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Impassibility of God

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God's impassibility is a quality of his aseity or divine fullness. Unlike us, God is not dependent upon anything outside himself for emotional fulfilment or satisfaction.

Impassibility then, is not a defect in God. He is not emotionally stunted or remote. Rather he is perfectly fulfilled and satisfied in the perichoretic fellowship of the Trinity. It is out of this self-sufficient aseity that God relates to us as his creatures. He is not dependent upon us for love or emotional completion.

God is a spirit, without body, parts or passions. For example, God's anger does not make Him unhappy: He is forever blessed. And so no human action can alter Him.

As to blessedness, it relates to intellect and will. In God there is perfect knowledge that leaves no room for doubts or questions, including of course a knowledge of his own blessedness; and there is perfect complacency of the will in that. God knows the object of greatest delight—Himself—and he knows it perfectly; God loves the object of greatest delight—Himself—and possesses it perfectly. What room is there for imperfection of joy in that? Naturally this exceeds our grasp, and is truly inconceivable; not simply that it is on a scale that begs our comprehension, but that manner of knowledge and delight in God is, strictly, inconceivable: we cannot picture it, we cannot state it, we cannot analyze it.

When we say that God is without passions, we mean that He is not "affected" by circumstances, being overcome by circumstances, as we are. There are no surprises with Him, He is not "put to the worse" by our sins, etc. He has, from all eternity, known what He would do, and His divine complacency is unruffled by human history.

When God expresses Himself in terms of wrath, love, pleasure, etc. these are terms that describe what God would reveal Himself to do based on certain events that He Himself has decreed. There are times when He reveals Himself in one way to bring about a "reaction" in us, which is part of His original decree. All the while, however, He is not reacting to us, but revealing Himself anthropopassionately, working providentially to bring to pass infallibly His most Holy will.

When I press on by arm, surface of my body at the point of pressure apparently reacts to that pressure by yielding—by moving toward the bone, etc. This is because my body is "passable". The same is true of our thoughts, emotions, etc. In other words, of the inner man. I can be "affected" in the inner man by a word, etc. But God is not so. He is impassable (not subject to emotion), not affected by anything outside Himself. His divine complacency is unruffled by the creature. God has no passions does not mean He is unfeeling (impassive), or that there is nothing in Him that corresponds to emotions and affections in us, but that whereas human passions are often involuntary and unstable, the corresponding attitudes in God have the nature of deliberate, voluntary choices, and therefore are not of the same order as human passions at all. God's affections are permanent not transient. Of course the omniscient God does not change His mind, but He changes His modes of dealing with us, and says it in Scripture in ways we can comprehend.

The reason Scripture uses anthropopathic language so extensively and unhesitatingly is because it undoubtedly does give us a better idea than we would get by any other approach—as long as we remember its limitations and don't let the analogy press us too far.

We are limited; we are bound by time and space; we are changeable; we are easily influenced and acted upon; we are in a body susceptible of many sensations. All these things must be removed from God's experience: there is no change, no distraction, no interruption. But that does not make God's joy less than ours; on the contrary, His joy is infinite, and infinitely pure, unalloyed with anything else, as ours inevitably is. Even our intellectual and spiritual pleasures are not only very different in degree from God's, but are also rooted in our creaturely and physical reality.

While great music might help us to grasp that there is a sort of intellectual and volitional pleasure that is rather different from what we normally experience, and give us a sense that we have a feeling of eternity, it is quite obvious that music is rooted in time, succession, and the physical reality of sound. So that strictly speaking, God's blessedness will be unimaginable. We can say that it is like our blessedness with all imperfections removed, but we've never experienced anything with all imperfections removed: thus there is still no experiential point of contact. In this regard also we cannot picture God. What we can say is that He has made us with a capacity for delight, and therefore His own capacity for delight is greater than ours. Though much of what we experience in delight is inapplicable to God, perhaps even aspects that we are accustomed to thinking of as fundamental, yet the real good of delight is much more in God than in us.

AMR
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