09 April 2005

no shadow of turning 9

This discussion of the revelation of God in Scripture, culminating in the revelation of God as Trinity, and its connection with the claims of classical theism, now enables us to address the important questions raised by the proponents of open theism.

Let us recall the biblical descriptions of God as a God who is compassionate, merciful, tender, takes delight in and pity upon his creatures, is moved by their sin and plight, responds to their prayers, and even surrenders himself for their salvation in the vulnerability of the cross. As we have seen in the first lecture, it will not do simply dismiss such language as anthropomorphic language, for Scripture is revealing something that is true about God, particularly as he reveals himself fully in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Scriptures reveal God as the one who is transcendent, to whom no comparison is possible, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways, and who is, in relation to his creation, the “wholly other.” It is this God who was incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, not only as a revelation of God’s immanence and involvement in human affairs, but also his absolute otherness since, in the paradox of biblical revelation, only such a transcendent God could truly become a human being and dwell among us.

Consequently, when Scripture speaks of God in all of these ways—of God’s compassion, grief, love, suffering, and so on—it speaks of these as the compassion, grief, love, and suffering of the God who transcends creation and remains wholly other than it. Indeed, the passion and seeming excessiveness of the biblical language about God points to a God who, in all these ways, lies beyond merely human and anthropomorphic categories, who is loving and passionate and responsive in a way that no created being could be. This is not to say that Scriptural language concerning God is not literally true, for indeed it is. But, as Weinandy notes, this “is a literalness that must be interpreted from within the complete otherness of God.”

Let’s push these points further. Scriptural revelation and classical theism both maintain, side by side with this language of passion and love and response, that God is nevertheless immutable and impassible, beyond all change in himself or limitation by his creation. In light of what we have seen, however, it is clear that this immutability and impassibility cannot be understood in terms of God being inert, aloof, or static. Rather, God is immutable and impassible for quite the opposite reason.

As a God who is pure act, realized in the relations of self-giving love among the Persons of the Trinity, the God of Scripture is already as living, dynamic, relational, loving, passionate, and responsive as he could possibly be. No change in God or in his creation in relation to him could make God any more active than he already is since he already contains within himself the full actualization of every divine possibility and every relation and response to his creatures. It is in this light that we must understand my earlier claims that God is compassionate because he is all-sufficient, responsive because he is immutable, and even can be said to suffer because he is pure act. These claims can be made precisely because God’s Trinitarian nature as absolute being and pure actuality eternally contains every possibility for compassion and response to his creation and, indeed, the very possibility of creation. Further explanation, however, is necessary.