Friday, February 01, 2008

Does God Suffer?

I wrote an essay on this recently. Here's part 1 of a summary, without all the references to dead Germans that are so much a part of theology essays, and with a slightly better understanding as a result of arguing about it with other people.

Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4

Why Can't God Suffer?

The traditional understanding of God in Christianity is that he is impassible, though since the World Wars, most Christian theologians say that God is passible instead. One big problem is that the words passible and impassible have slightly different definitions depending on who you speak to, and the definitions make a big difference, so I'll ignore the words altogether.

None of our pictures of God ever manage to be exhaustively accurate. But it's very easy in this sort of topic to end up with a picture of God that gets important bits wrong, especially when it comes to keeping God's transcendence. It's important to affirm that:

  • God is not part of creation and creation is not part of God.
  • God is ontologically independent of us. We can't, in and of ourselves, make any difference to God whatsoever. We can't hurt him, we can't make him happy, we can't cause him pain, unless he decides to let us.

  • God does not change. The big question that raises is what it means for God to act, given that he doesn't change. I'll discuss that later.

The traditional philosophical understanding of suffering means that it needs God to be ontologically dependent on us - if he suffers because of us, that means we can hurt him. It also means that God changes - he goes from a position of not suffering to a position of suffering. I think the traditional philosophical understanding of suffering is wrong in both respects....

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