Re: Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Tue Nov 22 2005 - 10:16:22 EST

At 08:11 AM 11/22/2005, Mccarrick, Alan D CIV NSWCCD Philadelphia, 9212 wrote:

>I feel that I have had similar thoughts to Ted's
>regarding God's impassibility. The Bible seems
>to often use terms that strongly imply God's
>changing as it were in response to events.

### From Note #26 referenced in the commentary
below.: "Wolterstorff, who rejects
impassibility, admits that the denial of this
doctrine is like a thread that, when pulled,
unravels our entire understanding of God. "Once
you pull on the thread of impassibility, a lot of
other threads come along . . .. One also has to
give up immutability (changelessness) and
eternity. If God responds, then God is not
metaphysically immutable; and if not
metaphysically immutable, then not eternal."
["Does God Suffer?", 47.] ~ Janice

God Without Mood Swings - Recovering the Doctrine
of Divine Impassibility by Phillip R. Johnson -
not the Phillip Johnson who wrote Darwin on
Trial. That's Phillip E.

"....a moment's reflection will reveal that if
God is "subject to like passions as we are" (cf.
James 5:17), His immutability is seriously
undermined at every point. If His creatures can
literally make Him change His mood by the things
they do, then God isn't even truly in control of His own state of mind.

If outside influences can force an involuntary
change in God's disposition, then what real
assurance do we have that His love for us will remain constant?

That is precisely why Jeremiah cited God's
immutability and impassibility as the main
guarantee of His steadfast love for His own: "It
is of the Lord's mercies that we are not
consumed, because his compassions fail not"
(Lamentations 3:22). God Himself made a similar
point in Malachi 3:6: "For I am the Lord, I
change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."

Still, many find the doctrine of divine impassibility deeply unsatisfying.

After all, when we acknowledge that an expression
like "the ears of the Lord" (James 5:4) is
anthropomorphic, we are recognizing that God has
no physical ears. So if we grant that the
biblical expressions about divine affections are
anthropopathic, are we also suggesting that God
has no real affections? Is He utterly unfeeling?
If we allow that God's grief, joy, compassion,
and delight are anthropopathic, must we therefore
conclude that He is really just cold, apathetic, and indifferent?

The Alternative God of Open Theism

That is precisely the way most open theists­and
even some who reject open theism­have
misconstrued the doctrine of divine
impassibility. A recent article in Christianity
Today asserted that the doctrine of impassibility
is actually just an outmoded relic of Greek
philosophy that undermines the love of God.
If love implies vulnerability, the traditional
understanding of God as impassible makes it
impossible to say that "God is love." An almighty
God who cannot suffer is poverty stricken because
he cannot love or be involved. If God remains
unmoved by whatever we do, there is really very
little point in doing one thing rather than the
other. If friendship means allowing oneself to be
affected by another, then this unmoved, unfeeling
deity can have no friends or be our
Open theist Richard Rice similarly exaggerates
the doctrine of impassibility. According to him,
here is the view of God that has dominated church history:
God dwells in perfect bliss outside the sphere of
time and space . . .. [H]e remains essentially
unaffected by creaturely events and experiences.
He is untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or
suffering of his creatures. Just as his sovereign
will brooks no opposition, his serene tranquility
knows no
Elsewhere, Rice claims classic theists commonly
dismiss the biblical terminology about divine
affections as "poetic flights essentially
unrelated to the central qualities that the Old
Testament attributes to God." Instead, according
to Rice, the God of classic theism "is made of
sterner stuff. He is powerful, authoritarian and
inflexible, so the tender feelings we read of in
the prophets are merely examples of poetic
To hear Richard Rice tell it, the God of historic
mainstream Christianity is aloof, uncaring,
unfeeling, and utterly indifferent to His creatures' plight.

By contrast, Rice depicts the God of open theism
as a God of fervent passion, whose "inner
is moved by "a wide range of feelings, including
joy, grief, anger, and
According to Rice, God also experiences
frustrated desires, suffering, agony, and severe
anguish. Indeed, all these injuries are inflicted
on Him by His own

Clark Pinnock agrees. "God is not cool and
collected but is deeply involved and can be
Pinnock believes the essence of divine love and
tenderness is seen in God's "making himself
vulnerable within the relationship with

And so the open theists want to set a stark
dichotomy before the Christian public. The two
clear and only options, according to them, are
the tempestuously passionate God of open theism
(who is subject to hurts that may be inflicted by
His creatures), and the utterly indifferent God
they say goes with classic theism (who, at the
end of the day, "looks a lot like a metaphysical

Consider carefully what the open theists are
saying: Their God can be wounded; His own
creatures may afflict Him with anguish and woe;
He is regularly frustrated when His plans are
thwarted; and He is bitterly disappointed when
His will is stymied­as it regularly
Open theists have placed God in the hands of
angry sinners, because only that kind of God,
they claim, is capable of true love, genuine
tenderness, or meaningful affections of any kind.

In fact, since the God of classic theism is not
capable of being hurt by His creatures, open
theists insist that He is also incapable of being
"relational"; He is too detached, unfeeling,
apathetic, and devoid of all sensitivity.
According to open theism, those are the
inescapable ramifications of the doctrine of divine impassibility.

That is, frankly, open theism's favorite
cheap-shot assault on classic theism. It has
great appeal for their side as far as the typical
Christian in the pew is concerned, because no
true believer would ever want to concede that God
is callous or

And the sad truth is that these days the doctrine
of divine impassibility is often neglected and
underemphasized even by those who still affirm
classic theism. Many who reject the other
innovations of open theism are wobbly when it
comes to impassibility. They have been too easily
swayed by the caricatures, or else they have been
too slow to refute

Sorting Out Some of the Difficulties

To be perfectly frank, impassibility is a
difficult doctrine, both hard to understand and
fraught with hazards for anyone who handles it
carelessly. And dangers lurk on both sides of the
strait and narrow path. While the
radical-Arminian open theists are busily
lampooning the doctrine of divine impassibility
by claiming it makes God an iceberg, a few
hyper-Calvinists at the other end of the spectrum
actually seem prepared to agree that God is
unfeeling and cold as
Obviously, people on both sides of the open
theism debate are confused about this doctrine.
And that is to be expected. After all, we are
dealing with something we cannot possibly
comprehend completely. "For who hath known the
mind of the Lord?" (Romans 11:34).

We must begin by acknowledging that we are all
too prone to think of God in human terms. "You
thought that I was just like you," God says in
Psalm 50:21. "I will reprove you and state the
case in order before your eyes" (NASB). "My
thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your
ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens
are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways, and my thoughts than your
thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Again and again,
Scripture reminds us that the affections of God
are ultimately inscrutable (cf. Ephesians 3:19; Romans 11:33).

To cite just one example, consider that God's
love never wavers and never wanes. That alone
makes it utterly unlike any human love we have
ever experienced. If we consider how the Bible
defines love rather than how we experience the
passions associated with it, we can see that
human love and divine love both have all the same
characteristics, which are spelled out in detail
in 1 Corinthians 13. But notice that not one
characteristic in the biblical definition of love
has anything whatsoever to do with passion. Real
love, we discover, is nothing at all like the
emotion most people refer to when they mention "love."

That's why we must let Scripture, not human
experience, shape our understanding of God's
affections. Those who study the matter biblically
will quickly discover that God's Word, not merely
classic theism, sets the divine affections on an
infinitely higher plane than human passions. We
can learn much from the anthropopathic
expressions, but to a large degree the divine
affections remain hidden in impenetrable,
incomprehensible mystery, far above our understanding.

We cannot completely grasp what Scripture means,
for example, when it tells us that the eternally
unchanged and unchanging God became so angry
against Israel at Sinai that He threatened to
annihilate the entire nation and essentially void the Abrahamic covenant:
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this
people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax
hot against them, and that I may consume them:
and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses
besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why
doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which
thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt
with great power, and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:10-11).
Two things are perfectly clear from such an
account: First, we are not to read this passage
and imagine that God is literally subject to fits
and temper tantrums. His wrath against sin is
surely something more than just a bad mood. We
know this passage is not to be interpreted with a wooden literalness.

How can we be so sure? Well, Scripture clearly
states that there is no actual variableness in
God (cf. James 1:17). He could not have truly and
literally been wavering over whether to keep His
covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 4:31). Moses'
intercession in this incident (Exodus 32:12-14)
could not literally have provoked a change of
mind in God (Numbers 23:19). In other words, a
strictly literal interpretation of the
anthropopathism in this passage is an
impossibility, for it would impugn either the
character of God or the trustworthiness of His Word.

Nonetheless, a second truth emerges just as
clearly from this vivid account of God's
righteousness anger. The passage destroys the
notion that God is aloof and uninvolved in
relationship with His people. Even though these
descriptions of God's anger are not to be taken
literally, neither are they to be discarded as meaningless.

In other words, we can begin to make sense of the
doctrine of impassibility only after we concede
the utter impossibility of comprehending the mind of God.

The next step is to recognize the biblical use of
anthropopathism. (Since our thoughts are not like
God's thoughts, His thoughts must be described to
us in human terms we can understand. Many vital
truths about God cannot be expressed except
through figures of speech that accommodate the
limitations of human language and
The anthropopathisms must then be mined for their
meaning. While it is true that these are figures
of speech, we must nonetheless acknowledge that
such expressions mean something. Specifically,
they are reassurances to us that God is not
uninvolved and indifferent to His creation.

However, because we recognize them as
metaphorical, we must also confess that there is
something they do not mean. They do not mean that
God is literally subject to mood swings or
melancholy, spasms of passion or temper tantrums.
And in order to make this very clear, Scripture
often stresses the constancy of God's love, the
infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His
promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and
the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections.
"With [God there] is no variableness, neither
shadow of turning" (James 1:17). This absolute
immutability is one of God's transcendent
characteristics, and we must resist the tendency
to bring it in line with our finite human understanding.

What Does Impassibility Mean, Then?
[snip] Continue here:

Received on Tue Nov 22 10:17:41 2005

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