Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Further Response to "The Passibility of God - Part 1" at Conciliar Post

Christopher Warne has kindly responded to my critique of his essay at Conciliar Post on divine impassibility. I thank him for that and have appreciated this exchange. In what follows I will offer a response to his follow-up. If he responds further, I will post a link and leave the last word with him out of respect for his writing the thought-provoking originating essay and our points of departure being well-sketched by now.  

Warne takes up three points from my response. The first concerns my comments on Greek philosophy, which leads him to set forth a crucial aspect of Moltmann’s argument against divine impassibility. Warne follows Moltmann in denying impassibility because only a passable God can love, as he writes “To ignore or explain away this biblical evidence [for passibility via love] through greek philosophy or ‘Church Tradition’ is to surrender the Triune God for the impassible God of Greek Philosophy.” I respectfully disagree with this for several reasons. 

First, it turns on a highly idiosyncratic and inadequate conception of divine love. Warne quotes Moltmann as follows “If love is the acceptance of the other without regard to one’s own well-being, then it contains within itself the possibility of sharing in suffering and freedom to suffer as a result of the otherness of the other (Crucified God. 230)”. One problem with this definition is that we are told that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is predicated of the Triune Divine Essence itself, and not as a contingent attribute. Divine love on Moltmann’s view, as explicated by Warne, collapses into the creaturely. On such a view, sans creation, God would have at best incomplete love in Himself. But we should not think there is anything in the Divine Essence that would have the potential for suffering. As I argued earlier, suffering is a form of evil, a lack of some good or a desire for something one does not have, and thus cannot be predicated of a perfect God. God sans creation is perfect love; He does not need creatures to be love itself and to love Himself. Yet the only direction Moltmann’s definition can take us is toward a deficiency in God. It flattens the actuality of divine love and further threatens the ontological hierarchy (as it were) of Creature/creature. The “acceptance of the other” aspect in the definition of love given is also curious. I submit such phraseology would be an incorrect understanding of human love, let alone divine love. 

Further, there are thus far no good arguments or reasons to think it is true or necessary that for God to love us He must suffer. It does not follow that suffering and love necessarily go together in God. The positive case cannot be because suffering and love run together in man. Even if mutual suffering were a necessary condition for human love, which is contestable in itself, we would need further reasons to think it was the same in God, either in Himself or toward man. The proof texts on offer for this put us in the same place as the other proof texts for divine passibility; we are forced to interpret, judge, and rightly order them in light of the full revelation of God. And I argue that the texts offered in support of a passibility in God are best understood as not making literal metaphysical predications of the Divine Essence. For one thing, as I argued in my first response, an impassible God is the only God who can unconditionally love us and redeem us. So the only way to make systematic sense out of the entirety of redemptive revelation is to affirm impassibility in God. 

It also remains to be shown how suffering which spills over from the human to divine nature in Christ is biblical and within the bounds of orthodox Christology. That was one of the points I was driving at by citing part of the Athanasian Creed. Chalcedon might be of further help in clarifying this point

“...Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son…”

I fail to see how Moltmann’s view does not comingle and therefore confuse the divine and human natures of Christ. The passibility via love position demands that the human and divine natures suffer on the cross and that the Father and Holy Spirit suffer as well. It is puzzling that Moltmann finds the passibility of Christ in His human nature insufficient to reconcile love and human suffering. 

The next point taken up by Warne is that impassibility is unbiblical. He references a point I made on biblical passages often used as proof texts for divine passibility. Yet, there are also passages that speak of God having eyes (Habakkuk 1:13), arms (Deuteronomy 26:8), legs (Genesis 3:8), and lungs (Genesis 2:7, Job 27:3). Surely these passages are not communicating a literal truth about the Divine Nature itself. For if one opted for such a wooden understanding of these texts, we might be left with a very powerful creature, but not a Creator. We must adjudicate the texts speaking about God in metaphorical or anthropomorphic language with a view toward internal coherence and consistency. 

What I aimed for in my initial response was an acknowledgment that these passages have been understood to communicate things like mutability and passibility in God. The arguments for such an interpretation are not good. One of the main reasons is that they force contradictions upon the Bible about the nature of God because we would be forced to affirm and deny things about God in the same sense and at the same time (i.e. is He spatially extended, with large feet, or is He spirit and omnipresent?). If the Bible is the Word of God, it cannot contradict itself about the nature of its divine author. In sum, one can read the Bible and arrive at many divergent conceptions of God. Which one wins out? This is precisely where theology’s handmaiden comes to our aid. Psalm 18:2 tells us that God is our rock and fortress. Other passages say the same. Metaphorical language, to be sure. But it communicates a core truth to us about God; He is not shaken nor moved. This is why we can go to Him for refuge. Yet, if our fortress is being damaged, how can we confidently flee there? We could not. God is our help (Psalm 54:4, Hebrews 13:6) but He really cannot be if He needs help from suffering. 

Warne then argues that divine passibility does not entail mutability. I understand this to mean that God has passions and suffers but does not undergo change. Warne’s argument here ultimately appeals to paradox, God is unchanging yet somehow also suffers. The difference between paradox and contradiction has been well noted in these types of discussions. However, I cannot see anything but a contradiction here. If God in His essence is passible, immutability must be given up. There is no other coherent way to understand suffering without some kind of change in God. 

Much more could be said in response. I am grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to discuss a wonderful and challenging subject. I would like to thank Christoper Warne again for his writing and time spent in his response. And I hope we can shake hands and discuss this and other matters in person one day.

No comments:

Post a Comment