God Is Love: Divine Impassibility Has a Branding Problem

I've never been a huge fan of God's divine impassibility.

To catch everyone up, the belief that God is impassive means that God does not experience emotions in response to human actions and events. God cannot be angry or sad.

The debate here is about necessity and contingency. God is a purely necessary being. As such, God cannot be acted upon. In any chain of cause and effect, God can never be an effect. And emotions, from a human perspective, are effects. Something happens (cause), and I have an emotional response (effect). Thus, if emotions are effects then God cannot experience emotions. God is impassive.

Many of us recoil at this notion, for a variety of reasons. For some of us it makes God seem distant and cold. Others point to the Hebrew bible and the wild, passionate, emotional God revealed on its pages. Some point to the Incarnation ("Jesus wept"). And so on.

For my part, I get the technical point being made in arguments for divine impassibility. Logically, I appreciate the problems that emotions pose for our doctrine of God. My problem is that when it comes to theology I tend to go with my heart rather than with my head.

But here's my olive branch to classical theism and divine impassibility.

I think the problem is with branding. The word "impassive" is just godawful. Here are some of the synonyms of impassive: apathetic, callous, cold, cold-blooded, hardened, heartless, indifferent, nonchalant, spiritless, stoical, unconcerned, unfeeling, wooden.

The problem with the brand "impassive" is that it implies blankness, a vacuum, a negation. But we know that God isn't blank, callous, heartless or cold. God is love.

The problem with the brand "impassive" is that it doesn't invoke the positive background of God's love. God emotions are unchanging in the sense that God never ceases loving you. God is unmoved in the sense that nothing you can do can cause God's love to waver or decrease. God is impassive in the sense that God is love and never, ever, falters from that love. God's love is faithful and true and sure and unchanging and eternal.

Thus, the "emotions" of God are more relational than emotional. Given how I stand in relation to God's love God's relationship to me can be described as joyful, sorrowful, or wrathful. Not in the sense that God is "reacting to me," but in how my actions against the backdrop of love creates shadows of contrast.

The framing here isn't that God is emotionless, but that God is unwavering, eternal, unchanging love.

And given that God is love, no matter what I do God will not "feel" toward me anything but love. 

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