In the wake of Moltmann’s The Crucified God (1973), it has become fashionable in some theological circles to celebrate the “suffering” or passibility of God. In recent years, I have become increasingly convinced that such construals may not actually understand how the language of “impassibility” has historically functioned in the Christian theological tradition and particularly in the work of the Fathers.
In the following extended quotation, Christopher Hall effectively demonstrates how God’s impassibility was for John Chyrsostom the guarantee of God’s unfailing love:
“Chrysostom teaches that God’s providence is neither mechanistic nor distant. ‘For he does not simply watch over us, but also loves us; he ardently loves us with an inexplicable love, a love that is impossible to extinguish.’1
God’s impassiblity and fervent love are not mutually exclusive. Rather, as G.L. Prestige explains, impassibility guarantees the consistency of God’s attitudes and actions towards humanity. While the passions that plague fallen people cause their love to weaken or disappear as circumstances change. God’s transcendent, impassible nature remains above ‘the forces and passions such as commonly hold sway in the creation and among mankind.’2 Prestige writes:
It is clear that impassibility means not that God is inactive or uninterested, nor that He surveys existence with Epicurean impassivity from the shelter of a metaphysical insulation, but that His will is determined from within instead of being swayed from without. It safeguards the truth that the impulse alike in providential order and redemption and sanctification comes from the will of God.3
Hence, Chrysostom really describes God’s love as both impassible and fervent. God has committed himself to act toward us in consistent, unchanging love. God longs for us to realize that whatever he does or allows to happen occurs within love’s broader framework and that God’s own changeless character makes it impossible for God to act in an unloving manner.”
- Christopher A. Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 184.