‘The Suffering God Cannot Save’ :: David Bentley Hart, Right and Wrong on Impassibility (Part 2 of 4)
by Eric Daryl Meyer
Hart’s positive expression of God’s infinity opens the space to speak about divine pathos, not as a deficiency, but as another modulation of his unconquerable and incorruptible love. The fullness of divine revelation is found in Jesus Christ and as the gospels tell it, God’s life as a human being progresses inexorably, almost magnetically, toward the cross in Jerusalem where God joins humanity (and all creation) in suffering, alienation, torture, death, and in the very depths of hell. Suffering and pain are not thereby to be understood as an attribute of the unchangeable God, like an incurable affliction, but as yet one more expression of divine openness and sharing of life. The cross is God’s glory (John) precisely because it makes visible the fullness of God’s triune openness and love. The same self-giving love by which the Father begets the Son and sends forth the Spirit (and receives the joy of his life in their return) is the self-giving love that knowingly, willingly, freely, and obediently swallows the suffering and death of creation because it pains God to see his creation languish. God’s pathos is an amplification of his love rather than the weakness of a God subject to the violence, control, or coercion of others. The resurrection shows that even in stretching to encompass pain, death, and the depths of hell, God’s peace is unbroken, God’s love is unconquered, God’s infinity is undiminished. The persistence of Christ’s wounds on his Resurrected body demonstrate that wounded-ness is no diminution of God’s life and that God’s bliss cannot be etiolated by exposure to violence. Nor can it be said that death is a necessary player in this drama, or that suffering is the attribute of God whereby his love is eternally demonstrated; death is exposed as nothing, suffering is revealed to be only the short darkness of a night bounded by endless day. To recognize that God genuinely suffers in Jesus Christ is not to subject God to change because (1) this suffering is not imposed upon God but freely borne, and (2) because God’s immutability is not a flat stasis, but the tireless repetition of a fathomless generosity found both in the Trinity and in the history of salvation.