Does God Suffer? (Eleonore Stump)
Philosopher Eleonore Stump and CCT Director Evan Rosa discuss whether God endures suffering. Dr. Stump explores the two natures of Christ, believing that an analysis of Christ’s human nature must commit us to the idea that God suffers.
Sometimes we say, “The devil’s in the details,” but perhaps God is in the details.
What I wonder is, even in the midst of that conversation, or beyond the conversation with Job, I wonder what your perspective is on God’s experience of suffering. Does God suffer? And does the psychic break within the human person and the break of relationship with God, what kind of pain does that cause God?
Well, here’s the thing that really matters to me. It matters to me that Christians are literate in their own tradition. You can’t do any good in medicine if you try to figure it out for yourself from scratch. You have to learn from what everybody else has already done. And in the same way, any culture cut off from its own tradition is correspondingly weakened. There is a marvelous deposit of expertise for the Christian community in the theological tradition from the patristic period through now. So start with that deposit, and look at it.
And then you get the answer to your question that goes like this. So does God suffer? Certainly not. A perfectly good, perfectly omniscient, perfectly powerful being and so on doesn’t suffer at all. Point one. Point two. What is Christ? One person with two natures, a fully human nature and a fully divine nature. And who’s the person? One person with two natures. Who’s the person? It’s the second person of the Trinity, and therefore God.
Now, when Christ does anything, he does it either in his divine nature or he does it in his human nature. In his human nature, he can be hungry. In his divine nature, he can’t be, and so on. But the only person doing anything is a divine person. So when there’s somebody there who’s hungry, the hunger’s in the divine nature, but the only person to feel that hunger is a divine person. So now let’s go back to where we were. Does God suffer?
You meant that the hunger’s in the human nature.
Hunger’s in the human nature, and the person is a divine person. So go back to the question, does God suffer? And the answer is, “Certainly, of course.”
In the human nature which God has in the incarnate Christ. And let’s add in dying. Can God die? Of course not. Certainly not, because a perfect being can’t die. But of course, when Christ died, the only person there is to die, the only available person who’s the subject of dying, that would be a divine person. So it’s heretical to deny that God dies. That’s interesting. That’s a very complicated, interesting result. And now let’s backtrack again to where you started. When we suffer, does God suffer?
Well, when the biblical text said, “Jesus weeps,” who’s weeping? We have only one candidate. The person of the incarnate Christ is weeping, and that person is divine. That’s God weeping. And just on the logic of these early church doctrines, that’s the inescapable conclusion. That’s not a sentimental, twentieth century, neoliberal Protestant approach to whatever it is. That’s the logic of those doctrines.