The Tears of God:
The holocaust is the bastion of contemporary theology, and forms the backdrop for a radical concern for the divine immanence. And we must wrestle with a world that feels God has abandoned it. The holocaust is the lance poking into and questioning classical theism, and its knight fueling the whole debate are questions of the emotional state of God.
I’ve written in favor of the passibility of God in the past, yet, I think I might have to reconvene and modify my position. I’ve launched an investigation into the idea, to really understand what’s at stake in the whole debate.
I think that there is a confusion of language where impassibility has come to mean incapable of emotional response or interaction. If this is the case, then surely this is not what the Bible portrays, not in the pentateuch, in the prophets, or in Jesus. Mayhap the doctrine inherited by the early church after the immediate age of the apostles is guilty of excessive neo-platonism, but might we be guilty of even among those who are radically concerned with orthodoxy being too concerned with immanence at the cost of transcendence.
What does the transcendence of God mean to and for our age? Is open theism just a symptom of our general lack of ability to speak effectively about transcendence?
If we speak of impassibility and it is synonymous with non-emotion, and divine apathy, then we must discard its value in theological discourse, because it is simply not worth laboring over in an attempt to rescue. But if by some similar term we mean that God’s life is not subject to us involuntarily, then we are correct. He is not our buddy, or our magic toolbox for fixing our problems or solving ourselves.
What’s at stake is that the world is asking for a God in her midst, and Jesus Christ is this very thing, but in non sacramental churches this has to take the form of a reformulation of the project of liberal theology that ended with Feuerbach. God has to become anthropologically stated to be immanent in many protestant circles.
Our world is looking for a God that can relate, and too often, churches across the developed world have forgotten that these “formulated truths” are much more than that and that from them we find a way of living and being in the world. I think that open theism is a necessary development of the non-sacramental communions, and maybe a welcome step towards reorienting the doctrine of God away from scholastic notions and bringing fresh life into it through considering the divine emotional life as a source of theological reflection, and drawing from it liturgy, action and response in love. The only thing we must do is to remember the divine love in such a way that it remains wholly outside human love while not unrelated to it.
While not myself a Calvinist, nor a hyper-Calvinist, I think that there is something to be said for retaining the otherness of God that the new Calvinism in Christian circles is doing. It may be horrific in some cases, but in others, like David Crowder’s music, it’s reminding Christians that we are fallible sinners. Yet, this might be best appropriated in terms of Von Balthasar’s objective divine love from the outside, not in terms of ideas about the doctrine of God. We cannot speak about God in the positive in abstract, all we know we know in Christ, and Trinity. I think Von Balthasar is the right way to go about the project of the otherness of God for the future of theology in the 21st century.
I think that impassibility is best seen as a synecdoche, as part of a whole rather than an isolated doctrine. And that what is really meant is not divine emotionlessness, but a concern for the idea that God is not contigent upon human beings for His being in essentia. Yet this whole problem is solved bot by scholastic formulations as much as by a strong doctrine of the immanent and economic Trinity. This whole shifts the locus of study from the abstract doctrine of seeming non-relationality to the location of the speaking of the divine word to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is there that the word of God about Himself to man is made known, and that man’s word to God is also spoken, God speaks faithfulness to humanity. Man’s word to God on the cross is trust, is faith, is hope, and all these from love of the Father, and so Christ unites faithfulness with hope, faith and love, into a mutually kenotic act towards man and God.
Historically the God of the prophets was unknowable, Heschel says that even if the prophets asserted the unknowability of God they would have insisted on the possibility of understanding through reflective intuition. (The Prophets, 288). So too, for Christians we can assert the divine transcendence as a united grammar, as a way of understanding the nature of God in which impassibility is only part of the divine whole, and the whole is understood best by reflective intuition. The impassibility is not a static unchangingness, but a dynamic perichoretic faithfulness of the persons of the Trinity to each other, it is their love that is eternal, and unchanging towards each other. The impassability is not to be conceived of a God in oneness, but in threeness, who is united in three-in-oneness. Therefore, we can jettison impassibility, as a convoluted term, but we must in some way retain the idea that God’s faithfulness to God and humans is essentially unchanging, and this we do through our basic language in the aforementioned terms, and the objective nature of divine love, not through stating that god is passable, but in dismissing the necessary intellectual exercise altogether in favor of ways that this actually applies, not in static conception but in the dynamic interaction of God and humans.
Any reflective Christian knows that knowledge of God is by interaction, by living with God and neighbor. It does not happen in analysis or induction, but living together. So too, our doctrine is crying out for the relational God in a world that is experiencing a new exile. The postmodern era is a new exile, for a people who have not found themselves grounded in the narrative of the exodus, so the linguistic strains differ, but the holocaust is the departure of the presence of reason from the world, and our world is trying to reconcile with the departure of a presence it thought might usher in the millennium through right worship in the morality of human beings and their application of reason.
I think, in closing, that the impassibility of God is a truncated doctrine filled with neo-platonic problems, and that the best thing to do is retain the otherness of God without attaching it to neo-platonic philosophy. So, I retain my original position that God’s impassibility is at least always suspect in Christian theology if not wholly rejected. The mystery of divine faithfulness and love as wholly other maintain the otherness of God in a far more constructive way that might lend itself to liberalism, but not easily if done rightly, and if God is love, it is our task to being there, and make the task of our theology assessing the scripture without too close a philosophical assumption to guide us. Anything we wish to say about God must always be mediated in Trinity, and Jesus. The life and times of Jesus Christ reveal God to us, he is the lens through which we read the bible, and our theology, any word we wish to say about the Father will not be true unless mediated to us by the life of His son, for no one knows the Father except the Son.
An immutable/impassable God is in the worst case a self-indulgent and self-contemplating monad who has no relation at all to the real world outside Himself, and it immediately undoes Trinitarian concepts from the outset. Like Aristotle’s theology assumed, it will breate an unmoved mover, a Calvinist deity, absolute, unchanging, wholly other ad nauseam. At best, the doctrine uses problematic language that begins not with inquiry into the person of Jesus or of the trinity, but one that begins in a philosophical inquiry about the nature of God, that separates the being of God from the story we know He is found in, the story mediated to us by the scriptures of the church. Christians cannot settle for a static God, even if that static response is absolute and undying love, it is invalid. Impassability and immutability remove the ability for divine choice, divine election, and divine agency if carried to their logical conclusions. Incarnation was a choice in the Godhead, a choice out of a dynamic love that relates to the outside world because it always has related to the outside world since creation.
Incarnation is a choice out of covenant faithfulness that forever altered the godhead from unknown to known. God wept for the world, not involuntarily, but voluntarily, it is the divine emotion that is able to by choice be ever capable of eternal compassions. Humans resort to callousness at a point, the divine love does no such thing, out of an eternal choice to make His love known where there is the greatest and most infuriated opposition to His love. He can and does relate to the human condition since God is now eternally both Himself and this Man Jesus, such that a real event has taken place in God, and the Divine is intimately married to humanity, that’s what the incarnation means, that’s why sacraments are important. They’re tied into what the incarnation means and speaks to us. In them we can feel the tears of God, and the Divine joy, in them we know that we are loved, not just as a matter of principle, but as a powerful and intimately connected choice, as a reaction to the necessity of man.
You cannot eat an immutable God. Case closed.