Re: impassibility

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Dec 03 2005 - 09:07:42 EST

Dave - It seems to me that to some extent we're talking past one another here.

1st, of course Jews & Muslims criticize the idea of divine Incarnation. While we need to be aware of that in presenting the gospel to them, how is that relevant to discussion among Christians who believe that the Word was made flesh?

2d, of course you're right that it's hard for us to get a grip on the idea of a-temporal (or, I would rather say, trans-temporal) experience. But for myself I have to add that much of my work in science has been with relativity, & I'm comfortable working with space-time diagrams which give one a sense of viewing the world from t = -infinity to t = +infinity at a glance, and thus provide a analogy to a God's-eye view. In addition, general relativity help one get an idea of more exotic temporal phenomena, like closed timelike world lines & space & time "trading places" in black holes &c. So while I'm still a temporal being I - & other relatvists - have some hints of the kind of experience you're talking about. In fact, I could argue that the fact that as a temporal being I can still view a "world" in that way provides an analogy for divine temporality.

3d, of course the question of how the trinitarian persons are related is important but I tried to pose the question as much as possible in classical terms in which that relation is described, in part, by saying that they are "individual substances" of a common divine nature. My argument is this:

    a. If it is correct to say that the person (of the Son) suffers then we should also say that the nature of which that is an individual substance suffers. This is what classical theology DOESN'T say because of its assumption of the impssibility of the divine nature, & is the point at which you can, if you wish, dissent. But it seems to me that saying that the suffering of the human nature is communicated to the divine person but not to the divine nature which that person instantiates is very strange & reduces the communication to a mode of speaking.

    b. But IF one accepts my claim in a. then the ability of the Father to suffer follows immediately because the Father and the Son (& Spirit) have the same nature (are consubstantial).

Of course one can object that "natures" or "substances" are supposed to be unchanging but that's a limitation of the model. It's precisely the idea that substantialist metaphysics ought to control the discussion that gets us into problems.

4th, my view doesn't stem from general principles like divine mercy. The reason for my view (which again I emphasize is not unique to me, and has been expressed better & at greater length by others) are, in order of importance:
    a. The claim that the Son of God suffered & died must be taken with the fullest seriousness possible.
    b. The overwhelming picture given in scripture is of a God who is capable of reacting to what happens in the world, being "hurt" by the world &c, & that the idea that God "eternally reacts" doesn't do justice to that picture. (E.g., is it really meaningful to talk about "griveing the Holy Spirit if the Spirit is really grieved unchangingly from before all time?) & the few biblical passages that speak of God not changing can be understood quite consistently in terms of the unchanging character of God, God's faithfulness, &c.
    c. Philosophy has a ministerial & not a magisterial role in theology. If your philosophy has trouble with the idea that God really suffered under Pontius Pilate, get a new philosophy.
    d. There is no need to limit the concept of temporality to the time of the created world.
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
  Sent: Friday, December 02, 2005 1:56 PM
  Subject: Re: impassibility

  As I noted earlier, there are those who claim that the Incarnation is impossible because of the incompatibility of an eternal deity and temporal humanity. And I am not arguing about algebra, merely noting that there is a major objection here from both Jew and Muslim.

  As for "some temporality appropriate to God," I take the problem to be that human beings are so totally temporal that they cannot imagine any existence which is not in some way temporal. But imposing my experience on the deity is not warranted. Let me suggest an analogy. We anticipate, thinking of what may happen even though it will not occur. A hunter saves money to get the license and gun he needs to go hunting months ahead of time. His dog is essentially restricted to the immediate. There is no recognition that hunting season opens in 4 days. So how does one restrict the hunter to the dog's insight? Or make the beast understand the hunter's anticipation? I submit that there is a far greater distance between God and man than between man and dog.

  You refer to: '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." ' as something I did not respond to. My "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." is, I believe, the only possible response. You want an exposition of HOW the Eternal Spirit feels. The best I can do is deal with what my temporal body feels and the coupled emotions whose location I cannot prove beyond the fact that neurologists find associations with brain activity. I can empathize with the experiences of Jesus while he lived among us, but I can't extrapolate that to the connection with the experiences of his deity as part of the hypostatic union. Further, I don't understand the experiences of the risen Jesus, though I have the promise of being like him. Indeed, Paul says it's already done despite my lack of experiencing it.

  Dealing with theological matters begins with exegesis, on which we can usually find agreement. But not always. For example, does /anothen/ mean "again," "from above," or both? Hermeneutics gets us into disagreements that remain. On top of these are the constructions different persons put on matters, what seems plausible. I hold that these last have to be subject to noncontradiction among the consequences wrung out of them. This last depends in part on the assumptions recognized. I hold that being Creator and being temporal are contradictory. You hold that not experiencing the pain of the crucifixion at the time is incompatible with being a merciful God. I contend that this imposes a human condition on the entire Trinity which is not totally human. Is this difference logical or emotional?

  On Fri, 2 Dec 2005 08:40:04 -0500 "George Murphy" <> writes:
    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?

Received on Sat Dec 3 09:10:32 2005

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