Earlier (here and here) I asked how an all-good God could sentence a human agent to sempiternal punishment, punishment that has a beginning but no end. If the punishment must fit the crime, and the crimes of finite agents are themselves finite, then it would seem that no one, no matter what his crimes, would deserve sempiternal punishment. To make this a bit more precise we ought to substitute 'sin' for 'crime.' They are different concepts. Sin, but not crime, implies an offense to God. If there is no God then there cannot, strictly speaking, be any sin. But there could still be crime relative to an accepted body of positive law. And if there is no positive law, but there is a God, then there could be sin but no crime. (Positive law is the law posited by human legislators.)
So let us say that the punishment must fit the sin. My claim, then, is that no sin or sins committed by a human agent is such as to merit sempiternal punishment. To put the point more sharply, a God who would condemn a finite human agent to unending misery is a moral monster, and not God. (I am assuming that the agent in question has come to admit the error of his ways and is truly sorry for them. I have no problem with the unending misery of a recalcitrant rebel.)
In response, Leo Mollica said that the offense to God, as an offense to a being of infinite dignity, is itself infinite and so deserves sempiternal punishment. This prompted me to ask how an impassible God could be offended, which is the topic of this post.
Impassibility. To say that God is impassible is to say that nothing external to God can affect God. As Brian Leftow points out in his SEP article, impassibility is not the same as immutability. He gives two reasons, but all we need is one: a God who induces a change in himself is not immutable but still could be impassible. Now if God is impassible, then he cannot be offended by the antics of the Israelites as when they fell to worshipping a golden calf, etc. He cannot be offended by sin. And if he cannot be offended by sin, then he cannot be 'infinitely' offended by it. Or so I maintained.
In response Mollica made a clever move. He pointed out, rightly, that a person could be offended (wronged, slandered, calumniated, etc.) without knowing that he is. Such a person would be offended without being affected. I took the suggestion to be that God too could be offended without being affected. Thus impassibility does not rule out God's being offended.
To this my reply was that God is omniscient. He knows everything there is to know. So although it is true that a finite person could be offended without knowing it, and so not affected by the injury that was done to him, God could not be offended without knowing it. Good Thomist that he is, Mollica came back at me with the notion that God is not affected by what he knows. So when the creature sins, God is offended; but his being offended in no way affects him: he is not affected 'cognitively' by his knowledge that he is being offended, nor is he affected or injured 'morally' by his being offended.
Very interesting, but very problematic, as problematic as the Thomist line on divine knowledge. If God is God, then he must be a metaphysical absolute and the pressure is on to say that he is both impassible and immutable. (An immutable being is one that cannot undergo 'real' as opposed to 'mere Cambridge' change.) After all, a decent absolute is not the sort of thing that could change or be affected by other things. If it underwent change or affection it would be relativized. But how could such an unchanging God know anything contingent? If God is unchanging, then his knowledge is unchanging: it cannot vary over time, or from possible world to possible world. Here is an argument adapted from Hartshorne.
1. If p entails q, and q is contingent, then p is contingent.
2. *Tom sins at time t* is contingent.
3. *God knows that Tom sins at t* entails *Tom sins at t*.
4. *God knows that Tom sins at t* is contingent.
5. The property of knowing that Tom sins at t is an accidental (not essential) property of God.
6. God has no accidental properties: it is no part of his unchangeable essence that he know any contingent fact, any fact that could have been otherwise.
7. (5) and (6) are contradictories. So one of the premises must be rejected. (6) is the premise most plausibly rejected; but then impassibility and immutability go by the boards.
The challenge for our resident Thomist is to explain how an impassible and immutable God can know any contingent fact.