Impassibility and the Buffet Rule

I was just walking and listening to a lecture on my mp3 player on the influence of Greek philosophy on early Church Fathers, one of which was the concept of impassibility.  This teaching has annoyed me from the very first time I remember hearing about it, and from time to time I try to articulate why.

Greeks believed that passions (same root as passivity) moved us, so we were not completely acting (same root as activity) freely, which was not good. For God to be good he had to be impassible, or unmoved by passion (or emotion), or he wouldn’t be either good or perfect.

Even if we accept the absurd dissection of God into reason, emotion and will–called the mind of God, the heart of God and the will of God–which can no more be separated than water can from a wave, then why must the conclusion be that God be passionless, or impassible, in order to be unchanging?

In our current state of class warfare, the Left has decided that if a millionaire pays less in taxes (as a rate) than his secretary because he pays capital gains and she pays federal tax then the only solution is for the millionaire to pay more so there is fairness.  Why can’t it be that the secretary pays less?  Would this not also achieve a more fair result?  Why do people so readily accept the conclusions others want them to.

Likewise, rather than God being impassible because He is unchanging why can’t it be that He has perfect, incorruptible, eternal passion rather than none?  An unchanging God moved by love?

Love, joy and peace are not purely emotional, as we understand emotion, but surely they have emotional aspects.  To argue God is impassible is to argue that though He experiences, say, peace that He is not moved by it.  Why can’t He be perfectly moved by it?  Why couldn’t such movement have occurred before the creation, and why couldn’t creation and redemption itself be a result of God being perfectly moved by pure, incorruptible, unchanging love before the creation of the world?

How do we reconcile Jesus Christ of Nazareth as Lord with the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Son of the Most High God weeping when His friend died?  How is the Incarnation itself not a change?

I guess what bugs me the most, and I had three other examples of this I was going to write you about the other day, is the way Christians who accept the philosophical notion of the impassibility of God build the whole edifice upon Platonic thought, which is the iceberg, and cap it off (the tip of the iceberg) with a proof text like God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and then cry Sola Scriptura.

Is there any reason a God moved by love wouldn’t still be the same yesterday today and tomorrow; that is, unchangingly a God moved by love?

Love and Justification

Theologians are always debating the righteousness of God in justification.† Is it imputed?† Is it infused?† Is it forensic?

I can’t tell you the torture I put myself through for decades over this kind of stuff.† Like a navigator who knows if his calculation is off by the slightest degree he will miss the mark, I constantly feel like I have to get these formulations down at the outset, forgetting that all I really have to do is follow the One who not only knows but is the Way.† I swear Christians make this so hard, though.

I could and perhaps will say more about that, but I have to be gone the next couple of days, so for now, just this.

From Lewis, a close paraphrase: God does not make us good [righteous] so that He can love us.† Because He loves us He makes us good [righteous].

Not a righteousness [goodness] that comes through the law, be it God’s covenant law (e.g. circumcision, Sabbath keeping, dietary, etc.), like the arguments of the New Perspectives on Paul, which make a lot of sense to me, nor by the law as in moral laws, but by His grace.

Nouwen: “God’s love does not depend on our repentance or inward or outer changes.”

While I want to be one of those who repents and changes inwardly and outwardly, and believe I am, even if I’m not God loves me.† This is not the message I have heard from the church, but the deficiency may be in me.

I have either heard wrongly many evangelical and/or reformed writers, teachers and preachers, or they have not said it in a way I could hear well.

God’s love precedes his imputed, infused or forensic righteousness in each of us.† His love precedes creation, and creation flowed out of it.† His love precedes the Fall.† His love preceeds the Incarnation and is the very reason for it.† God’s love precedes the cross and made the cross itself inevitable.

Intentional or not the Calvinist/Reformed tradition has taught me that unless I am among the elect I am not and never can be righteous.† It has followed in my mind that if I am not among the elect, therefore righteous, God does not love me.† No matter what they say, one can not know with certainty, I don’t believe, if one is elect.

I don’t care how much good fruit you produce in keeping with righteousness, you’re going to sin, and we are never going to be certain if our motivations are right, and they never will be completely pure.† If our motivations are not right, our actions can’t be fully right-eous.† It produces an effort to prove one’s righteousness to one’s self, so that one can be assured of God’s love and forgiveness.

So, how do I ever know I am really being Christ to other’s, really being transformed, really putting on Christ and not trying to prove to myself and others I am among the elect out of fear of damnation rather than love of God and neighbor?† I don’t see how, but maybe that’s because I’m not elect.

Maybe the elect all have specific, dramatic conversion experiences and are then perpetually filled with peace, joy, gratitude and contentment, never stop growing, love selflessly and sacrificially and forgive everything all the time.† Maybe the elect know they are elect and those who think they are elect and don’t know it are deceived and it’s impossible for one to be among the elect and not know it. It’s a nightmare of a labyrinth.

Yesterday I heard a radio preacher I like.† I’m not going to mention names because it’s a distraction.† I went to his web site and was reading the days devotion.† There’s a line in it I heard countless times in the Evangelical circles in which I ran in college, and to whom I owe a great debt:

“The Holy Spirit…tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’Ē

Indeed, Christ is all in all.† However, the message I heard over and over is that I am nothing or I am worthless.† The fact is that we elevate Christ so high that we forget what all the bother was about.† Christ is exalted; He is supreme; all creation will bow before His majesty, glory and power when it is made His footstool.

No question, no doubt, but is it possible that in the way we do, we corrupt even that to the point that we claim for Christ something He never claimed for himself: that God bounded Himself in flesh, space and time, suffered and died for…nothing?† That’s the word I hear all the time.† Not ‘nothing’ as in for “no reason,” but ‘nothing’ as in “worthless,” the other word I hear all the time.

Like Jeremiah’s potter, God is reshaping spoiled vessels.† Spoiled is not the same as nothing; it’s not the same as worthless.† The misshapen vessels have such infinite value and worth that even if they are not usable in their current distorted shape, the Potter loves them so much, that rather than just discarding them and starting over, He reshapes, remolds, restores, recreates them.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.† Because He loves us He is making us good.

To preach Christ and Him crucified is to preach his radical, all-encompassing, unalterable love for us.

I suppose the concern, as it has been for me often, is that if we preach this love to ourselves and others it might lead to encouraging sin to abound so grace can abound even more, or it might make us think there is to be no striving or pressing on towards the goal.

If that is what we or others hear it is not the Good News because the Good News is that because God loves us we can be recreated, not stay the same miserable, spoiled vessels and the Potter merely says “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to begin with.† It will look lovely in this spot or I can just use it for this purpose instead.† Silly me.† What was I thinking?”

The full quote above from the devotion, which was adapted from Spurgeon, is “But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’Ē

I’m not at all certain the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self.† Away from false self, fallen self, sinful self, but not true self.† Paul spends much time in 1 Corinthians 15 expounding on the resurrection of the body.† We must avoid a purely spiritualized theology.† Theology is incarnational and embodied. The Word made flesh and the risen Christ.† We can not stop at the cross for all it’s majesty and glory.

There IS a me, a true me, a me crafted, knit together and wonderfully made. God does not want me to forget this self, but to become it.† To remember it, not as though I have a memory of it, but His memory of it.† His memory of ME.

We live in a self-absorbed, self-fulfillment, self-obsessed me-driven world in the grip of relativism.† Be that as it may, like with everything else, it’s not purely and solely a lie.† All good lies have an element of the truth, and the truth is that there is a me for God to love.† Distorted, warped, and idolized though self-love may be in this world does not mean the solution is the forget self; it’s to remember our true self.

God is not running an assembly line in which we turn to Him, climb on the conveyor belt and God stamps out a Jesus such that when we stand before Him all He sees is His Son.

In The Wrinkle in Time, Meg defeats the lies of the enemy with this truth: “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”† Because I am clothed in Christ does not mean there is no me to be clothed.† Because I am made like Jesus does not mean I am the same as Jesus.

I don’t know how many times I have heard “When God looks at you on Judgment Day, He will see Jesus.”† When I stand before God He will see the true me I can only be IN Christ.

Heaven will not be populated with a bunch of Jesus clones.† Only Jesus is Jesus, thanks be to God.† Heaven will be populated with resurrected, unique, infinitely† precious, incalculably valuable people of inestimable worth, spoiled vessels recreated.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.† Because He loves us He is making us good.

To me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Quantum Sovereignty

God is sovereign. Of this I have no doubt. I have no more doubt of it than I have that the Word of God is inerrant, but for me inerrancy is not a very useful word, and neither is sovereignty. Of course God is right, but do I understand His meaning? Of course God is sovereign, but do I truly understand what that means?

I do not question salvation by grace through faith or the authority of Scripture or even Godís sovereignty. Itís just that we are not saved by the doctrine of justification, so we are not saved by the doctrine of sovereignty or predestination or any other teaching. We are saved by the cross, not the doctrine of atonement.

God sovereignty is only one aspect of his nature. Scripture never says God is sovereign in the same wayóthe same grammatical constructionóthat it says ďGod is love.Ē An aspect of Godís nature is his sovereignty, his power. But his nature is love, and divine power is rooted in love.

Godís power is limited by his nature. He has no power to sin, and not just by some semantic twist of words whereby because heís good everything he does is righteous. Doing flows out of being, Godís as well as manís, and as God is, so he does, and he has not the power to do otherwise. Whatís truly amazing about that is that God can not choose not to love.

God owes us nothing, indeed, but he couldnít not love us. He has no more power not to love than I do to turn water into wine. In the reformed tradition they act as if what God does is right because he does it. What God does is right because he has no choice but to be who he is. He canít not love us.

The reformed tradition puts demands on God. ďBecause I understand the Bible this way, God must be that way.Ē I have had people challenge my views with ďif God is not supreme in all things is he worthy to be praised?Ē God is worthy to be praised, period. I will set no condition upon it.

But I believe sin has real power; itís not just perceptual. I believe that the ďlaw of sin and deathĒ is every bit as real as the laws of physics. Sin causes. It has real world consequences apart from our perception. In other words, sin wonít disappear if we just look at it differently. Itís true that sometimes what we perceive as sin isnít. Itís also true, however, that sin really exist. The power of sin and death is every bit as scriptural as sovereignty. Satan and sin have power in this world. Satan is called the ďgod of this world.Ē (1 Corinthians 4:4), and he has power.

Just as God is sovereign over the laws of nature, but does not often interfere with them (at least as far as we can tell), so the law of sin and death also operates as a real force in the natural world. God can and does intercede in nature with miracles, and He also intercedes in the law of sin and death through the redeeming work of His Son and transforming work of His Spirit.

However, just as He does not ďcause each and every leaf to fall to the groundĒ (as Luther asserted) , so He does not cause each sin related event, such as abortion (which would make abortion part of His plan for the aborted child.)[1]

In the classic view of Godís sovereignty there can be no randomness whatsoever. Any randomness could result in an outcome that might lead to God losing control of the world, at least according to this view. That means that in a game of Russian Roulette God determines exactly when the single bullet stops spinning one chamber before the hammer. That means that for every deck of cards that has ever been shuffled, God has determined the order of the cards because many outcomes have rested upon the shuffle the deck of cards and the toss of a coin, outcomes God can not allow to be left to chance if He planned it all out from the beginning, down to the individual leaf.

For a long time, Newtonian mechanics was seen as a perfect explanation for how the universe works. Ultimately it began to break down, or rather, not break down so much as begin to show its incompleteness. Quantum mechanics replaced Newtonian mechanics with a more complete understanding of how the universe works, but it too is still incomplete.

I believe that the Medieval mindset conceived Godís sovereignty in a mechanical way, much like Newtonian physics. I think that it is incomplete, and I think itís time for a shift to a more quantum understanding of Godís sovereignty.

Hereís a syllogism: Everything God wills is Good. Nothing happens outside His will. Therefore, everything is good.

Therefore what is there to be redeemed or restored? It make nonsense of the concept of redemption. Everything that has and will happen has happened or will happen according to His will. (Remember Luther, quoted above, there is no contingency, period.) Where is the need for redemption, for restoration, for re-creation? Itís all good. Itís our faulty perception of ďaccidentsĒ that cause us to think otherwise, right?

We, of all beings, are made in His image. God gave us power, too. Does that mean that in some precious way he truly imbibed us with a degree of sovereignty? John 1:12 tells us this power is for all who believe. He has given us the power to be His children. This means we alone of all creation can also create because we alone are created in His likeness, and we alone are His children.

(Evil can not create. It can only destroy. Just as there can only be heat, and cold is the loss or absence of heat, but it still has a real experiential effect, so evil is the loss or absence of good. Evil is experienced by us a real, like cold, but it is not creative; it is destructive. Thatís why Satan has the power of death but not life.)

The Reformed tradition limits Godís power and sovereignty. He planned it all out and made it happen exactly the way He intended so that not a single leaf falls to the ground without His decision, no randomness, no contingency? God is way more sovereign than that. Yes. Thatís what I said. God is way more sovereign than that.

Why must an event only have meaning if itís part of some plan? Why canít the God of all creation, who created ex nihilo, daily create anew with the corrupted things of this world? Why canít He create meaning from meaninglessness, create purpose from purposelessness, create sense from senselessness?

Rather than something having some purpose because it was part of a plan before the foundation of the world, why couldnít Godís plan be to show His power and glory by taking what we, in our genuine freedom and power, destroyed and re-creating it.

So, I could die a perfectly senseless death tomorrow. I have no hope that I wonít. What I do have is the hope that if I do, God can take my death and give it meaning. God is able to build straight with the ďcrooked timber of humanity.Ē That crookedness is real, and not part of His will or plan, but He can take it and make it something new. For me, this is what it means for Him to be Creator God. His creation wasnít over on the sixth day.

In John 5:17 ” Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’Ē My Father is workingÖ working? What reason? It was all done on the 6th day. There is no contingency. There are no accidents. Itís all part of a plan.

It seems clear to me that after the Fall He went back to work re-creating.

Before the creation of the world there was nothing. God created. After the Fall, dare I say it, there was nihilism. That is Satanís goal, to take the meaning out of creation in the same way making something cold is really taking the heat out of it. Godís power is such that He can create as well out of nihilism as he can out of nothing. That is the redemption of the world, a redemption and restoration out of nihilism.

We donít grasp Godís sovereignty fully because we donít grasp the Fall fully. The Fall was absolute and total. It was an authentic act of freedom by those created in the image of the Creator. It had real consequences, and still does as the law of sin and death is at work, but Creator God can manifest His sovereignty and power by creating life from death.

Quantum sovereignty!

I fear I belabor this point, but imagine this. God is the Potter. Made in His image, His plan was for us to be potters, creating alongside Him, with Him and through Him. He gave us the freedom and power, though, to create on our own. It was necessary if we were to be made in His image. We did, and we botched it, badly. Each of us makes a mess of our earthly vessel, but when we offer it to God He doesnít fix it; He re-creates it as it should have been all along, as if we had never botched it.

Quantum Sovereignty!

God can give us true and real power, freedom and control because it is impossible for us to do anything which He does not have the power to redeem. Itís OK for us to really have the power to do things against His will even if itís not right when we do because He is so sovereign that he can weave His purpose from randomness, accident, sin, error, mistake and disobedience.

One reason our faith is weak is that we image that God does everything (no contingency, no randomness). What if there is nihilism? That too is what is being redeemed. Why is the thought that God has ďmade us little lower than the heavenly being and crowned us with glory and honorĒ so scary. Is it because that would mean we bear eternal responsibility?

The Bible is full of talk of Godís plans, purposes and will as though they are distinct. Why canít he create the structures, both physical and spiritual, whereby His ultimate redemption of the world works as planned without Him dictating which kid dies getting on a school bus?

  1. ď[W]ith God there simply is no contingency, but it is only in our eyes. For not even the leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of the Father.Ē Lectures on Romans, Works Vol. 25, p. 373 []