Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

This has been making some rounds across the internet today (I've checked my blog reader breifly two times and seen references to this five or more), but I thought it profound:

God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, is it possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honour Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honour Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
Who said such things? St. Antony the Great.*


*St. Antony the Great is, well, the Great. A hermit of Egypt, an early monastic, whose biography (written by no less than St. Athanasius) made monasticism known and popular in the 4th century. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession refers to him favorably in AP XXVII.38


  1. orrologion said...

    This is a great quote. The first time I saw it was in Michael Pomozansky's "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology", tr. Seraphim Rose. i thought it got at - elegantly - both union with God (divinization) and salvation and judgement in a way other than punitive and legalistic, honor/justice necessitating in God punishment of humanity.

  2. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    The questions are "to what extent is the language used in Scripture speaking of God a condescension to human limits" and then also "to what extent does our God hold and fit the classical Greek Philosophical terms, such as immutable, immense, etc."

    Also, the idea that a passion denotes a change may not be quite correct. For example - if something always annoys a person - is it really a change in that person's being to be annoyed when X happens. Actually, it's quite consistent - the being is the same.

    With this being said - it may work - depending upon how far one pushes it. I get strongly leery when one takes the Word of God and then says, "Well, actually, God didn't and doesn't " - sounds way too close to a certain serpent for my comfort.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...


    I know you weren't going this direction, but we should make clear that denigrating "Greek Philosophical terms" about God is a canard. Christian theology borrowed these terms and ideas. Period. If we get rid of these, we loose the Nicene Creed and more. If we are a Christian, then we use these terms and categories.

    Second about the passions: annoyance is a passion, for it is an external stimulus that provokes our inner life, so to speak. Perhaps some of our readers more familiar with Greek Theology could define it differently, and I would invite those readers to weigh in here.

    You're right that we must be very careful when we interpret God's Word. But interpret it we must, for we have passages that, frankly, contradict each other on the surface. Is God love, or is He full of wrath? Can God feel wrath (an emotion) when He is unchanging? Does God love the whole world or hate sinners? You know what I mean here. At some point we do have to say "God doesn't." When we say this makes us Christian or satanic, I suppose.

  4. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    My point was this (and hence why it is a question) - we have introduced non-biblical language in order to understand and to better teach. This isn't in an of itself a bad thing - nothing wrong with the terms Trinity or Sacraments. We just need to remember that they are tools for our usage, not that which binds God.

    There is tension present in Scripture - God is love, and yet Scripture also speaks of His wrath. How can this be? The standard answer of the Lutheran tradition is that there are two doctrines, both equally true - the Law and the Gospel. Now, are some of the terms her condescensions to man's limitations - perhaps - but if they are, maybe we ought to use them.

    P.S. I'm preaching all about growth and healing today, not very forensic, just so you know >=o)

  5. Christopher D. Hall said...


    Ok, but the "doctrine" of of God's Law is that this is his "alien work," (the proper latin declension form escapes me), but his "proper work" is that of the Gospel. Hence even Pieper would say that God is Love, not Wrath.

    And again, the philosophical terms such as "immutable," is, like "Trinity," a word to describe those doctrines revealed by the prophets and apostles: that God changest not.

  6. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    But as we in America should be well aware of - just because something is Alien doesn't mean that it isn't present >=o)

    No, I have thought about things along the lines of this quote before - and there is a certain beauty and elegance to them - and that is why I distrust it, why I think it ultimately pushes things too far. Because it appeals to me too much - it is too nice - and it can seemingly circumvent parts of Scripture that make me uncomfortable.

    Oh - and on immutable - I do think sometimes we end up pushing it more to the static side than we ought (how can God suffer on the Cross) - where as I think it is more a matter of God being totally consistent - immutability should point us to concepts of faithfulness. God is also dynamic. I think the West can push this in the wrong focus as well.