Having just come off a week of treading the immeasurably deep waters concerning the impassibility of God, we’ve traded in questions about the nature of our God for questions about the relationship within our God. The water has not gotten any more shallow, and as I read the material this week, I found myself encountering the same sort of human struggle to understand what is simply not human. We are yet again resigned to speak about God in analogy, as we always will be until Christ’s return.

The development of the doctrine of the Trinity was a crucial development for the Christianity we know today. It’s possible to surmise that, had the victors of the Arian Controversy been reversed, the path we have taken to arrive at the doctrine as we know it would have been far longer. Though the doctrinal victory came through political means, I do not think that any theology wherein Christ Jesus is less than God or the Holy Spirit suffers the same fate could withstand true biblical scrutiny.

That all being said, I do think that we can empathize with Arian’s position, because we are just as human as he was. A God who begets another would seem to naturally have dominion over it, or be of a higher substance, to use the terminology of antiquity. After all, our experience in this world tells us that our creations do not rise to be equal to us. The humanity and suffering of Christ were (and obviously still is) a problem, as the sovereignty of God is assailed by a simplistic interpretation of Christ on the cross. Lastly, we can imagine Arian’s fear that Christianity will fall into polytheism by declaring Christ as of the same substance of God as the rumblings of Trinitarian doctrine begin to circulate.

The Arian point of view, in my estimation, ultimately suffered from a need to define God by human terms. Primarily Arian seems to have thrust upon God humanity’s constraints of time and creation. Arian suggests that there existed a time before Christ existed, but this cannot be merely assumed without thrusting the constraints of time upon God. We struggle to conceive of God’s unbegotten nature, being left to merely repeat the fact as God has revealed it to us. We also cannot assume that God’s action of creation functions within the constraints of human creation, including the language of the “begotten Son.”

We are constrained by analogy at every turn with God because we simply cannot describe what we can’t understand. God is also self-constrained to analogy if He chooses for our nature to remain unchanged. This is the failings of human language, which we saw in much the same way last week with the subject of impassibility. God’s chosen means of revelation gives us what we need to have faith, which requires Him (again, if we are to remain constrained by these human bonds of reason) to leave some things visible through the mirror, dimly. (1 Cor 13:12)

The damage to Christianity caused by a Christ who is not God would be irreparable. Christ’s being God fully completes His work on the cross, as there can be no greater sacrifice given in our place. How can Christ the man be of high enough value that He can rectify the chasm between God and humanity created by our sin? There is only one who is righteous enough to bear that burden, and it Christ fully God.

We might say in layman’s terms that the aim and struggle of theology are to best order and understand God and His nature, attributes, and actions. If that simple definition is adequate in any sense, the question of impassibility can be said to in some way affect the entire scope of the field. Hart and Schaab’s dense essays make no easy work of the topic from either end, which speaks to how difficult, and failing we are at understanding a question so far beyond ourselves.

Hart defends the long-held orthodox position of impassibility, or apatheia as he prefers, by seeking to clarify the meaning and manifestation of God’s love for man. Hart believes that the stumbling block in contemporary times is the common definition of love as an emotion, and thus trying to interpret God’s love, capability of suffering, and reaction to suffering in a framework of emotive interaction with man. Instead, he suggests that God’s love manifests itself in life and being, of which creation and redemption both are part. Thus, God’s love cannot be described in the human emotive sense, and the quality and quantity of it are not influenced by his creation. With or without creation, God would be fully God as he eternally is (Hart, 199).

Of course, the problem with this perspective becomes understanding and ordering the incarnation of Christ and his death on the cross. Rectifying the suffering of Christ at Calvary with a God that does not suffer would seem to take some mental flexibility. Hart suggests that the incarnation of Christ was not a change in His nature, which would allow for the suffering of God, but instead that he “freely appropriated the weakness and poverty of our nature for the work of redemption” (Hart, 201). He otherwise describes the incarnation as a “gracious condescension” where Christ “disclos[ed] and express[ed] [himself] in one instance of the infinite” (Hart 202).

Unconvinced that the doctrine of impassibility has a place in a world full of suffering, Schaab builds a menagerie of alternative theories from various new schools of theology. These divergent and diverse theories about God’s propensity to suffer reflect the global need to speak to God’s relationship to modern suffering. Each of these diverse perspectives assails the concept of a passive God from their different angles, and Schaab points out their strengths and weaknesses. Schaab finds them all valuable for consideration, but ultimately inadequate. She instead advocates for an evolutionary approach which purports to support a suffering God while still being theologically viable.

The repeated problem of the “suffering God” approaches becomes balancing God’s omnipotence and vulnerability. To various degrees, these approaches ultimately erode “I AM’s” transcendence, power, and glory and reduce God to a more palatable human creation. This is not to say that these question about how God views our suffering and the effects upon Him are not valid, but I find the result is an amalgamation of weak human emotions and thoughts and a God so entirely other that they cannot occupy the same space.

Human suffering has always been and will always be a problem, and Christians have a responsibility and time-honor tradition of embracing its solutions. However, there is an immense amount of danger in redefining the nature of God as he saw to reveal it to address the problems of the world.

The answer for me is to understand that God can be both incapable of suffering and the complete manifestation of love. That God reveals His name to Moses as “I AM” is not a riddle, but is the manifestation of how impossible it is to comprehend God. Hart says

God has always gone infinitely farther in his own being as the God of self-outpouring charity than we can venture in our attempts to escape him, and our most abysmal sin is as nothing to the abyss of divine love.

God’s interaction with human suffering is to hate it, but accept it, first as part of the human condition that reveals to us our need of Him, and second as the method by which Christ would ultimately redeem the world for the new creation.