Does God Change? Suffer?

Jason Micheli —  July 22, 2014 — 4 Comments

Untitled101One of the things our youth have conveyed to our new youth director is their desire for catechesis before college. Training tobefore we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Here are questions 15-17

I. The Father:

15. Does God Change?

No.

God is immutable, immune to change, for change implies that where was an absence or deficiency prior to the change. For something to change, in other words, there must be some potential in it which is not yet realized.

 

But in God there is no absence, for God is Being itself. God does not change (to be more loving, for example) because already in God is the perfection of Love itself.

 

Perfect Love is already eternally actual in God; therefore, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and- good news- there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

 

“I the Lord your God I do not change.” – Malachi 3.6

 

16. Why Does Scripture So Often Speak of God Changing God’s Disposition?

Scripture speaks of God changing because scripture narrates not God’s essence but Israel’s experience of God in the world.

 

Scripture speaks of God with such human language because we have no way of comprehending or conveying God by any means but our words.

 

Likewise, since humans are ‘talking animals’ the infinite has no other means to reveal himself to us but finite words.

 

“Who is this that questions my work with such ignorant words?”

– Job 38.2

17. Does God Suffer?

No, the idea that God suffers (patripassianism) is an ancient heresy.

The Father does not suffer. For 3 reasons:

 

As Being itself in whom there is no potentiality but only actuality, the perfection of all emotions (Love) is already present eternally in God.

 

To suffer is to be affected by another outside you. To be changed.

But God does not change because there is no potentiality in God only actuality.

 

God subsists in all things that exist and holds all things in existence. God cannot be affected by anything outside God because there is nothing that is outside God.

 

“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1.17 

 

Jason Micheli

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4 responses to Does God Change? Suffer?

  1. Shouldn’t the objection to Patripassianism be “Does God *the Father* suffer?” Is tradition ambivalent regarding whether God the Son suffers. At first glance, saying that Christ only suffers in virtue of his human nature /seems/ to deny the hypostatic union of his natures.

    I’m asking honestly because I don’t know.

    • Obviously, the question “Is tradition ambivalent regarding whether God the Son suffers” should end with a question mark. Oops.

  2. OK, but….
    I follow you this far. But what is the orthodox explanation for the suffering of Jesus? It’s heresy, is it not, to say that God the Son differs in essence from God the Father? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Yet Jesus CLEARLY suffers. He grieves the loss of his friend Lazarus. He mourns for a world that “just doesn’t get it,” when he laments over Jerusalem. He suffers in Gethsemane. And he suffers on the cross. He is a suffering messiah. So I’m asking you to connect the dots in the next edition of the catechism. How do we walk the tightrope between patripassianism and other heresies like Arianism, kenosis, and subordinationism?

    • Well, I didn’t meet the challenge in the follow-up installment- the problem with scheduling things well in advance! I’d say though that the three persons are not simply three modes of God being God but are distinct persons who are nonetheless the same unity. Jesus’ suffering is the Son suffering not the Father suffering and, I’d argue, the Son’s suffering is constitutive of what it means for him to be fully human.

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