Monday, April 26, 2010

God's Suffering and Apatheia

In a recent discussion on the Confessing Christ discussion list, I included the following reflections, referencing Jurgen Moltmann's The Trinity and the Kingdom of God in his emphasis on the suffering Christ and God and David B. Hart's, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth in his emphasis on the apathia or "impassibility" of God. The full commentary can be accessed here, in which the following are some key extracts.

That Christ suffered and that he and the father are one are good enough for me (see Deut 29:29). If we believe we are created in the image of God than one can reasonably suppose there are some striking analogies between the characteristics of God and are own; the capacity of suffering being one; noting as well that any analogy of likeness between God and ourselves invariably breaks down at many levels; hence our understanding of suffering may have some rather connotational differences in the wide ineffable of God's comprehensiveness in which his ways are not our ways--nothing like our ways, perhaps. In my book essay on Moltmann I have discussed the distinction between Hart's perspective in Moltmann's in some depth, which I may make available in another format.

I think Moltmann's position is that Christ as suffering servant introduced an eternal pain into the very essence of God almighty. Perhaps at some imaginative level which I wouldn't want to take too far beyond imagery, liturgy, and thoughtful exploration that in the cross, God himself (a gender pronoun Moltmann uses liberally) was somehow affected by the redemptive love and sacrifice of his son, in which at one level he (the father) knew that he (the son) had it within him to take on the journey to Calvary, in which yet the undergoing of the experience itself was essential to its realization which opened up another level of "knowing" than the type of God knowing before the creation of time. I want to move carefully into this arena in staying away from an open theology in which somehow God "becomes" in the very process of ongoing historical unfolding, but I do think there is something incredibly provocative in Moltmann's theory that both the father and the son put everything at risk at Golgotha and were rescued ultimately by the Holy Spirit. That is how I have interpreted key passages in Moltmann's The Trinity and the Kingdom of God.

I know this still doesn't address the question on whether God suffers before the cross. The short answer is that this question is beyond my capacity to answer, though I would suggest, perhaps yes based on what I have previously stated toward the beginning of this message. On that I would not take issue with the view that God experienced suffering before the incarnational apearance and crucifiction of Christ. This doesn't mean, however, that God changes at least in any profound sense, which is different from denying (which I don't) that he isn't affected by the travails and joys of the human race--affected in ways that we can only understand in part in which our understanding(and the analogy of likeness)likely breaks down at a fairly elementary level--hence, the critical dialogue between Moltmann and Hart on the suffering verses apathia of God remains an essential one worthy of much close reflection on our part in which the mystery of revelation perpetually outdistances our capacity to grasp.

In succeeding posts I will lay out some of my fuller reflections on Moltmann and Hart's views on these critical topics.

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