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DEBATE: God with or without Emotions

Updated: Oct 9

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.


Isaac to Tim:


Basically, my three challenges to your view are already written in my opening statements. I will start with number 1.

  1. Saying God has emotion implies that God is not totally self-sufficient. How would you answer the first challenge in my opening statements. Again, a lot of this has to do with point number 3 as well. That there are things that God relies upon outside of himself to develop various emotional states in himself (our actions etc). To me, that seems to fail to understand God's self sufficiency.

Tim to Isaac:

God being trinity, Father, Son and Spirit for all eternity implies that God is relational. Ultimate reality is One God in three persons. So for them to experience emotion in their relationship does not make them in any way reliant one things outside of himself for his self-sufficiency. Furthermore, God can make decisions and if he decided to create beings in his image that he is affected by who are you to say he can not do that. Like you say yourself, "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." That sounds a it like an emotional response to me without the bodily reactions that humans have.

Isaac to Tim:

Ok...allow me to push a little farther on self-sufficiency.

Given that I think God is eternal, an eternal mental state is already present toward some future (read, our future) actions that will take place, and every possible future action that could take place. God can do no other than to represent himself to every possible action that is in alignment with his goodness or not. All of that is already settled. Your position however is saying something a bit different. That humans can elicit certain responses from God in the now.

Could you differentiate your view a little bit more as to how human actions can affect God's emotions and how that doesn't grind against his self-sufficiency (in need of nothing to be totally himself all of the time)

As far as made in the image of God: There is nothing about emotions in that passage. Will/Intellect are what is implied with being made in the image of God. This is can be seen by noticing that animals can have emotional responses, but lack rationality.

Tim to Isaac:

Hebrews says that Jesus is the exact representation of the father. So I start with Jesus and then scripture to form my view of God. And it is the revelations of scripture that God is affected by what humans do, even if you argue that these emotions descriptions are metaphors, they still describe a truth of God that he is affected by the action of creatures made in his image. It seems that God made a world where human have been given freedom and the real potential to choose for or against God. Like Cain who refused God's invitation to do what is right . I can not escape the consistent Biblical revelation that God is affected by the creatures made in his image. However, I do not see how feeling grief or joy makes God not fully himself. Being fully himself includes his emotional response towards his creation.

Isaac to Tim:

You mentioned Jesus is your example: I understand this; but are you saying that all the actions of Jesus are the actions of God in the same sense? I don't think we can speak univocally about Jesus' human actions as being God's divine actions in the same sense.

A case in point: Jesus went to sleep at night. Does that mean his divinity slept too? I think we should affirm that GOD did not sleep, even if Jesus did; What say you?

Back to Self-Sufficiency: To state that humans can affect God in his emotions is akin to saying that his emotional states are not self-sufficient in the first place. Now, of course, I deny God has any emotional states, but if one wanted to hold on to such things, they would have to find a way to keep them away from human action being the controllers, otherwise, once again, the logical point would be that humans have the capacity to mess with God's emotional states, which to me would imply God is not God in all himself at all times.

Tim to Isaac:

Philippians speaks of Jesus emptying himself of his divine power but not his divinity and his character. So Jesus was limited to one place by his human body and his body required sleep but the character and person of God is fully revealed in Jesus. Not only does the divine Jesus display incredible compassion and sorrow as he weeps over an unrepentant Israel, we also see Jesus describe heaven. And we must say that Jesus does have a first hand account of heaven. In Luke 15:7 Jesus says that when one sinner repents there is Joy in the presence of the angels and who is in the presence of the angels? It is the father affected by the repentance of one sinner.

What if having a positive or negative opinion about the choices his creation is part of the nature of God? God is not any less for having an emotional response to what is right and good or evil and destructive. In fact to say that God does not have emotion is to make him distant and void of personality. God is personal and emotions are an essential part of the triune God. I do not accept the argument that emotions make God less than himself all the time. In fact, it is because God is fully himself that he feels so deeply; the foundation of his kingdom its justice and righteousness.

Isaac to Tim:

A question or more.

  1. To be clear, I admit that the non-final verses about God in Scripture speak of God having emotion. However, would you admit there is a clear updating in Scripture as to how God's emotions are displayed? I just want a yes or no here; because we will likely cross that bridge more in depth later.

  2. Luke 15:7 can be accounted for by simply saying that God accommodates himself to human understanding. My answer is that God is unaffected by the repentance of one sinner, because he has an eternal mental state for any who actually would/do. Since I deny that God is in time, I deny that this speaks finally about the eternity of God, and affirm that it speaks partially about his positivity toward things from an eternal perspective of already knowing.

God is less for having an emotional response. Once again, from my original post, this implies that God has potentials that can be actualized. But, to imply that would imply that God 1) Has parts. 2) Is not fully actualized all the time and thus 3) That there are portions of God that are not fulfilling their Godness unless acted upon by the outside world. Those things we know to be false.

Also: To say that God lacks emotions does not mean he is distant and void of personality. If God has intellect and will, these are more than good enough to have personality.

If you have no other comments on self-sufficiency, then you can make your initial argument against my initial views stated in the first blog post.

Tim to Isaac:

I would need to say no on the updating on God's emotion. For example, in Genesis 6:5-6 it says God was grieved over the sin of the world. He is not full of wrath and he did not bring instant judgment. God waited a hundred years before the flood and had Noah preach the whole time. He has always been slow to anger, beginning with Adam and Eve, at the times he needed to bring judgment and he has always been willing to Forgive when people repent. The cross is an expression of the love and desire for reconciliation that God has always had because this is the reality of the nature of the self-sufficient God who is love.

I think the only way you can separate the emotion from the personality of God is to start with the greek notion of impassability. And this is my first challenge. There is no scriptural reference for God being outside of time and impassable. On the contrary, scripture is filled with God experiencing emotion. Even in the two "I Am" passages that you started with are in context of God experiencing emotion. In Exodus, God is moved with compassion that Israel is being mistreated as slaves and he is sending Moses to deliver them. Likewise God also gets a little upset with Moses because he is the unwilling prophet. In John 8 Jesus is also referee to the Father’s emotion in 8:27 when Jesus says, “I always do what pleases him”. God in the flesh says that living to Please the Father is a motivation for his actions. Again, Jesus is recognize that the father experience pleasure in the way Jesus lives. Even at the baptisms of Jesus the Father says of Jesus, "this is my son in whom I love and with whom I am well pleased" God is experience pleasure from the obedience of Jesus and he is letting everyone know it.

Isaac to Tim:

To Scripture and Updating: Sure, we see God slow to anger in Genesis, but we see him incredibly fast to anger when he kills Uzzah? If we keep God in the realm of emotion we are stuck with a genuine contradiction. If we see those passages as limited human words prescribed to God from an ancient/tribal perspective, then God himself is not caught in the contradiction.


GREEK? First, we have crossed this bridge in another debate (foreknowledge), and any time this is brought out, it is nearing the GENETIC FALLACY. Whatever the origins of the word "impassibility," it would do little prove it right or wrong. The idea itself needs to be examined. And it makes a lot of sense of the Great I AM passages of Scripture.

Christian to the Core: Impassibility has been examined by numerous Christians through the centuries. In fact, the clear majority view amongst the Christians of most of the Christian churches of the first 1800 years, sides that God does not have emotions. The Early Church Fathers for hundreds of years, such as Clement and Augustine as well as to this day, the classic churches such as those called Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, as well as those represented by the Westminster confession all side with God not having emotions (impassible). Could it be possible you are missing the implications of the logical outworking of where the more final statements of God lead (I AM...eternally himself)?

Also...don't you have to purify your definition of God's emotions from the strange emotions that humans have? And, if you have to purify or limit your definition of God's emotions, could it not be said that those are not true emotions after all? Why cannot you switch from emotions (affected feelings) to attitudes (intellect) and intentions (will)?

Also: There is no Scriptural reference to Trinity as the right explanation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Scripture. It comes in the middle of the 2nd century by a church father named Tertullian. Thus, Scripture leads in places that it does not always perfectly define. Trinity is a great description of God, but it is not explicitly stated in Scripture. The word "incarnation" is not mentioned in Scripture either, but it (and Trinity) were defined and defended by the same Christians who defended impassibility.

Tim to Isaac:

There is an equivalent of Uzzah in the New testament and that is with Annanias and Saphira who dropped dead pretty quickly for lying to the Holy Spirit. There are more to these stories than to conclude that God acts harshly and without thought. But at least you can see the consistency of God and the way he acts in the Old and the New Testament. God has our limited human words describe the nature of God which includes his emotion.

I agree that just because something was thought up by someone who had a lot of bad ideas does not disqualify a right thought. However, my point is that if you are start with scripture then you have to concede that God has emotion and it brings into question the doctrine of impassability.

Many of the church fathers have held to the early, inherited doctrine of impassability, that is probably why they are never smiling in their pictures.. Trying to be more like God they imagine in trying to live passionless lives. You become like the God you worship.

I think that an unlimited, personal, God of unlimited power, presence and understanding is a God of unlimited potential. Potential does not mean that he is developing; His divine nature and loving character are are eternal and unchanging. How does God using his creative power and divine intellect and having an emotional response to his creative initiatives make him less than God? God has been creating eternally and he continues to work. John 5:17 In his defense Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” And to imagine that God does this with no emotional response it like imagining a great artist creating a masterpiece without a feeling of satisfaction and joy, it is not natural.

I cannot at this point switch from emotions (affected feelings) to attitudes (intellect) and intentions (will) because scripture constantly reveals how God feels about things. God is living and powerful and personal and being affected by ones creation is part that divine nature.

What truth about God do you think all the passages of God's emotion is meant to reveal about God?

Isaac to Tim:

First - I do see a genuine contradiction between "slow to anger" and the speedy anger given to Uzzah, regardless of context input. We disagree here.

Second, how does one start with Scripture and develop a totally coherent view of God? Language is one thing, logical extension is another. By logical extension and philosophical reflection we can get to proper understanding God, and even Scripture.

Third, "Smiling" LOL. When I have read Church Fathers on the topic, I did not get the impression of a dull God. Your view is a pretty big challenge to the main idea through most of Christianity.

Saying God has emotions runs numerous other risks about which emotions he has. Can God have such sadness that he decides not to uphold all things by his power? Scripture does not give such limiters to his emotion, and at times implies the opposite, such as when God destroyed the earth with a flood. Scripture does not tell us how God limits his emotions. Therefore, won't you have to use logic to limit God's emotions in some respect? My point: One cannot let go of the logical enterprise and obtain a "Pure scriptural view."

Fourth - Potential - Here we totally disagree, and this is one your clearest difficulties. God is not a being of potential. To be God is to be a fully actualized thing. An embryo has incredible potential to to become a full grown adult if having the right external environmental factors. However, God is unlike the embryo...God is fully realized in all of himself all of the time. Do you see the difference between fully actual and just potentially something? Potential does not mean he has to develop, but it does mean God can increase in areas of himself through external stimulation.

Fifth - To your last question: The passages of God's emotion is getting at something which was easy to make sense of from the standpoint of human emotion. Humans have emotion and are in time. God does not have emotion and is not in time. Even when the Bible uses the word "foreknowledge" that too is limited. It does not directly apply to God. It only applies to God from a temporal human standpoint. Do you see how human language includes the limitation from the get go merely from our standpoint? It is just fine for us to sit back and reflect and say, "Hmm...the Biblical authors used the word foreknowledge because they were trying to get at something from their perspective." Akin to that, we can say, "The Biblical authors used the language of emotion to get at something from their perspective" This is namely God's eternal attitudes.

Sixth - Why is emotion necessary to define a person?

Tim to Isaac:

I think you come very close to my understanding of emotion in your opening statement when you say 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."

God does not have physical reactions that accompany his conscious judgment as being in according with his perfect self. his perfect self is love. Human emotion is something that begins in the consciousness and it results in physical realities. Divine emotion is based upon a perfect perspective of reality and based completely in intellect and truth and is not accompanied by physical realities.

Emotion is essential to healthy persons and it is part of the intellect. They are judgments and reactions based upon what you know and what you will to happen. How can God not feel sad, obviously not in a physical sense, when one of his creations kills and destroy another part of his creation that he evaluates as valuable and important. His emotion of this situation is an evaluation based upon his unlimited capacity to know all there is to know and from his perfect personhood of love.

Why do you need to separate any sense of feeling from the attitude that God has towards something. Even if we accept the notion that God knows actually all the events that will unfold form his decision to create I would hold to the belief that God would feel grief over the reality that there would be much suffering in the world. Otherwise you have a God calculating losses and gains and creating for some reason other that love.

How can love be love without emotion.

Isaac to Tim:

First - I read you saying, that your understanding of emotion, is near my language of attitude/etc. I appreciate that. Is there room for us to offer a unified view? :)

Second - Agreed that God does not have physical reactions, since God has no body. I myself think that our understanding of emotion is deeply connected to physicality. I also agree that the divine perspective is based in intellect and truth without physical realities. For me, that also means without emotion.

Third - Emotion does not have to be part of the intellect. We can simply say that God eternally wills his goodness to the world. That he who he is. Will and intellect can account for what we call compassion.

Fourth - Feelings and attitude are two different things. Intellect (attitude), Conscious choice to be for or against something based on his being (will). Why does God love the world? Because his being is love, not because he has an emotional feeling. Jesus can go to the cross and show us love because of a willful choice, not because of a feeling. In fact, it is because God has no emotion that he will always will himself to seek and save the lost, regardless of how they reject him. The two things are quite different. Do you still think that love, rooted in a willful choice, must be emotional? And if so, does this not also imply that for God to save us we need to do something wrong to get his compassionate emotions started?

Challenges / Questions I asked earlier, Why is emotion necessary to defining a person? I don't think your answer that it's essential to healthy persons is an answer. This is a bit like arguing in a circle. Example: The Bible is true! Why? Because the Bible says so. In this case, "Emotions are necessary to a person! Why? Because emotions are necessary to a person." See the circle. This is assertion, not evidence.

I am going to re-post my point about potential because it was unaddressed.

Fourth - Potential - Here we totally disagree, and this is one your clearest difficulties. God is not a being of potential. To be God is to be a fully actualized thing. An embryo has incredible potential to to become a full grown adult if having the right external environmental factors. However, God is unlike the embryo...God is fully realized in all of himself all of the time. Do you see the difference between fully actual and just potentially something? Potential does not mean he has to develop, but it does mean God can increase in areas of himself through external stimulation.

I will add to this previous paragraph a helpful (hopefully) thought. Potential lives or things implies non-actualized things. An embryo is a potential adult, but is not an actualized adult. God is not a potential thing, because all of his life is actualized all of the time. That is what it means to be God.

Tim to Isaac

I am not saying that God is becoming more or less God because he is affected by free moral beings, made by him, who have the ability to oppose his will. God's emotion, his intense attitudes about goodness and evil, are based upon his eternal and actualized existence as the triune God who is love. So wrath is not a spontaneous reaction to evil, it is his settled, eternal disposition towards evil. When people live in accordance with or in opposition to truth and love then God, because of who he as full of love and goodness, will have a response to the good or evil action. That response is not developing God, rather it is God living, for God is living as a fully actualized being that has emotion as part of God's reality.


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