So sheltered was my life in the church that I didn’t realise until fairly recently just how widespread is the belief that God can suffer – not just among theologians on the outer fringes of orthodoxy, but in otherwise conservative bible-believing circles.
One place where this belief is articulated is in a book called From Glory to Golgotha (D MacLeod, 2002, Christian Focus Publications). Taking its sixth chapter as a starting point (‘The Crucified God‘), I wrote some comments on it a while back, with reference to the doctrine of divine impassibility (summarised categorically in the title of this page), which I did not see being particularly closely adhered to in this chapter in particular.
What I wrote was more in the style of notes to self, rather than anything for public consumption, but as I keep stumbling across what I feel are disappointing misunderstandings of this doctrine, it may be worth making my reactions available for wider consumption.
Although it isn’t a review of the whole book, I think it’s still too lengthy and detailed for a blog post – it deserves a page of its own. In fact, I think it’s so lengthy that I’ve uploaded it as a pdf, to be read at leisure, rather than pasting it all here on the page.
I know that the book itself is very popular with some of its readers, and this makes me hesitant to some extent about questioning some of its contents, but anyone who wants to discuss it will be most welcome to do so. An excerpt follows below, and the whole pdf is here: Divine impassibility and From Glory To Golgotha. But beware: apart from anything else, it’s seven pages long!
Undesirable implications of the false doctrine that God can suffer
• If God could ever suffer at all, then he must suffer eternally (and infinitely and unchangeably), because everything that he is, he is eternally (and infinitely and unchangeably). This is incompatible with the Bible doctrine that he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his blessedness, and in his being, glory, and perfections.
• It implies that there was some crossover between what the Saviour was capable of as man, and what he was and is as God. This is incompatible with the truth that his two natures were (and are) distinct, without conversion, composition, or confusion.
• It removes a major pillar for faith to lean on. (i) Partly because it casts doubt on the truth of God’s word where he tells us about himself in no uncertain terms. His actual name is I AM THAT I AM, the Almighty, the Lord of hosts, the everlasting King. (ii) Partly because it undermines the arguments which the bible provides for us as incentives to believe: Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength. (iii) It makes a mockery of the praises which his angels and his people sing to him, whether on earth or in heaven: God is my refuge and my strength; Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. (iv) Because it actually attacks every attribute of God and every aspect of who God is, because his attributes are presented together, as in wisdom and strength (Job 12 v 13), or power and glory (the Lord’s Prayer), so that all his wisdom is strong and all his strength is wise, etc.