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Joseph M. Hallman Can God Suffer? Christian believers are usually surprised to discover that the common teaching of Christian theology from the second century to the present is that the divine cannot suffer or change in any way. Christian thinkers absorbed the teaching of Plato that the divine had to be immutable (no change) and impassible (no suffering ). There is a widespread questioning of this belief in Christian theology today coming from many authors and perspectives. The mind of God changes any number of times in Scripture. God has an ambiguous relationship with Adam and Eve in which God discovers and condemns their sin but clothes their nakedness . The sacrifice of Abel is better for some odd reason than that of Cain. Cain is condemned for murdering Abel, but still protected with a mark. God loves Moses but punishes him by not letting him enter the Promised Land. Saul is chosen, then later rejected. David, who isYahweh's beloved, merits condemnation for adultery with Bathsheeba and for the murder of her husband. To the chagrin of Jonah, God reverses the decision to Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 154 Logos destroy the Ninevites. God loves Israel but continually punishes her for idolatry. Any reader of the Old Testament is hard pressed to find an impassible divine being portrayed on its pages.Yahweh is passionate, wrathful, jealous, loving, protective, a creator and a destroyer, an avenger remembering offenses yet sometimes offering forgiveness. The New Testament portrays Jesus in its central teaching as the bringer of salvation through his death and resurrection, a suffering death which is quite unlike that of Socrates. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus' final words from the cross are not an assertion of belief in a higher world of eternal forms, but a painful question: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus is passionate . He responds emotionally to peoples' needs. He becomes angry over the lack ofrepentance and sorrowful over his impending death. He weeps because of the death of Lazarus, loves children and sinners, preaches forgiveness and love of enemies. God is the loving, provident Father ofJesus, not the impassible One of Greek philosophy. Given Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, how are we to understand that God is impassible? Because the Christian theological tradition sees all suffering as a mark of imperfection, only the human Jesus dies on the cross.Yet according to the teaching of the Council ofChalcedon, the personhood ofJesus is single and divine. Jesus is one divine person in two distinct natures. How is it that the human nature suffers but the divine person does not? The Development.· From Philosophy to Theology Greek philosophers in the Platonic tradition taught that only the immutable and impassible was perfect. The coming of the gods in human form was, for Plato, a poetic fiction invented by Homer. Celsus, a Middle Platonic philosopher of the late second century and a critic of Christianity, put the objection this way: Can God Suffer? God is good and beautiful and happy, and exists in die most beautiful state. Ifdien he comes down to men, he must undergo change, a change from good to bad, from beautiful to shameful, from happiness to misfortune , and from what is best to what is most wicked. Who would undergo a change like this? It is the nature only of a mortal being to undergo change and remoulding, whereas it is die nature of an immortal being to remain die same wittiout alteration. Accordingly, God could not be capable of undergoing Ulis change. ' That the divine cannot change in any way is the message of Plato's Republic, Phaedo, and Symposium. In the latter dialogue for example, Diotima tells Socrates about the discovery of the Beautiful as a vision of "eternal being, neither becoming nor perishing, neither increasing nor diminishing." All perishing things partake in it, but the Beautiful becomes neither greater nor less and is affected by nothing.2 In Book Lamda of his Metaphysics, because of exemption from spatial movement that Aristotle thinks is prior to all other forms of change, God is the unmoved mover, impassible and immutable.3 For both Plato and Aristotle, as for Celsus later, a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 153-175
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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