Thursday, December 3, 2009

If God cannot be moved by something outside himself, why do I matter to him?

Basically, this thought just came to me. It is an axiom of theology that God is impassible, that nothing external to God "moves" or affects him. This would seem to mean that anything I do for God and my neighbor doesn't matter to God in the slightest. Whether I live or die eternally, or my predecessors, or my family, or my descendants are all beings to whom God is indifferent, as he cannot be moved by their fate.

Now, as a Lutheran I could answer "Well, this same God became man, lived, suffered, died and rose again, and promises eternal life to all who believe this. That is how we know this impassible God of which you speak"

Come to think of it, that is probably why we don't start with grand definitions of God and his properties, such as his impassibility, his glory, his omnipotence etc. We as Lutherans start with the little baby in Mary's bosom--passable, inglorious, weak etc. who grew up and was killed, and yet rose again. I suppose this is a species of the "Theology of the Cross". Most of the time God in his glory, omnipotence etc. are hidden to us, and for all appearances he may even seem to be absent all together at times--picture the Apostles and Mary at the foot of the cross--and yet he is glorious, omnipotent none the less. It is just that in the apparent weakness and wickedness of the world, his glory and omnipotence are not readily seen.

9 comments:

Chris Jones said...

As often happens when paradoxical and seemingly unanswerable questions come up, the problem is not in the answer but in the question itself.

Theology is not a branch of philosophy or mathematics, and so it has no "axioms" and it does not draw conclusions from those axioms by human reasoning. So a question that starts with divine impassibility as an "axiom" and then asks something about a conclusion that can be drawn from that axiom is simply an invalid question from the get-go.

That does not mean divine impassibility is not, strictly speaking, true. But it does mean that, as a concept born of human thought, it cannot encompass or define God. In particular, it is not so fundamental a property of God that it cannot itself participate in the paradox of the Gospel: that He who is eternally impassible underwent the ultimate pathos of death for our salvation. "Impassibility" cannot exhaustively characterize nor define a God who suffers death. If divine impassibility is so fundamental that it can serve as an "axiom of theology," then the Gospel paradox must be resolved in favour of impassibility. Then only the impassible God is real, and the suffering and death cannot be, and we are left with Gnostic docetism.

It is true that our thoughts and deeds cannot change the impassible God. But that means that he is always gracious, always long-suffering, always overflowing with loving-kindness, and never indifferent to us. He is always the one who suffered and died on the Cross out of love for us. Nothing that we can do can change that fundamental character.

The Word of God, and God, always and in all things wills to accomplish the mystery of His enfleshment. -- St Maximus Confessor

Chris Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Acolyte4236 said...

I am not sure this is true, at least not true in terms of Lutheran Scholasticism. It seems that the discussion of divinity comes first. It looks that way in Gerhard, Muller and other sources.

Second, it might be helpful to think about impassibility in the following way. It doesn't deny that God can be moved. It does deny that God can be moved by something apart from him without his willing it. This opens up the space to think about impassibility as consistent with the Incarnation.

Also, impassibility entails ISTM that God's activity of dying, being born, etc is not a mere passive reception,but an active grasping of these things. IN this way it seems possible to affirm impassibility and the death of a divine person.

Edward Reiss said...

Chris,

I basically agree with you 100%. I don't think impassibility is false, but it is not true if taken too far. As you said, it is he who suffered and died for us.

Acolyte, are you saying that in Lutheran scholasticism that Gerhard started with e.g. the impassibility of God and then worked out a theology? I have not read too many Lutheran scholastics, but it seems to me that they used the scholastic method without in every case having a scholastic theology.

Also, you wrote "It doesn't deny that God can be moved. It does deny that God can be moved by something apart from him without his willing it. This opens up the space to think about impassibility as consistent with the Incarnation". While I certainly can see how this can lessen the tension between impassibility and e.g. the Incarnation, it also seems like another layer of philosophy on top of a philosophical discussion impassibility. It does not make what you say false, but I am reluctant to say it is true and go on from there and "derive" other truth from it. This is where I agree with Chris Jones--we shouldn't start with axioms. Ours is a revealed religion and not a product of our intellectual persuits.

L P said...

Chris,

Nice to see you again, I wondered about you.

Theology is not a branch of philosophy or mathematics, and so it has no "axioms" and it does not draw conclusions from those axioms by human reasoning. So a question that starts with divine impassibility as an "axiom" and then asks something about a conclusion that can be drawn from that axiom is simply an invalid question from the get-go


I agree as well.

Acolyte4236,

Though some Lutheran dogmaticians may present their material as you said, from the BoC sense, Lutheran theology uses the story of the Cross to understand man's relationship to God. Of course, you would have known that the Lutherans affirm the standard ecumenical creeds, but they are not as philosophical as Calvinists.

LPC

L P said...

I should add, they are not as philosophical as RC or EO either.

LPC

Steve Martin said...

A little water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine, and a little Word.

It's not too sexy...but that is all we're going to get of God in this life.

That drives a lot of people nuts. (me too, at times)

Lucian said...

You're confounding despondency, which is an evil passion, present in depressed persons, with being dispassionate, which is a godly virtue. (God IS love).

Edward Reiss said...

Lucian,

I don't know where you get depression from.

When Jesus yelled at Peter, was he dispassionate?

Steve, God uses the simple things, doesn't he? :-)

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