From the beginning of Christendom, the church fathers taught the notion that if God cannot change, then He cannot suffer either (as God). The last two hundred years, due to man's inhumanity to man during the industrial revolution and due to the horrific reality of the holocaust, many theologians have changed their beliefs into the idea that God suffers along with us and even like us. The idea of patripassianism occurred already quite early in the history of the church, but was suppressed because of its antitrinitarian notion of the modalities of God. According to it God essentially crucified Himself.
"God is (a) spirit."
"God is Light."
"God is Love."
Literal or physical aspect
"Wine gladdens the heart of God and man."
"The Father is always with Me." "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever."
"... man of sorrows and experienced with pain." "My soul is disgusted with them." "I will vomit you out." "And Jesus broke out in tears." "We have a high priest that sympathizes with our infirmities, having been tested himself."
"For God so loved the world that He gave His unique Son, so that anybody that believes in Him, does not go lost, but may have eternal life." "I love you more than a mother."
God does not suffer at all. He set everything in motion and has nothing to do with it anymore. Deism
God suffers along with us and like us. Mystical panentheism.
Who cares whether there is a god who suffers! Agnosticism.
God IS, among others, suffering itself. Pantheism.
God is nowhere. Atheism.
Zeus is lustful. Shakti has emotions. Polytheism.
We hate God so much, we will conquer him by crucifying Jesus again. Satanism.
The great question is whether Jesus suffered as a human alone, or also as God the Son. And going from there, did God the Father suffer when Jesus was crucified, left by God the Father and died? And still more. Does God feel MY pain! If He does not, does that not make Him rather impersonal?
Now let us zero in on this. Is God corporeal, that is does He have a body like us? Verses like the one in Joshua that
Wine gladdens the heart of God and man seem to suggest that God has a body, much like Zeus in Greek mythology. Also references to the
mighty arm of God and the
finger of God seem to support anthropomorphism. Church fathers reject this idea on the ground that God is a spirit. Yet, I would argue that unlike in Islam, God is not the wholly Other, because we have been
created in the image and according to the likeness of God. God is not a circle or an idea, or an animal or an angel. God must have a spiritual 'body' in His manifestation to the angels. (This against the notion that God has no corporeality whatsoever). God is spirit, NOT spiritS. But that does not mean that the ONE God consists in three modalities as it were. He IS three Persons. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The three are ONE like the three dimensions of height, length and breadth. How that is possible, being One spirit, remains a mystery. Unless that Bible verse should be explained as 'God is spiritual.' But that would imply that God is spiritS (a plural). Which would go against Scripture. To claim that God consists only in three modalities, does injustice to the Love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To claim that God consists in three spirits, excuse me, would give Him some sort of multiple personality syndrome. There is One God, Who is One spirit, consisting in three divine Persons.
The hidden things belong to God a Scripture states and indeed perhaps I have gone too far here already. God is and forever will remain a mystery. Therefore in the end, God's divine qualities (such as His infinitude, simplicity, immensity, necessity, immutability, eternality, independence ((His self-sufficient aseity)) and absoluteness) must remain unqualified (and largely undescribed), because they are essentially incommunicable. And yet Christ states:
This is eternal life that people know You, the only True God and Whom You sent, Jesus Christ. And that is what we are trying to do here.
This having been said, we must hold that God as a spirit does not change. If God could change, then He would be unreliable. According to Scripture
God lives in an unapproachable light.
Nobody can see God and live. As such God is truly transcendent even above the highest angel. As such, that is in His heart of hearts, does God feel pain as God? In His manifestation with a body (as in the book of Daniel), He absolutely cannot feel pain; for then He could be tortured!
According to the teachings of the church fathers, the idea that God cannot change, implies that He does not feel emotion. What does it mean then that God is Love? I have tried to understand this and I have come up with the following line of reasoning. If God could feel (emotional) pain, like we humans do; then He is not absolutely perfect, not even in His Love! For it would imply that He feels a loss, but in His perfect Love He cannot be improved, nor suffer loss. His Love is absolutely perfect. One cannot take away from it and one cannot improve it. Compare Job 35. 5-10: One cannot give God anything, nor take from Him. We cannot have effect on Him, but what we do and say has effect on ourselves. God teaches us through chastisement. "God loves the son He chastises."
To the objection that this means that God the Father did not empathize with Jesus as a human, I answer that the idea of a suffering God, makes human suffering divine. It is a quasi gnostic glorification of our humanity. In fact it implies that we as humans have something divine... Whereas, in Adam and in our own persons, we ourselves are to blame for our sins and the suffering they entail. God does not sin and He does not feel the consequences of sin. Therefore He is able to lift us up out of our hopelessness.
Does this make God impersonal? No, not at all. For He took on humanity. And in the form of man Jesus suffered the ultimate, the state of being left by God. Also He was tortured like many people are. To believe in a God Who suffers, makes the suffering of humanity irreal. To put it in religious terms. As God the Son, Christ is impassible. As a human, Jesus is passible. In the first nature He does not suffer and as a human He does. To mix them up, would confuse the divine and human natures of Christ as in Eutychianism. To believe that Christ suffered infinitely, as is implied if He suffered as God the Son, would make His humanity dwindle to unimportance. The only infinite suffering there is, is the endless suffering in hell; infinite in time. For to reject the suffering of Jesus for you, the ultimate gift of God, will require endless suffering on your part. To reject an infinite God, ensues into an infinite punishment. This is not a confusion of the divine and the human, to stay within the context. If you reject Christ, as either God or human (or both), God will reject you for rejecting His Beloved.
God is transcendent, but not aloof. According to the doctrine of people like Augustine, God acts towards us in a passible (emotional) way in this sense that His passions are voluntary. But He Himself is impassible; as God He does not have (human) emotions. Scriptures like
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than yours show that God is God and we are only human. Jesus is perfect as an emotional human. Our emotions are damaged by the Fall of man.
God is not aloof, but He is not meddling either. At any rate not in the political sense of the Old Testament.
Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what is due to God, implies the separation of Church and state. Something the reformers did not well understand, but people like the Anabaptists did. In fact it can very well be argued that Calvin, Zwingli and even Luther, were guilty of murder as Christians in their religio-political engagements.
The view that God is both impassible and passible (unemotional and emotional), is dipolar panentheism, in which God consists in opposite realities. Transcendence and immanence, immensity and omnipresence and others, are mixed up. A view we countered above. It is some sort of self-contradictory mysticism that would make God whimsical and unstable. It sometimes is masqueraded under fancy terms as that God is both omnitemporal and a-temporal. But God co-exists with all points of time (in His eternal NOW), not in all points of time. And so He is co-existent with every point of spatial existence, not in. That would be pan(en)theism. God does not have a contingent side. He is not changeable in His relation to His creatures. He is the unmoved mover, the causa causans. He is not moved or caused. He always IS. (More correct than 'He always was', as if He lived in an eternity past, which is incorrect. The cross does not divide two eternities that supposedly look forward and backward. For God does live in eternity. above time and space. There is a human and angelic aeviternity that will go on forever, but there is not one in the past. For time and space have a beginning).
The pantheistic view holds that God is part of suffering himself. Here good and evil are two sides of the same coin. A horrible idea that like Zoroastrianism does not really guarantee any hope. In polytheism Zeus is lustful with sexual and adulterous passions like corrupt humanity and in Hinduism Shakti is full of emotion. In agnosticism there is apatheism. Who cares whether there is a suffering God or not. In atheism there is no god. Atheists attempt to lay the burden of proof on the monotheists, but we may as well claim that they in their turn should prove that the existence of God is not a necessity, but an impossibility.
After this digression we can continue and look at the following verses in Genesis chapters one and six.
And God saw all that He had made and see it was very good.
And God was sorry that He had made man. Higher critics are swift to point to such verses as a blatant contradiction in the Bible. But the Bible does not hold contradictions, but paradoxes. Of course in His providence God knew what would happen. Such verses show that God is manifested in voluntary emotions, though He Himself in Himself does not have (human) emotions. Verses such as
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit and texts that mention God's disgust and fury (His negative passions), talk an anthropomorphic language in which He is manifested to our feeble and limited human understanding. This language can also be called metaphorical. Such verses confirm that
God is Light. His positive passions (such as compassion, joy and bliss) show that
God is Love. Again, these negative and positive 'sides' are not a contradiction, but a paradox. In panentheism they have been turned into contradictions and there they picture God as if He is at odds with Himself. (I admit that the distinction between on the one hand God as Light in His negative passions and on the other hand God as Love in His positive passions, is somewhat artificial. But the idea that God as Light has to do with His being just and God as Love with His being concerned about us to console us; seems to make sense).
The Father is always with Me. This verse may show that Christ was left as a human and not as God the Son. That is to say, the divinity is certainly impassible.
The Father works and I work.
And God rested on the seventh day. Of course these are metaphors. God does not sleep either, as the prophet mocked the priests of Baal. But Jesus did sleep and did get exhausted.
God is not a human that He would lie, or a mortal that He would change His mind (Numbers 23.19). In this context I mention the idea that God is only ethically immutable and not ontologically. However God is in His own ontological order and below Him come the angels, the seraphim and the living creatures and then humans and animals, followed by plants and rocks (succinctly). The idea of God being only ethically immutable is proposed to be able to claim that God can and does suffer as God. But although God does not suffer with the suffering, He does fully and freely embrace those that do. That is the paradox. God does not feel your pain as if undergoing the same fate, but He certainly fully understands you and loves you!
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. This verse might be advanced to argue that God can be moved after all and that He is contingent to Creation. But we must not humanize God, nor make humans divine. And you do both when you defend the idea of a suffering God. It depicts God as human and it makes us humans like God. God was not crucified, the human Jesus was.
The well-known verse that
God so loved the world that He gave His unique Son, so that anybody that believes in Him does not go lost, but may have eternal life, can be juxta positioned with
I love you more than a mother. Such verses corroborate the timeless and unconditional agape Love of God, not a supposed passibility on His part. That is, these verses do not at all prove that God suffers like humans do.
He is bearing the universe through the Word of His Power. This verse seems to point to a divine reality that is at the cross roads of transcendence and immanence. The transcendence of God means that He thrones above (and outside of) everything He created. His immanence means that He is near. (God is everywhere, but not in everything ((which is pantheism, the idea that everything is divine)) ).
The Lord is near. The verse above seems to point to God's embrace of everything. Which, to me, seems to be between transcendence and immanence.
We have a high priest that sympathizes with us, having been tested in all things like us. This of course shows that Jesus as a human is high priest after the order of Melchisedek, for ever more, and that as such He is human and feels emotions like us. As a human
he sanctifies himself, even as God is holy, even though He is perfect, as a human! But God is absolutely holy, all-holy, and as a human Jesus is relatively holy. But that does not mean that He personally has anything to do with sin.
He did no sin.
In Him was no sin.
He knew no sin. Yet He saw through sin as an evil.
He did not give Himself to man, as He knew what was in man. Now if Jesus hallows Himself, how much the more should we as sinners.
Human emotion is a-rational in itself and becomes irrational when it goes off beyond the bounds of reason. Reason and emotion should be in balance. So in God His infinite understanding is in harmony with His "agape" Love, which is timeless and unconditional. We humans often experience emotional suffering when emotions are felt as nihilistic, or meaningless. But for God nothing is meaningless! So how could He suffer!?
For God darkness is as light. For us humans the darkness of sin is practically impenetrable and it may take years before God shows you why something happened. Wise souls, therefore, teach that we should not ask God for the why in the first place, but for the 'what for'. Not the reason why, but God's plan and purpose is what counts.
One could pose the question that, since Jesus as a human could never have confessed all sins of all those who would believe, in the three hours of darkness, that He must have suffered as God the Son as well. However Christ is the way to God the Father, Who forgives us on the basis of the sacrifice of the human Jesus. God knows all our sins and He has elected us from before the foundation of the earth. He always knew everything and the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to pay for all those sins, even though, as a human, Jesus did not know them. It is as with a beautiful gold ring that is worth more than very many colored autumn leaves. The Person of Christ in His sacrifice as a human, weighs more than all humans that ever lived, live or will live. (All other humans on the other hand only surpass many sparrows in value).
...man of sorrows and experienced with pain. This, in the context of this analysis, can be explained as Jesus's (emotional) pain as a human.
And Jesus wept. Here one could argue that as Jesus is One Person with two natures, it must be hair splitting to reason that only as a human Jesus wept and not as God the Son. He is One Person, right? Which in turn would have to show that God does suffer as God, after all. But, turning things around, when Jesus told Simon to catch a fish and to take the coin out of its mouth to pay tax both for him and Jesus, it obviously was Jesus as God the Son that could know about this fish in His omniscience. Not as a human! So
And Jesus wept inversely is applicable to His humanity. However, so as not to exaggerate things, Jesus as God the Son did have a voluntary passion, just as in the case of God's repenting that He had made man. But, again strictly, this can be seen as a metaphor.
God does not help angels, but only the seed of Abraham. That is Abraham as the father of all believers. That is to say, believers in Christ (which indirectly was already the case in the O.T.). Once an angel has sinned, even in the 'smallest' thought, then there is no hope anymore for that angel.
You believe in God? You do well. The demons believe in God as well and they shiver. An intellectual notion or belief, even with the highest altruistic motives and emotions, is not enough for eternal salvation. For, as is written, demons (fallen angels) believe in God as well. According to Romans 10. 9, 10, you must recognize Jesus as Lord (his divine nature in the first place, but also His supreme kingship as human) and believe that God has raised Him from the dead (his human nature). I can only recommend that the reader begin with that, if you have not done so as yet.
Why is it so important to distinguish between Christ's two natures? And so strictly? Because Eutychianism confuses the two natures and so do many theologians with their panentheism. According to the formula by Athanasius, Christ is truly, perfectly, indivisibly and unconfusedly both divine and human. The idea of kenosis (the emptying) of the divinity of Christ, implies a major change in His godship. This is similar to Aryanism and is answered with the perfectly of the formula. The idea that God the Son was crucified by God the Father, is answered by the truly divine and human. I am not immediately aware of a heresy in this context à la Nestorianism. I suppose one would tear the two natures apart, when one would distinguish between the two too strictly, thus in fact separating them. The two natures are indivisibly united. Here, in the end, we can only stand in awe and worship the mystery of the Person of Christ Jesus!
With bookish words we must conclude that God is not like the god of panentheism, as if the Lord would be bipolar and at odds with Himself. But when we read verses that warn us against saddening the Holy Spirit and even against quenching Him, then the Trinity comes very much alive for us!
Let not this study make us feel uncomfortable as if we have a callous God. When we read psalms like 22, 23 and 69 and we see the Lord there, as such psalms foretell His suffering as a human, we can take that as an example that we actually must pour our hearts out to God. King David and the Lord Himself, as a human, cried out to God the Father. They had an attitude that constantly waited for deliverance from above. The psalms are full of emotion and they run the gamut of human suffering. Let the mystery of God's quasi stoic character not make us feel hopeless. He hears our prayers.
For the LORD hearkeneth unto the needy, and despiseth not His prisoners (Ps.69. 34). And
Approach to God and He will approach to you! Both sides are true. God is both transcendent and immanent. He thrones far above Creation, but also comes to visit with us personally.