Re: impassibility

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Dec 02 2005 - 08:40:04 EST

Dave et al. (belatedly)

1st, what I've been talking about can't realistically be described as "my problems" as if they were just the personal hangups of George Murphy. They are issues that have to be faced by anyone who wants to take seriously that the one who is God Incarnate suffered under Pontius Pilate.

"A clear explanation of the communication between the eternal Father and the incarnate Son, and among the Trinity" is of course exactly what doctrines of the Trinity are supposed to be. Again I would refer to Ted Peters book for a survey of modern trinitarian theology, & point out that most attempts to do more than repeat old formulae do recognize that there is some temporality appropriate to God - a temporality which is not simply identified with the world's time.

There are difficulties with trinitarian theology connected with the fact that we're trying to speak of the inner life of God & have only limited information. But trying to explain how 1 equals 3 isn't a problem. No serious theologian has ever made such a claim. The doctrine of the Trinity isn't about algebra.

I don't think you take seriously the possibility - discussed my a number of the theologians I've referred to - that there is a time appropriate to God's own life which transcends created time & of which created time is a subset. I noted, e.g., the possibility of 2 dimensional time, which would not be simply linear or cyclic. & you don't answer the question I posed in my 1st paragraph below: Are you talking about some kind of eternal & timeless suffering of the Father?

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
  Sent: Friday, November 25, 2005 5:51 PM
  Subject: Re: impassibility

  I sympathize with your problems, but I will not give you a resolution until you present a clear explanation of the communication between the eternal Father and the incarnate Son, and among the Trinity. The problem of the Incarnation is such that nonChristian philosophers often say it is impossible because it leads to self-contradiction. They also say this of the Trinity, for one is not three. The simplest attempt to deal with the problem seems to be modalism, which is not adequate. More sophisticated approaches are not, as I see them, totally without problems. Being finite and temporal, we cannot imagine the infinite and eternal. Indeed, when we try. the eternal becomes extended time rather than timelessness, as in your fourth paragraph. There are, in any kind of temporality, a cyclical and a linear option. Hinduism adopts the former, but it does not fit the notion of creation. The linear option may be limited in extent or unlimited. The former fits the notion of a beginning to space-time. However, we cannot have a new Genesis with "In the beginning God was created," though Plotinus and Gnostics would go back through several generations of deities. So, from any Christian view, if there is some kind of temporality with the deity, it must be open at both ends, unconditionally infinite. So one is faced with the question, "What was God doing before he created the heavens and the earth?" Augustine recognized this as a nonsense question. Craig (if I recall correctly) tries to bridge the gap by positing that God became temporal with creating the world, something I find incoherent unless one denies omniscience and produces a strange kind of deity as well. I don't see how a time switch makes any kind of sense.

  These considerations seem to me to demand a nontemporal deity, eternal without time. Further, as a minimum requirement, change demands time. So redemption is the eternal approach of the Father, not something he scratched his head over when Adam fell. This much fits your insistence that the staurocentric approach involves evolution from the time of creation. So this is the Father's eternal state. Jesus, the Son of God, lived and died in time, so he felt the nails and abandonment in time. Our Lord said that there were things he did not know, so omniscience must be part of what was left behind as he emptied himself. So I infer that he had temporal restrictions like the ones we face in what he know. Put together, I do not know how the temporal knowledge of the Son and the eternal knowledge of the Father jibed. I think it incomprehensible to us, part of the mystery of the Trinity. I'll revise this when you give the clear explanation I indicated at the start.

  On Thu, 24 Nov 2005 21:34:53 -0500 "George Murphy" <> writes:
    Dave -

    The full statement that I made, which you say you don't hold, was, "you have the strange result that the divine person suffers but the divine nature of which that person is one hypostasis doesn't." Do I understand you to be saying below that the the divine nature suffers eternally - i.e., timelessly? If so, this seems like a strange claim. One common objection to the idea of a genuine suffering of God is that it would require God to be mutable. & while with your view it's reasonable to say that the eternal God y takes into account things that happen in the world (e.g., prayer) without himself changing, to say that God in any sense suffers seems to have no connection with the sense of the word that we use when we say, e.g., "Jesus suffered."

    & if the divine nature can suffer in some way in your view, why the objection to the idea that the Father suffers?

    Or am I misunderstanding you?

    In any case, you seem to hold that the only choices are that God is utterly timeless or that God is subject to the temporality of creration. But this is not true. There are certainly ways of speaking about an eternity which is temporal & which includes but transcends the world's time, as a number of modern theologians have argued. Just as one crude analogy from my own physics background, one can imagine a world with two temporal dimensions (e.g., with a line element having the signature + + + - -
    instead of the + + + - of Minkowski space-time.) Saying that there is divine temporality then need not have the terrible consequences you suggest of essentially making God into a creature.

    The critical question again, however, is christological. Is the Incarnation a merely "external work of the Trinity," like all the ordinary things God does in the world, or is it something "internal," having to do with God's own life? If the latter then the earthly history of Jesus of Nazareth, from ~4 B.C. to ~30 A.D., is part of God's experience as history. It is not simply as something God is eternally aware of on the "outside." & this only makes sense if God has a history of which that earthly history is part.

    (Note to Janice: Please note my quote marks around "internal" & "external" above. Of course these are spatial metaphors but they are well established in the theological tradition, as in the phrase operara trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt.)

Received on Fri Dec 2 08:45:37 2005

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