Divine Passibility: God as Sufferer

It may be safe to say that very few Christians today believe in divine impassibility. Most, in fact, believe that God does possesses emotions and can suffer and be grieved. However, in our understanding of this divine passibility, we often focus upon the fact that God suffers with us and grieves with us. We forget that God also grieves because of us.

No doubt we can be greatly comforted by the fact that God in all of His trascendence (He is outside of, beyond, and infinitely greater than us.) stoops down to love and care for us, to comfort us in our afflictions and pain. We can thus say that God is both transcedent and immanent (He is also present with us.). But sometimes, we focus so much upon God’s immanency seen within divine passibility, that we miss the fact that God in all of His purity, holiness, and majesty is far above and over us.

God is a pure and holy Lord. He wishes that we, His followers, servants, and friends, would serve Him wholeheartedly, with willing hearts and minds. He desires that we be in tune with Him and His workings of goodness, mercy, justice, and love. Hence, to say that God suffers with us–only–bypasses the point that God suffers because of us.

If more of us could recognise that God is grieved when we sin, when we do wrong, when we choose to disobey Him, then how much more would we seek to live lives that please and honour Him? The Christian life isn’t about me, easy grace, and a wishy-washy relationship with an all-loving, do-as-you-please Jesus. If that is so, then my life is quite selfish, bland, and basic.

Nor is it to be a life filled with continual condemnatin, guilt, and unhealthy fear in the sight of the almighty, all-powerful God. We cannot forever be tallying up our many sins. Neither should be our Christian disposition. Instead, we should recognise that when we do sin, if there is truly repetenance (a turning away from our wrongdoing, to run toward the righteousness of God), then the Lord in His mercy forgives us.

At the same time, due to our sinful natures rebelling against God’s perfectly good laws set in place, we know that we will experience consequences for our sin. That is only “natural”: It isn’t as if God is up there scheming or conjuring up some consequences for us (Although, Scriptures certainly speaks of God disciplines those He loves.). Consequences already exist in and of ourselves and are realised when we sin.

Yet the forgiveness, the grace, the mercy, and the goodness of our Lord overcomes, overwhelms, and moves us beyond our sinful actions. That is the beauty and wonder of our relationship with the triune God. He grieves with us when we sin, wants us to change and grow, and seeks to offer us a life of beauty, pleasure, and goodness found within Him. He extends His hand of love and compassion to us.

So yes, God certainly does feel our pain and cares for us, but as part of His immanency and hence, passibility, grieves when our pain is the result of our own willfulness. He desires that we be holy as He is holy. This is the essence of the Christian life and we (including me) would do well to remember it.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t think this is accurate: “[i]t may be safe to say that very few Christians today believe in divine impassibility.” Most orthodox christians, I would argue, reject the idea of divine passibility as heresy. There is room for both divine impassibility and compassion, the one does not negate the other.

    I agree that God longs for us to overcome our sins and “grieves” for us when we sin but it does not follow from here to say that therefore God is passible. When our language is applied to God it is analogous. Yet it seems that there is a correlation between rejecting analogous language and holding to divine passibility. It would great to read a future post (perhaps?) on why you reject divine impassibility.

    • Hi my friend. Thanks for you comment on my post. I appreciate your perspective. We obviously would disagree on this doctrinal issue, but I’m quite willing to write another post on why I reject divine impassibility. I may not write it just yet, but I’ll probably be mulling it over this week! 🙂 I hope then to respond to your comments specifically in that post.

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