Re: impassibility

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Fri Dec 02 2005 - 23:42:18 EST

To my mind, all such speculation comes a cropper with the ancient
question: What was God doing before he created the universe? It would
seem that we have to posit infinite time before, unless we adopt a
Neoplatonism that has the creator of the universe being created. Such an
emanation could be temporal, but requires a nontemporal ultimate deity.

On Fri, 02 Dec 2005 21:03:59 -0700 "Jim Armstrong" <>
I think the idea of sequence was mentioned a couple of months ago in this
context (perhaps by you?). If one introduces the idea of sequence, in one
sense there might be ambiguous directionality to it, drawn of course to a
bidirectional numerical example such as ...,-3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3,.... But in
another, like the terms of binomial expansions, there is a sense of
direction. But if one then moves to causality, it seems to me then that
we are definitely talking about something with the nature of contingency,
or if/then, which do have a direction. I don't have an drop dead answer
to this matter, but it does not trouble me to think of God experiencing
something at least in some way analogous to time as we know it, perhaps
incorporating time as only a subset of a larger "property".

My persuasion (today) is that He created the universe with a time
attribute, so it must be something known, something in His bag of tricks,
and therefore some part in some way of His existence. We can make the
assertion (for that is surely all we can do) that God has no spatial or
temporal limitations, but at the end of the day those are our own models
of a greater freedom or power than our own, free of what we perceive of
as constraints in our plane of existence. But the former observation has
more power of persuasion to me than an otherwise fairly baseless claim
that God "is" completely outside of time (whatever that means). Perhaps
temporarality is not even the right way to think of the experience of
God; perhaps "our" time is some shadow or lower-dimensioned attribute of
that which is experienced by the divinity. We really cannot know, but it
strikes me that we might be a little more reserved in our certainties
about what God's existence is or is not (or is or is not "outside of",
whatever "outside of" might mean from God's perspective).

Just thinking out loud again......

Peter Cook wrote:
I wonder if the notion - and that's all it is to me right now - of
"sequence" might be better than temporality. This was the term Schaeffer
used to use about what happened "in" the Trinity before creation and
hence "before" time. And I see in the latest issue of perspectives an
article that tries to move from temporal chain to causal chain, which
might be somehow related.

Pete C
----- Original Message -----
From: George Murphy
To: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
Sent: Friday, December 02, 2005 8:40 AM
Subject: Re: impassibility

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

"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" <>
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 23:49:11 2005

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