Moltmann, Omnipotence and the Pathos of God
If you've been reading my blog of late you may have figured out that I greatly admire the story and the theology of Jurgen Moltmann, one of the great living theologians. I was able to enjoy a day of conversation -- well, I listened in on the conversation that others were having with him on my behalf. We have one more 1/2 day left tomorrow morning to enjoy his words of wisdom. All thanks to Emergent Village and its co-sponsors. To be here has been a blessing of incalculable worth.
Moltmann's theology is rich in part because it is so rooted in his biography. Indeed, the message of Moltmann might be that biography is theology, that our theologies are rooted in our own life experience. His is rooted in his experiences during WWII, first in surviving the firebombing of Hamburg, during which a friend was killed standing next to him on an anti-aircraft platform, as well as time in a POW camp. That is coupled with the guilt and shame felt as the magnitude of the Holocaust was revealed.
From those and other experiences a theology developed, one that had no formative center, but one that was formed along the journey, in response to the issues of the day. In this journey, his understanding of God emerged, an understanding that was formed by his engagement with Jesus. I was impressed by his confession of a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. His reflection on the cross, led him to an understanding of the nature of God that required a reconfiguring of the doctrine of divine omnipotence. It's not that God controls, but God lifts and carries the universe. He referred us to texts such as the one that speaks of God carrying us on Eagles Wings. God's omnipotence is seen in God's patience.
This leads us to the pathos of God -- or perhaps rather to that doctrine of divine impassibility, a doctrine designed to protect God, but which instead turns God into something unrecognizable as the God of the Bible. As Moltmann put it, "An impassible God is not a God, but a Demon."
The doctrine of impassibility is rooted in Aristotle, and his doctrine of divine apathy. Now, that doesn't mean that God doesn't care (well, maybe it does), but it means that God has no passion, no feeling, no empathy, and thus, no love. Of course this is very different from the Hebrew God who is full of pathos.
What is key for us is this -- according to Moltmann, if God is apathetic, then God is apathetic toward us. And as a final kicker, he reminded us that apathy is considered a sign of mental illness.
So, while impassibility may fit nicely with Greek philosophy, does it offer us a way to a God capable of loving the universe, including us, so as to reconcile the universe?
Finally, I do believe, very strongly that our view of God does have a powerful impact on our behavior. If God has no empathy, no passion, no love for the universe, then will the same be true of me? Will I share this divine apathy? That is the question that must be faced.