A long-standing and beloved tradition of church life is a potluck or fellowship meal. Food abounds, and everyone enjoys the bountiful feast. When you walk by the food and desserts with your plate, you choose certain items and pass others by. Why is that? Why do you choose some but not others? The truth is that each of the foods or desserts that you see before you is operating on you, exerting an influence on you, and affecting you. How so? You perceive each item as good or bad, and then you are drawn to the good and repulsed by the bad. When you move to take the good and move away from taking the bad, you have been changed, moved, and affected by those foods and your perception of them. This is the life of a passible creature.
To be passible means that you are capable of being acted on by an outside influence. You are capable of being the patient of an agent. The words patient and passible come from the same root, pati-, meaning “to suffer or undergo.” A patient is one who suffers or undergoes the action of an agent. So to be passible is to be able to be or capable of being the patient of an agent.
As you pass through the potluck line and put certain things on your plate while avoiding others, you are undergoing changes, motions, and movements toward what you perceive as good and away from what you perceive as bad. The foods are agents moving you, their patient, by their goodness or badness (as you perceive them).
These motions toward good and away from bad, these “undergoings,” are passions. We give these passions names such as love and hate, joy and sadness, confidence and fear, mercy and vengeance. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:3, “We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”