“Because I was crushed”

Trolling merrily through Ezekiel, I find this little gem:

Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations. (Eze 6:9, NKJ)

I read somewhere that in Orthodox thought, one of the attributes of God is the divine impassibility.  The idea is that, since God is perfect, He is not affected by things outside of Himself; He is not subject to passions.  Now, on the face of things, that’s obviously not true.  God is described hundreds of times in scripture as being affected by what people do.  But there’s still this concept of the aseity of God, that God’s source of subsistence is from Himself. (I tried and tried to find the adjective form of the word, but apparently it doesn’t exist.  God is aseious? aseiful?)  He doesn’t need anything from the world he created, or else, how could he have created it?  “If I was hungry, would I tell you?”

One of the great mysteries is that Jesus, being the very image of God, should not have been able to die.  He took on the form of man, something that should have been impossible, so that he might die for us.  (Of course, being who he was, he couldn’t stay dead…)  But the implication that you get is that every attribute that smacks of mortality really ought to be applied to the human nature of Jesus.  Does God suffer and die?  No, but the man Jesus Christ does.  Does God stub His toe?  No, but Jesus Christ could.  Is God overcome by grief, overjoyed, lost in a fit of rage?  No!  But maybe Jesus?

I get the impression that, in Orthodox thought, God the Father is sometimes pictured as a great and holy Vulcan: completely free of all fleshy emotion that might hint of weakness, a Platonic postulate of practical reason.  Well, that’s Kant, but Orthodoxy sometimes sounds pretty close.  And yet… aseity.  So my tendency was to split the difference:  Passion means “to suffer,” though we downgrade it often to mean experiencing great emotion.  Jesus suffered on the cross, God the Father did not.  So perhaps, while God can be emotional, only Jesus could be subject to “passions,” that is, overwhelming emotions.

Until I get to Ezekiel.  He says in chapter 6, verse 9, “I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols.” That isn’t the Son speaking.  That’s God the Father, crushed by the adultery of Israel’s idolatry.  Maybe a translation error?  Holman says “crushed;” KJV says “broken;” ESV says “broken;” ASV says, “broken.”  Now, the NIV says “I have been grieved,” and the New Living says, “how hurt I am,” so it sounds like some translators are struggling with the aseity thing.

The Hebrew word is

שָׁבַר, Shabar, (Strongs #7665)
to burst or break; to smash, to shatter, to shipwreck

It’s the word for what happened to Moses’ first copy of the 10 commandments, the word for what ought to be done to all the sacred pillars scattered about on every high place.  Most certainly it doesn’t mean “bruised, irritated, abraised.”  In short, I don’t think “grieved” really cuts it.  “How hurt I am” is in fact the question at hand.  The answer appears to be “broken.”

For Ezekiel, God is not impassible. He suffers much.  He does not need us in any sense of dependency, yet being broken because of us is part of what it means to be God.

I had some questions, but now I am confident:  It’s appropriate to pray, “Lord, break our hearts with the things that break yours.”

Desire and Personality

James is probably the closest you will get in scripture to the kind of “digging” you find in most pop psychology. Usually Scripture finds it sufficient to list out sinful actions and sinful intent. It’s bad to do these things, and it’s bad to want to do them. There’s very little teasing out the particulars of what makes a person want one sinful habit over another. James goes a little deeper:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

That’s probably all the hint you need to work out all knotted details of a sinful psychology.

  1. You want things that you shouldn’t have.
  2. You can’t get the things you want.
  3. You use various combinations of force and guile to get what you want anyway.
  4. Your desires are diffused and multiplied, due to frustration
  5. Repeat.

What’s interesting to me is that you can see a lot of similarity between what James is saying here, and Buddhism. As best I understand, Buddhism teaches that the root of all evil can be summed up in desire. The goal is to come to a place where you have no desires whatsoever. If you desire nothing, then you are never disappointed.

But here’s a difference. Buddhism takes the position that all desire is bad, because all desires, being thwarted, lead to frustration (that is, pain and suffering). James, on the other hand, implies that some desires are good, and that there is a way to go about getting what you want that does not result in quarrels and fights.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In other words, while Buddha promises ultimate hope in not caring, James promises hope in a person. The reason your desires lead to frustration is not because you have the inconvenience of bumping up against the hard edges of an uncaring universe. It’s much better and much worse than that. There is an active personality who is jealous over you – over the image in which you are created, and if you are a Christian, over the Spirit that he has put inside you. He is actively working against you, because his jealousy has determined that your desires will not be satisfied, so long as they can be satisfied in anything else but him.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.