I think the question of God's apathy or lack thereof
is highly significant. The holy writings of ancient
Judaism and Christianity do not seem to describe a God
who is utterly unchangeable or unmoved by events in
the world. To the contrary, the God of the Bible is
distressed when His people are distressed (Isa 63:9)
and hurt when He beholds humans engaging in courses of
action that are self-destructive (2 Pet 2:12-13). The
God of the Bible (as the apostle John tells his first
century readers) is love (1 Jn 4:8). A loving
individual is usually internally moved by the plight
of the other.
One objection that has been submitted against the
doctrine of divine passibility is the notion that God
is A SE ESSE and therefore does not depend on anyone.
As Karl Barth worded matters, God is absolute freedom
(Cf Ps 36:9; Dan 4:35; Jn 5:26ff; 2 Cor 3:17-18).
The present writer thinks that the doctrine of aseity
can be formulated in a way that does not render the
divine One impassible. God's aseity does not mean that
He cannot be moved by distressing or heartening
terrestrial events. For if I am moved by the sight of
a child, who has been struck by a car and who now lies
in the street helplessly waiting for an ambulance as
he or she vigorously fights for his/her precious life, in what
way am I dependent on the child who is almost
devoid of life? Similarly, I fail to see how God becomes
dependent on His creatures simply because He is moved
by our individual plights.
At any rate, in an online article, Dr. Kelly James
Clark (an advocate of divine impassibility) admits
that the ecclesiastical reasons for affirming an
impassible God have generally been Platonic or
neo-Platonic and, I might add, Aristotelian. The
Church (according to Clark) has basically determined
that Almighty God is impassible for the following five
(1) The absolute Cause of the transitory realm of
becoming must be a changeless Being.
(2) God does not depend on any external source AD
EXTRA; He only depends on Himself (A SE ESSE).
(3) God cannot change, since any change would be a
change for better or worse. Since God is perfect, He
cannot change for the better and He clearly cannot
change for the worst. Ergo, He does not change at all.
(4) God is DEUS SIMPLICITAS. That is, He is
un-compounded or non-composite. Since only composite
things change, God is incapable of change.
(5) God is ACTUS PURUS and thus has no potential for
change. Consequently He cannot change.
While Clark does evidently affirm a number of these
principles that early Church councils employed to
shape their notion of God, even he has to concede the
following: "Some conciliar pronouncements are based on
philosophical assumptions that are not binding on the
church." He subsequently goes on to note:
"Although the church has prima facie obligation to
treat seriously the philosophical presuppositions of
the councils, it has a right to reconsider such a
pronouncement if the philosophical commitment violates
their understanding of Scripture, religious experience
While I cannot completely concur with Clark's
statement as it stands, I think he does show that a
Christian is not bound to accept the philosophical
presuppositions of any church council. One may even
ask if a Christian should cloud his or her theological
perspective with philosophical presuppositions at all
But putting aside that issue for now, my point is that
church councils have often relied on philosophy when
making pronouncements instead of the Bible. When
councils have depended on Plato or Aristotle rather than
Holy Writ, is a Christian theologically bound to a
council's decision? Furthermore, if (as Kelly James
Clark writes) a council makes logical errors and thus
presents unsound or invalid arguments, it certainly
makes one wonder whether a Christian should place his
or her unqualified trust in such putative infallible
decisions. May the reader make an informed decision in
the light of Jehovah's wise and everlasting counsels.