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Kevin DeYoung and Divine Impassibility

May 12, 2010

I have recently finished reading Kevin DeYoung‘s manuscript to his talk at T4G on divine impassibility. With recent scholarship finding Jurgen Moltmann’s divine passibility more appealing, like Richard Bauckham and others, this is an encouraging talk.  DeYoung gives five arguments for divine impassibility:

  1. The weight of church history overwhelmingly supports the notion that God does not suffer.
  2. The Bible teaches that God does not change.
  3. God’s emotional life is not identical to ours.
  4. What is said about Jesus Christ cannot automatically and without qualification be said about God.
  5. Without impassibility, the necessity of the incarnation does not make sense.

The fifth point is easily the most compelling. DeYoung makes this point:

Listen to Hebrews 2:9: ―But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. This is a purpose statement. The Son of God had to be made for a little while lower than the angels so that he might taste death. Apart from the incarnation, the Son could not die, because God by definition is immortal.

DeYoung give us five reasons why divine impassibility is good news:

  1. We have an unchanging God who is not in the same mess we are in.
  2. This unchanging God – who is ontologically outside of our mess – is nevertheless intimately involved in our mess, which makes his presence all the more meaningful.
  3. God‘s love is freely given, thoroughly unmotivated by any need or deficiency in him.
  4. With divine impassibility, the incarnation is not a revelation of the eternal suffering of God, but rather the deepest expression of God‘s gracious character, whereby he chose, in love, to suffer as one of us.
  5. Finally, impassibility is good news because only an impassible God who suffered as a man can truly sympathize with us.

This is a robust defense of the traditional understanding of God’s impassibility. Yet, DeYoung still speaks deeply to our needs as sinful human beings who suffer under tremendous circumstances at times. I am happy for the appearance of this talk and I hope it has a wide  readership.

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