Saturday, January 20, 2024

Post #32 The Doctrine of God - P5 Divine Impassibility, Human Passibility, And How They Illuminate Our Understanding Of Jesus Christ And His Cross


    In our current doctrine of God series, we've spent some extra time exploring that particular perfection of God that pertains to His constant, unchanging emotional affections - the doctrine of Divine Impassibility (DDI). As a reminder, the term "impassible" refers to not being happened or affected upon from the outside. God's emotional life flows from what He is as the unchanging God and who He is as the Triune God. He is forever merciful towards the pitiable, wrathful towards sin, and just toward what is right. Impassibility tells me that God is never more loving nor was ever less loving, since that affection emerges from what He is as a loving God. For review, we can note what was looked at in the last four postings,

1. An introduction to DDI here

2. How Divine impassibility is related to God's unchanging nature or immutability here

3. How DDI explains why God not suffering reveals Him to be far more in-tune with our sufferings than if He suffered in His Divine nature here

4. Then in our last post, we discussed how an impassible God still has affections, and how the Bible speaks of God's emotional life here 

    As we draw our exploration of the doctrine of Divine impassibility (DDI) to an end in this overall series on "The Doctrine of God", we need to understand how the Divine and human natures of the Son of God operate in how He expresses His emotions, and why that sheds light upon the meaning of the cross.  

 Understanding how the Son was Divinely impassible and human passible at the cross.

    We first need to understand the historic Christian confession of the Son's two natures. We can begin with the Chalecedonian Creed of 451 A.D. I'll cite its opening statements,

"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [that is, sharing in the same nature] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial (sharing in the same nature) with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin."

    We note the opening line of how Jesus Christ is "truly God" and "truly man". In affirming the two natures of Christ, we acknowledge the Son having two ways of expressing His existence. His Divine nature is how He expresses Himself Divinely - without beginning, eternal, and unchanging. As we've argued in these last several posts, God by nature has a constant emotional life, with affections expressed from within himself and not imposed upon from the outside.  God always hates sin. He always loves those upon whom He set His affection and foreknew (Romans 8:29-31, Baptist faith and Message 2000 Article 5). He is always willing to show mercy, compassion, and pity. These expressions arise from the kind of God, God is. The Son, as truly God, was impassible.

    When the Son became incarnated as the man Christ Jesus, He expressed Himself humanly. To say "humanly" means being finite in knowledge, strength, and not possessing characteristics such as omnipresence. For our discussion here, the incarnate Son would express His affections in a passible way - just like ourselves - with the exception of sin. He ever remained the One Person, the Son, having two natures of which He partook, each with their own respective qualities. 

    One more creed, the Athanasian Creed, describes the two natures of Christ in the following excerpt that is relevant to our discussion in this post,

"Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ. He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity. He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures. For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man. He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead."

How the Son's impassible Divine nature and passible human nature can help us better understand the cross 

   The cross is the place we go to see how well any understanding of the person of Christ holds water. It is at this juncture that we see the relevance of our whole discussion on impassibility (and its opposite "passibility"). 

    The Son, as truly God by nature, approached going to the cross impassively (that is, with constant emotions of mercy, justice, and love). Hebrews 10:5-7 tells us of what the Son was doing prior to His entrypoint into history via the incarnation. 

    As the Divine Person of the Son took unto Himself a truly human nature, He would suffer or be "passible" as a man. As man, the incarnate Son would experience what it was like to have pain, sorrow, and rejection happen to Him. As the man Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son would become "passible", undergoing His "passion", His "suffering", and having Divine wrath inflicted upon Himself. (see Isaiah 53:4-5). The sufferings of the Son of God would fulfill all the Old Testament predictions of He being "the Lamb of God" and "being a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief". He as God by nature would ensure that as the impassible God, He could always be the Savior who is always merciful, pardoning sin and forgiving the transgressions of His people (see Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 136). 

    In short, the Son of God, as truly man, did indeed suffer for our sins. As truly God, He Divinely remained merciful, loving, and just. By Divinely offering Himself as the believer's High Priest and humanly as the Lamb of God, the ncarnate Son could fulfill both roles.  

Why affirming an impassible Divine nature and passible human nature in the Incarnate Son guards against heresy.

    Some may argue that the Father must have had a bad day when Jesus died on the cross. Yet whenever we look at the Trinity, and Divine impassibility, we must understand that God was in complete control of what all occured at the cross.  

    It was not that the Trinity was disconnected from the cross, since as we've already noted, the cross was pre-planned by the Trinity from all eternity. If for anything, the Father's sending of the Son was a constant expression of mercy and love, while also being an unchanging expression of His justice (see Romans 3:21-24).

    The Son, experiencing and undergoing the events of the cross as a man, did indeed suffer as a man. As the incarnate Son of God, his emotions as man would had been "passible" or subject to undergoing suffering. This understanding prevents us from succoming to an ancient heresy that suggested it was the Father who suffered on the cross (called "patripassionism"). The Father, Son, and Spirit were involved inseperably in the outpouring of wrath at Calvary. 

    As I noted earlier, the Son was both Priest and sacrifice. He as a Divine Person would had experienced the wrath of God, which includes feeling the sense of absence of God's blessing and favor. Mysteriously, in ways we do not comprehend, the incarnate Son would be both ever beloved and the very object of wrath all at once. Hebrews 7:26-27 perfectly captures my otherwise feeble attempts to grab hold of this point,

"For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself."

Bringing home some applications 

    By noting the two natures of the Son (truly Divine and truly human), we can preserve the Divine impassibility of the Son in His deity, while recognizing that as man, it was the Son alone who endured the suffering in the cross. I agree with R.C. Sproul who once noted about the hymn "And can it be", that rather than singing,

"Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me".

We ought to sing a change in lyrics which rightly focus upon the Son bearing our sins, suffering in His humanity,

"Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my LORD should die for me."

    Author Samuel Renihan, writing in a 2016 article for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, gives this pastoral application of Divine impassibility, and God's love shown at the cross,

"God cannot be moved to be anything other than what he is, he cannot be acted upon in that highest of metaphysical senses, nor is his existence time-bound like ours in which we interpret and react to objects. Furthermore, God’s love is immutably set upon his Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, those who are in the Son by faith cannot be separated from the infinite, eternal, immutable, and impassible love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:39)."

Closing thoughts:

    In today's post we attempted to further our understanding the doctrine of Divine impassibility (DDI) by seeing how it functions in three major areas. We first distinguished God's affections by how He expresses such impassibly. Again, to go back to author James Dolezal's descriptions in an earlier post, we can say God truly cares, and that He does so constantly or impassibly. 

    We secondly were reminded of how the Bible speaks of God in two ways, figuratively or analogically and directly as He truly is. Divine impassibility speaks of God as He truly is. In His relating to His creatures, their experience of God changing emotions shows the changes occuring with them as they transfer from being exposed to one emotional perfection to the next (from, say, wrath to mercy). 

    Then finally, we looked at the Son's two natures as God and man. We noted the differences between Him as Divinely impassible God and a truly passible man. As impassible deity, the Son constantly looked forward to accomplishing redemption, since He and the Father and Spirit, with one will, as one God, agreed upon the provision of salvation. The Son, as was appropriate to Him being the Eternal redeemer of sinners, would come be man for our sakes. By becoming a passible man, the incarnate Son could suffer and die in fulfillment of Scripture. 


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