Chapter 2.1, Part Two
January 22, 2013
i. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
Without passions... Really? Yes, for in this expression the Divines again affirmed the classical doctrine of impassibility. Let's be clear as to what is being maintained here. The Divines are not saying that God knows nothing of emotion or feeling, whether joy and delight, or pain and suffering. Rather, they are saying that no one (or thing) may impose suffering, pain, or any sort of distress on God in such a manner that God "experiences" such things unwillingly.
Few doctrinal assertions appear more detached from reality than impassibility. Introduced into theology in the second century (Augustine, Calvin, Charnock, Owen, Shedd, Hodge - none offer serious misgivings), it suggests to the modern ear a God who at best is impassive, unconcerned and impersonal. However, what is being safeguarded is God's independence and sovereignty - his "absoluteness" (the main point of WCF 2:1). His experiences are not like ours. His are foreknown, willed and chosen and not involuntary reactions. Impassibility is affirmed both externally to God (God is not a victim) or internally to God (God does not suffer from anxiety, or depression; he is not emotionally stunted or remote or Stoically disengaged).
Detractors (Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltman come to mind) notwithstanding, the Divines maintained divine impassibility as essential. Nevertheless, we should think of it in light of God's Trinitarian "dance" or perichoresis. As David Bentley hart puts it,
God's impassibility is the utter fullness of an infinite dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite "drama" of God's joyous act of self-outpouring - which is his being as God. Within the plenitude of this motion, no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation, because it is the infinite possibility of every creaturely motion or act; no pathos is possible for God because pathos is, by definition, a finite instance of change visited upon a passive subject, actualising some potential, whereas God's love is pure positivity and pure activity. (The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, 167).