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.

No comments: