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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Addressing Omnibenevolence Part IV: 'Constrained Impassibility' and Anthropopathisms

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post in the “Addressing Omnibenevolence” series. For those new to the discussion, I am providing some research and thoughts about the idea of an “omnibenevolent God” in response to the debate thesis of Ergun and Emir Caner which says: Resolved: That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity.”

Having discussed much of Carson’s work The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, this post has to do with a section in which he argues for what he calls “constrained impassibility” and refutes the case for anthropopathisms. Because these terms are somewhat technical, I have provided some definitional background to them (anthropopathism is often lumped into anthropomorphism). The main idea here is in what sense is God loving? Is there a distinction between the nature of God’s love and a passionate love? Does God suffer? Because God has emotions, does this make him weak, vulnerable, and capable of being overcome? These are important questions tied to the love of God. Let’s look at a few definitional background statements:

Impassibility of God – The doctrine that God is not capable of being acted upon or affected emotionally by anything in creation.

Passibility, Thomists argued, involved potentiality and potentiality involves change. Unrealized potential and change in the Deity seemed to contradict their understanding of God’s immutability, transcendence, self-existence, self-determination, and perfection.

“We do not worship . . . an apathetic God. Just as God perfectly uses his intellectual and volitional powers, he perfectly uses his emotional powers. Negatively, God has no physical pains, and no emotions, inconsistent with all his other attributes. God is not overcome by emotions, has no emotions out of control, out of balance, or inappropriate. God does not suffer emotional disorders. Affirmatively, the God of the Bible has appropriate, healthy, self-controlled emotional experience. As exhibited by Jesus, the Father may be viewed as weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.”

(G.R. Lewis, EDT, 553).

Anthropomorphism – Assignment of human attributes to nonhuman things. Biblical anthropomorphisms are used primarily in reference to God, who is neither visible nor human. The use of human terminology to talk about God is necessary when we, in our limitations, wish to express truths about the Deity who by his very nature cannot be described or known. From biblical times to the present, people have felt compelled to explain what God is like, and no expressions other than human terms are able to convey any semblance of meaning to the indescribable.

Akin to anthropomorphisms are anthropopathisms used to refer to God’s emotions. God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5) who hates (Amos 5:21) and becomes angry (Jer. 7:20), but also loves (Ex. 20:6) and is pleased (Deut. 28:63). Anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms are figures of speech that transmit theological truths about God to humankind. Only when taken literally are they misconstrued. Taken as metaphorical expressions, they provide by analogy a conceptual framework by which the God who is beyond our comprehension becomes a person—a person whom we can love.

(Keith N. Schoville, EDBT, 26-27)

Note: Calvin argued that anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms are God’s way of accommodation to the capacities of the human mind and heart. The important thing to note is that it is God who accommodates himself through human thought and language.

Now to a few quotes from Carson:

“It is no answer to espouse a form of impassibility that denies that God has an emotional life and that insists that all of the biblical evidence to the contrary is nothing more than anthropopathism. The price is too heavy. You may then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break” (59).

We must ask the following question:

“If God is utterly sovereign, and if he is utterly all-knowing, what space is left for emotions as we think of them?”

Carson points out two critical points in understanding what he calls “constrained impassibility”:

  1. God exercises this love in conjunction with all his other perfections, but his love is no less love for all that.
  2. His love emanates from his own character; it is not dependent on the loveliness of the loved, external to himself. (63)

Key Quotes:

“Closer to the mark is the recognition that all of God’s emotions, including his love in all its aspects, cannot be divorced from God’s knowledge, God’s power, God’s will. If God loves, it is because he chooses to love; if he suffers, it is because he chooses to suffer. God is impassible in the sense that he sustains no ‘passion,’ no emotion, that makes him vulnerable from the outside, over which he has no control, or which he has not foreseen. Equally, however, all of God’s will or choice or plan is never divorced from his love—just as it is never divorced from his justice, his holiness, his omniscience, and all his other perfections” (60).

“In that framework [that God’s passions are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections], God’s love is not so much a function of his will, as something that displays itself in perfect harmony with his will—and with his holiness, his purposes in redemption, his infinitely wise plans, and so forth” (61).

“God does not ‘fall in love’ with the elect; he does not ‘fall in love’ with us; he sets his affection on us. He does not predestine us out of some stern whimsy; rather, in love he predestines us to be adopted as his sons (Eph. 1:4-5). The texts themselves tie the love of God to other perfections in God” (61). Emphasis original.

Note: For a lengthy discussion on impassibility, anthropopathism, and divine suffering, see John Frame’s contribution in No Other God, 179-90 and The Doctrine of God, 608-16.

************************************** Addressing Omnibenevolence Series: Addressing 'Omnibenevolence' 05.24.06 Denying the 'Core and Classical Attribute' of Omnibenevolence? 05.26.06 Addressing Omnibenevolence Series 05.31.06 Part One: Why the Love of God Is a Difficult Doctrine 06.01.06 Part Two: How the Bible Speaks of the Love of God 06.02.06 Part Three: God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty 06.03.06 Brothers Caner and the Unassailable Doctrine of Omnibenevolence 06.26.06

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