‘The Suffering God Cannot Save’ :: David Bentley Hart, Right and Wrong on Impassibility (Part 1 of 4)

by Eric Daryl Meyer

Over the next few days I’m going to post the verbal fruit of my wrestling with Hart on the issue of divine impassibility. The reflections here are meant to be experimental—to see whether this line of thinking might be successful, or whether it will fall flat.

Thesis: David Bentley Hart’s strong advocacy of a positive and determinate understanding of divine infinitude provides the framework for an affirmation of divine pathos (in fidelity to scriptural descriptions of divine emotion and pain) that does not negate the traditional ascription to God of impassibility (apatheia). Unfortunately, not only does Hart pass this opportunity by, he also scorns it as he does so.

One of the central tenets of The Beauty of the Infinite is that the infinity of God’s triune life cannot be understood as something like a lack of finitude, or a negative sort of transcendence cognizable as absence from everything immanent. God is not infinite in a way that is bland and indeterminate—like an endless powerful fog—but in sheer abundance and excess. Moreover, God does not suffer from a failure to be finite, nor can infinitude be defined in dialectical opposition to created finitude—God and the universe are not opposites divided by any boundary. In other words, God’s infinity pervades the finite and always exceeds it. God’s transcendence crosses all borders and overcomes all limits. The freedom of God’s love is expressed ever anew in unspeakable creativity, transformed and transfixed in the endless self-giving exchange between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The surfeit of God’s life is marked by an infinity that cannot be exhausted or circumscribed, but repeats itself in endless modulations and harmonies on the theme of love. Far from standoffish loftiness, God’s infinity is closer than we can dare to think, yet beyond simple capture in any concept, picture, or image.

(On to Part 2)