Ep18 The Attributes Of God Ch 12 - Immutability and Impassibility

The scriptures state that God does not change. We examine what some possible interpretations of this are. There is one extreme of Classical Theism where God cannot change at all and therefore can't really be affected by prayer or humanity. We discuss the option that perhaps this refers to God's Character and his resoluteness to fulfill his promises. We then turn to God and his ability to be effected emotionally. Can God suffer? Well Jesus did and we examine the implications of that and much more. Enjoy!

Topics Discussed:
• Defining Changelessness
• Immutability in Nature
• Immutability in Will
• Immutability and Mutability in God’s Knowledge
• Divine Passibility in Feeling
1. The Argument of Divine Love
2. The Argument from Immanent Omniscience
3. The Argument from Worshipworthiness

Show Notes:


Defining Changelessness

“There are numerous senses in which a thing may be immutable or changeless. The strongest sense, entailed by the concept of eternal timelessness, is that, necessarily, God cannot change with respect to any of his intrinsic or real properties.”

Explain: Objects in relation to God change, but not God on this view

“immutability in the absolutist sense as immutability-A, which can be more fully defined as:
An object O is immutable-A if necessarily none of O’s intrinsic properties are subject to change.”

“This notion of immutability arises naturally enough from the view that God is without parts and passions. If God has no parts, then he does not have spatial parts like hands and legs. He cannot have a physical body that is located in spatial dimensions or has spatial extension. Further, there cannot be any temporal parts such as a before or after in the divine experience. God must be outside of time altogether if he is simple in this sense”

“The notion of impassibility is also closely associated with the absolutist divine attributes.”

“Richard Creel has isolated eight senses in which God has been termed impassible which provide a full range of both subjective and objective notions of immutability and impassibility:

1. “Lacking emotions” (God has neither positive emotions such as happiness and bliss nor negative emotions such as pain, suffering and sadness).
2. “In a state of mind that is imperturbable” (events cannot so occur that God is not perfectly blissful).
3. “Insusceptible to distraction from resolve” (events cannot so occur that God’s will is changed).
4. “Having a will determined entirely by oneself” (God’s will is neither influenced nor modified by anything external to God).
5. “Incapable of being acted upon” (nothing external to God influences any of his intrinsic properties or acts upon him in any way).
6. “Cannot be prevented from achieving one’s purpose” (nothing external to God can prevent the efficacious exercise of his will).
7. “Has no susceptibility to negative emotions” (God never feels suffering, sadness or pain).
8. “Cannot be affected by an outside force or changed by oneself” (nothing can change God).”

Explain each and Creels points about them.

Passibilist-“any person who believes that God can be influenced by beings distinct from God if God chooses to make himself vulnerable and open to such influences”

“Passibilists do not claim that we can causally determine what God’s inner emotional life shall be, though they do claim that we can and do influence the tenor of God’s emotional life, knowledge, and will—that is, God is vulnerable to pain and suffering in addition to happiness in our happiness because he has chosen to share in our lives.”

“Most of Creel’s objections to passibilism arise precisely from his failure to distinguish between personal and causal influences.”

“The most foundational notion underlying the cluster of attributes accepted by absolutists—simplicity, timelessness, immutability and impassibility—all arise from the view that God is absolutely independent of the world and would be exactly as he is in his intrinsic properties even if the world had never existed.
Creel admits that the biblical God does not fit any of these definitions because the biblical God lacks neither positive nor negative emotions.”

“Nevertheless, the Bible and the Book of Mormon assert that God is an unchangeable being: “For I am Yahweh, and I change not” (Mal. 3:7).
At least the Old Testament portion of the biblical record clearly accepts the view that God changes in response to outside influences, but not in all respects. When scripture asserts that God is not changeable it means that God’s faithfulness to his people does not waver; his commitment and care can always be counted on. This notion of immutability seems to entail that God does not change in his character and moral attributes. ”

In light of Bible stories definition: “An object O is immutable-E if O necessarily possesses all essential divine attributes at any time and if events cannot so happen that O does not possess them at all times.”

Doesn't account for Jesus. So we have another definition that does:

“the notion of immutability, which I shall refer to as “incarnational immutability” or immutability-I, must be redefined as follows to accommodate this Christian view of God:
A Person P is immutable-I if P possesses all essential divine attributes at any time and events cannot so happen that P does not possess such attributes at all times unless P voluntarily decides to divest himself of such attributes.

“ I believe that in Mormon thought the Godhead is understood to be immutable-E, whereas God the Father is understood to be immutable-I. However, both of these notions of immutability allow a wide range of the understanding of the nature of fixity of God’s properties.”

“Though divine persons do not possess all divine attributes essentially, each member of the Godhead possesses a set of properties that defines an individual essence and some of these properties are discernable, distinct and unique to the person.”

Immutability in Nature

“The basic intuition underlying this view is that God’s status as God must be impervious to all forces and so steady and trustworthy that not even God could commit “deicide.” This basic intuition is so strong that it is difficult to find a single writer in the entire history of Christian thought who has dissented.”

“given the Mormon view of God, it might be thought that this concern cannot be satisfied. Joseph Smith himself asserted that God had not always been God. On the face of it, it seems to follow that God’s status as a divine being is precarious. If God was once not God, then his status as God is merely contingent and it is not merely conceivably but actually the case that there were times when God was not God. ”

“The primary confusion embodied in this common Mormon position is an equivocation between “God” as a title denoting the status of a plurality of persons in a relationship of perfect unity and “God” as a name for a person.”

“The persons who participate in this relationship are divine in virtue of the nature of the relationship. Together they possess maximal knowledge, maximal power, and are supremely related to all things. No single individual who participates in this relationship could cause the others to cease to exist within the unity of this relation because such a result can be exercised only by a supremely powerful being. However, apart from the relationship of perfect unity, the individual being is not maximally powerful and thus cannot exercise such power. Thus, the unifying relationship, of divine persons is impervious to outside forces.”

The only scenario that would make God not God is if one of the members chose to leave the relationship, but that is not rational and they are perfectly rational beings.

“It seems to me that a perfectly rational being would never choose to dissolve the divine relationship—except under special circumstances....like Jesus' Incarnation

“The Mormon view is that there have always been persons who have shared this relationship of divine glory even though God the Father and also God the Son at separate times became incarnated and ceased to possess the fullness of the divine attributes.”...Maybe 'a' Mormon view....or your view, not sure it is the Mormon view though.

“The view that the Godhead is essentially divine but does not necessarily exist, and that the divine persons exist of ontological necessity but are not necessarily “fully” divine, is at the heart of the difference between Mormonism and traditional Judeo-Christianity.”

Immutability in Will

“It is generally assumed in Christian thought that God can be influenced in some sense by prayers. It is natural to think that God can freely respond to prayers in a sense of a living relationship with persons. Prayers thus change or influence God’s will in the sense that they occasion a change in God’s will. ”

“Thus, it might be thought that unless God can be influenced by prayers, then he cannot respond to prayers. To be influenced by a prayer, it seems just is to bring about a voluntary change of will by God at some time after the prayer and as a direct result of the prayer. If God cannot change his will in response to prayers, then he cannot interact with humans in the sense of a living relationship.”

“For example, the scriptures appear to assert that God intended to destroy the Ninevites; but when the Ninevites repented, God changed his will and decided not to destroy the Ninevites. However, Morris suggests that instead of viewing the Ninevites’ repentance as occasioning a change in God’s will, we should say that God has willed immemorially a change from the Ninevites are to be punished if they do not repent to the Ninevites are not to be punished if they repent.8 The change is in the Ninevites and not in God’s will, for God has always willed from all eternity that the Ninevites are to be punished unless they repent.
Morris’s suggestion is based on the well-established distinction between changing one’s will and willing a change.”

“I have argued that God cannot know future contingents with certainty; rather, God knows from all eternity all possibilities. In addition, I have argued that, although God is not limited by our particular inertial frame of reference, God still experiences a before and after of what is really actual from moment to moment. Does God’s contingent knowledge of future contingents within ontological time mean that he cannot be immutable in will? I believe that the answer is yes in one sense and no in another sense.”

“I have also argued that God can know from all eternity that his overall purposes will be accomplished because he knows from all eternity all possible challenges to his purposes and how he will respond to overcome such challenges.”

How can he make a plan 'from all eternity' with so many factors. I would have to imagine he would have to base his plans on current possibilities and how that shifts with time.

“If this is so, then God does not need to wait until free agents act to decide how he will respond. He has already always decided how he will respond. God could be eternally resolved that if a person S does an act A at a time t, then God will do X, but if S refrains from doing A at t, then God will do Y. God’s conditional will thus can be immutable without incoherence even if time and worldly change and contingency are real.”

How is this different from Middle Knowledge? How does it avoid it's problems?

Discuss the differences between your view and Creel's.

Talk about the Pharaoh repenting and curse of the frogs example.

“However, the fact that God’s implementing will is passible and therefore also mutable does not entail that God changes with respect to his ever-active efforts to bring persons into an interpersonal relationship of perfect unity and love with him. God’s offer of grace and loving relationship to all persons at all times and without any conditions based on human merit or acts is eternally resolved and implemented. God never ceases to offer the full measure of his immanent spirit or power and knowledge to persons, but the acceptance of the unmerited gift by entering into personal relationship with God is always left up to free human response.”

“Though I have conceded that God could have resolved his conditional will from all eternity, it may be that God has good reasons for not having done so. If God’s conditional will is indexed to mere possibilities that may occur in the world rather than to actualities as they occur, then God’s actions do not relate to me as a person but merely to an impersonal possibility.”

“God could certainly know that a1 and a2 were possible acts which I could do if I existed in given circumstances, and could from all eternity determine his response to my acts. This is exactly the way in which a computer interacts with a user. The computer is indexed so that if x then 1, and if y then 0. Even if the computer is “user friendly,” we can hardly refer to responding to indexical possibilities as interacting in an interpersonal manner.”

“ what God actually does through his implementing will also always finally depends on what I do rather than what God wills. For example, whether I repent and feel forgiveness is totally up to me. I feel forgiveness because I put myself in the “stream of forgiveness,” so to speak, and not because God has decided to initiate forgiveness in response to my repentance. God is not responding to me but merely to the possibility of me and the possibilities arising from that impersonal logical possibility.”

“In Kantian terms, if God responds to indexical possibilities rather than to concrete individuals who enter into relationship with God, then God treats our humanity as a mere means rather than an end having intrinsic value when he resolves his conditional will in relation to mere indexical possibilities.”

“This view seems to devalue and depersonalize God’s relationship to persons. An immutable and impassible being that responds to us as mere possibilities seems more subpersonal than transpersonal, more calculating than loving. The values underlying this objection were well stated by Martin Buber in his description of the difference between an I-Thou relationship and an I-it relation:
To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words that he speaks. The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words. The one primary word is the combination I-Thou. The other primary word is the combination I-it, wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace it. Hence, the I of a man is also twofold. For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.”

Explain I-It vs I-Thou

“The mere fact that God’s conditional will is decided freely does not mean that he enters into a personal relationship freely; rather, he merely decides based on impersonal possibilities.”

“In the view I am proposing, God still takes cognizance of all logical possibilities from all eternity, but unless and until the value of the relationship is added to God’s experience, depending on our free response to God’s grace, God does not formulate his response in relation to us. In this way, God waits upon us to see if we will accept the richness of the divine relationship which he offers to us. In this way, God honors and respects us not as a mere means to his ends, but as a Thou which God values. His purposes are realized in us and our purposes are realized in him. His work and his glory, his purpose for us is precisely to bring about our immortality and eternal life, to bring us into full relationship with him.”

“God seeks true living interaction with persons so that he can bring us into the divine relationship as peers, and not as mere subordinates. Thus, God waits for our petition to respond, waits for our love to realize his joy and waits for our repentance to realize his will for us. God’s will is thus passible. God’s will cannot be controlled or caused by us, but it can be affected by our free decisions because God has freely chosen to enter into an I-Thou relationship with us. It follows that God’s will, both conditional and implemented, is changeable if God decides to change it. ”

Immutability and Mutability in God’s Knowledge

“In the sense of compossibility with events in the actual world, the realm of possibilities is forever changing as the world changes. God need not experience the actual world to intuit the realm of abstract possibilities or merely logical possibilities that could be actualized without regard to circumstances or what has been actual in the past.”

“Any being having perfect faculties of reason can list the complete realm of such abstract possibilities without reference to what is actual at that ontological time in the world. Such truths are known to be logically possible a priori. However, God’s knowledge of what is compossible with what has occurred in the actual world, or concrete possibilities, cannot be determined without knowing what has occurred in the world up to the ontological time which defines the edge of ongoing realization of the actual world.

“For example, it was not in any person’s power to visit Disneyland until Disneyland was constructed.”

“God’s knowledge of what is actual is also mutable. This conclusion follows from the notions that God does not know which possibilities will be actualized by free agents until they are actual and that God exists within an ongoing process of real time. Norman Kretzmann developed an argument which I believe establishes that any being who knows what is now actual in each new moment of the world’s ongoing process must change in knowledge.16 A being who does not change in knowledge cannot be omniscient because it cannot know what time it is now.”

“For example, the knowledge of a timeless God is like the knowledge a person has of a play which that person has written, directed and performed in many times. This author knows the sequence of scenes and every word spoken all at once. This person could tell us the exact time at which every scene would take place simply by knowing the sequence of scenes. However, if the film were showing in a different theatre that had a clock, the audience would have one great advantage over the author who knows simply the sequence of scenes. The audience would know, although the author would not, what scene is on the stage now.”

“God may know that in 2002 I have a need for divine help, but he cannot know that now is my time of need. It seems to me that an immutable being cannot be omniscient. It is clear that an immutable being that stands in a temporal framework cannot know what time it is now.

Divine Passibility in Feeling

“The Docetists held that God cannot suffer and since Jesus was very God it is impossible for Jesus to suffer. They resolved the scriptures referring to Jesus’ suffering by asserting that Jesus only appeared to suffer. Patripassionism refers to the position that God the Father is identical to God the Son and thus in the suffering of Jesus the Father suffered. Theopaschitism, on the other hand, held that Jesus is identical to the incarnate Logos and thus that in the sufferings of Jesus the divine Logos suffered but not God the Father. In each of these controversies, the problem of God’s suffering was central.”

1. The Argument of Divine Love

“apatheia cannot be regarded as the genuine response of a person in an interpersonal relationship to a beloved. A true I-Thou relationship requires emotional passibility. The essential fact of an I-Thou relation is reciprocity. To properly value the Thou as a person is to participate in the emotional life of that person, to rejoice in that person’s triumphs and to feel sorrow at that person’s pains and losses. It is to properly take consideration of the person’s mode of being in the world and to freely respond with emotional pathos. To enter into a personal relationship with one truly valued as a person means that one becomes vulnerable to be influenced by what that person feels.”

“This form of interpersonal relation arising from persons who are responsive, loving and personal is the highest form of response to the world that we know. It is unthinkable that God be less than emotionally responsive or personal.”

“Creel asserts,
Though the loving parent would stay by the child, comforting it and assuring it at every opportunity that everything’s going to be all right, still I believe that joy over the cure being implemented could so fill the parent as to nullify emotional distress on the parent’s part over the pain being inflicted by the cure. To be sure, in such a situation many of us would have mixed feelings; we would feel joy at the prospect of a cure but unhappiness over the pain involved. Yet, if the parent was so joyful over the cure that she was not emotionally distressed by the suffering of the child, I do not believe that we should fault her for being remiss or not really loving the child”

“Creel’s assumption that God must either experience a fullness of happiness or unrequited pain is a false dichotomy.”

“I think that we can acknowledge that God’s happiness arising from the richness of the divine life is invulnerable to destruction by external events; but it does not follow that God does not experience appropriate emotions of sorrow in the sorrows of others and greater joy at the triumphs of others.”

“A person who expresses no delight or augmented happiness when his child is born or who feels no grief at the death of his child or the seduction of his wife is properly labeled as insensitive precisely because he has failed to properly value the relationships and to properly respond to the feelings of others”

2. The Argument from Immanent Omniscience

“I have argued that every datum of the world is experienced immediately by God.”

“However, an omniscient being must know more than that I suffer, he must also know the depth and profundity of our suffering from the very perspective of suffering. God must suffer in our sufferings.”

“Creel demurs from such reasoning. He agrees that to be omniscient God must know, not merely that we suffer, but also our suffering. However, he argues, quite properly in my view, that to know someone else’s feeling is not to share that very same feeling with the person”

Depression and Gun pulled Fear examples

Explain: “Though Creel is correct that God does not feel our feelings as his own intentional attitudes and decisions, he is wrong when he asserts that God’s knowledge of our suffering does not mean that God suffers.”

“The view I have proposed means that our feelings and experiences are presented to God as a part of the datum of God’s immanent experience. God creates his own experience through a novel and creative synthesis of such data. ”

“This fullness of experience of both joy and suffering is well expressed in Mormon scripture. The Mormon scriptures expand upon the experience of Enoch the prophet. Enoch was taken into God’s bosom and beheld a vision of God’s glory. The prophet stated:
The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? (Moses 7:28–29)”

Talk about the Jesus angle

3. The Argument from Worshipworthiness

“God is minimally the sort of being that is capable of fully inspiring our worship and unconditioned love because he can fully appreciate our praise, devotion and adoration. A being who cannot be emotionally moved by us, even if he chooses to be so moved, cannot give meaning and significance to the pain and suffering that we experience in our lives. God must be the appropriate object of our worship. Thus, it seems that God must be emotionally passible.”

“For example, Creel offers the following characterizations of this position:
This position . . . presupposes that suffering adds some good to the existence of a thing. That could be true only if that suffering adds some good to the existence of a thing. That could be true only if suffering is either good in itself or good as a means. But in itself suffering is an evil. Nor does there seem to be a way in which suffering could benefit God himself instrumentally. . . . [I]f God suffers with us, for us, and because of us, then religion properly understood becomes “pity for God”. . . . [After all, if God shares emotionally all the suffering of the world and also suffers his own misery over our waywardness, then he of all beings is most to be pitied.”

“(3 Nephi 17:6–22)

This is a picture of a God who has become mortal and triumphed over the limited mortal perspective. The exalted Christ just is the complete revelation of the divine nature in Mormon thought. It is a picture of a God who suffers more, not less, because of his divinity. It is a God who experiences greater joy, not less, by virtue of his compassion. God includes within himself both a fullness of joy and universal suffering.”

Creel: “God is perfectly happy whether we are all saved or all damned. Creel argues that God does not will that we love him. Rather, God wills that we choose for him or against him. Whichever we choose is all the same to God”

“Creel’s argument in this respect seems to me to be extremely problematic. What would we think of the father who wants merely that his son either chooses to commit suicide or not? He does not want his son to refrain from committing suicide—only that he has a choice about the matter. This position is essentially Creel’s view of God’s reaction to our own spiritual suicide. Yet it seems to me that such a father—and for that matter such a god—is so removed from caring about his son’s welfare that he is truly reprehensible in his response to his son’s suicide. Whether we are eternally miserable or eternally happy are both literally the same to God in terms of God’s (non) response. He literally could not care less. This being is not loving or even capable of personal response in any significant sense. Our lives, our pains and triumphs, our sufferings and joys, neither add to nor diminish God’s happiness in us or for us. I believe that it follows that this being is not God.

Talk about the value of Jesus' suffering....


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