Thursday 22 February 2007

Theology from a four-year-old

A bedtime conversation with my four-year-old daughter:

—Dad, does God go to sleep at night?
—No, God doesn’t sleep.
—Why not?
—Because he’s much too busy watching over you while you sleep.
—Oh. So he doesn’t ever sleep at all?
—But wouldn’t he get very grumpy?


Anonymous said...

Many thanks to Felicity for her penetrating question. It must surely be factored into any discussion of the wrath of God.

Walls Down Church Kids said...

I just love kids' perspectives! I've been enjoying reading your posts..good stuff for someone just learning...thanks!!

::aaron g:: said...

God does get grumpy. Sometimes, though, I think She's sleeping in.

Shane said...


I'm surprised at you Ben, abandoning your Barthian principles and allowing those awful pagan metaphysicians to color your understanding of God like that. Sure Neo-Platonism might have affirmed that since God doesn't have a physical body and it is physical bodies which need sleep, that therefore God is sleepless. However, the church fathers made a mistake of linking biblical texts in which God is said not to slumber to this Greek metaphysical understanding of sleeplessness. (An analogous situation also held of the other negative attributes of God like impassibility and so forth. Sure there were 'proof-texts' the Fathers could cite, but you know. . . metaphysics!) We know now, after Barth, of course that all of this is hogwash. We only know God through Jesus and even if the metaphysical argument is correct, nuts to that because it's natural theology. (Boo! Hiss!) Jesus sleeps, therefore God sleeps. If that's a mystery, so be it!


I agree that this affirmation of God's sleepiness is vital in developing a more wholistic and dynamic account, not only of God's wrath, but also of the "problem" of evil.

It isn't that God is wrathful, it's that he's just irritable. And if you tell me that God can't be irritable, it's clear to me that you are still beholden to the outdated metaphysic that said God can't be sleepy either.

The application of this new--christological--account of God's sleepiness also provides quite a convenient explanation of the "problem" of evil: Bad things happen when God is asleep. God never wills anything bad to happen at all. This is because God is love and love is nice and evil isn't nice, ergo God isn't responsible for it.

Some day I hope my daughter asks me if the devil causes bad things to happen so that I can tell her my favorite line from a Tom Waits song:

"There ain't no Devil/that's just God when he's drunk."

Anonymous said...

God drunk? How very Nietzschean of you, Shane! But then Jesus did have a reputation for being a man who liked a nice Capernaum '26.

Iechyd da!
(which is Welsh for "To your health!")

Anonymous said...

What heresy is this? You have fallen into the error of the Monophysites by unduly confounding the two natures of Christ.

The faith of the early Church was that all truth came from God. If Plato proves something true about God, then it behooves us not to look down upon this gift because we dislike its origin, but to accept and correct it in the light of the true faith.

As it so happens, the early Greek Philosophers reason correctly that God has no bodily passions, such as sleepiness, hunger, anger, or drunkenness. (Christ was not a drunkard because drunkenness is a sin and Christ is sinless. To assert otherwise is to blaspheme.) Moreover this philosophical argument is confirmed by the scriptures that say God is a spirit, not a body.

The classical problem Insofar as God is incarnate in Christ, then there is a sense that we can say that "God suffers." But without the fully Orthodox Two-Natures Christology this statement is apt to mislead since it is not deity as such which suffers. Rather when Christ suffers, he suffers in his human nature and remains impassible in his divine nature.

Likewise, when the earthly Jesus slept, it was his human nature which slept, not his divine nature.

I strongly encourage you to read more Orthodox theology before you continue this discussion. Maximus Confessor would be a good place to start.


Shane said...

Um, yeah John, that was the joke.

Halden said...

Don't the Orthodox have a sense of humor?? :)

But, to make a serious point out of joke, I still have yet to have it adequately explained how a "nature" can suffer or do any of the things that are commonly attributed to Christ's human nature at the expense of the divine.

"Natures" don 'do' anything, persons do. Given that, I don't see how we can deny that God suffers.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Ben's daughter would agree that God does not have a sense of humour and cannot laugh; or that Christ may have laughed, but maybe not (a serious debate in the Middle Ages, exploited by Eco in The Name of the Rose), but if so, only in his divine nature.

Kids. What do they know?

Anonymous said...

Ooops, that should be "only in his human nature"!

Shane said...

"Natures" don 'do' anything, persons do. Given that, I don't see how we can deny that God suffers."

Well, I don't know much about the church fathers, but for Aristotle a nature does do quite a lot. The nature is the principle of change and action. The soul is the 'nature' of the body, for instance, which means that the soul actuates this lump of matter and turns it into a moving, living, rational, mortal thing.

Now as I understand it, one of those ways in which the church fathers bent traditional greek metaphysical language quite severely from its original context was in the separation of nature and person precisely to make this sort of affirmation about Christ having 2 natures. I don't think Aristotle ever uses prosopon in any sort of technical sense. If I'm not wrong, in aristotle's day the word prosopon ("person") referred to the mask worn by an actor which indicated which character in the play he was. There were only 3 actors in greek tragedy by this point, but they each played multiple characters, and changed masks between scenes to indicate who they were supposed to be. (It's easy to see why Sabellianism would be such an attractive option on the basis of the etymology here.)

I don't think aristotle would ever have imagined separating a 'person' from a nature, or one person possessing two natures or anything like this. But nevertheless I think we can use some of his understanding of what a nature was to help explain exactly what it is we are affirming when we say that Christ is one person subsisting in two natures without confusion between them.

I think what we mean is that each nature has activities proper to itself. The human nature retains those characteristics which are essentially part of humanity as such: rationality, corporeity, etc. (There are also characteristics which are not part of the 'essence' of humanity as such but which are always found along with humans such as the ability to laugh which would have pertained to his human nature.)

Likewise the divine nature has activities proper to itself: omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, etc.

What I think we have to affirm is a concurrence of the activities of the two natures. When Christ touches a leper, his human nature moves his arm and his divine nature effects the miracle. So now for the hard case: When Christ suffers on the cross, he suffers in his human nature, not his divine nature, which is impassible. But his divine nature is involved in some activity corresponding to that human suffering. What that activity is I do not know.

But, as far as I know this position is orthodox. I await correction from anyone who can demonstrate to me otherwise.


James F. McGrath said...

Kids say wonderful things. My son said lots of amusing but also thought-provoking things about God, especially when he was younger. One of my favorites was once when we were talking about the crucifixion of Jesus and we asked him why they had killed Jesus by putting him on a cross, and he answered "because they didn't use guns back then"! :)

I should gather all of his pearls of wisdom and put them on my own blog (which is at

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.