A God Without Wrath?

Some heresies wear their heretical nature like a big scarlet “H” on their foreheads, visible for all to see, and pretty much everyone can identify the idea as heretical as soon as they see it. Racism is one such heresy, inherent in National Socialism and the White Supremacist movement. Other heresies, however, are based on a convergence of presuppositions so interwoven into the fabric of our culture that their heretical nature goes largely undetected. These presuppositions are not denounced in our modern culture, but celebrated, often even by Christian theologians and academics.

The popularity of these heresies springs from the fact the underlying presuppositions on which they are based are so unquestioned in our culture that they have the force of unassailable dogma. These heresies therefore present themselves not as new ideas or novel options, but rather as self-evident truisms. (This in itself presupposes, of course, that one keeps one’s head and reading rigidly riveted to the modern era—as soon as one reads the Christian writing of earlier centuries, one instantly sees how novel these ideas really are.) Among these underlying modern presuppositions are: a conviction in the innate goodness and perfectibility of human nature, the conviction that the opinions of those in the Middle Ages (often derided under the term “medieval”) were barbarous and unworthy, the conviction that feelings of guilt are always unhealthy, the conviction that love is to be equated with tolerance, so that any intolerance is unloving by definition, and the conviction that anger and retaliation are always blameworthy and a sign of insufficient civilization. One could multiply examples expressing and celebrating these convictions, but such documentation is hardly necessary. As it turns out, Facebook and the liberal media are good for something after all.

We see all these underlying presuppositions at play in the new idea gaining ascendency in some Christian circles that God has no wrath, and that consequently all will be saved. Whether in the scholarly and multi-syllabic works of David Bentley Hart, or the more popular works of Rob Bell in his book Love Wins, or the tour-de-force of Brad Jersak with his insistence that the God of the Old Testament must be “unwrathed” to be understood in his A More Christlike God, we find the idea promoted that it is unworthy and inaccurate to declare that God has righteous wrath against sin and sinners. The argumentation is often pretty thin and the exegesis often atrocious, but it succeeds because it is based upon presuppositions which go unquestioned in our culture. Of course a God of love could never have wrath towards any of His creation! The Biblical texts which seem to suggest otherwise must be countered by other Biblical texts and then quietly put to one side. Gaps in the argument can be filled in by knocking down straw men (thoughtfully provided by fundamentalists), and by rhetorical flourishes and grand generalizations.

As soon as one emerges from the cultural cocoon of modern thought one sees that the concept of God’s wrath against sin was not regarded by the ancients as an embarrassment to be overcome and denied, but as something to be emphasized and celebrated. That is because the ancients did not share the modern presuppositions which make writers like Bell and Jersak so popular. The ancients also, perhaps more tellingly, did not share our culture’s loss of a sense of guilt, and our consequent squeamishness about declaring God’s wrath against sin.

Chrysostom, to cite but one example, believed that a good God must be wrathful against the impenitent who persist in sin and hardened evil. In his sermon on Romans 1:18, he said, “Since in general most men are not drawn so much by the promise of what is good as by the fear of what is painful, [Paul] draws them on both sides. For this cause too God not only promised a kingdom, but also threatened hell…So too does Paul direct his discourse. But observe him; Christ, he means, came to bring forgiveness, righteousness, life, yet not in any way, but by the Cross which is great and wonderful; He not only gave such things, but He also suffered such things. If you insolently scorn His gifts, then will the penalties await you…If [the one who questions this] is an unbeliever and a Greek [i.e. a pagan] him Paul silences by what he says here concerning the judgment of God… ‘for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.’ And indeed even here [in this age] this often takes place in famines and pestilences and wars…For now [in this age] what takes place is for correction, but then [at the Judgment] for vengeance… Now, for many people, such things [i.e. famines, pestilences, and wars] usually seem to come not of the wrath from above, but of the malice of man. But then [at the end] the punishment from God shall be manifest, when the Judge, sitting upon the fearful tribunal, shall command some to be dragged to the furnaces, and some to the outer darkness and some to other inexorable and intolerable punishments.” Thus far Chrysostom, and his voice was hardly the only one who declared that a loving God will have wrath against those who have insolently scorned His gifts. Chrysostom here simply expressed the common teaching of the Church.

The Scriptures and the Fathers therefore agree: it is folly and the devil’s fancy to imagine that the Judge sitting upon the fearful tribunal could ever be “unwrathed”. What we really need is not some happy decryption key by which we can evade the clear and emphatic teaching of the Scriptures, but a humble heart by which we repent, and seek mercy from the Judge before it is too late.

37 comments:

  1. Modern Christians seem to ignore or dismiss scriptures that point out how God gets angry when He the Mighty Warrior is not loved, appreciated and cherished as Israel’s ADON- Lord, her husbandman and father. In Zephaniah 3:15 – 17, the Prophet says The LORD has taken away your punishment; He has turned back your enemy. Israel’s King, the LORD, is among you; no longer will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem: “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands fall limp. 17 The LORD your God is among you; He is mighty to save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”

    You say it is folly and the devil’s fancy to imagine that the Judge sitting upon the fearful tribunal could ever be “unwrathed”.

    Do you think it is folly then to imagine the day, Satan–that Simonized Rock that Jesus said was a stumbling block (Matthew 16:23)–will ever feel so loved, appreciated and cherished that he will be transformed into an angel of light? (2 Corinthians 11:14 KJV). Or is it more likely…on that day, feeling so loved and cherished, he will be transformed into a Mighty Saviour who rejoices and takes delight in his Bride and her dear Rabboni and his brethren and hers? (John 20:17).

    1. It is indeed folly to imagine that Satan will ever be saved. Rev. 20:10 is clear that Satan will be “cast into the lake of fire” where he will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” [Greek eis tous aionas ton aionon].

  2. Fr Lawrence,
    Thank you for this reflection. The love and the wrath of God are unfathomable, but that does not mean that either are to be dismissed. The madness of a hard heart that would choose hell over heaven is also not something that is easy to consider, though Dostoevsky does a remarkable job of this in many places. St Paisius of Mt Athos speaks of attempting compassion for the devils, and being mocked by them. I appreciate that the monastics are not, generally, very squishy about the realities of the world to come. Nor did St Paul think it unwise to converse with Felix about sin and righteousness and judgment, rather than about more supposedly therapeutic topics. There is an urgency (often misplaced, but real) that comes with this conviction, well encapsulated by St John Chrysostom in his quote: “There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not seek to save others. ”
    Blessed Pentecost,
    Mark M.

  3. Seems to me that the Universalists are (over-)reacting to fallacies of their own history where total depravity and satisfaction theory of atonement ruled for so long. The pendulum swings and heresy begets heresy.
    Take away the monster god and there’s no need to over-correct.

  4. Father,

    Thank you for this post. This is a subject dear to my heart. I’d like to suggest, however, that you may be misunderstanding Jersak. I do not believe his point is to “unwrath God” as though he believed the concept heretical, but rather, to strip it of our western/legalistic presuppositions in order to recotextualize it in light of the person of Jesus Christ and in the wisdom of the Eastern Fathers.

    A quick survey of protestant theologies in the west would reveal that they find their beginning, not with a God who is love, but a God who is wrath and who needs to be satisfied. Penal substitution, a staple of protestant theology, comes to mind here.

    While I agree that many in the christian circle to which you referred have a poor understanding of God’s wrath, I do not believe it is without warrant that many seek to reinterpret it in light of a more christocentric hermeneutic with the wisdom of Eastern Fathers as their guide.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I maintain that if anything I am being unduly kind to Mr. Jersak, having read his book thoroughly. It is significant that it is published by the Evangelical CWR Press (which stands for Christianity Without Religion), itself an imprint of Plain Truth Ministries. His quote from St. John Cassian, for example, completely lifts his words out of context and deliberately distorts his meaning, thus treating the Fathers in the same cavalier manner with which he treats the Scriptures.

    2. Thank God Ancient Faith ministries encompasses an Orthodoxy far broader than you deem appropriate. Two priest bloggers and podcasters in particular on here would probably even have to be considered “heretical” or nearly so according to this blog. They don’t consider God’s wrath retributive. I don’t either. Am I borderline heretical?

      Would you not commune Jersak and Hart? They are both members of the Orthodox Church now, you know. I think Hart’s understanding of free will amounts to making universal salvation an ontological necessity, and I think that’s a terrifyingly bad move. But let him go before a church council before we declare him heretical. Jersak’s claims are much more modest and uncontroversial within Orthodoxy.

      Fr Hopko was accused of heresy on his podcasts a few times and rightly spoke out against using the term too flippantly. Fr Tom also categorically refused to call Bulgakov a heretic in his foreword to Bulgakov’s “The Orthodox Church.” It seems wise that we all exercise that same restraint. It seems that your conclusion, “The Scriptures and the Fathers therefore agree” was reached far too hastily. From my reading of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Maximus the Confessor, and Dionysius the Areopagite, it’s very difficult for me to find in them any support for the idea that God’s wrath is retributive. No one, including Jersak, is arguing that God’s wrath doesn’t exist, but rather that it needs to be understand in a certain way. You are Orthodox, but so is Jersak, and thank God for that diversity.

      I at least understand your blogs on homosexual behavior. There’s nothing in our tradition (that I’m aware of) in its favor of legitimizing it, but it seems, on this issue, that you are drawing divisions and lines in the sand where there need not be any.

      All the best,

      Mark

      1. I would indeed commune both Hart and Jersak if they showed up at my chalice, since neither have been excommunicated, and it is for bishops to excommunicate, not priests. Meanwhile, it is still legitimate for priests to denounce an opinion as heretical even before bishops/ councils have made their determination if their views of divine wrath are clearly at odds with the Scriptures and the patristic consensus. That is their job as teachers and defenders of the Tradition. I am not so much drawing a line in the sand as I am identifying the front line in a battle zone. The universalism espoused by people like Hart and Bell constitutes another Gospel. Your concern about what degree of diversity is legitimate within the Church is a valid one however, and would repay sustained reflection.

      2. Mark,

        I agree with you. I do not find Fr. Lawrence to be accurately or fairly representing the views of those with whom he disagrees, nor to be properly discerning their motives,

        As for the Paris School, I find it interesting also that nobody condemned Bulgakov for his universalist views, not even apparently St. John of Shanghai, who did, however, agree with some of Bulgakov ‘s colleagues that his sophiology strayed into heresy.

        I find it extremely problematic to read passages about God’s anger in a straightforward anthropomorphic sense. If God literally has anger in the way frequently preached in non-Orthodox circles, then He also (apart from the Incarnation) has a face, eyes, ears, mouth, and hands, and casts a shadow because the OT describes all these things. (I have even read the website of a non-Trinitarian Christian cult that argues as much.)

        There are manifest differences between Fathers engaging in pedagogical preaching like the quote in this article from St. John Chrysostom with his pragmatic advocacy of the “carrot and stick” approach to calling people to repentance and other Fathers, like St. Anthony, quoted by Greg in this thread, speaking much more theologically about the nature of God. The doctrine of Divine impassibility is one result of such theological reflection. Those who argue God’s “anger” is not to be understood as retributive or passionate, istm, are on solid Patristic ground and are simply refuting theodicies unworthy of the God revealed in Christ.

        I would argue it is the unnuanced and heretical preaching on God’s “wrath” against sinners in North American culture, where the context for these Scriptures has been set by Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and the popular presentations of John Calvin’s Penal Substitution Atonement Theory in the predominant Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian subculture, that is responsible for the most virulent strains of contemporary atheism and perhaps even a reactive anti-Christian secular humanism. I expect preaching of God’s wrath like that advocated in this article will do nothing to ameliorate that situation. Even Rob Bell’s Love Wins was little more than a transparent challenge of the arbitrary way God’s Judgment is presented and understood in typical Evangelical Reformed circles and not a wholesale repudiation of the Orthodox doctrine of Hell nor a serious philosophical defense of Universalism. It certainly was a resounding affirmation of the universality of the love of God, but I would hope that would not be controversial in Orthodox circles.

        This is a disappointing article on many fronts.

        1. Just a quick reply, though you were responding to Mark and not to me. Rob Bell’s book was more rhetoric than theology, as was Jersak’s book, and both spent a lot of time knocking down straw men. Edward’s sermon (usually read divorced from the culture in which it was originally preached) functions as one such straw man. Part of the attack upon such straw men characterizes God’s wrath as an anthropomorphic, passionate, and emotional anger at sin in a way that compromises His divine impassibility. But divine wrath need not be so characterized, and the Fathers accepted divine wrath in a way consistent with divine impassibility.

          1. Thank you, Father.

            My point would be those “straw men” are what most in this culture, particularly those seeking a refuge in more classical forms of Christianity from the various fundamentalist-influenced sects, need to see knocked down. It seems to me people like Jersak and Bell are doing a spiritual service to these folk. Even though these authors have their limitations as you note, I’d say they have their pastoral senses trained on the right wounds. I find it curious you admit these are not attempting to deconstruct the proper patristic understanding of God’s wrath, and yet you launch an attack in this article as if they are by a sort of guilt-by-association fallacy. This seems to me to miss the mark both in terms of logic and in discerning the real pastoral issues Jersak and Bell target that need a fully Orthodox response.

          2. You are correct that fundamentalist errors need to be combatted, but Bell and Jersak throw the patristic baby out along with the fundamentalist bathwater. Jersak’s citation of St. John Cassian on p. 106, for example, simply distorts his words as he takes him entirely out of context. It is difficult to believe that the distortion is accidental, since Jersak is very intelligent and must be able to understand Cassian’s point. I am happy to deal with the patristic understanding of divine wrath, but this will require a blog post of its own, if not a book.

  5. I seem to recall being told, by a prof of religious studies, that there is (was?) a heresy teaching that the God of the Old Testament was not the God (who is love) e of the New Testament . Was there such a heresy?

  6. Fr. Farley,

    This topic has concerned and troubled me for some time. You would expect that those who uphold Tradition and the Fathers to not be super selective in which parts of the Fathers, or which Fathers for that matter, they want to cherry pick material to support their point of view. But it seems this is quite normal in Orthodox circles in America and the problem seems linked to the seminaries in my opinion. I have no knowledge of what goes on in Orthodox seminaries in America, but it seems to me that liberal theology – which Orthodox see as compatible and not so Protestant compared to say a Southern Baptist seminary – has been assumed to be a more neutral and unbiased approach to the Scriptures. Because when I read people like Fr. Paul Tarazi or Hart or certain bloggers on AF – there is a similarity.

    I have spent long hours on this topic from debate listening, book reading, thoughtful reflection. Whenever I have brought this up in my parish it seems like the impression I give is that I really revel in God punishing people – which is what I would also expect in a liberal setting. Once in a class while talking East/West views of God, someone laughingly quoted “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” and attributed it to Jonathon Edwards – I was really angered by that.

    I think that Orthodox conveniently take the allegorical approach to Scripture, the fact that words cannot express a 1:1 relationship between God’s communication and Inspiration, and skate by the “hard stuff” in Scripture. This is where I would expect more sympathy with better Protestant interpreters. But I think it is worth pointing out that while the allegorical method was used – it was not exclusive nor did it rule out historicity. Fr. Paul Tarazi has taught that the whole OT was written whole cloth after (or during, I don’t remember) the exile – therefore historicity is out completely and unimportant and this is sold off as legitimately Orthodox where the most liberal Protestants don’t go that far in most cases – but that was a conclusion first drawn by liberal Protestants.

    Then we have Fr. Romanides – who I truly love by the way – and his doctrine of Scripture eliminates the need for historicity it seems as well because it’s only the passages in the Scripture that lead to theosis that hold the most value.

    I’ll refer to an exchange I had with Fr. Freeeman on historicity and imprecatory Psalms https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/07/30/the-singular-goodness-of-god/ https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/10/13/when-miracles-ceased/

    and I love Fr. Freeman even though I disagree with him a lot of the time, I respect, admire, and appreciate him.

    I had a conversation with someone at our parish when we first started attending, where I said I was suprised they were included in so many services. The response was pretty much, “well that was the OT and they were pretty backwards back then”. That was stunning.

    If God does not have wrath how can he have love. Wrath is a necessary component of love. If God did not use His megaphone of wrath we would never repent in many cases. If God does not avenge the evil in the world – and in Scripture it is often on behalf of the abused that God avenges evil to defend them – then in what way does He care? The removal of wrath is a depersonalization of God because wrath is an aspect of love and to separate love from wrath is to compartmentalize God and to strip Him of personality in favor of “force”. God becomes like a law of nature, like gravity – but there is no emotional life to gravity. But the Holy Spirit is grieved, Jesus flips tables, God sends fire – or we reduce all of that to anthropomorphisms. Pretty soon the entire Scripture is a semi-inspired anthropomorphic tale with some analogy to human experience and God uses this to guide us to His impersonal self.

    What a load of crap! If someone wants a personal God who loves them, knows them, forgives them, etc. – then you need a God of wrath as well. If someone cannot distinguish between an irate, abusive father and a God of love who weeps over Jerusalem which is about to be destroyed, who tells women on the way to His passion not to weep for Him but for themselves – it is not Scripture or Tradition that has a problem, it is them.

    This false anthropology that people carry around, that is worse than Pelagian – that the will doesn’t will anything in terms of it being a liability, that the will is condtioned beyond culpability, that it can never function properly, that it is a blank slate, or that it is Totally Depraved – you just don’t see Jesus treating people like that. He takes as a presupposition that people who sin are under the power of Satan, often willingly. He doesn’t go into psycho analyzing the Pharisees but calls them children of the devil. He doesn’t chase down the rich young man but lets him go, while loving him. He doesn’t say don’t stone the woman, he moves them to self examination. Jesus, our Lord, lets no excuse find viabilty in refusing to follow him. He doesn’t say, “Judas, I kow you were conditioned socially, emotionally, psychologically to do what you’re going to do… Satan entered Judas…I kept all of them except the son of perdition.” At the same time we don’t have to a full blown determinism because Total Depravity is not true and neither are other aberrations of thought on the will. If you don’t want to be a Calvinist, and a universalist is basically a Calvinist on steroids, then you have to uphold the viability of willing, responsibility, culpability – and all of the other aspects of willing: praiseworthiness, merit, synergy. God is not unrighteous to forget our work Hebrews 6:10. If you throw out the will’s viability you throw out Saints with the wrath bathwater. But this is the predicament all theologies have to deal with. In Scripture though, and in the Fathers, there is a dynamic potential for the will. Think of all of the times Jesus is impressed by the faith of others – “why are you impressed Jesus, don’t you know they are just biologically, neurologically determined to be this way?” This is where you have to go with denials of wrath – because wrath is a component of freedom. If there is no freedom of will, then you must become a determinist as a Universalist or a Calvinist or you have to believe in an evil god. God elects everyone – determinism, God elects some – Calvinism, god damns or saves arbitrarily – evil god.

    There is a lot to lose if you discard wrath.

    I’m pretty caffeinated so I apologize for the lengthiness.

    Thank you Father,
    Matthew

  7. Father bless.
    Thus the misguided and misunderstandings and protestant thinking of these commentators that comes from so many converts who were catechized on Schmemann, Bloom, and Hopko and other SVS “post-patristic -Paris Schooled” theology and ideology and the danger that is resultant. For more see .His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos’ Post-patristic Theology from a Church Perspective @ http://orthodox-voice.blogspot.com/2013/05/post-patristic-theology-from-church.html; and Ch 61 Renovationism from Not Of This World, The Life and Teaching of FR. SERAPHIM ROSE Pathfinder to the Heart of Ancient Christianity.
    Thank you Fr. Lawrence for your clarity and adherence to the Holy Fathers and Holy Tradition.
    Doxa to Theo.

  8. God is good, without passions and unchangeable. One who understands that it is sound and true to affirm that God does not change might very well ask: how, then, is it possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good, becoming merciful to those who know Him and, on the other hand, shunning the wicked and being angry with sinners.

    We must reply to this, that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, because to rejoice and to be angered are passions. Nor is God won over by gifts from those who know Him, for that would mean that He is moved by pleasure. It is not possible for the Godhead to have the sensation of pleasure or displeasure from the condition of humans, God is good, and He bestows only blessings, and never causes harm, but remains always the same.

    If we humans, however, remain good by means of resembling Him, we are united to Him, but if we become evil by losing our resemblance to God, we are separated from Him. By living in a holy manner, we unite ourselves to God; by becoming evil, however, we become at enmity with Him. It is not that He arbitrarily becomes angry with us, but that our sins prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who make us suffer.

    If through prayer and acts of compassionate love, we gain freedom from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but rather that by means of our actions and turning to God, we have been healed of our wickedness, and returned to the enjoyment of God’s goodness. To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind Anthony the Great.
    I am not a patristics scholar but I presume Divine impassibility is more or less the norm within the Greek speaking tradition and hence Orthodoxy; also it is only in that context that we can speak about “wrath”. One might argue that can be separated from apakatastasis (which would require a more developed argument one way or the other than a blog permits) but a quick read of this post suggests that is seems to question impassibility and I suppose one could make the argument that that is in fact a heretical teaching.

    1. Greg, thank you. I have never before seen an Orthodox Priest or teacher deny Divine impassibility. My understanding is it is an essential piece of the Patristic consensus on the Divine nature, and it makes great biblical sense to me.

  9. Is Met. Kallistos Ware’s short piece “Dare We Hope” problematic?

    Hart, in his latest talk, says he has no use for the Hopeful Universalism of von Balthazar or Met. Ware (and thus takes a step beyond what Met. Ware considers “in bounds”). I get the sense, however, you would draw the line sooner than Met. Ware. Are there places you would disagree with him in that short piece?

    1. Yes, I consider Met. Kallistos’ piece Dare We Hope problematic. I think he does not give the patristic consensus enough weight.

  10. Universalists do believe in hell, punishment of sin, etc., but they believe these things to be of a corrective, purgative, purifying nature, rather than everlasting, uncorrective torment. As for God’s wrath, it’s pretty standard for any Christian to understand this as metaphor, as something that appears as mere anger from our perspective, whether this is understood as such with a view toward universalism, theodicy, divine impassibility, the harmonizing the revelation of God’s infinite love and mercy, etc. What would be heretical would be to conceive of wrath as a passion that God suffers. It’s also pretty standard to understand that since God is unwilling that any should perish, and desires all to be saved, if anyone should then be lost forever it would only be because God has permitted a person to “freely” choose hell forever, not because of an angry divine sentencing. Of course, once you realize it’s impossible for such a thing to be a “free choice” (see here the arguments of Hart or Talbott or Ramelli, or the large patristic witness on freedom), then there’s nothing standing in the way of God being all in all.

    1. The problem with universalism is that it is consistently and emphatically contradicted by the Scriptures, the consensus of the Fathers, and the clear teaching of the Church as expressed in its hymnography, iconography, and conciliar definitions. Philosophical argumentation must stand down if it contradicts the Scriptures. For a detailed study of this, one is referred to my book Unquenchable Fire.

      1. I wasn’t pitting philosophy against these other sources. It is my view that universalism is the teaching of scripture, the only coherent model of various patristic soteriologies and eschatologies, etc. Cheers.

  11. Fr. Farley,

    I noticed you didn’t post my response. Again, if God’s wrath is nothing more than how we experience God, how we ascribe the activities, usually the negative ones, to God’s judgment/correction/restoring order… then is not this, taking Divine Impassibility too far, part of the reasoning for Universalism and negating that wrath is real? What I do not understand is how God according to the logic of many cannot have real wrath toward sin, why they don’t say this about his love as well? If wrath is something foreign to God and when we experience it by moving toward or away from God, what we are really experiencing is impersonal, not personal, not reacting to us in any way but God’s wrath being static, having no intentionality on His part – why is His love not seen the same way?

    My contention is that if you do this you negate statements like, “we do not have High Priest who is unable to symapthize, you grieve the Holy Spirit, Jesus Wept..” and a vast multitude of others and that Christ truly is the fullness of deity. I think we would be falling into Gnosticism, or something akin to Sabellianism (Jesus appears as a manifestation of God – since Jesus would not truly be manifesting God as such, but someone not truly identifiable with the revelation of God since Jesus’s actions, emotions, etc. – could not be proper to God as well). If God in His Essence can be said to be perfectly Impassible, can’t we affirm that in His Energies that His interaction with us, words which were Inspired that communicate love and wrath, are real?

    Fr. Hopko said as much on this topic of wrath. It’s really mindblowing when you read the Fathers, the liturgical selections from the Psalms, the refrains after Pascha – that all of this is allegorical for demons. Why not allegorize them too all the way to agnosticism?

    1. Actually I did post your response, despite its length, because it was on topic. A few responses, such as yours, were delayed in posting because I was away from my office giving a talk in Mississippi and did not have access to my computer.

      1. I wrote a response to Greg, that was what I was referring to. How much do you agree with my statements so far. I want to know if I’m tracking correctly.

        Thanks,
        Matt

        1. Sorry, I misunderstood your intended recipient. To answer your question: I agree with what you have said.

        2. The point St Paul makes is about Christ’s humanity. I don’t understand why this would be read as being in conflict with Divine Impassibility. Once you abandon impassibility whatever you are talking about is not God, maybe a god of some sort. Second, Divine Impassibility does not imply “universalism” per se or at least that would require a sustained argument.

          I believe the Gospel as expounded in the New Testament is apakatastasis and personally if not cosmically “theotic” but I don’t think my convictions in that respect color my take on impassibility. Maybe I am wrong but I really do not get your point.

    2. Hi Matt -I understand the concern about imagining things in a way that makes them unreal, but I think the conception is more the following: God is perfect love, in himself, from all eternity. When a human sins, God’s eternal love works to bend that human toward his good and loving end, and in this way God’s love may often be experienced as pain, discomfort, wrath (and would this not be God’s love? Is it possible for God to act/be without love?). On the other hand, if God were to respond to human sin without corrective love, and merely inflicted pain on the sinner without any intention of turning the sinner toward his good end but merely for the sake of tormenting him, then this is not the wrath of the Christian God revealed in Christ, but rather that of a monster.

      1. I hadn’t checked this post in a while but it seems like Fr. Freeman referred to it and I wanted to go back – though he didn’t name this blog.

        What I do not understand is why God being able to “suffer”, to grieve, to joy over a sinner’s repentance – amounts to change in God or that God’s aseity is up for grabs or that God is dependent on humanity or the possibilty of pantheism.

        The people who ardently defend Impassibility call it a mystery how the Holy Spirit can be said to grieve but affirm the Scripture. Why not call it a mystery that Christ as fully God, communicating His human experience completly within the Trinity, wept – and therefore the Trinity can weep – and never change, never become dependent in any way on creation? I’d rather err on the other side, affirm the Scripture and the Fathers, that Christ as a composite, without mixture, but as a unit (I hate using these words like unit) – experiences the fullness of human experience in order so save us, Him being our High Priest. If the Divine cannot experience the human do we not end up with a partial salvation? In all of these thought experiments we either assume God can or cannot empathize with us – or restrict the empathy to Christ’s humanity while splitting Him from His divinity – based on the idea that if God could truly empathize He would lose characteristically His deity. At the same time again, the people who say God cannot empathize affirm the mystery that the Scriptures say as much and are true. Why can’t you flip the mystery? I believe we can and should and still believe in Impassibility in the sense that no change takes place within God.

        If you respond I’ll get to the Universalism connection.

        1. Doctrines of impassibility and simplicity are workings out of the conviction that nothing that is not God makes God to be God. God does not derive his being from any source outside himself. Consequently, a human cannot affect God so as to make God become something he was not already, as if God lacked anything or were subject to some cause apart from himself. Therefore, God relates to us in a way that does not introduce a change in who he eternally is, but he acts from the infinite fullness of who he always already is; God does not become something he was not already as a result of anything we give him. To say that God is impassible does not preclude that God may relate to us, and to say that God may relate to us does not preclude that God is impassible. The mystery is already “flipped.”

          God’s love is “apathetic,” that is, God’s love is not a pathos that is provoked by something external to God, but rather God’s love is an expression of God’s own life (the life of the Trinity) from all eternity. Whatever “wrath” might be when predicated of God, it is obviously not the sort of thing listed among “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5, or the quality that Paul writes must be “put away” so that we may instead forgive as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:31-32), or an attitude motivated by hatred, or a desire only to injure, etc. And so I would agree with those in the tradition who describe the wrath of God in Scripture as “a metaphor, suitable to our feeble understanding, one which describes not the action of God toward us, but what happens when the inextinguishable fervency of God’s love toward us is rejected; hell itself is not a divine work but the reality we have wrought within ourselves by our perverse refusal to open out -as God himself eternally has done- in love, for God and others, for when we have so sealed ourselves up within ourselves, the fire of divine love cannot transform and enliven us, but only assail us as an external chastisement: for our God is a consuming fire, and the pathos of our rage cannot interrupt the apatheia of his love.“ (D. Hart, The Hidden and the Manifest. p 62).

          I should note that impassibility is just one of the issues standing in tension with the above model of wrath, but I think far from the most important. While I can’t see how the impassible God could suffer the pathos of wrath, I would sooner give up my understanding of impassibility than I would let go the conviction that the kind of wrath that would keep repentant sinners locked in hell for all eternity is in any way compatible with the revelation of the crucified Christ, the boundless love of the Father, or the truth we know when we love an other.

          1. I re-read my most recent comment this morning, and I see that I probably could have been clearer had I not written amid late-night brain fog. The comparison of love and wrath, beginning in the second paragraph, was meant to suggest that it’s not only apparently negative actions (such as wrath) but positive ones (such as love) that need to be understood as applying differently to God than they do to creatures. In either case, God is not caused to become something he was not already, but he always acts out of the plenitude of what he eternally is. This is easier to understand with the love of God, which is from eternity complete and sufficient in itself; his love is not reactive (a pathos) but active (an energy), indeed the ground of all action. When we run “wrath” through the same theological mill, and try to imagine a wrath that is not reactive but is part of the eternal, inner life of the Trinity which is the fullness of the Good without any lack or evil or privation, we then must ask whether we’re talking about wrath in a meaningful sense at all. We’re left saying that the inner life of of the infinitely loving God is sometimes felt by us as something like wrath due to our sinful orientation toward it. But even if we reject all of this and say that this is theological speculation that should take a backseat in our interpretive labors, we still have to radically deconstruct the notion of wrath when applied to God because God is obviously not sinful or wicked or unjust or unmerciful. Again we’re in the same position of asking whether we’re talking about wrath in any meaningful sense at all. Again we’re in the position of saying that wrath is how we in our sin experience God; it is our distortion and perversion of God, our failure to receive him as he is, our failure to receive him in perfect love. God’s yoke is only ever light, though we can make it into a heavy burden.

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