God on a Mission—Jesus Wept

April 26th, 2012 / 3 Comments

A robust missional theology has a Christological focus. And that focus undermines what many Christians from yesteryear assumed: God was impassible. Jesus reveals, instead, that we make a difference to God.

Divine “passability” is the word ancient people talked about God being moved. We might best describe passability with contemporary terms like “influence,” “affect,” or “sway.”

We certainly see Jesus being influenced, affected, and swayed by others. Jesus was passable.

The shortest verse in Scripture describes Jesus’ passability well: “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11:35). Matthew also reports Jesus had compassion on people, because they were “weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). In these instances and others, we find Jesus affected by others.[1]

God isn’t Moved?

With skewed views of God’s perfection, some theologians have said God is uninfluenced by others. God is impassable, they argue. God only influences creatures; creatures never influence God.

Many classic theologies implicitly adopted Aristotle’s view that God is unmoved. Aristotle called God the unmoved mover, because he thought God affected others without being affected.

This vision of an unmoved/uninfluenced/unaffected God doesn’t jibe well with the Bible. The God of Scripture expresses love that both gives and receives. God loves as friend (philia), for instance. When believers respond well to God’s love, we find God rejoicing. When they respond poorly, God is saddened, angry, and even wrathful. According to Scripture, creatures really affect God.

Suffering God

Today, many rightly speak of God’s passability by saying our Savior is the “suffering God.” This suffering was most poignant on the cross. In Christ, God suffers pain and death for the benefit of all. In fact, many theologians agree with Jürgen Moltmann and call the one who seeks and saves, “the crucified God.”[2]

A suffering God – one genuinely affected by creation – is the relational God at the heart of missional theology. The influence creation has upon God does not alter God’s loving nature, of course. We best interpret biblical verses saying there is “no shadow of change” (James 1:17) in God as describing God’s unchanging nature.

But creatures do influence the particular ways God relates to creation. Just as a perfectly loving father always loves his children, that same loving father allows his children to influence him, so he knows how best to love them in specific instances. A living God gives and receives in relationship.

God’s Salvation is Tailor-Made

To put it in missional terms, the God who seeks and saves does so to best address the specific ways we need saving!

Some of us need saving from alcohol abuse; others need saving from dishonesty; others saving from unhealthy pride.Those things that destroy us and from which we need salvation make up a long list!

God saves from all sin. But because God is moved/influenced by us in relationship, the specific ways God saves are tailor-made for each of us.



[1] For an accessible theology of holiness from a relational perspective, see the book I wrote with Michael Lodahl, Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 2005).

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993; New York: HarperCollins, 1991; London: SCM, 1974).

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Comments

Todd Holden

One thing that struck me as I read this, is that for a long time I held that God was the unmoved mover. It was what I was taught as a child and I did not dispute it.

Because of that teaching I fell in with the rest of the church that I grew up in, leaning towards a deistic view of God. He set everything in motion now leave Him alone and get to work.

As a pastor, this is certainly not what I would want to portray as a correct view of God. I agree with you Tom wholeheartedly that God is moved by our prayer, moved by our lives. More than that, I think I can boldly say that, that was His plan all along. It did not just happen somewhere along the way. This is the way God, Himself, wants it to be.

When I think of a God that wants to be moved by me and wants just as well for me to be moved by Him, that inspires my passion to love Him and love His creation!!


Vicky

I believe that Jesus wanted social justice for the world. I have discovered a new book that shows how His message was covered up by His Gentile followers. The church has blinkered its past. It’s no secret that Jesus strove to bring in the kingdom of justice here on earth and his followers implemented it in the communal society we read about in Acts 2:44-47. The church’s dirty secret is that the Jewish followers of Jesus continued to hold his vision dear, later influencing such sects as the Bogomils and even, according to their own oral traditions, the Doukhobors. After exterminating the Jewish followers of Jesus, the church’s historians buried this history of justice-seeking but an author by the name of Lawrence Goudge has exhumed their story and presented it in ‘Cover-Up: How the Church Silenced Jesus’s True Heirs.’ This book does the world a great service by illuminating for the first time this vital part of the history of social justice.


Chris

passability ??
I am not sure what that means.  If we are going to make up words to define Jesus then who knows where we will end up!
As to John 11:35 Jesus wept because of the unbelief of Mary, Martha, and others…not because he was moved by their weeping.  The Jews never did have it right.  NIV says he was “deeply moved” which means he was angry!  His anger was kindled because if any family should have understood who He was it was this family.  Deeply moved again, he ordered the stone be rolled away and commanded Lazarus to come forth.  The I am is here!  The resurrection is here.  And it is not someday. …it is now!  Another time Jesus wept was when He was looking over Jerusalem.  His heart was broken at the unbelief again.


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