Damascene Cosmology – Is God moved?

While the previous answer given to “Does God change” might be adequate to some since it allows for us to understand that God does not operate in the way we do, meaning he can change his mind without changing his nature, to others such an answer is unsatisfactory.

For instance, even if we say that God’s emotions are higher than our own – such as when he’s angry he’s not holding some different quality of angry as we do, but instead holds the entire property of angry without actualizing on the entire property – the critic could point out that God’s emotional state is still a reaction to something we have done. When we look to Moses, God changed his mind after he listened to Moses, that is, he reacted to Moses.

If God reacts to us then that means he is, at times, moved by us. Many lay theologians, pastors, and even professional theologians argue that while God is immutable, by creating us he opened himself up to be moved by us at times. Such a view, however, ignores that (1) Scripture is emphatic that God did not lower himself to relate to us, but rather raises us up to relate to him and (2) God still had mutability within his nature under such a view. If God lowered himself in creation so that he could be moved by his creation at times, that means within his nature he changed from immutable to mutable, which would indicate that he was never immutable to begin with. As we discovered earlier, if anything has mutability within its nature, that is it has the potential to change, then it is mutable. Immutable beings must be immutable by nature. If God lowered himself in the act of creation, then he is not immutable and therefore we must abandon the idea of the Christian God.

The other alternative is to play hermeneutical gymnastics with such passages so we can escape saying that God actually reacted. Such a defense, however, compromises the integrity of Scripture by reading into Scripture.

Instead, I think the best defense is to fall back on God’s transcendence and argue that his reactions are not like our reactions. When we react, our reactions are usually “knee-jerk” reactions. We see a car cut us off and we immediately get angry without thinking about the situation. With God, he knew what the car would do before the event happened and therefore knew how he would react. If he were talking to the driver, since he would be dealing with a human he would react in a way that we would understand, which is anger.

But the argument is that by acknowledging God reacts we acknowledge that God can be moved, which makes him mutable, but such an argument is flawed. God’s reaction is his choice, just as we have a choice to many of our reactions. The difference is that we are attempting to overcome our passions, thus our natural instincts will often inhibit us from having proper reaction. God, on the other hand, is without passions (since he lacks a body) and therefore has complete control over how he will react if he chooses to react at all.

While God reacts, the reaction is his choice, meaning that he is truly the mover and is still unmoved. Since God is the originator of his choice we cannot say that any action moves him, but rather that God chooses to acknowledge that an event has transpired and then originates a response to the event (though he does not need to).

If God uses x to get from A to B rather than using y, the change did not result from any external factor forcing God to choose x, but rather because he chose to use y. To be moved means that God is controlled by the situation and must act within that situation. If, however, God has the choice to act within a situation or not to act within a situation, then he is not controlled by the situation, meaning he is not moved by the situation. When God appears angry, it is because his anger is an appropriate response to human actions and is an emotion that we understand, but he chose to be angry and was not forced to be angry by a series of events.

The question, “Why does God react to us if he is mutable” is therefore a flawed question. The argument assumes that we can be the efficient cause of God’s actions. The question assumes that God reacts immediately to us without foreseeing our action or that his emotion is actually emotion and not the way God chooses to communicate to us (since we communicate by emotion as well as by words). The argument is flawed because God is his own efficient cause when it comes to choice.

All of this indicates that God chooses to react as he desires; if his reaction suits his ends (the formal cause) then he will act, making him and not the event the efficient cause of his actions. Thus, God reacts, but not in the way that we react. Though we can sometimes choose to react to a situation (and therefore become our own efficient cause), we sometimes react by instinct and therefore it is the situation that caused our actions. God, however, being omnipotent is never limited by a situation and therefore can choose to react.

Finally, such arguments ignore the infallible knowledge and foreknowledge of God. Often our reactions are motivated by our ignorance of the situation. We did not know the situation would arise nor what will happen after the situation. To God, however, everything is mysteriously ever-present to him, therefore he knows the situation will occur and what will occur after the situation. Since God knows what will occur, he knows how he will react to the situation (if he chooses to react), meaning that God’s reaction is not like our reaction.

In all of this, God does not change. He is the efficient cause of his own actions and is therefore immutable. None moves him, but rather he chooses whether or not he will move other things to achieve his will. Truly, God is above us and not like us and therefore we cannot base God’s experience off our experience.


This was a scheduled post. I am currently out of town and subsequently have turned comments off since I cannot moderate or interact with commenters. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this post, please feel free to contact me.