Divine Impassibility and the Passion of Christ in the Book of Hebrews -- By: Kevin DeYoung

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 68:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: Divine Impassibility and the Passion of Christ in the Book of Hebrews
Author: Kevin DeYoung

Divine Impassibility and the Passion of Christ
in the Book of Hebrews

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.

I. Introduction

It would be an understatement to say that, at present, divine impassibility as a dogma is not very fashionable (almost as out of fashion as the word dogma itself). The doctrine that says God does not suffer has almost completely lost its hegemonic status, while the belief that God can, indeed must, suffer has now taken its place.1 From lectern to pulpit to hospital bed it is now commonplace to assume that “God feels our pain,” “weeps with those who weep,” and in most ways “hurts as much as we hurt.”2 H. M. Relton’s statement in 1917 that “there are many indications that the doctrine of the suffering of God is going to play a very prominent part in the theology of the age in which we live” looks exceptionally prescient.3 The nature of God has been reevaluated so that what was once axiomatic has now been axed. As Goetz puts it, “The age-old dogma that God is impassible and immutable, incapable of suffering, is for many no longer tenable.”4 In a phrase, impassibility has become passé.

Why such a stark turnaround? Why has “the ancient theopaschite heresy that God suffers. .., in fact, become the new orthodoxy?”5 Many reasons

could be given: culturally, the renewed emphasis on feelings; intellectually, the preference for the “dynamic” over the “static”; historically, the (just now realized?) pejorative influence Hellenism is supposed to have had on early Christianity; or experientially, the intensity of the problem of pain and evil in this century. But theologically, four main reasons are usually put forward. The first argument holds that a suffering God is the only possible theodicy, not as an explanation of suffering, mind you, but as a protest against it. The second reason is closely related to the first. God is love, and if God is love he must enter into the pain of his creatures—anything less would be diabolical.6 Third, the biblical description of God in his passions must be taken at full face value and not diminished as anthropopathic language.7 All of the arguments in favor of passibility deserve full and honest exploration, but my concern is only w...

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