Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine

By Roberto Sirvent

A study in moral theology that argues that the doctrine of divine impassibility is incompatible with the notion of God as moral exemplar.

ISBN: 9780227176498


Arguments in favour of divine impassibility take many forms, one of which is moral. This argument views emotional risk, vulnerability, suffering, and self-love as obstacles to moral perfection. In Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine, the author challenges these mistaken assumptions about moral judgment. Through an analysis of Hebrew thought and modern philosophical accounts of love, justice, and emotion, Roberto Sirvent reveals a fundamental incompatibility between divine impassibility and the Imitation of God ethic (imitatio Dei). This book shows that a God who is not emotionally vulnerable is a God unworthy of our imitation.

But in what sense can we call divine impassibility immoral? To be sure, God’s moral nature teaches humans what it means to live virtuously. But can human understandings of morality teach us something about God’s moral character? If true, how should we go about judging God’s moral character? Isn’t it presumptuous to do so? After all, if we are going to challenge divine impassibility on moral grounds, what reason do we have to assume that God is bound by our standards of morality?

Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine addresses these questions and many others. In the process, Sirvent argues for the importance of thinking morally about theology, inviting scholars in the fields of philosophical theology and Christian ethics to place their theological commitments under close moral scrutiny, and to consider how these commitments reflect and shape our understanding of the good life.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 210

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Roberto Sirvent is Associate Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, California.



1. Introduction
2. Divine Impassibility
3. Imitatio Dei and Reasoning about God’s Moral Nature
4. Emotional Vulnerability in the Moral Life
5. Emotional Vulnerability in the Moral Life: An Old Testament Perspective
6. The Immorality of Impassibility

Conclusion: Thinking Morally about Theology



Endorsements and Reviews

Roberto Sirvent argues powerfully that the call to imitate God in our actions is incompatible with the idea of divine impassibility found in much Christian philosophy. By exploring the biblical roots of imitatio Dei he demonstrates that it implies a God who can suffer with his creation, as a number of modern theologians have argued. An impassible God is not worth imitating! An important contribution to an ongoing debate, unusual in combining both doctrinal and biblical expertise in a creative way.
John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture, University of Oxford

A new and powerful argument for the passibility of God, as well as an incisive analysis of the concepts of divine love and compassion. A book of spiritual force and intellectual acuteness.
Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, University of Oxford