Theism

Aseity | Creator | Eternity | Goodness | Immutability | Impassibility | Ineffability | Necessity | Omnipotence | Omnipresence | Omniscience | Perfection | Trinity

Divine Impassibility

 

The doctrine of divine impassibility holds, roughly, that God is without passion, or emotion.

Impassibility and Immutability

One reason for thinking that God is impassible is if he is thought to be immutable. It seems that a God who feels emotion must be a God who changes. To respond to situations with appropriate emotions, God must experience ups and downs, he must change. If, as the doctrine of divine immutability holds, God cannot change, then God cannot feel emotions. It may be argued against this that God might timelessly feel emotions, that he could be happy or sad from eternity to eternity. This, though, hardly captures the common understanding of a God with a rich emotional life.

Impassibility and Perfection

Divine impassibility is associated with divine perfection. A God who feels emotion is a God who can be caused to suffer by things outside himself. If god gets upset when things donít go well, then he is vulnerable, he can be hurt. This has traditionally been thought to demean God, to suggest that he is less than he might have been. To preserve divine perfection, therefore, and particularly his invulnerability, divine impassibility has been suggested.

Passibility and Perfection

There is, however, a school of thought diametrically opposed to this. Instead of holding that Godís perfection entails that God doesnít feel emotion, it has been argued, Godís perfection entails that he does. A God who can look down on the state of the world and not be moved, a God that can see suffering without feeling compassion or pain, it has been argued, is inferior to one who does. Better for God to be vulnerable than unconcerned. Better for him to be passible than impassible.

For this reason, divine impassibility, though one of the traditional doctrines of classical theism, is not a core part of modern theism. Some theists continue to hold that God is impassible, but most laypersons at least think of God as weeping when we weep, and rejoicing when we rejoice, as being emotionally involved with his Creation and his creatures.

 

Links

Does God Suffer?
From First Things .com.

God Without Mood Swings
A defence of divine imppassibility.