Re: impassibility

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Sat Dec 03 2005 - 23:19:33 EST

I know you don't recognize it, but you are moving from the Son entered
time to something like the deity was always in time. The problem with
your suggestion is that, if God is in any kind of time, it must be
infinite backward and the question of what God was doing before he
created the world is valid, but leads to a nonsense answer. If you go for
panentheism, you have a kind of answer. But I contend that, since our
world is only 13.7 Gy old, it must have been preceded by a previous world
that collapsed to provide material for this world, with that world
preceded by an infinite series of worlds--unless God has multiplied his
being-creation to accommodate the multiverse view.

Your notion of creating worlds fails totally unless your created beings
communicate with you and you with them; in which case the question what
you did before you created them is valid. In your case we go back to a
beginning, though there could be a double beginning with transmigration
of souls. But you, or any "creator" who does not produce their own matter
/ex nihilo/, are in time with a temporal "before."

Your last paragraph is a near-perfect illustration that human beings
cannot imagine things except in time. It is built into our language as
well. /En arche en ho Logos, k.t.l./, taken literally, proves that there
was time before the beginning of space-time-matter. Are you going to cite
that to demonstrate that God is temporal, even though that requires that
the Almighty twiddle his thumbs for an infinite duration before
initiating this universe? What alternative besides hand-waving and
insistence do you offer to this consequence? God's time is indivisible?

On Sat, 3 Dec 2005 17:58:03 -0500 "George Murphy" <>
Dave -

I deny that I am "imposing" anything except to the extent that I take
with utmost seriousness that the Son of God became a participant in human
history - i.e., time. That does not mean that he is limited to our time
but it suggests that there is a kind of time appropriate to God which
created time may be made a part of.

& while this by no means amounts to a proof, the ability of temporal
human beings to construct things like space-time diagrams, & in fact
novels and plays, which have their own internal histories, strongly
suggests that there can be a temporal creator who is not bound by the
times of the worlds he/she creates. E.g., I can draw a space-time
diagram with an expanding universe which has a beginning in time. For
imaginary creatures in that universe the question "What was the creator
doing before he made the world" would be meaningless in terms of their
time, as Augustine pointed out. But it would not be meaningless in my
time. N.B. This is not at all a claim that such human creators are in
any sense "timeless" or have the experience of timelessness - just the

My supposed "literal interpretation" of scripture is a straw man. But
metaphors, images &c aren't arbitrary, & the fact that so many of them
suggest God being affected by what happens in the world, "changing his
mind" (cf. Jonah) &c, should count for something. OTOH in order to get
any biblical support you must insist on a maximal & literal
interpretation of Jas.1:17 & Mal.3:6 - especially when it's realized that
passages referring to divine foreknowledge &/or predestination do not
require divine timelessness.

----- Original Message -----
From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2005 3:06 PM
Subject: Re: impassibility

I grant that you are alert to dealing with infinite time, but it is time,
part of space-time. You are imposing that time, the kind of existence you
can imagine, on the Being who cannot be imagined except at he revealed
himself. Yes, the divine suffered because the divine entered time as a
unity. But I do not believe that the Father entered time or that the
Spirit entered time when the Son became incarnate.

I note that your hermeneutics does not require that the first chapters of
Genesis be understood literally, but that they communicated God's power
in language that the ancients could understand. I apply that same
approach to the passages of divine change which you want to take
literally. If the hermeneutics is acceptable in the one case, it is
equally so in the other. This does not need a change of philosophy. But
you want to restrict my philosophy to what you can imagine, which is time

Yes, one can attempt to develop different notions of time for different
entities, but the result is the same difference, not a different
difference. The problem as I see it is that you cannot imagine the Father
not being affected specifically at the moment of the crucifixion, even
though you argue that the eternal divine purpose involves the pains and
extinctions of evolution. So you argue for the staurocentric long term
but insist that it must be momentary I see timeless stautocentricity
with the Father because he is eternal.

On Sat, 3 Dec 2005 09:07:42 -0500 "George Murphy" <>

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

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
    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" <>
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?

Received on Sat Dec 3 23:27:55 2005

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