Impassibility: The belief that God is incapable of suffering or of experiencing pain, that he is inaccessible to injury.
A friend of mine died recently. He suffered in a hospital for weeks before his passing. What did God know or feel of his pain? And what of the emotional pain of his wife and family who have lost a good husband and father?
The ancient Greeks taught that the deity cannot change, suffer or be affected by what happens in the material world. To them, divine transcendence means that God is absolutely separate and different from the evil world. If we understand impassibility as Greek philosophy explained it, then God could never expose himself to the experiences of our human life, not to mention suffering and death.
Yet Christianity teaches precisely what we have just celebrated in the Christmas message. The incarnation reveals how an infinitely holy God could and did enter humanity, uncorrupted by sin. God in Christ did not merely seem to be human. His physical nature was not an illusion. He was not an apparition. Jesus was a human being as well as a divine being.
His mother the virgin Mary was more than a passive vehicle though whom the holy child passed at birth. From her Jesus received a human nature. He had human ancestors. He possessed the full range of human emotion, including sadness, loneliness, joy, compassion, and love.
This means he was capable of suffering and identifying with our sufferings.
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In the words of Millard Erickson, “Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us. He has experienced all that we might undergo. When we are hungry, weary, lonely, he fully understands for he has gone through it all himself” (Hebrews 4:15).
If we wish to know what God is really like, our best source of information comes from Jesus. God reveals himself in the divine-human Jesus. The apostle John put it this way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18)
Although we may not be able to see God with natural vision, Jesus has made him known to us. His close relationship to the Father speaks to us of his previous existence at the Father’s side before he came to earth. He reveals God though his perfect human life, his teachings, his miraculous signs, his death and resurrection and his present ministry representing us to the Father.
My friend who died recently was a follower of Jesus. That means that there in the gloomy half-light of his hospital room, in the lonely hours of the long night, he was not alone. God was there to comfort him with the presence of the compassionate Jesus. This means that God feels the sorrow of his family. This means that they may know by experience God’s merciful and faithful care. Jesus has made the Father known to us.
Pastor Randy Faulkner