Friday, February 13, 2009

Robert Gonzales on Divine Impassibility and Passibility

Regular readers of this blog will already have noticed that I am becoming quite a fan of Dr. Gonzales. He is a solid, thoughtful, tenaciously Biblical theologian, and he is a good writer who communicates difficult matters clearly. He is good at putting the cookies on the bottom shelf, where we can all get at them (so to speak).

Anyway, he has recently finished a three part series of articles over at the RBS Tabletalk blog on the the issue of whether or not God feels. I regard these as a must read. Here are the links to the individual posts:

"There Is No Pain, You Are Misreading": Is God "Comfortably Numb"? Part 1

"There Is No Pain, You Are Misreading": Is God "Comfortably Numb"? Part 2

"There Is No Pain, You Are Misreading": Is God "Comfortably Numb"? Part 3

Here is a quote that will give you a feel (no pun intended) for where the articles are heading:
One might say that God is “impassible” from the perspective of his transcendence and “passible” from the perspective of his immanence.
I’ve tried to think of a good illustration. Imagine God as the cosmic movie scriptwriter, producer, and director. God’s also chosen, like many modern directors, to participate in the story as one of the main actors. Indeed, he’s given himself the leading role. He’s created a magnificent epic. It’s full of tragedy. But it has a happy ending. As the scriptwriter, producer, and director, God takes pride in his work and enjoys it with a sense of peace, calm, and gratification, knowing the plot has a glorious ending. But as God actively participates in the various stages of the plot in the capacity of actor, he weeps at misfortune, grows angry at injustice, and rejoices in the triumph of good. Granted, this illustration fails to capture the full complexity of God’s heart. But I believe we must embrace all the biblical descriptions of God (those emphasizing his transcendence as well as those emphasizing his immanence) even if we can’t fully conceptualize their relations.
So I affirm that God is self-contained, independent, and wholly satisfied with himself. He possesses a kind of joy that cannot be marred. Yet, I also affirm that within the matrix of human history God experiences grief, sorrow, anger, pleasure, love, hatred, jealousy, joy and peace. All of these emotional responses are perfectly consistent with his unchanging “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
I personally agree with Gonzales' conclusions, and I was also impressed with the way that he interacted with both sides of the Reformed tradition on the issues involved. I encourage you to give these articles a thorough read, especially since this is one of the more crucial issues in modern theological debate.


  1. What happened to this article? It's no longer there.

    1. I will do my best to locate the place to where the articles have moved and update the links here. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention. I have sent a message to Bob Gonzales to ask him if and where they are available.