Featured Does the doctrine of divine impassibility necessitate emotional neutrality?

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Myson, Jan 3, 2019.

  1. Myson

    Myson Puritan Board Freshman

    One of my favorite books on the OT was by a rabbi named Abraham Joshua Heschel, who I believe has akwaysahad deep and profound insights into the Prophets (of which the book is named). In it, he claims that one of the primary characteristics of the prophet is not foreknowledge or precognition, but as God's advocate against the Covenant breakers, he is operating with insight into the present pathos of God; that when he says God is angered, ashamed, grieved, etc he means it! But from what I've always understood orthodoxy demands divine impassibility in that nothing affects God. I think I'd have a hard time going more than a few verses without finding reference to God's emotions. Am I misunderstanding the doctrine? Is Heschel just wrong (considering he wasn't regenerate I get it, but his biblical case is strong)? If God really has no emotions at all and they are just figurative anthropomorphisms, then where do we find the doctrine of impassibility in the Scriptures as being emotionally impassible?
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    "...when he says God is angered, ashamed, grieved, etc he means it!"

  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Impassibility refers not to whether God has dispositions toward or against this or that. But whether he is subject to mood swings. Whether he is the ultimate Actor, or is just another reactor. Does History direct god, or does God direct history? A "middle ground" (God and History in synergy) is not acceptable, either.

    Emotions are what men have, whose dispositions (which are themselves capable of change) are expressions of external influences on his character and his spirit-body. Man is not in control of history.

    When Scripture uses our human emotional life as analogous to God's dispositions toward the righteous or against sin and sinners, it is to teach us who he is, what his character is. It is not to tell us that God was suddenly informed about something that got him riled up, disturbing "His Serenity."

    Human monarchs (Your serene highness...) are affecting aspects of divinity, as they maintain the "stability" of their reigns, as if they had more control of history than they do. Famously, they calmly order celebrations to be had, or killings, affecting an undisturbed tranquility that belies their actual limits of control.
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  4. Myson

    Myson Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm a bit confused. How does that work?
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Can you please be more specific to state your confusion? (Above, I added some lines to a short post, in an effort to expand my more terse original response).

    God "is angry with the wicked every day," and also judges the righteous by the same calendar, Ps.7:11. He does not pick up the paper and read about degenerates and get upset that his kingdom faces a threat, or that it's taking too long to bring his enemies to heel.

    Those who favor a passible God (because they think such an idea increases the strength of his moral standing) lose more than they gain. They get a god that reacts to pressures like men do. They make our prayers into levers that move god, rather than his ordaining our prayers to be his pleasure to fulfill.

    It is hard to see how consistent passibility does not lead inexorably to Open Theism.
  6. Myson

    Myson Puritan Board Freshman

    I guess I'm confused on how God can feel anything towards what we do in space in time if his feelings aren't determined by what we do. He doesn't react, but biblically, that seems to be at least somewhat true, if only in an analogous way. I guess I'm confused on the analogy. How does God feel towards our actions when our actions don't affect him?
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    God is not "inert" like a powerful human monarch who ignores pinpricks of pain in his "body politic" of which he is head, because he could not be "disturbed" by such minor things--minor, including the annihilation of a city for instance. God has much more genuine care, not pretending to it, while also possessing aseity (another attribute that is damaged materially by passibility). God does not need his creation.

    God chooses to have our conditions "move" him. He "sets" his love upon us, he is not "drawn" to us because he cannot help it. He ordains a covenant-relationship, by which he commits himself to be pro nobis, for us--by "us" I mean his church.

    You could "choose" to feel very personally toward the ants under your porch. You could make the decision to provide for them, or some of them, protect them from a colony of enemy-ants, etc. No matter how well you constructed this relationship, it could barely approximate God's entering a covenant with his creature. It helps to remember that we are more like the clay of a pot; than God is like us, who are made in his image and have rational souls.
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  8. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior



    Your answers here are spot-on (unsurprisingly!) and should be pondered long and hard before any (further) objections or cavils are raised to them.

    Is God really God? Isaiah 40:9-31 say so. So do many other places. The reason that He can help us in need, as those verses make clear, is because He, unlike us, needs no help Himself. He is the one upon whom all depends but He depends upon none.

    As Bruce said, the aseity, impassibility, immutability and like incommunicable doctrines all cohere. Without them, God is not the God of the Bible. They are simply an expression of the greatness of the God of Scripture.

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  9. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

  10. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

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  11. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

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