Divine Impassibility and Our Suffering God

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
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Modern Reformation - Articles

What do you think of this article? It is from Modern Reformation.

An important aspect of the Christian gospel that seeks to proclaim the love, mercy, and compassion of God is the affirmation of God's identification and solidarity with human suffering. A suffering humanity needs a God who knows what it means to suffer. The church has traditionally met this need by emphasizing the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Especially in the theology of the Reformation, a "theology of the cross" sought to recognize God's self-revelation hidden in the humility, shame, and suffering of the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the theology of the cross, God is known as the God who suffers with and for humanity. Yet, how does God identify with human suffering? Does God suffer in himself, in his own being; or is God immutable (unchanging), and therefore impassible (incapable of suffering), as the church has historically affirmed? Can God's impassibility be upheld while at the same time affirming his real awareness of, and true identification with, human suffering? Why is it theologically important to maintain the historical witness to God's impassibility, especially in the face of so much suffering in today's world?

In this article, I will seek to answer these questions in two ways. Negatively, I will offer a critique of the contemporary theological trend that seeks to attribute suffering to God's being, or to assert God's passibility. (1) This trend affirms that God suffers in himself, and that the suffering of Jesus is the actual suffering of his divine nature. A clearly articulated representation of the general trend, and a viewpoint also being voiced in wider evangelicalism, is Jurgen Moltmann's theology of the cross. The most important discussion of Moltmann's theology of the cross is found in his book, The Crucified God, where he attempts both to understand God's being from the suffering and death of Jesus and to apply this understanding to what he calls a "theology after Auschwitz." (2) A representation of this theological project in contemporary evangelicalism is found in Dennis Ngien's article, "The God Who Suffers," which appeared in the February 3, 1997, edition of Christianity Today. (3) Positively, I will seek to answer these questions by reaffirming the Christian historical understanding of the trinitarian conceptual distinction, the incarnation, and Chalcedonian two-nature Christology; and by demonstrating the proper relationship between them as the context for a theology of the cross. In view of these key doctrinal formulations, I will demonstrate how an evangelical theology of the cross can and should affirm both divine impassibility and God's true identification and solidarity with the suffering of this hurting world.
 
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earl40

Puritan Board Professor
MODERATOR's note. The link contains a second commandment violation.

Modern Reformation - Articles

What do you think of this article? It is from Modern Reformation.

An important aspect of the Christian gospel that seeks to proclaim the love, mercy, and compassion of God is the affirmation of God's identification and solidarity with human suffering. A suffering humanity needs a God who knows what it means to suffer. The church has traditionally met this need by emphasizing the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Especially in the theology of the Reformation, a "theology of the cross" sought to recognize God's self-revelation hidden in the humility, shame, and suffering of the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the theology of the cross, God is known as the God who suffers with and for humanity. Yet, how does God identify with human suffering? Does God suffer in himself, in his own being; or is God immutable (unchanging), and therefore impassible (incapable of suffering), as the church has historically affirmed? Can God's impassibility be upheld while at the same time affirming his real awareness of, and true identification with, human suffering? Why is it theologically important to maintain the historical witness to God's impassibility, especially in the face of so much suffering in today's world?

In this article, I will seek to answer these questions in two ways. Negatively, I will offer a critique of the contemporary theological trend that seeks to attribute suffering to God's being, or to assert God's passibility. (1) This trend affirms that God suffers in himself, and that the suffering of Jesus is the actual suffering of his divine nature. A clearly articulated representation of the general trend, and a viewpoint also being voiced in wider evangelicalism, is Jurgen Moltmann's theology of the cross. The most important discussion of Moltmann's theology of the cross is found in his book, The Crucified God, where he attempts both to understand God's being from the suffering and death of Jesus and to apply this understanding to what he calls a "theology after Auschwitz." (2) A representation of this theological project in contemporary evangelicalism is found in Dennis Ngien's article, "The God Who Suffers," which appeared in the February 3, 1997, edition of Christianity Today. (3) Positively, I will seek to answer these questions by reaffirming the Christian historical understanding of the trinitarian conceptual distinction, the incarnation, and Chalcedonian two-nature Christology; and by demonstrating the proper relationship between them as the context for a theology of the cross. In view of these key doctrinal formulations, I will demonstrate how an evangelical theology of the cross can and should affirm both divine impassibility and God's true identification and solidarity with the suffering of this hurting world.

From what I read here I see nothing I would not like noting that this is a subject that I wrestled with for a long time that when I realized God is impassible which includes the divine nature of Jesus. To err in this area In my most humble opinion is serious but common among most Christians today. Take for instance when Johnny Erickson Tada wrote a book titled "When God weeps". I did not read it yet but I hope she qualifies the title though I doubt she did...I will stand for correction here if she did.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What do you think of this article?

Quite technical, but helpfully draws on traditional orthodox distinctions for critiquing and correcting modern theological trends which affirm suffering in God. The distinction between immanent and external acts is the key to the discussion and this is usefully brought to bear on the voluntary nature of God's love. A reciprocal love which necessarily flows from God's being to the suffering creation forfeits the essential property of being voluntary. Some reference might also have been made to electing love to make this point, which also would have the advantage of dispelling the universalism implicit in the concept of divine passibility.

The reference to the hypostatic union is also important to the issue, but I must question the author's seeming acceptance of a communication of properties from nature to nature in the person of Jesus. This requires him to limit the communication to specific properties. Limiting the communication from nature to person, as in reformed orthodoxy, is sufficient, and would do more to combat attacks on divine impassibility.

The full communication of properties from nature to person requires us to affirm that the man Christ Jesus is God. If this were better appreciated it would lead, surely, to a reformation in cover art, in which the faithful reject images and pictures of our Lord.
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
The popularity of the modern view comes into evangelicalism via people like Stott, for instance:

The pain of God
The best way to confront the traditional view of the impassibility of God, however, is to ask 'what meaning there can be in a love which is not costly to the lover'. If love is self-giving, then it is inevitably vulnerable to pain, since it exposes itself to the possibility of rejection and insult. It is 'the fundamental Christian assertion that God is love', writes Jurgen Moltmann, 'which in principle broke the spell of the Aristotelian doctrine of God' (i.e. as 'impassible'). 'Were God incapable of suffering . . ., then he would also be incapable of love', whereas 'the one who is capable of love is also capable of suffering, for he also opens himself to the suffering which is involved in love'. That is surely why Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge, nine months before his execution: 'only the Suffering God can help.'
(from The Cross of Christ: 20 th Anniversary Edition. Main text © John R. W. Stott 1986).
 
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