On Divine Impassibility, Aseity and the Incarnation

“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential.” CS Lewis, The Four Loves

I’ve been doing some thinking lately. Here’s what I’ve got.

If God is a se that means that he is not dependent on any reality outside himself in order to be what he is. His own essence has no “needs” as it were, nor is God somehow more “complete” in virtue of any reality other than himself. Thus it follows that God, in creating the universe, does not acquire some new perfection, some richer or more full mode of existence, in doing so. God is not “more God” after creating. Anyone who concedes that God freely created the world must also concede this, for it is the simple consequence of believing that God did not have to create. To suppose God had to create is to suppose that God metaphysically needs the world in order to be himself or realize his own perfection. But if that is true, God’s being is contingent and dependent. This is a conclusion that anyone who believes in God at all ought to find impossible to accept. The ultimate explanation for all of reality and the Unconditional Fact behind all conditioned existences cannot itself be conditioned.

So, to repeat, God in creating the universe did not gain some new perfection in doing so. He would have been perfectly fine – just as infinitely happy – if the universe did not exist. Therefore, God’s reason for creating was not for any good that would accrue to himself in doing so (since that would be impossible and make God’s essence co-dependent on the creation.) Rather, the whole reason God creates is for the goodness of the things he has made themselves.

This point, when grasped, has staggering consequences. Allow me to list a few.

1. Since God cannot have created in order to maximize his own experience and happiness, He cannot have created with the motive of “displaying his attributes” at the expense of the creatures he has made. Ergo, the Calvinist scheme which holds that God creates vessels of wrath, not for the purpose of doing good to the creature, but in order to show forth his hatred of sin or display his justice, must be false. For in creating God is not seeking to satisfy some unfulfilled desire. He does not “need” vessels of wrath nor even to “display” his attributes in creation to be happy or to be God. He is perfectly happy and fully God with or without a creation! Remember, he creates entirely for the good of the creature, not for the good of himself. Therefore, since his action in creating has as its motive purely and entirely the good of the creature, he cannot thus use creatures in such a way that is inconsistent with what absolutely best for them. This has consequences for our doctrine of Hell I would like to work out another time.

2. If God did not have to create, then it was possible for God to exist alone, without a creation. Therefore, God has essential and necessary properties “ad intra” or without regard to a creation. That is, God, since he can exist without a creation, must have properties or things that are true about him that do not themselves depend on creation itself. He would have these properties whether or not creation existed. One of these properties, it seems to me, must be infinite and unsullied happiness. Otherwise, if God is not essentially infinitely happy, then God existing in himself could be better than he is – in which case he would not be God, the full perfection of being. What this means then is that God is necessarily happy. Therefore God cannot be unhappy – he cannot suffer – because then he would cease to be God, since to be God necessarily entails being happy. In other words, a property of divinity is to be infinitely happy. God, since he cannot but be God, cannot but be infinitely happy. Therefore God cannot suffer.

Some may suppose that God in himself is not necessarily infinitely happy, but is only contingently happy. But this to me has several difficulties. If God ad intra (that is, in himself apart from creation) is possibly less than infinitely happy — if, in short, God as existing in himself Tri-Personally can suffer — then we must ask, what would be the cause of such suffering? God ad intra is in perfect communion with himself. Further, he knows and loves himself perfectly, so there is no lack of union to cause any grief. Since he is omnipotent, where would any resistance that could give rise to suffering come from? Suffering or unhappiness implies that something is present to oneself which is not desired. But how could God ad intra, existing in himself as perfect Trinity, be faced with something he didn’t desire? If we are talking about God’s essential and necessary properties – that is, if we are talking about God alone – where would such unhappiness come from?

3. Therefore, since God cannot suffer without ceasing to be God, Kenosis theories must likewise be false. For insofar as God can exist without a creation, he can have properties which do not depend on creation, but which rather depend entirely on his Triune experience alone. In such an experience is the fullness of all joy and bliss and perfection, or else God could be better than he is, and we can conceive of some being greater than God. Thus these properties which God has of himself ad intra cannot be lost by God or he would cease to be God. There would be nothing to connect what are now two different subjects as a single thing. God’s identity would fall apart. Therefore, when the second person of the Trinity unites a passible, human nature to his person, the divine nature cannot itself suffer. The second person of the Trinity does not experience any less beatitude, joy, and happiness due to the fact that he is united to a suffering human nature; or else, again, God in assuming human nature would cease to be God.

We must remember that all suffering derives from something created or ad extra to God, and that no created thing can possibly be any sort of obstacle or give any resistance to divine omnipotence. Thus the second person’s divinity is such that any human experience of suffering, even something so horrible as the crucifixion, is instantly consumed in the joy of uncreated and infinite triune bliss. As a snow flake is instantly consumed by a flame, so too is the passible human suffering of Christ qua man consumed by the impassible divine joy of Christ qua God.



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