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Vol. V.—JANUARY, 1865.—No. 25.
THE SUFFERING OF GOD.
BY ROBERT G. VERMILYE, D.D., BAST WINDSOR HILL, CONN.
The Conflict of Ages ; or the Great Debate of the Moral Relations of God and Man. By EDWARD BEECHER, D. D. Boston.
1853. The Concord of Ages ; or the Individual and Organic Harmony of God and Man. By EDWARD BEECHER, D. D. New
York. 1860. The Sufferings of Christ. By a LAYMAN. New York. 1844. The Sufferings of Christ, confined to his Human Nature. By
Redeemer and Redeemed. By CHARLES BEECHER. Boston.
The volumes of Dr. Edward Beecher, published some years ago under the titles of The Conflict of Ages and The Concord of Ages, bear upon the same general topic as the recent work, entitled Redeemer and Redeemed — the character of God, in his dealings with created beings, and the grand system of the universe, present, past, and future. Each work has its special thought, peculiar almost to the author, around
of man, and his fall in that state from holiness to sin : in the latter, it is the character of God, as a suffering being. With these two great facts, and the principles involved in them, Dr. Beecher is certain that he can solve all mysteries, and disclose the system and history of the universe from alpha to omega. The author is very full as to the vast importance of the doctrine before us. IIe maintains that the prevalent conceptions of God are radically erroneous. He has a chapter entitled " A new development of God necessary.” He says:
“Whatever the truth may be as to the suffering of God, it is of no secondary moment. If God does suffer, it affects and controls the whole system. On the other hand, if God does not suffer, then an opposite logical and moral element is at once gendered, which creates not only a different, but an opposite universe. It is therefore no small issue, which of these opposite Gods and universes are the true ones. And therefore, the present discussion resolves itself also into the fundamental question, What is God, when truly known? Is he capable of suffering, and does he in fact suffer? Or, is he by nature impassable, and devoid of all suffering?”. It may be added, that this suffering of God, in its actuality, is attributed to the presence of sin in the universe. It is "a God suffering in view of the origin, nature, and progress of sin, in the present system,” whom we contemplate. While God is, by his nature, capable of suffering, his actual suffering is due to the introduction and continuance of sin.
The doctrine thus stated is not new in the history of the church. We have nothing to say of any ancient or former developments ; but within our own times it was brought out in part by the work of the late Geo. Griffin, on the Sufferings of Christ. He maintained that the divine nature suffered, as well as the human, in the agonies of the Redeemer, which, of course, implies that divinity is capable of suffering. A writer in the Baptist Christian Review of that day (whom we suppose to have been Dr. Turnbull, of Hartford) fully endorses the views of Mr. Griffin, and, while making some distinctions overlooked by him, seems to go even further, for he intimates, or asserts, that the whole Trinity suffered sympathetically in those agonies. This is the old Patripassianism, in one form, and, of course, involves Dr. Beecher's doctrine, that the divine nature is in itself capable
with the pothesis that it
of suffering. Another reviewer of Mr. Griffin's book assumed different ground, assenting to the idea that the divine nature suffered sympathetically in the agonies of Christ, but inclining to the hypothesis that it became capable of suffering by its union with the human. The hypostatical union was such, that the divine nature came under the limitations of the human, at least in this respect. So the matter stood when Dr. Beecher published his Conflict of Ages ; Dr. Tyler having thoroughly replied to Mr. Griffin, in his work on The Sufferings of Christ.
Our object at present is to state, rather than to argue, the question of the Suffering of God. We shall first endeavor to ascertain what the parties mean by the language used; and then mention the arguments for and against this view.
I. What, then, is meant by the suffering of God? There ought not to be any difficulty in apprehending the meaning of these terms; and yet the parties do not seem to agree in all respects among themselves. A ready answer would be, that God is capable of enduring, and does endure, painful emotions. We ought to know, without definition or explanation, what are pleasant and painful emotions. We need not, perhaps can not, define what are those states of mind which we call feelings or passions, and what it is to be painfully affected in our feelings ; but we all readily comprehend what is meant by the language itself. Now, as Dr. Beecher insists that our knowledge of the divine mind is possible only by using the analogy of our own, – indeed, that God made man in his own image for this very end — our question may be easily answered. The mind of God is such a mind as ours, only infinitely great. It is possessed of the same faculties and powers ; it is a moral nature. Of course it has emotions, and affections, and passions, or sufferings. Let us, then, understand what is meant by mental suffering in ourselves, and we have a sufficient explanation of the nature of the suffering of the divine mind. Accordingly he enumerates among the painful emotions of the divine mind, pity, sympathy, compassion, grief, displeasure, patience, anger, indignation, long-suffering, repentance, disappointment, jealousy, and the like.
God is "pained by the infidelity of his people; natural jealousy, a fearfully painful emotion, is ascribed to God. Indifference and forgetfulness are exquisitely painful to the sensibilities of God." "In the 16th chapter of Ezekiel his tone of feeling rises, and language is exhausted in delineating his various and conflicting feelings." " There is a painful conflict in the reaction of the divine mind against injustice among men.” God experiences " resentment, fury, fiery anger.” He suffered from the dishonorable, mean, and ungrateful conduct of the Jews. He endures the deep and keen pangs of disappointed benevolence. No one feels so keenly and so painfully as he, the hatred, ingratitude, dishonor, and moral ruin of his creatures. Not to multiply illustrations, the following passage sums up the argument and the meaning :
" The denial of the reality of the suffering of God is a direct attack upon the trustworthiness of the human mind, as God's chosen and only medium for revealing himself; and that, in a fundamental particular. For such is the human mind that the nature of God's joy can not be understood, the nature of his sensibility to pleasure can not be understood, through the human mind, except as involving the possibility of pain and suffering, and its reality when that sensibility is violated. If we abrogate suffering in God, we abrogate any holy sensibility to joy or pleasure of which the human mind can form any rational conception. If any thing can be certain, it is this: God has so made the human mind that an exquisite sensitiveness to the appropriate sources of happiness can not exist, without involving a corresponding capacity to suffer. If to a benevolent and sensitive mind it is a source of pleasure to be esteemed, honored, loved, to receive a grateful return for favors, to witness the moral excellence and welfare of others—then it must be painful to be disregarded, dishonored, hated, ungratefully repaid, and to witness the moral degradation and ruin of others who are loved. This is the law of mind. No one can alter it. No one can conceive of its alteration, or abrogation. It is an essential result of sensibility itself.” · This may suffice as a brief statement of the Beecher view of God's suffering. Its nature is the same with the mental sufferings of men : it is the endurance of painful emotions of various kinds. Its occasions are the sins of his creatures, and its forms vary as those sins are viewed in various lights. We have no statements at hand from any other source, as to the nature of the suffering of God. It would seem as if they were unnecesgest themselves as needing an answer, in further explanation of the doctrine; and on these we may find that its advocates even are not agreed.
(1.) Is this suffering of such a nature as to make God unhappy? It would seem as if this question was readily answered, for common sense would say, almost spontaneously, that suffering, in its very nature, is the opposite of happiness — a synonym almost for unhappiness. Quoad hoc, a mental sufferer is an unhappy person; and the very nature of suffering is changed, and its merit, so far as it has any merit, is gone, if it does not in any way affect the happiness of the subject. From the representations previously made, we should feel compelled to say that the happiness or blessedness of the divine being was impaired by and during his sufferings.
Such was the view adopted by Mr. Griffin. "Suffering,” he says, " consists in the diminution of what would otherwise have been the happiness of the sufferer. The amount of the suffering is tested by the amount of such diminution.” Such, also, is the common view of the church, for nothing is supposed to be more obvious than that the supposition of the divine suffering destroys the infinite and perfect felicity of God; and this is one of the most ordinary arguments against the doctrine. Dr. Beecher, however, is not willing to admit this. He seems to regard it as
speaks of God's being unhappy. I have never spoken of God,” he says, "as unhappy, but only as suffering; a being can suffer, and yet be happy; and so I believe of God." To the objection, that "if God suffers, his sufferings must be infinite,” his reply is, " so are his joys infinite; the proportion of his mind is preserved, and, on the whole, causes of joy to him infinitely preponderate." "Nor does this view,” he adds, " deny the happiness of God. As man can suffer, and yet be happy, so can God; and as no benevolent man would willingly lose his sensibility because it exposes him to pain, but rather is the more happy, on the whole, because of it, so is it with God.” These statements may mean, either, that at any particular point of time in the history of the universe (for Dr. B. represents him as under the limitations of succession in time) God is happy, on