God Without Mood Swings
Recovering the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility

Copyright © 2000 by Phillip R. Johnson. All rights reserved. This article is excerpted from Bound only Once, edited by Douglas Wilson, published by Canon Press.

Derhaps the most difficult biblical dilemma for those of us who affirm the classic view of an utterly sovereign and immutable God is the problem of how to make sense of the various divine affections spoken of in Scripture. If God is eternally unchanging—if His will and His mind are as fixed and constant as His character—how could He ever experience the rising and falling passions we associate with love, joy, exasperation, or anger?
    Classic theism teaches that God is impassible—not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God is "without body, parts, or passions, immutable" (2.1).
    God without passions? Can such a view be reconciled with the biblical data? Consider Genesis 5:6-7: "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (emphasis added). In fact, Scripture frequently ascribes changing emotions to God. At various times He is said to be grieved (Psalm 78:40), angry (Deuteronomy 1:37), pleased (1 Kings 3:10), joyful (Zephaniah 3:17), and moved by pity (Judges 2:18).
    Classic theism treats such biblical statements as anthropopathisms—figurative expressions ascribing human passions to God. They are the emotional equivalent of those familiar physical metaphors known as anthropomorphisms—in which hands (Exodus 15:17), feet (1 Kings 5:3), eyes (2 Chronicles 16:9), or other human body parts are ascribed to God.
    We know very well that God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and "a spirit hath not flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39)—so when Scripture speaks of God as having body parts, we naturally read such expressions as figures of speech. Almost no one would claim that the biblical tropes ascribing physical features to God are meant to be interpreted literally.[1]
    But the texts that assign emotions to God are another matter. Many Christians are loth to conclude that these are meant to be taken figuratively in any degree.[2]
    After all, one of the greatest comforts to any believer is the reassurance that God loves us. But if love is stripped of passion, we think, it's a lesser kind of love. Doesn't the doctrine of divine impassibility therefore diminish God's love?
    To complicate matters further, when we try to contemplate how any of the divine affections can be fixed and constant, we begin to imagine that God is inert and unfeeling.
    Fearing such inferences, some veer to the opposite extreme and insist instead that God is even more passionate than we are. In one of those ubiquitous Internet theological forums, a minister who hated the doctrine of divine impassibility wrote, "The God of the Bible is much more emotional than we are, not less so!"
    Someone else sarcastically replied, "Really? Does your god have even bigger mood swings than my mother-in-law?"
    The point was clear, even if made indelicately. It is a serious mistake to impute any kind of thoughts to God that are cast in the same mold as human passions—as if God possessed a temper subject to involuntary oscillation.
    In fact, a moment's reflection will reveal that if God is "subject to like passions as we are" (cf. James 5:17), His immutability is seriously undermined at every point. If His creatures can literally make Him change His mood by the things they do, then God isn't even truly in control of His own state of mind. If outside influences can force an involuntary change in God's disposition, then what real assurance do we have that His love for us will remain constant? That is precisely why Jeremiah cited God's immutability and impassibility as the main guarantee of His steadfast love for His own: "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not" (Lamentations 3:22). God Himself made a similar point in Malachi 3:6: "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."
    Still, many find the doctrine of divine impassibility deeply unsatisfying. After all, when we acknowledge that an expression like "the ears of the Lord" (James 5:4) is anthropomorphic, we are recognizing that God has no physical ears. So if we grant that the biblical expressions about divine affections are anthropopathic, are we also suggesting that God has no real affections? Is He utterly unfeeling? If we allow that God's grief, joy, compassion, and delight are anthropopathic, must we therefore conclude that He is really just cold, apathetic, and indifferent?

The Alternative God of Open Theism


    That is precisely the way most open theists—and even some who reject open theism—have misconstrued the doctrine of divine impassibility. A recent article in Christianity Today asserted that the doctrine of impassibility is actually just an outmoded relic of Greek philosophy that undermines the love of God.
If love implies vulnerability, the traditional understanding of God as impassible makes it impossible to say that "God is love." An almighty God who cannot suffer is poverty stricken because he cannot love or be involved. If God remains unmoved by whatever we do, there is really very little point in doing one thing rather than the other. If friendship means allowing oneself to be affected by another, then this unmoved, unfeeling deity can have no friends or be our friend.[3]

Open theist Richard Rice similarly exaggerates the doctrine of impassibility. According to him, here is the view of God that has dominated church history:
God dwells in perfect bliss outside the sphere of time and space . . .. [H]e remains essentially unaffected by creaturely events and experiences. He is untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or suffering of his creatures. Just as his sovereign will brooks no opposition, his serene tranquility knows no interruption.[4]

Elsewhere, Rice claims classic theists commonly dismiss the biblical terminology about divine affections as "poetic flights essentially unrelated to the central qualities that the Old Testament attributes to God." Instead, according to Rice, the God of classic theism "is made of sterner stuff. He is powerful, authoritarian and inflexible, so the tender feelings we read of in the prophets are merely examples of poetic license."[5] To hear Richard Rice tell it, the God of historic mainstream Christianity is aloof, uncaring, unfeeling, and utterly indifferent to His creatures' plight.
    By contrast, Rice depicts the God of open theism as a God of fervent passion, whose "inner life"[6] is moved by "a wide range of feelings, including joy, grief, anger, and regret."[7] According to Rice, God also experiences frustrated desires, suffering, agony, and severe anguish. Indeed, all these injuries are inflicted on Him by His own creatures.[8]
    Clark Pinnock agrees. "God is not cool and collected but is deeply involved and can be wounded."[9] Pinnock believes the essence of divine love and tenderness is seen in God's "making himself vulnerable within the relationship with us."[10]
    And so the open theists want to set a stark dichotomy before the Christian public. The two clear and only options, according to them, are the tempestuously passionate God of open theism (who is subject to hurts that may be inflicted by His creatures), and the utterly indifferent God they say goes with classic theism (who, at the end of the day, "looks a lot like a metaphysical iceberg"[11]).
    Consider carefully what the open theists are saying: Their God can be wounded; His own creatures may afflict Him with anguish and woe; He is regularly frustrated when His plans are thwarted; and He is bitterly disappointed when His will is stymied—as it regularly is.[12] Open theists have placed God in the hands of angry sinners, because only that kind of God, they claim, is capable of true love, genuine tenderness, or meaningful affections of any kind.
    In fact, since the God of classic theism is not capable of being hurt by His creatures, open theists insist that He is also incapable of being "relational"; He is too detached, unfeeling, apathetic, and devoid of all sensitivity. According to open theism, those are the inescapable ramifications of the doctrine of divine impassibility.
    That is, frankly, open theism's favorite cheap-shot assault on classic theism. It has great appeal for their side as far as the typical Christian in the pew is concerned, because no true believer would ever want to concede that God is callous or uncaring.[13]
    And the sad truth is that these days the doctrine of divine impassibility is often neglected and underemphasized even by those who still affirm classic theism. Many who reject the other innovations of open theism are wobbly when it comes to impassibility. They have been too easily swayed by the caricatures, or else they have been too slow to refute them.[14]

Sorting Out Some of the Difficulties


    To be perfectly frank, impassibility is a difficult doctrine, both hard to understand and fraught with hazards for anyone who handles it carelessly. And dangers lurk on both sides of the strait and narrow path. While the radical-Arminian open theists are busily lampooning the doctrine of divine impassibility by claiming it makes God an iceberg, a few hyper-Calvinists at the other end of the spectrum actually seem prepared to agree that God is unfeeling and cold as ice.[15] Obviously, people on both sides of the open theism debate are confused about this doctrine. And that is to be expected. After all, we are dealing with something we cannot possibly comprehend completely. "For who hath known the mind of the Lord?" (Romans 11:34).
    We must begin by acknowledging that we are all too prone to think of God in human terms. "You thought that I was just like you," God says in Psalm 50:21. "I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes" (NASB). "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Again and again, Scripture reminds us that the affections of God are ultimately inscrutable (cf. Ephesians 3:19; Romans 11:33).
    To cite just one example, consider that God's love never wavers and never wanes. That alone makes it utterly unlike any human love we have ever experienced. If we consider how the Bible defines love rather than how we experience the passions associated with it, we can see that human love and divine love both have all the same characteristics, which are spelled out in detail in 1 Corinthians 13. But notice that not one characteristic in the biblical definition of love has anything whatsoever to do with passion. Real love, we discover, is nothing at all like the emotion most people refer to when they mention "love."
    That's why we must let Scripture, not human experience, shape our understanding of God's affections. Those who study the matter biblically will quickly discover that God's Word, not merely classic theism, sets the divine affections on an infinitely higher plane than human passions. We can learn much from the anthropopathic expressions, but to a large degree the divine affections remain hidden in impenetrable, incomprehensible mystery, far above our understanding.
    We cannot completely grasp what Scripture means, for example, when it tells us that the eternally unchanged and unchanging God became so angry against Israel at Sinai that He threatened to annihilate the entire nation and essentially void the Abrahamic covenant:
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:10-11).

Two things are perfectly clear from such an account: First, we are not to read this passage and imagine that God is literally subject to fits and temper tantrums. His wrath against sin is surely something more than just a bad mood. We know this passage is not to be interpreted with a wooden literalness.
    How can we be so sure? Well, Scripture clearly states that there is no actual variableness in God (cf. James 1:17). He could not have truly and literally been wavering over whether to keep His covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 4:31). Moses' intercession in this incident (Exodus 32:12-14) could not literally have provoked a change of mind in God (Numbers 23:19). In other words, a strictly literal interpretation of the anthropopathism in this passage is an impossibility, for it would impugn either the character of God or the trustworthiness of His Word.
    Nonetheless, a second truth emerges just as clearly from this vivid account of God's righteousness anger. The passage destroys the notion that God is aloof and uninvolved in relationship with His people. Even though these descriptions of God's anger are not to be taken literally, neither are they to be discarded as meaningless.
    In other words, we can begin to make sense of the doctrine of impassibility only after we concede the utter impossibility of comprehending the mind of God.
    The next step is to recognize the biblical use of anthropopathism. (Since our thoughts are not like God's thoughts, His thoughts must be described to us in human terms we can understand. Many vital truths about God cannot be expressed except through figures of speech that accommodate the limitations of human language and understanding.)[16]
    The anthropopathisms must then be mined for their meaning. While it is true that these are figures of speech, we must nonetheless acknowledge that such expressions mean something. Specifically, they are reassurances to us that God is not uninvolved and indifferent to His creation.
    However, because we recognize them as metaphorical, we must also confess that there is something they do not mean. They do not mean that God is literally subject to mood swings or melancholy, spasms of passion or temper tantrums. And in order to make this very clear, Scripture often stresses the constancy of God's love, the infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections. "With [God there] is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). This absolute immutability is one of God's transcendent characteristics, and we must resist the tendency to bring it in line with our finite human understanding.

What Does Impassibility Mean, Then?


    What about the charge that impassibility turns God into an iceberg? The complaint turns out to be bogus. In truth, mainstream classic theism has always denied that God is cold and remote from his creation. One of the earliest Church Fathers, Justin Martyr, said any view of God that sees Him as apathetic amounts to a kind of atheistic nominalism:
If any one disbelieves that God cares for [His creation], he will thereby either insinuate that God does not exist, or he will assert that though He exists He delights in vice, or exists like a stone, and that neither virtue nor vice are anything, but only in the opinion of men these things are reckoned good or evil. And this is the greatest profanity and wickedness.[17]

    God isn't like a stone or an iceberg. His immutability is not inertia. The fact that He doesn't change His mind certainly doesn't mean He is devoid of thought. Likewise, the fact that He isn't subject to involuntary passions doesn't mean He is devoid of true affections. What it does mean is that God's mind and God's affections are not like human thoughts and passions. There's never anything involuntary, irrational, or out of control about the divine affections. Here's how J. I. Packer describes the doctrine of impassibility:
This means, not that God is impassive and unfeeling (a frequent misunderstanding), but that no created beings can inflict pain, suffering and distress on him at their own will. In so far as God enters into suffering and grief (which Scripture's many anthropopathisms, plus the fact of the cross, show that he does), it is by his own deliberate decision; he is never his creatures' hapless victim. The Christian mainstream has construed impassibility as meaning not that God is a stranger to joy and delight, but rather that his joy is permanent, clouded by no involuntary pain.[18]

Notice Packer's emphasis: God's affections are never passive and involuntary, but rather always active and deliberate. Elsewhere, Packer writes,
[Impassibility is] not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in face of the creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God's experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are.[19]

    R. L. Dabney saw the doctrine in a similar light. He described God's affections as "active principles"—to distinguish them from mere passive emotions. He wrote,
These are not passions, in the sense of fluctuations or agitations, but none the less they are affections of his will, actively distinguished from the cognitions in his intelligence. They are true optative functions of the divine Spirit [expressions of God's spiritual desires and wishes].[20] However anthropopathic may be the statements regarding God's repentings, wrath, pity, pleasure, love, jealousy, hatred, in the Scriptures, we should do violence to them if we denied that he here meant to ascribe to Himself active affections in some mode suitable to his nature.[21]

Note that both Packer and Dabney insist, and do not deny, that God has true affections. Both, however, see the divine affections as always active, never passive. God is the sovereign initiator and instigator of all His own affections—which are never uncontrolled or arbitrary. He cannot be made to emote against His will, but is always the source and author of all His affective dispositions.
    Edwards made another helpful distinction. He wrote,
The affections and passions are frequently spoken of as the same; and yet, in the more common use of speech, there is in some respect a difference. Affection is a word that, in its ordinary signification, seems to be something more extensive than passion, being used for all vigorous lively actings of the will or inclination; but passion for those that are more sudden, and whose effects on the animal spirits are more violent, and the mind more overpowered, and less in its own command.[22]

Edwards was suggesting that passions are involuntary and non-rational; whereas affections are volitions and dispositions that are under the control of the rational senses.
    Given such a distinction, it seems perfectly appropriate to say that whereas God is "without passions," He is surely not "without affections." In fact, His joy, His wrath, His sorrow, His pity, His compassion, His delight, His love, his hatred—and all the other divine affections—epitomize the very perfection of all the heartfelt affections we know (albeit imperfectly) as humans. His affections are absent the ebb and flow of changeableness that we experience with human emotions, but they are real and powerful feelings nonetheless. To suggest that God is unfeeling is to mangle the intent of the doctrine of impassibility.
    So a proper understanding of impassibility should not lead us to think God is unfeeling. But His "feelings" are never passive. They don't come and go or change and fluctuate. They are active, sovereignly-directed dispositions rather than passive reactions to external stimuli. They differ in this way from human passions.
    Furthermore, God's hatred and His love, His pleasure and his grief over sin—are as fixed and immutable as any other aspect of the divine character (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).[23] If God appears to change moods in the biblical narrative—or in the outworking of His Providence—it is only because from time to time in His dealings with His people, He brings these various dispositions more or less to the forefront, showing us all the aspects of His character. But His love is never overwhelmed by His wrath, or vice versa. In fact, there is no real change in Him at all.
    How can that be? We don't know. As humans we can no more imagine how God's affections can be eternally free from change than we can comprehend infinity itself. In Dabney's words, "Can we picture an adequate conception of [God's affections]? No; 'it is high; we cannot attain to it.' But this is the consistent understanding of revelation, and the only apprehension of God which does not both transcend and violate man's reason."[24] God's affections, like every other aspect of His character, simply cannot be understood in purely human terms. And that is why Scripture employs anthropopathic expressions.
    Dabney also gave a wise word of caution about the danger of brushing aside the meaning of biblical figures of speech. While he acknowledged the widespread use of anthropopathism in Scripture, he was not willing to evacuate such metaphors of their common-sense implications. These may be figurative expressions, Dabney argued, but they are not devoid of meaning. Citing some verses that speak of God's delight and His wrath, Dabney asked, "Is all this so anthropopathic as not even to mean that God's active principles here have an objective? Why not let the Scriptures mean what they so plainly strive to declare?"[25]
    Unlike the modern open theists, Dabney saw clearly both sides of what the Scriptures strive to declare: God is unchanging and unchangeable, but He is not devoid of affection for His creation. His impassibility should never be set against His affections. His immutability does not rule out personal involvement with His creatures. Transcendence isn't incompatible with immanence.
    God is not a metaphysical iceberg. While He is never at the mercy of His creatures, neither is He detached from them. His wrath against sin is real and powerful. His compassion for sinners is also sincere and indefatigable. His mercies are truly over all His works. And above all, His eternal love for His people is more real, more powerful, and more enduring than any earthly emotion that ever bore the label "love." Unlike human love, God's love is unfailing, unwavering, and eternally constant. That fact alone ought to convince us that God's affections are not like human passions.
    In fact, isn't that a basic principle of Christianity itself? Anyone who imagines the divine affections as fluid, vacillating passions has no biblical understanding of the steadfastness and faithfulness of our God. That is why I object so strongly to open theism's denial of God's impassibility. In the name of making God more "relational," they have undermined the constancy of His love; they have divested Him of yet another of His incommunicable attributes, and they have taken another giant step further toward refashioning Him in the image of His creatures. Who can tell where the campaign to humanize God will end?[26]

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NOTES

1. Presumably, even most open theists would not claim that God has a physical body. Recently, however, I corresponded with a pastor from a well-known evangelical church in the United Kingdom who told me he believes God does have a physical form. He worships a corporeal deity, a being not unlike the gods one reads about in Greek mythology. And this pastor, like so many open theists, had the temerity to insist that it is the God of classic theism who is derived from Greek thought!

2. Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School, says he rejected the doctrine of impassibility after the death of his own son. Shattered by grief, Wolterstorff concluded that God could not possibly be unmoved by human tragedy. "I found that picture [of God as blissfully unperturbed by this world's anguish] impossible to accept—existentially impossible. I could not live with it; I found it grotesque." ["Does God Suffer?" Modern Reformation (Sept-Oct 1999), 45.]

3. Dennis Ngien, "The God Who Suffers," Christianity Today (3 February 1997), 38. The article's subtitle distills the message: "If God does not grieve, then can he love at all? An argument for God's emotions."

4. Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, David Basinger, The Openness of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 12.

5. Ibid., 25.

6. Ibid., 23-24.

7. Ibid., 22.

8. Ibid., 24.

9. Ibid., 118.

10. "An Interview with Clark Pinnock," Modern Reformation (Nov-Dec, 1998), 37.

11. Ibid.

12. In their zeal to avoid what they wrongly imagine makes God apathetic, they have replaced Him with a god who is merely pathetic.

13. According to Pinnock, the doctrine of impassibility is "the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classic theism." [Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God, 118.] Impassibility has certainly proven to be a much easier target for open theists than the other aspects of God's immutability.

14. For example, Wayne Grudem's mostly-superb Systematic Theology quickly dismisses the doctrine of impassibility. Grudem writes, "I have not affirmed God's impassibility in this book . . .. God, who is the origin of our emotions and who created our emotions, certainly does feel emotions" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 166. Grudem seems to think the Westminster Confession's statement that God is "without . . . passions" means to portray God as utterly apathetic. He therefore agrees with the critics of classic theism who claim the doctrine of impassibility makes God cold and unfeeling. What Grudem doesn't discuss is the nature of God's "emotions" and how they differ from human passions. His entire discussion of divine immutability is marred by this, and it even seems to cause him to take a weak stance on the question of whether God actually changes His mind.

15. I have a thick file of Internet correspondence from various ultra-high Calvinists who insist that the optative expressions ascribed to God in Scripture (see note 20) are utterly meaningless because they are anthropopathisms. One man whose ultraism had got the better of him wrote me, "God has no desires and no affections, no true delight or grief, and certainly no sorrow over anything that comes to pass—because His mind is pure, sovereign, irresistible will. You yourself acknowledge that the verses that talk about divine affections are anthropopathic. Why can't you see that such expressions teach us nothing whatsoever about how God really thinks?" That man and the open theists have far more in common than he would care to admit. Both are convinced that the doctrine of impassibility makes God utterly cold and unfeeling. Both are wrong, however. While anthropomorphisms are not to be taken as wooden, literal truths, they certainly are meant to convey some truth about the mind and heart of God (as we shall note again near the end in this chapter.)

16. Open theists must concede this point if they are honest. Unless they are willing to argue that God has physical features (like that British pastor mentioned in note 1), they themselves tacitly acknowledge that figurative language is regularly employed throughout Scripture to describe God. Yet inconsistently, they insist on a hermeneutic that interprets every reference to divine passions in a rigorously literal sense. Since both sides already understand and agree that true knowledge of God far surpasses the limitations of human thought and language, there is simply no good reason for open theism's stubborn refusal to allow for anthropopathism where Scripture is dealing with a subject as mysterious and incomprehensible as the divine affections.

17. First Apology (c. 150), 28.

18. J. I. Packer, "God," in Sinclair Ferguson and David Wright, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 277.

19. "Theism for Our Time," in Peter T. O'Brien and David G. Peterson, God Who Is Rich in Mercy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 16.

20. The question of whether God can in any sense "desire" what He does not sovereignly bring to pass further complicates the whole question of divine impassibility but is too involved to deal with fully in this chapter. It is worth noting, however, that Scripture often imputes unfulfilled desires to God (e.g., Deuteronomy 5:29; Psalm 81:13; Isaiah 48:18; Ezekiel 18:31-32; Matthew 23:13; Luke 19:41-42). And the question of what these expressions mean involves the very same issues that arise out of the debate over impassibility.
    Specifically, we know that expressions of desire and longing from the heart of God cannot be taken in a simplistically literal sense without compromising the sovereignty of God. After all, Scripture says God accomplishes all His pleasure (Isaiah 46:10); He works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11). Nothing can ever frustrate Him in an ultimate sense. Therefore the yearning God expresses in these verses must to some degree be anthropopathic. At the same time, we must also see that these expressions mean something. They reveal an aspect of the divine mind that is utterly impossible to reconcile with the view of those who insist that God's sovereign decrees are equal to His "desires" in every meaningful sense. Is there no sense in which God ever wishes for or prefers anything other than what actually occurs (including the fall of Adam, the damnation of the wicked, and every evil in between)? My own opinion—and I think Dabney would have agreed—is that those who refuse to see any true expression of God's heart whatsoever in His optative exclamations have embraced the spirit of the hyper-Calvinist error.

21. "God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy," in Discussions, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982 reprint), 1:291.

22. Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961 reprint), 26-27 (italics added).

23. Someone with whom I once corresponded on these issues raised the question whether all God's affections, including the negative ones, are eternally and equally unchanging: "Is the Holy Spirit endlessly and permanently grieved?"
    Careful reflection will reveal that God's holy hatred of sin must be an immutable affection in the very same sense that His love is unchanging and unwavering. Surely we are not to imagine that His hatred of sin diminishes or grows stronger at varying times. He hates evil with a perfect hatred. And His utter loathing for sin is the main gist of what Scripture refers to when it says the Holy Spirit is "grieved" by our sin. (The expression does not mean the Almighty is literally made to suffer.) So God's hatred of sin is a divine affection that is permanent, fixed, eternal. The manifestation of that hatred may change, however, which is why we perceive that the Holy Spirit is grieved with this or that particular act of sin on particular occasions (cf. 2 Samuel 11:27).
    This argues for the doctrine of eternal punishment. Since God's mind is eternally unchanging, the dispositions that color His attitude toward sin (grief, wrath, hatred, etc.) must be as eternal and unwavering as His love. The eternality of His wrath is seen in the biblical descriptions of hell.

24. Dabney, 293.

25. Ibid., 292.

26. Wolterstorff, who rejects impassibility, admits that the denial of this doctrine is like a thread that, when pulled, unravels our entire understanding of God. "Once you pull on the thread of impassibility, a lot of other threads come along . . .. One also has to give up immutability (changelessness) and eternity. If God responds, then God is not metaphysically immutable; and if not metaphysically immutable, then not eternal." ["Does God Suffer?", 47.]