James discusses David Bentley Hart’s beautiful statements on the nature of divine Triune infinity in a recent post. For Hart, the affirmation of divine infinity necessitates the upholding of divine apatheia. And he is right. Or partly right about this. The problem with Hart’s rejection of divine suffering isn’t that he misunderstands apatheia, which he defines perfectly and the infinite fullness and plenitude of the Trinitarian love; it is rather that he fails to allow this defi
nition to fully inform his concept of divine infinity. In Hart’s work there is a constant oscillation between a positive definition of divine infinity as “the power to cross every boundary” and the love which “consumes every pathos in its ardor” and a negative definition thereof which sees infinity as “everlasting immunity to every limitation” or that which “cannot be interrupted.”
Hart is right in stating that “divine apatheia is the infinite interval of the going forth of the Son from the Father in the light of the Spirit” and that “every interval of estrangement we fabricate between ourselves and God –sin, ignorance, death itself– is always already exceeded in him.” However, the mode of divine exceeding does not imply that God does not or cannot experience the interval of the finite in God’s own being. Precisely because of the overabundant dynamism of the divine infinity of kenotic love, there is no reason to assume that the finite intervals of sin and death cannot enter into the life of God. The
finite poses no threat to the infinite but is taken into in the ardor of the Trinitarian love and only so is overcome, redeemed, and transfigured.
So Hart is right that God is not sundered by suffering, but he is wrong to say that this constitutes an immunity thereto. God need not be immune to suffering because anything that suffering imposes on God’s being is taken seamlessly into the folds of God’s infinite love and overcome by it. But that overcoming is not a static “always already” as Hart sometimes seems to imply; rather it is a dynamic consumption and absorbtion that is a real experience in the life of God. Cross no less than resurrection are realities that enter into God’s very life. The tears and blood of Christ are the tears and blood of the eternal Son of the Father. But this is not “change” in God. Rather it is a current, a ripple in the cascading tidal wave that is God’s eternal Triune love. But that makes God’s experience of it more real, not less. The divine pathos revealed in the Christ who weeps, hungers, and cries out in pain is the divine apatheia catching all creation up into the life of God in which such sufferings, the onslaught of the non-being of evil is absorbed, annihilated, and transfigured into the eschatological feast of love.