DEBATE: God with or without Emotions

God with Emotion

by Tim Bergman

The Biblical revelation of God is clear, God experiences emotion. God does not experience emotions as humans experience them because he does not have a body and hormones, which cause physical sensations, for God is not human. However, I am convinced that God does love good and hate evil with even more intensity that humans are capable of and it affects his actions. “For God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten son”. Or like God says to Moses, in Exodus 33:7 "I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name."

God does not have a physical brain and yet we ascribe intelligence and capabilities of the human mind to God but in a much greater capacity. In the same way, God does not have “physical” emotional responses. However, God is ascribed emotion. Of course, the intensity of God’s opinions on good and evil are based upon a perfect perspective of reality as well as Him being the perfection from which all has been created.

There seems to be no consensus on a final definition of emotion but I think of them as complex reactions to what we perceive, understand and experience; judgments about how a situation meets or fails to meet our goals and desires. God is good, he is love, he is perfect and when the world operates in line with his character and purpose, then God feels positively towards the world. When the world does not operate according to his goodness and character, then God feels sorrow and wrath at the injustice in the world.

Finally, the Biblical revelation on God and his emotion is the opposite of the doctrine of impassibility as it speaks of God’s grief, regret, joy, approval, satisfaction, disappointment, ect… The great revelation of God’s goodness affirms this as the LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, "Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

God without Emotions

by Isaac Fleming

Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 tell us that God is “I AM” which means he is eternally (and perfectly) himself. This means that God cannot have emotions. When we read the emotional language applied to God in dramatic ways in the Old Testament, and much less dramatic ways in the New Testament, we are reading metaphorical language.

To be eternally oneself in every way, implies several things.

God is Self Sufficient – To say that God is self-sufficient, means that he needs nothing. To have emotions undercuts the classic teaching on self-sufficiency. The classic view on self-sufficiency is to be preferred over another view which makes God reliant on other causal factors for himself.

God is Pure Simplicity and Unity – God has no parts. Pulleys have parts. Computers have parts. Humans have parts. God has no parts. To say that God has emotions undercuts his divine simplicity; namely it implies that God has parts. Those who say God has emotions will have to portion/divide God up in various ways. The classic view on divine simplicity is to be preferred over the emotional view of divine complexity. There is not one part of God that is unaffected by external circumstances, another part of himself that is affected (emotions). God is not a human nor is he a machine, both of which have parts.

God is Pure Actuality / Purely Actual – There is nothing in God that has potential. God is a fully actualized being eternally. He contains everything there is to be himself (God), always. There is never a time that God has unfulfilled potential. God has no part of him that can be developed, for this would imply that God was not fully God in the first place. To say that God has emotions is to place at least some of God in the realm of potential. To say this is to place some of God in a category of reliance/potential. Implying that there are parts of God not fully actualized, is to imply some parts of God are not fully God. The classic understanding of God as purely actual is to be preferred over the view that God is potential (non-god) in some of himself.

If emotions are off-limits then how should we talk of God? A few ways would be to speak of God’s attitudes, conscious eternal mental states, or willed positions based on conformity to His perfect goodness. To say God has joy, would be saying that God has a consciously positive attitude/awareness toward some act or thing eternally. Or, that his willed position is against an action because it lacks conformity to his perfect self.

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