Gavin Beers: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=21616738233. On a 2016 Puritanboard thread begun by you @Reformed Covenanter(!), MW commented re this sermon: "This is an exceptionally clear summation of the case for impassibility. One often wonders where to begin with an issue like this, what to say and what to omit, but Rev. Beers has brought out all the essentials without growing tedious in details."

This was a game changer for me!

(Edited out some comments I made about Pastor John Piper’s body of work because of their irrelevance and they also implied something that should not have been implied.)
 
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Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not attacking emotions, per se. Here is the question: Do emotions change the divine nature?
I agree emotions don’t change the Devine nature. Do you believe God in his Devine nature has emotions?


I would suggest watching the video with Dolezal that was posted above on impassibility.
I started watching that video earlier today and got maybe 15 mins into it... I’ll try picking it up later. Thanks.
 
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