Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Thank you to all of you who responded to yesterdays post. It really helps to know you actually read and enjoy this blog and are encouraged or challenged by the words I peck out and the thoughts I string together. If no one is reading it, there is no point. I mean, seriously, I already know what I think so I don't need to post it for my own benefit. Your kind comments and sincere encouragement provide the energy I need to do it again.
Okay boys and girls. We are going to pick up our lesson where we left off yesterday. There is more to say about this confusing doctrine of the impassibility of God. I just don't understand why people have to complicate things.
I understand wanting to defend God's reputation. I do it myself, and while I'm sure He finds it endearing and mildly amusing, He is certainly able to take care of Himself.
I understand wanting to ensure God is accurately perceived as perfect, lacking in nothing. Because, of course, He is.
What I don't understand is why some very distinguished, educated and brilliant men have come to the conclusion that if God suffers--if He experiences anything like what we experience almost every day to some degree--He wouldn't be perfect.
Now I know that all of our suffering is a direct result of the fall of mankind, and that God didn't fall. And I know that sin causes suffering and God doesn't sin. So maybe these guys are just a bit confused. I am really not trying to be sarcastic or arrogant. I certainly don't have a monopoly on truth. Just a couple of houses on States Avenue and St. Charles Place and a rather uncomplicated view of Scripture.
When I read my Bible and I have this tendency to take it at face value. If it says something specific I tend to believe it means that specific thing. Especially when the concept is constantly repeated in different ways so we will get it.
And for the life of me I can't find anywhere in Scripture where it says God doesn't suffer. In fact, I find it screaming the exact opposite over and over again.
For example, in Hebrew 4:15 we read, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."
Again in 5:8 we read, "...although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." Seems pretty clear to me.
Lest there are those who would argue that perhaps God incarnate, living as a man could suffer, but God in heaven can't, we need look no further that the verses in Genesis 6:5-6 which were referenced yesterday.
And let's not forget that if you can suffer you can also rejoice. Scripture is very clear that all of heaven rejoices over a single sinner who repents. Could it even be possible for all of heaven to be rejoicing while God is sitting there impassively? Is He filing His nails and yawning? No! He is, I'm sure, leading the celebration! After all, it's His idea, His sacrifice, His blood that made it possible. Wouldn't you think He'd be a wee bit emotionally involved?
One of the constant comparisons God makes in Scripture is how we respond to our children. I have run the gamut with mine: anger, exasperation, joy unspeakable, frustration, satisfaction, concern, disappointment, relief, grief, fulfillment, and the list goes on and on, just as I'm sure you have too, or will.
How could it possibly be any different with God? Although He is unchangeable in His steadfast love, in His character, in His desire that all would come to a knowledge of the truth, in all that is truly unchangeable, His emotions appear to change drastically as He interacts with those whom He has made like Him.
Like everything else in the Kingdom of God, we are presented with a paradox. Just because God is infinite, mind-boggling and incomprehensible on one level, doesn't mean He is unable to be comprehended on any level. It couldn't, or He wouldn't have attempted to communicate with us. But communicate He did, and I, for one, believe He means exactly what He says.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The doctrine of the impassibility of God teaches that the God of the Bible is a perfect being and, as such, He cannot suffer. In other words, since God is perfect in every way, He can't be emotionally affected by outside events and thus cannot suffer, because suffering, somehow, is perceived as a sign of imperfection. I'm not quite sure why one must necessarily mean the other, but apparently in greater minds than mine, it does.
It always makes me uncomfortable to disagree with wise and intellectually minded men, because under that list the box I would have to check would be "None of the above."
Yet when I read these types of things, instead of nodding my head in amazement at their brilliance, I am often left shaking my head and wondering how well acquainted these pontificators are with the God they so decisively define.
I suppose we all, to one degree or another, read the Scriptures through the lenses of those who indoctrinated us. For example, I learned (and later discarded) the philosophy of Calvinism through the Presbyterian church I attended as a child.
I often wonder how someone would interpret the Bible who came to Christ as an adult, without any preconceptions-- someone who had never been churched--but who'd had a genuine and life-changing experience with Christ and then sat down and started reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Because when I read the Bible, I am confronted at every turn with the suffering of God beginning in, what for me, has to be the single most tragic verse in all of Scripture. In Genesis 6:5-6, in the aftermath of the horrific fall of Adam and Eve, we read, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and was grieved in His heart."
How on earth can a reasonable person find impassibility in that verse? And that's just in the first part of Genesis! What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to make "better" sense of what is said than what is actually being said?
And I know people explain away a lot of those types of verses as being anthropomorphic, or in less fancy talk, as the Bible needing to apply human characteristics to God so we mere mortals can get a tiny grip on Him.
But from Genesis 6 on, Scripture is full of passages that reveal the pain God experiences as a direct result of the sin and disobedience of His people.
The God of the Old Testament is a God who chooses to identify with the suffering of His people. He tells us in Exodus 3:7, "I have seen surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their suffering." He goes on in verse nine to say, "And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them."
Now it could be argued, I suppose, that the words "seen, heed and aware" don't necessarily convey direct emotional involvement, or shared emotional responses, but why else would He have rescued them?
If I see your house burning to the ground and you waving for help from a second story window, it is not my sense of duty or obligation that moves me into action. Rather it is an overwhelming sense of distress and compassion and desire for you to live and not die that compels me to risk my own life to save yours.
In the New Testament we see God, in the person of Christ, suffering on our behalf in much the same way. In the OT, God suffers with His people. In the NT, He suffers for them. Yet in both cases, the everlasting God is suffering with us and because of us.
To me, the idea that God can't be perfect if He experiences suffering is missing the mark. Certainly He is perfect. His character is changeless and His motive is always agape. But one doesn't necessarily cancel out the other.
And I need to know God suffers. Otherwise, how can I be sure that He can identify with me in my suffering? I don't want a God who is disconnected from my experiences and can't relate except in theory. I want a God in whose image I am created, who empathises with my suffering because He has suffered more than any human being ever will.
I posess mind, will and emotions and if I am created in His image then it only makes sense that God posesses them too. While there are things about God that aren't like me, there is nothing about me that doesn't reflect Him. I'm thinking mind, will and emotions here.
A lot of you have heard me tell you this story, but it is such a beautiful illustration of my point that I'm going to share it again.
The Monday after we buried Jordan on the previous Wednesday, when all the out of town company was gone, Jay was back at work, Jacob was back at OU and Jessie was back in school, I was alone in my living room crying inconsolably.
I was sobbing so hard I couldn't catch my breath and was sure I was about to drown in my own snot and tears.
Finally, after I'd gulped in a deep breath, I wailed, "OH GOD! I'VE BURIED MY SON! I'VE BURIED MY SON!"
His response was instantaneous. He whispered to me and said, "I know. I buried Mine too." And at that instant I knew, I knew, that God understood my suffering and loss in a way that few others could. It wasn't theoretical or sympathetic. It was a shared experience. And in that moment, my broken heart began to slowly heal.