Not a word of the creeds is superfluous. Whatever the creeds say was thought by the Fathers of the Church to be crucially important, and essential to the Faith. Whatever the creeds say, they say emphatically.
Why does the Nicene Creed emphasize that Jesus suffered death? Whatever the reason, how are we to reconcile the fact of his suffering with his eternity, which entails his impassibility?
The first question may be answered without undue difficulty, albeit not without touching upon mystery. Jesus had to die because the only fit and sufficient ontological compensation for the sins of the whole world, which had opened an infinite abyss of alienation between God and each creature of our world, was an infinite sacrifice.
Excursus: the sins of the whole world, NB, ruined *the entire cosmos.* The whole shooting match was wrecked, and stood in need of radical repair. One bad apple ruins the whole barrel; one sin corrupts and deforms the entire causal system of which it is an inextricable element.
The straightforward bit of that explanation is that of the infinite ontological capacity of God alone sufficing to fill the infinite chasm that creaturely sin had cleaved between creatures and their God. No merely finite sacrifice might have done the trick. Throw any finite amount of value into an infinite deficit of value, and you end up with … an infinite deficit of value. To cure an infinite deficit of value, you need infinite value. So only an infinite sacrifice might have done the trick.
Man *cannot* save himself – logically cannot save himself – by any means. Nor might any other creature whatever save man; for, creatures are all by definition finite, and thus insufficient to the task. Only God can save man. So all those other sacrifices – all those other human acts whatsoever – were utterly vain to procure salvation. What’s worse, they were a complete waste; as if you were trying to get to the top of the mountain, and traveled for days instead *away* from it.
Excursus: this is why idolatry and Pelagianism are so stupid, and so pernicious. Gnosticism, likewise. They are a waste of time. They take a lot of work, but they don’t work. God is not jealous because he is insecure, but because he loves us and doesn’t want us to go to Hell because we’ve been doing religion wrong; and, so, doing everything else wrong, too; for, if your axioms of action are defective, so will all your acts go awry. Thus the very first Commandment, upon which all the others hang, is to worship God alone, who is alone the only proper object of worship – and not to worship any other thing whatever. In the First Commandment, God is saying to us, “Don’t be stupid! Don’t make the ultimate category error, that will ruin everything else for you.”
The mysterious bit of that explanation is the sacrifice. Why sacrifice? What is the logic of sacrifice, anyway? It seems stupid, prima facie: as two wrongs can’t make a right, so the destruction wrought by a sinful act can’t be repaired by destroying something else. If you’ve spilt some milk, you can’t clean it up – let alone get your milk back, which is what stands in this analogy for salvation – by spilling some honey, too. That just compounds the problem. Right? What is it with all this sacrifice all over the place? I mean, it’s everywhere in human culture. Why? How can it even make sense, let alone work?
There are answers to those questions, but it would take a fair deal of metaphysical preparation before I might provide them, and I don’t have time for that right now, because I want to get on to the problem of divine suffering. I’ll try to address them later, in subsequent posts.
All right then: how do we reconcile the suffering of Jesus – of God – with the impassibility that necessarily characterizes the Eternal One, God?
Here again, the answer is rather simple – albeit, not easy.
The question is a type of the apparent difficulty of reconciling divine omniscience and creaturely freedom: if God knows what we shall do from all eternity, how might we be free, properly speaking, to do anything else? If we can do only what God sees eternally that we shall do, how can it be accurate to say that we are free?
These two questions are in turn types of the general question of how to reconcile change – time – with eternity.
These sorts of difficulties arise when we try to understand eternity under the terms of time. It can’t be done. When we try, we instantly find ourselves vexed by paradox and contradiction.
The only way to understand eternity is under the terms of eternity.
Excursus: it turns out furthermore that the only way to understand time, too, is under the terms of eternity. That, again, is perhaps a subject for a future post.
Eternity is not an infinite stretch of time; is not an infinite sequence of moments or events. It is a single moment, a single event. It has no temporal address. Thus, it has every temporal address. It is happening simultaneously with all events that do have temporal addresses, in all the causal systems that are or ever shall be.
Excursus: Divine ubiquity works the same way. There is no particular place where God is located; so there is no particular place where he is not located. He is located everywhere.
So, God does not know what happens within causal systems before it happens. For God, there is no before. He knows what happens within causal systems *as* it happens.
In particular, he feels the suffering of the body of his son Jesus as it happens.
This feeling and knowledge on God’s part does not change him, because his one moment knows all other moments. What happens does not change him because he is always happening right now, and at every now; and that happening that is him happening at every now is the only happening there is in him.
That’s it, really. Simple, but not easy.
There is one other aspect to this that deserves mention. The agony of Jesus is real, and it hurts the body of Jesus terrifically, but it does not hurt God. God feels the pain of Jesus – as he does your own – but it does not hurt him, the way that it would hurt a finite being. As infinite, God can feel an infinite amount of pain without hurting. Take all the pain of all the finite kosmoi – a finite quantity of pain – and subtract that finite quantity from an infinite quantity of bliss: the remainder is infinite bliss.
Excursus: This is foreshadowed for us in the difference between the way a grown man hurts when he suffers a minor injury that draws some blood and needs a bandage, and the way that a toddler hurts at suffering exactly the same injury. The toddler hurts far, far more, and far more intensely, than the grown man.
Now here’s the juicy part, which shall serve for my coda. Easter means that our whole cosmos has been saved. With the Resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of our whole world has already begun. This very spring then, right now – indeed, every spring, even every now – is a local salient of the spring eternal. And what that means for us is that in and by Easter, God has opened the way for us to participate that spring and to join it; to return home to his house, and so to share in his infinite bliss. We get as much of it as we want; as much as we can handle. All we have to do is turn and walk with him; he’ll explain how it all works as we sojourn toward that great lunch that waits for us in the humble diner at Emmaus.
Pay for it, and take it, my friends. Pay for it: leave off your travels along any other path. Take it: travel instead with Jesus. Christ is Risen. Our long, long fast is over! Hallelujah! Onward!
And: enjoy your Easter Dinner!