Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Impassibility of God


On the Confessing Baptist Podcast episode #78 dated February 3, 2015, Jason Delgado interviewed Sam Renihan, editor of God Without Passions, A Reader, which is a compilation of 60 excerpts from 16th and 17th century Reformed theologians who argue for Divine Impassibility.

This book was compiled to help Christians understand what is so clearly laid out in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 1:  The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions."

The doctrine of Divine Impassibility states that there are no emotional changes in God; God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by His relationship to creation.  He is who He is.  God is completely different from creation.  He is the Creator who called everything into existence; He is something other than creation and creation will never be God.  You cross the gap between the two through analogy.  Therefore, the biblical authors use language of emotion relative to God, but you have maintain the analogy between the Creator and the creature.  Also, the affections given to God are the outworkings of His will; therefore, God cannot have changeable affections and emotions because He has one single, immutable decree.

Affections connect the body and the soul with faculties of mind, will, and understanding; they are motions where the will takes actions through the body to do something relative to good and evil.  Passions are a subset of affections; in fallen nature, they violate the boundaries of nature, reason, and moral order (i.e. over-eating, lust, etc.).  Affections in man are perfections in God.  

Nevertheless, Scripture attributes affections and passions to God.  Therefore, we must ask how we should read these and answer that it is done metaphorically.  God decreed to threaten Nineveh, and He decreed to deliver Nineveh.  He decreed to create man, and He decreed to destroy man.  There's no change in God, but it's called repentance because from man's perspective, God begins something and then undoes it.  We have to be careful not to take the human action of repentance along with its baggage of human emotions and ascribe it to God.  It's not wrong to speak in the language of Scripture, but it is wrong to equate human language with the divine Creator.

On a side note, Jason Delgado made the following statement (around the 37 minute mark, emphasis mine):  "Some of the common objections that come up when this doctrine is espoused is...the Bible says things like God gets angry or God repents.  It says that more than once.  That's not a textual variant...it's clear in black and white what the Bible says...Isn't there some kind of change in God?  How can it be true that God is without passions if we see God having passions at this moment here."

So if there were a textual variant for God getting angry or God repenting, would that affect the doctrine of Divine Impassibility?  Mr. Delgado implies that the lack of textual variant makes this issue clear.  However, this  assumes that if there were a textual variant, then that difference would factor into the analysis of God's character.  This is why the doctrine of the Preservation of God's Word is so important.  If Christians believe that God's Word has been corrupted through textual variants, then it is not infallible; and if it's not infallible, then Christians believe in vain.  The doctrine of Divine Impassibility is true, not because no textual variants exist, but because it's what God's Word tells us.

***
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe," (2 Thess. 2:13).