Impassibility and the God Who Loves

Impassibility has had a rough time for about thirty years. But it's making a comeback. Legitimate critiques of the “suffering God” have been made. Fresh articulations of impassibility have been proffered that creatively address some of the concerns that gave rise to the “suffering God.” Yet for my money, any doctrine of God that foregrounds impassibility, even one that does not necessarily lead to the notion of the aloof God who does not genuinely care about his creatures' suffering, leaves an impression about God that does not well serve the Christian faith.

I have never thought my way through to a viable alternative, however. Open Theism does not do it for me. It seems but an alter-ego to the Calvinistic rationalism it rejects. It's still plays in the same ball field when, in my judgment, a change of venue is required. Moltmann, as much as I like much of what he does, seems weakest just at this point. Building off a critique of the church fathers' alleged capitulation to Greek philosophical notions like immutability, which seems inaccurate, leaves his proposal hanging in the air. Process theism doesn't help me much either for it gives away with one hand divine uniqueness and sovereignty in order to give us a divine co-sufferer who experiences our suffering. That at least is how I see it.

Yesterday, though, I found this quote from Nicholas Wolterstorff on a Facebook friend's status.

“GOD IS LOVE. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see His love. God is suffering love.” – Nicholas Wolterstorff (Nijay Gupta fb 4.30.15)

I like this very much! God's suffering is not grounded or rejected based on philosophical speculation about deity. It is based on what scripture (and if you believe in divine self-revelation through scripture as I do), and ultimately God, tell us about himself. It has the ring of truth. Who has not experienced love's suffering? However much we may want or need to qualify God's suffering viz-a-viz ours, that qualification is a secondary part of any exposition of “God is love.” We begin with “God is love,” which if it is to many anything at all to us, must claim that God's disposition toward us is one that leaves him vulnerable (in some fashion) to something akin to what we experience as suffering for the sake of love. Wolterstorff is right, I think. Unless we see God's suffering we do not see his love. And “God is love” is clearly what we want to say to our world about God. Too often and in too many ways we have said less than and often the opposite of that. And both the church and the world have paid the price.


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