Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weinandy on Impassibility, III

It has been some time between drinks on this series. We are looking at Weinandy's Does God Suffer?
Posts one and two.

In chapter 8 of his book, Weinandy turns to an examination of the Incarnation in relation to impassibility. Those who adopt a passibilist position effectually make the suffering of God ahistorical, and thus render the cross meaningless.

Weinandy's theological starting point is to spend considerable time exploring the significance of the communicatio idiomatum (the communication of properties). For Weinandy, The C.I. embeds this statement: "Jesus is one ontological entity, and the one ontological entity that Jesus is is the one person of the divine Son of God existing as a complete and authentic man." (p174), and every christological heresy departs from both this proposition and from the C.I.

In particular, Weinandy contests that it is misapplication of the analogy of soul-body union in the human person that leads to many of these difficulties; furthermore, it's a misunderstanding of Cyril of Alexandria that is similarly problematic. The effect of Weinandy's reading becomes apparent on p201. Who is that suffers? The Divine Son. In what manner does he suffer? As man. The unity of the natures undergirds that it is the person of the Son who suffers, the distinction of the natures undergirds that the Impassible God suffers in his assumed (taken-to-himself) human-nature.

If the Son suffered in his divine nature (p204), the incarnation was pointless; If the impassible Son suffers in his divine nature, then the Godhead is diminished; yet it is fully in the human existential 'I' that the one person of the Son lives, and so suffers.

This leads into chapter 9, which is Weinandy's attempt to work out the redemptive nature of Christ's sufferings. Again he is covering a large amount of biblical material. Most of it quite well in my opinion. Firstly he explores how Christ suffers the necessary, intrinsic, inevitable consequences of sin: death and separation from God. Furthermore, Jesus' death is not a mere experiencing of our condemnation, but an atoning suffering, which effects reconciliation to God for us. I am not convinced entirely at this point, at which Weinandy argues that sin itself demands the sacrifice, and denies a doctrine of propiation for one of expiation. Simultaneous with his death as death for sin, is the putting to death of sinful humanity, which Jesus assumed in his incarnation, which death (and resurrection) makes possible our re-creation as human persons to an unfallen (fallen yet restored) nature in the New Creation.

For Weinandy, the Resurrection firstly establishes the Father's love for the Son. Impassibility will mean that the Father suffers no deprivation, no evil, in the death of Jesus. Indeed the scriptures speak more plainly of the Father's joy in the Son's obedient death, than grief. Further, the resurrection is the vindication of the Son, and the manifestation of the new creation, the new and complete humanity that is in Christ, which then makes possible the new provision of the age of the Spirit.

Chapter 10 rounds out Weinandy's book nicely, as he explores the significance of our sufferings as well. I do not agree with all that he writes in this chapter, as he draws on Roman Catholic ecclesiology and sacramentology. Nonetheless, I believe his basic thrust is correct: "The mystery of the Father’s response to the mystery of human suffering." (p243), and so human suffering only becomes explicable in light of the Son's human suffering and death. Furthermore incorporation and unity in Christ makes in some sense his suffering ours, and our suffering his. All of which is triumphed over in the cross, so that the Cross is the "Glory of Man". Those who hold to a passible God, in Weinandy's view, have so contained God that their understanding of human suffering can only ever be that of the passive victim. Rather, the suffering of the Impassible God in the cross has "salvific significance" (p281), and so our suffering is transformed by that suffering.

In conclusion, let me say that it was a real pleasure to read Weinandy's book. Almost every chapter delivered a sense of clarity and epiphany to me, as I realised how true this doctrine rings, and how sweetly it sings of God's great sovereignty, goodness, love, and redemption. In a few weeks I'm scheduled to preach at the college chapel, and impassibility will be the theme of my sermon. I will perhaps post some notes to accompany that also.


mark said...


These posts on Impassibility are crackers. Love them. Makes me want to read Weinandy again! :)

I did realise though that he has some short papers online which are extremely shortened versions of the book. So, they'll satisfy my cravings for now! :)

Seumas Macdonald said...

Cheers Mark. Be sure to rock along to my chapel lecture to see how I preach it!