More on the challenge presented by Genesis 6:6

July 7, 2012

Read the previous post to acquaint yourself with the problem. Like any good Methodist, I consulted John Wesley’s commentary on this verse. Among other things, he writes,

These are expressions after the manner of men, and must be understood so as not to reflect upon God’s immutability or felicity. It doth not speak any passion or uneasiness in God, nothing can create disturbance to the eternal mind; but it speaks his just and holy displeasure against sin and sinners: neither doth it speak any change of God’s mind; for with him there is no variableness; but it speaks a change of his way.

In other words, Wesley explains, all this talk of God’s feeling sorry or regretting or grieving in his heart or “repenting” (KJV) are just very human ways of describing it. The theological truth is something else. Sure, humans perceive that God feels this way or experiences these emotions, because that’s how we would feel or experience them, but of course God isn’t like that. God is eternal, immutable, steady, unchanging. Impassibility is the classic Christian doctrine that says that we creatures can’t affect God that way, or cause God to change.

I’m slightly less comfortable than I used to be with the rigidity of this theological idea, in part because of what Goldingay said in his commentary, but mostly because there is so much scripture to contradict it.

I like the way my friend Tom puts it in the comments section of the previous post. This makes sense to me:

I have a picture on the subject, though it is certainly weaker than whatever the reality actually is. Consider a playwright. Once he is finished writing the play, he “knows the end from the beginning.” But suppose he, like Hitchcock, also includes himself as one of the actors in the play (except not a cameo role). When it gets to a specific point in the play, the actor responds to whatever the scene is in which he is present at that moment. The ultimate outcome of the play does not override that; in fact, that response is instrumental to how the play ultimately turns out. Except that God is not “acting”—that is really how he feels when he is actually confronted with the prevailing, sweeping immorality of his creation at that point in time.

In other words, like so many things related to God and the complex subject of theology, it’s “both/and.” I can live with that.

2 Responses to “More on the challenge presented by Genesis 6:6”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, glad I could provide a partial insight on this issue. By the way, could I take advantage of the opportunity to raise a prayer request? I have been corresponding by email with a fomer (and favorite) philosophy professor of mine who is an atheist, Jim Edwards. I feel as though I am at the “make or break” point with him. Thanks!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Will do, Tom. My prejudice is that one becomes a philosophy professor to begin with, in part, because one doesn’t believe in God! I know that’s not true, but philosophy professors live and work in a very skeptical context. It makes witnessing a challenge, I’m sure.

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