Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Can God Suffer?: How to Discuss God and Suffering like a Pro.



John: God is said to be "impassible," I think I understand what that means, but can you give a brief definition? I think I disagree with the teaching, but I want to be certain I understand it correctly.

Pius: Defining terms is always the best place to start. Divine impassibility is the doctrine that God does not suffer, indeed, cannot suffer.

John: That's what I thought. I'm not sure I can agree with it.

Pius: Doubt is always a good place to start when journeying towards the truth.

John: I'm a Christian. I find truth in the Scriptures. Is this doctrine taught by the Bible?

Pius: It isn't specifically mentioned in the Bible, but the conceptual framework that requires the doctrine is present. God is immutable, i.e. He doesn't change. If God doesn't change, then He doesn't change emotional states, and therefore God can't suffer - He is impassible.

John: How do we know God can't change? Isn't God able to do anything? If so, why wouldn't He be able to change? Doesn't saying "God is immutable" conflict with God's omnipotence?

Pius: How would you describe the omnipotence of God?

John: That's easy. God is all-powerful. There are no limits on what He can do.

Pius: Would it be fair to summarize and qualify you're position as "God can do all possible things" or are you uncomfortable with that? I want to make sure I'm understanding you before going on.

John: I'd simply say God can do all things. Why do we need the word "possible" added in?

Pius: Can God do impossible things?

John: There are no impossible things to God. That's what being "all-powerful" means.

Pius: All things, we'd agree, that are possible to do, God can do.

John: Yes, but to God that means all things, full stop.

Pius: Would you say God can "zing-ding a wall and blah-blah a bag?"

John:  I'm not sure I understand what that would mean?

Pius: I'm asking, does the sentence "God can zing-ding a wall and blah-blah a bag" make sense?

John: No, it's gibberish.

Pius: And God can't do "gibberish?"

John: Gibberish isn't a thing to do. It's not a lack of power in God, it is a lack of sense in the sentence  that makes it something that can't be done.

Pius: God can do all things, but what I said isn't a thing to done?

John: Yes.

Pius: Is it also gibberish to speak of logical contradictions?

John: I'm not sure. Can you provide an example?

Pius: Certainly. Would it make sense to say "God can make a circle with four sides?"

John: Clearly not. If it has four sides it isn't what we call a circle, it's what we call a square.

Pius: And that doesn't limit God's power?

John: Of course not. It's a confusion of words. God can turn a circle into a square, but it doesn't make sense for us to call a four sided object a circle. That's a problem of our language, not of God's power.

Pius: Precisely. It is like the gibberish we explored before.

John: Right.

Pius: What about the statement "God can make it bring as day and dark as night at the same moment in the same place at the same time"? Does that make sense or is it gibberish too?

John: God can make day night and night day.

Pius: Yes, but can He make it both at the same time in the same place?

John: Well...

Pius: Is that a confusion of terms, a confusion in our words?

John: Yes. It is like with the square and circle. God can make it night or day, but to say it is both bright and not bright is a failure in language. But what does any of this have to do with whether God can change? Surely, asking that isn't like confusing words.

Pius: Maybe, but I'm not so sure. Let's dig deeper and see if we can be sure of that. For now, I'm only asking whether adding "God can..." in front of nonsense - in front of a series of confused words - suddenly makes those words mean something.

John: Not at all. But that has to do with our ways of speaking and thinking not with God's power.

Pius: So logical contradictions, things that end up being nothing more than a confusion of words, are failures in our understanding and speech, not in God?

John: I don't see how anyone can conclude otherwise.

Pius: Going back to my clarification of your statement, "God can do all things" would you agree now that it is a better definition to say "God can do all possible things." Or better, "God can do all things that are doable things."

John: Yes, I see why you've added that in. Some "things" really aren't "things to do" but are just a series of confused ideas or words.

Pius: Right. Now we are discussing whether God can be happy now and suffer later.

John: Yes, let's get back on track.

Pius: I'm not sure we have been off-track. Would you agree that God being happy now and then suffering later is a change?

John: Clearly it is.

Pius: And the doctrine of Divine Immutability says God cannot change?

John: That is what it says, but I'm not sure how we can agree with that. It is a limit to God's power to say He can't change. That isn't a confusion of words. Changing is a doable thing. You can't disagree with that?

Pius: Change it certainly a "doable thing" for us. Is it for God?

John: I don't see how it can't be. If we can do it, surely God can too. Otherwise, He is less powerful than we are! If He's less powerful than you or me, then He isn't God at all.

Pius: Agreed. If God is less powerful than you or me, He isn't God.

John: Then God can change and if He can change why shouldn't He be able to have emotions?

Pius: I think we might be moving too fast here. Let's explore whether God can change a little more before moving on. Is God perfect?

John: Of course, He is. If He isn't it's not God we're talking about.

Pius: If God is perfect would a change make Him more perfect?

John: No. God is perfect, there is no such thing as "more perfect." If you can be "more perfect" then you aren't perfect, just really good. You're back to spewing gibberish. I'm afraid we aren't getting anywhere.

Pius: So saying God can be "more perfect" is gibberish?

John: Yes.

Pius: Can God, then, become less perfect?

John: No. If God became less than perfect, He wouldn't be God anymore and that's absurd. More gibberish!

Pius: So God can neither become more perfect nor can He become less perfect. Can He become something else that is equally perfect?

John: No. Nothing can be "equally perfect." If you are perfect, you are perfect. There are no other perfections to add or you aren't perfect in the first place.

Pius: So God can't become more perfect, less perfect, nor add some new perfection to what He has already.

John: Exactly.

Pius: Then how can God change? Isn't all change either moving from two things of equal value, or moving from a better thing to a worse, or moving from something worse to something better?

John: Yes, I can't disagree with you there.

Pius: Then God, being perfect, can't change.

John: Okay.

Pius: That establishes God's immutability, then.

John: Yes.

Pius: And if God can't change, He also can't change emotional states.

John: That would seem to follow.

Pius: Is suffering now and not suffering later a change in an emotional state?

John: Yes.

Pius: And...

John: And so God can't suffer. Okay I get that. Doesn't it also mean that God is indifferent to us? If a baby is starving to death, He simply doesn't care? Isn't that the God of the Deists, the "Divine Clockmaker" instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Pius: The apostle who you are named from, how does he define God?

John: He says, "God is Love" (1 John 4:8).

Pius: Is love indifferent?

John: No, not at all. That's precisely my objection to what we've said about God. It seems to refute the Biblical God.

Pius: Can God love us, without changing? Does love necessitate change?

John: Not at all. God loves us without change. He always loves us, loves us unconditionally.

Pius: Then God can both love us and be unchanging, the two aren't contradictions, we aren't speaking in gibberish?

John: Right.

Pius: Then it doesn't follow that God is indifferent, that God is a "clockmaker" who leaves His creation on its own without a care.

John: I see that.

Pius: God loves us, but we can't blackmail Him. We can't make Him suffer. He is always joyful. Is that fair to say?

John: Yes, but He loves us and thus can love us to the point of sending His Son to die for us. Surely, the death of Jesus (who is God) suggests that God can suffer after all. How does this square with what we've been saying? It seems we've proved that God doesn't suffer, but in the process have disproved Christianity, the religion that specifically teaches that God did suffer!

Pius: Well, that's certainly possible.

John: So we should leave off Christianity?

Pius: Not necessarily, we've not proven that yet, but it is possible.

John: Well, let us go on then. I'm a firm Christian, but I won't continue to be if we find it false.

Pius:  You're a true philosopher, John. I'm with you, if we can't square what we know to be true - that God can't suffer - with what as Christians we believe - that Jesus is God and did suffer - we ought to seriously reconsider our Christianity. Let's review our premises. Christians believe Jesus is...

John: God.

Pius: And Jesus suffered?

John: Clearly. In fact, according to Christianity, He suffered more than anyone else ever has or ever could. That is the contradiction. Is Christianity gibberish?

Pius: Perhaps. Why would Jesus suffer?

John: He descended from Heaven to become a man to save men from sin.

Pius: Jesus is both man and God.

John: That belief pretty much defines who is and who isn't a Christian.

Pius: Jesus had two natures, one Divine and another human. One person, two natures. That is the teaching of Christianity, correct?

John: It is.

Pius: Can men suffer?

John: I can attest to that from personal experience, as I'm sure you can!

Pius: And Jesus was a man?

John: Man and God.

Pius: But still a man? He has a complete human nature. He became fully human. He became a man. Correct?

John: Yes.

Pius: Then Jesus can suffer as a man, in His human nature, while, in His divine nature, He remained impassible, that is logically possible? That isn't gibberish?

John: That is logically a possibility.

Pius: Then there is no logical contraception in saying that Jesus suffered and yet Jesus is God (and man).

John: That makes sense.

Pius: Did God the Father and God the Holy Spirit also become men?

John: Not according to Christian teaching, no.

Pius: Do Christians believe they suffered?

John: No, only Jesus suffered and only Jesus died on the Cross.

Pius: Then Christianity doesn't contradict Divine Impassability after all.

John: It doesn't. Unfortunately, I've got to get on to work. Thanks for an interesting conversation!

Subscribe to my mailing list (no spam. I post every week or two)

* indicates required

No comments:

Post a Comment