The Impassibility of God

Does-god-care_wide_t-924x344We are continuing with our sermon series examining the “attributes of God” and today we are looking at His impassibility. This is one of the most controversial topics in Christian theology.  The impassibility of God system of thought came about in the middle ages from Gregorian monks.  It is the concept by definition that God does not feel pleasure or anger in response to His creation.  It has for the most part been rejected because one of the most common references in the Bible is to God’s love or His wrath.  As I said before I believe the Lord is impassable but it is a lack of theological understanding where people misrepresent God’s attributes.  In the original ancient Greek it is called apatheia (where we get apathetic from).  This makes Him sounds like a detached God, unconcerned by the situation of His creation.  This is often one of the major points of contention in the Bible, many people do not dig deeper and thus only take the Bible at a skin deep analysis and thus they get a bad picture of the true nature of God.

 

Even before the medieval church theologians’ became established ancient church fathers both from western and eastern systems agreed on impassibility before the schism.  One of the earliest fathers happened to be one of the biggest anti theologians out there, his name was Tertullian.  He also agreed that God was without suffering and passions.  One of the tenets of impassibility is the one we focus on as the primary tenet of impassibility; God is not controlled by emotions or swayed by moods but is does not mean He is devoid of emotion; God is passionate but also impassable.  How is this possible?  We will look at this in several parts.  We know of the Biblical references of God’s love and wrath but will have to dig deeper to look at impassibility.

 

Firstly, the language and grammar of God utilises the device known as “anthropopathisms”:  This is defined that God does not experience emotions as we do and the closest thing we can describe to what God experiences is the emotions that we associate with.  God does say His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  We can all agree I believe that even if God has literal emotions as we do, His emotions are still a very different concept than emotions to us.  The anthropopathism extends to God’s physical nature.  The Holy Bible frequently references the eyes, ears, hands, and face of the Lord and that God made us in His image and yet the Bible clearly states that He does not have form; so the question is image of what? Another question to consider is what were our emotions like before the fall of man?

 

Secondly, in the previous sermon I spoke on the immutability of God.  Immutability and impassibility are not separable.  You cannot have a being that is unchangeable and also swayed by emotion and their responses to external forces.  See as David Schrock said, As a being of perfect character and temperament, his emotions are not swayed by the events of history. As a covenantal God, he blesses and curses, loves justice and hates sin, forgives and judges, but his holy attributes are not moody or manipulated. Though Christ, in his human nature learned obedience and suffered in the flesh (Heb 2:9-10), the divine nature of God never did.”

 

This brings me to my third and final point and probably my most important; God’s impassibility is demonstrated in the crucifixion of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Scholars and lay people may think that Christ was the example of how God is NOT impassible; but I believe they are incorrect.  Firstly let us jump to the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Christ right there demonstrates that even though His human nature feels fear His divine nature is in line with the Father and will not be moved by that fear.  Let us flashback to the early days of the ministry.  Jesus and the disciples are at a wedding, they are out of wine and Mary takes the problem to her Son and what is His response.  Woman, My time has not yet come!  He is not swayed even in His miracles!  Praise God!  Could you imagine if Christ got rubbed the wrong way and took back one of His miracles?!?  I know this sermon has been short and sort of rushed to up to this point but in this attributes series sermons there is so much it is best to give a basic underlying foundation and then encourage the online parishioner to go and search for themselves as well.  But with this impassibility of God I really want to focus on Christ.

 

Let’s turn in our Bibles, phones, whatever to the New Testament, Matthew 26:37-38, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”   See this conversation Jesus has with His discipline in the garden shows His suffering in Spirit, we know He suffered in body because aside from the crucifixion it says He sweat blood, it says He was hungry, and the Bible says He was subject to all the natures of man save one, sin.  So we can draw one of two conclusions from this, first of all, Christ was not the Son of God but a man, or secondly that Christ is evidence of God’s impassable nature living in a human nature in perfect harmony.  As I said before in an earlier sermon this is called a hypostatic union, the two natures living in divine harmony inside the being of Jesus.  Many Christian theologians in the past and some in the not so distant past have subscribed to the idea that Christ only felt sorrow and no joy and they had often used that as an excuse to rob people of their joy; to create sombre, solemn, almost stoic followers but this was also a danger too because of the realm of impassibility.  What I mean is that when we view Christ as detached, we belittle the very reason He became man.  As a different being God could not put Himself in our shoes but with the nature of Christ the essence of God was able to exist in both.  Now this comes to the evangelistic point in my sermon.  In my travels through Europe, India, China, and many more places I have encountered the biggest opposition to my beliefs when I met with other members of an Abrahamic faith.  Many believe that it is a sin to think God could feel anything for us or to even lower Himself to human existence.  Why?  We were created in God’s image!  We were given needs and wants, God desires a relationship with us, He doesn’t need it, but desires it for our benefit and yet if we reject Him while He will not be pleased it will not affect His existence.  See we have everything to lose if we do not accept God’s gift and everything to gain if we do; so in summing up here.

 

I am a firm believer in the impassibility of God.  I do not believe it is a contradiction; I do not believe God is a god influenced like those of stone and wood.  However I do believe God is a God who is aware of His creation and He is impassable and is so in the following ways:

1)    His emotions may be different from what we call or perceive as emotions.

2)    God is immutable (unchanging) so His impassibility is connected with that, most philosophers in ancient society do not even separate the two.

3)    God’s impassibility is demonstrated in Christ’s unswerving response, nature, and being, and love.

For some this sermon may be confusing and others it may be too short.  I apologise for both.  This and the one before it were probably the most difficult attributes in this series I have had to deal with.  But growth is good; we meet obstacles, respond to them, and grow from this.  Thank God we have a God that does not go through that but is perfectly impassable thus able to guide the way.  Our next sermon will be a continuation in this series focussing on God’s impeccability; stay tuned.  So let me finish off with the benediction:  “Be not conformed to this world:  but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Romans 12:2