Does God have emotions?

Some one once visited our church and amongst other things encouraged us to ¨balance¨ the intellect and emotions. We need to balance our heads and hearts he intoned. I replied that the intellect alone needs to be balanced and this we do by holding correct views, or believing the truth. That is all the balance we need. Further the intellect cannot be balanced against emotions as there is no parity between emotions and the intellect. His reply was that God has emotions. ¨God rejoices over His people¨, he added, quoting from scripture. ¨God does not have emotions¨, I replied, to his obvious annoyance! To put things into proper perspective and remove confusion over emotions and the intellect the following approach will be followed. We look at the nature of God as revealed in scripture and from the truth that man is created in the image of God we draw conclusions about the place of emotions and the mind.

That God has no emotions is nothing novel, as it has been held by the sixteenth century Reformation Christians and those immediately after them. It is sad testimony to the extent of 21st century neglect of godliness and the ignorance of scripture that goes with it, amongst those who call themselves Christians, that one would find even a preacher who says God has emotions, in a supposedly Reformed denomination for that matter. The following quotes, one from an Anglican(courtesy, Godorn Clark), and another from the Westminster Confession of Faith should suffice. First, the Anglican, Augustus Toplady:

¨God is not irascible and appeasable, liable to emotions of joy and sorrow, or in any respect passive. … When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that he is possessed of it as a passion or affection. … Love, therefore, when attributed to him, signifies (1)his eternal benevolence, i.e. His everlasting will, purpose, and determination to deliver, bless, and save his people.¨(Complete Works, pp 106, 107, London 1896)

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter II, section I:

¨There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; … ¨

If the view expressed in the quoted passages, that God is without emotions are correct, what then, is one to make of scriptural references to emotions in God? The answer is not hard to come by at all. Scripture refers to human body parts in speaking about God. But no Christian in their right mind, some fringe cults perhaps excepted, would suggest that literal body parts is being meant! This manner of speaking about God, ¨the hand of the Lord¨, ¨the voice of God¨, ¨Godś eyes¨ and so forth is called anthropomorphism and causes the majority of Christians no difficulty. But, some Christians, in an inexplicable and irrational turn about, will insist that references to emotions in God be taken literally. But why? Can´t literal emotions be disposed of in these passages and still retain intelligibility? The answer is that indeed it can be done and should be!

First, Toplady says God is not ¨liable to emotions of joy and sorrow¨. In other words, God does not suffer ups and downs! Indeed, if He did, He would find it hard to be immutable, omnipotent and perhaps a further half a dozen other attributes would be vitiated! His immutability alone should be sufficient to dissuade Christians from the idea that see-saw emotions could be part of God´s being and that therefore, references to emotions in God be not taken literally! God´s wrath or anger refers to his righteous judgement against sin and not literal emotional outbursts of anger, fits of rage, throwing tantrums, ¨flying off the handle¨, being pissed off, peeved, breathing fire or getting red faced! Likewise, God rejoicing over His people is not meant emotional excitement, but means God taking pleasure and satisfaction and viewing approvingly the work of His own hands that is His people. This use of emotions in reference to God´s activity is called anthropopathism!

Secondly, Toplady says love in God is NOT an emotion. I will go further and say love in scripture is NEVER an emotion, neither for God nor humans. We agree with Toplady´s definition of God´s love! Toplady says the love of God for his creatures, the elect in particular, refers to his plan and execution of Salvation and his care and providence. It issues from His mind and will and not sentimental motions in His being!

I John 3:16a, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us”

I John 4:9-10, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiantion for our sins.” 

Neither is love an emotion in us. Creaturely love is the creature´s duty towards God and other creatures as prescribed by God! In other words, it is simply obedience to God´s commands. Scriptures abound to support this view, but Romans 13:9 – 10 is perhaps the clearest.

¨Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.¨

Paul says the commandments can be summarised by simply saying love your neighbour as yourself. Love is keeping God´s commandments! Since we are comanded to love, love then is a volition. Sentimentality has nothing to do with it.

The scriptures tell us that man is created in God´s image. If God has not a body or emotions, and we do, it follows that the image is whatever man is that is other than body and emotions. This we identify as the mind, intellect or spirit. Man is therefore NOT a ¨tripartite¨ being or a unity of body and spirit. Man is simply the image of God, the mind or spirit! This is not to deny that man has a body, but that the scriptural data requires that man be defined by the image of God which is the spirit. Further, God is a spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. God is truth and His words are spirit and life. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that issues from the mouth of Jehova. This establishes the primacy of truth and as a subsidiary theorem, the primacy of the mind or intellect, for we are to know the truth, and that we do with the mind. For as a man thinketh so is he. Notice, not as he feels! This shows how wrong headed the pop psychology feel good about yourself exhortations are — unless the good feelings issue from hearing the objective truth!

What then is the place of our emotions? Emotions are some kind of response to what the mind understands or thinks. Here is a comment on emotions made by one pastor:

¨………… While I am at it, I may as well get in a plug for emotions too. I cannot determine whether Dr. Clark views emotions as illusory or as merely untrustworthy. If the former, I must maintain that emotions do exist, and we must do something with them other than deny them. If the latter, I would observe that “trusting your feelings” is worse than inadvisable. It is impossible. A feeling, that is an emotion, is incapable of making propositions. No one ever acts on his feelings. He acts on his thoughts. And only the intellect can think. When people set their “hearts” in opposition to their “heads,” when their “emotions get the better of them,” what they are in fact doing is revealing what their intellects really believe, as opposed to what they claim to believe. The intellect is primary, whether anyone admits it or not. Well then, what do we do with emotions? We admit them as responses to what the intellect apprehends. Emotions cannot be controlled, but thoughts can. Emotions have no cognitive content or ability, so they cannot be blamed for leading us astray. Men go astray because they believe lies. Therefore you do not tell a chronically angry man that he must control his emotions. You recognize his chronic anger as an emotional symptom of his thoughts. Then after finding out the thoughts that are making him angry, you seek to change them. Exponents of Christian experientialism would be benefited more by a rebuke for their practice of fabricating false doctrine in hopes of pleasing their carnal minds and producing pleasant emotions, than by an injunction to forsake emotion. ………………….. —Douglas Withington, Pastor, Harrisville, Pennsylvania (The Trinity Review May, June 1983)

Well, there you have it!

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17 Responses to Does God have emotions?

  1. Denson,

    Although we are commanded to love and thus it is not an act of emotion, do we not also have emotions/feelings of love toward others? Love,brotherly love,friend,kiss are biblical words having the same stem in Greek.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Hi Pat,
      Since love is NOT an emotion, whatever emotions may accompany our acts of love, they are a consequence, NOT the cause of our obedience. We were created to obey God, and when we do, loving and obeying God’s commands, brings emotions of joy, elation and bliss because we have done the right thing, but these emotions are not love itself and they do not add or change the essence of what love is. Secondly, we do not love/obey God only when we feel like it and so feelings ought not to be an issue. Thirdly, having so called feelings of love is no proof that one truly loves. Those feelings can be induced by selfish motives, which is certainly not love. Read the last quote in the post again.
      Denson

  2. Denson,

    It simply will not do to reassert that love is NOT an emotion when I have shown that the word can refer to an emotion.

    In fact, when you say, “feelings of love” you are acknowledging that there is such a thing as love being a feeling. But this is not to say that love is solely an emotion. But neither is it solely a matter of thinking or doing good/proper acts. Again, the Greeks distinguished these two by the words agape and philia. Loving money (philarguria), loving a brother (philadelphia) and a love for a friend (philos) are all emotional aspects. We often use the word affection or fondness to refer to this love. A kiss (philema) is a show of affection/love.

    Yes, of course, our thoughts/actions toward God and men are not to be based solely on our feelings/emotions. Proper love (agape) toward God and men is based on proper thoughts concerning them. But it is not correct to say that love is not an emotion in men; both the biblical usage of philia and our common usage of the term to refer to(natural)affection/fondness refutes that claim.

  3. qeqesha says:

    Hi Pat,
    “It simply will not do to reassert that love is NOT an emotion when I have shown that the word can refer to an emotion”.
    As I have also explained, those emotions only accompany or are a result of an intention(thought) or act of love which are themselves not emotions. My reference to “feelings of love” is NOT an acknowledgement that love is a feeling as you mischieviously read me. I have explained what the relationship is between the emotions and feelings people have when they love, whether truly or falsely

    The fact that people confuse emotions that may accompany the intent(thought) or act of love with love, does not prove that love is an emotion. Your appeal to Greek authority simply isn’t convincing for the same reason. This is the bandwagon fallacy(argumentum ad populum).
    The Bible says, “As a man thinketh, so is he”. Your appeal to feelings and emotion is irrationalism. What we are or do has its source in thought, not irrational feelings.
    Once more, read Withington’s insightful comment at the end of the post.

    Denson

  4. Denson,

    The Biblical word used (philia)doesn’t refer to emotions that accompany thoughts or acts of love. The word refers to an emotion that is itself love. Again, finding something beautiful or desirable hardly seems like a willful thought but rather an involuntary one, which is the nature of emotions (Clark referred to emotions as involuntary eruptions like hiccups).

    I’m not claiming men are emotions. Men have emotions. This is not irrational or irrationalism.

    I’ve read Witherton’s insightful comment. It in no way confirms your claim.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Pat,
      “The Biblical word used (philia)doesn’t refer to emotions that accompany thoughts or acts of love. The word refers to an emotion that is itself love.”
      Since I disagree that there is any such thing as an emotion called love it will not help for you to keep repeating it. There are thoughts of love that may or may not be accompanied by emotions.
      Since you appeal to Greeks for authority, quoting from Wikipedia:

      ‘In his Rhetoric, Aristotle defines the activity involved in philia (τὸ φιλεῖn) as:
      “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him” (1380b36–1381a2)’

      Even the Greeks you appeal to for authority seem to agree with me.

      “Again, finding something beautiful or desirable hardly seems like a willful thought but rather an involuntary one, which is the nature of emotions ”

      Likening love to an involuntary hicupp is irrational nonsense!

      “Men have emotions. This is not irrational or irrationalism. ”

      And where did I say man have no emotions? If you couldn’t be bothered reading what I actually wrote
      stop wasting my time!

      Denson

  5. Denson,

    First of all, I was not implying that you said or meant that man does not have emotions. I was simply responding to your claim that my appeal to emotions is irrationalism. That would only be the case if I were saying that man is his emotions rather than his thoughts.

    As to Aristotle’s quote, “wanting for someone” can be an emotion. Aristotle’s point is that philia, which is a friendship love, is not a means to an end, as with inanimate things. That is, it is not based on what the person or thing can do for you. In the same book Aristotle says, “to de phileisthai agapasthai estin auton di auton” “to be loved [as a friend] is to be loved for one’s own sake.” I,11,p.1371 a,21. In other words, the reason for loving someone is based on the value of the person as a person. It’s what we see/feel about the person that makes us friends. Of course, that does take into account everything about the person, including their thoughts (physical appearance only induces a shallow love).

    The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this regarding phileo: “the original sense of the verb phileo is ‘to regard and treat somebody as one of one’s own people.’ It thus denotes natural attraction to those who belong, love for close relatives… . The word is used for the love of parents for children, of spouses for one another, of masters for servants, for love of one’s nation,or city.” Volume IX,p.115, citations omitted. The TDNT also points out that the word is also used with neuter objects “[i]n the sense ‘to like,’ ‘to value.'” Again, this seems clearly to indicate an emotion.

    BTW, it is not merely the Greeks I appeal to. It is the use of the Greek in the NT. Again, philia and its cognates (philos,philarguria,philadelphia,philema, etc.) all indicate an affection for the person. This is distinct from agape, where we are told to love not just our friends, but our enemies, who are not lovely to us. That is, they are not already objects of our love.

    Finally, likening love to a hiccup is not irrational nonsense. When you consider that that which is an object of our affection is not voluntarily chosen to be such, it is quite similar to the involuntariness of a hiccup.

    Pat

  6. mqeqeshi says:

    We are commanded to love, making love a volition. How one can “like” and “value” without voluntarily doing so, and “regard and treat somebody as their own” without thinking and voluntarily doing so, you do not explain. Your position would lead to instances where one could love against their own will, since it is not unlike a hicup.
    You sound like the teenage girl who says she just fell in love with that scoundrel of a boy and she can’t help it. This is not love but foolishness and she will regret it if she does not listen to her parent’s advice to drop the relationship.

    Denson

  7. lawyertheologian says:

    Yes, we are commanded to love, and the Greek word for that is agape. But that doesn’t rule out the fact that love, that is, another meaning of love, or another word translated love and used throughout history is also viewed as love. Again, this word refers to the things that we like or value, not because we choose to do so, but because they simply induce that feeling in us. Again, we need to distinguish these two ideas of love. To treat someone as one’s own is to act in agape. But that doesn’t deny that one has/had a philia toward that person. Note the interplay of these towards in Aristotle: “to be loved (as a friend) [phileistai- 3rd. pers. sing passive infinite from phileo]is to be loved [agapeisthai- 3rd. pers. sing. passive infinite from agapao] for one’s own sake.” Again, we can love our enemies and we can love our friends in the sense of agape. But the latter is easier since we already have philia toward them, a fondness, affection toward them.

    The fact that one has strong feelings of love toward another does not mean we should marry the person. Nor should shallow based feelings be the basis of such a lifelong unity; nor should our feelings alone be the basis of our actions. Proper love (agape) towards all requires discernment. Out natural love (philia) toward relatives may need to be curbed in view of our relationship to God: we can’t put that love (philia) above our love (agape) and committment to God; they may need to be treated as hated enemies.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Hi Pat,
      Your argument seems then to be hinged on the pausity of the English language in employing one word, “love”, to refer to disparate things leading to confusion. This is the familiar situation where a boy tells a girl “I love you” and she mistakenly believing he means one thing when all he has in mind is her body. The Greeks made clear distinctions by using different words such as philia, agape, storge, eros etc etc so that there was never any confusion as to what one was talking about. And so the Greeks are not with you, and do not support your insistence on the confused and indistinct use of the English “love” when infact different things are meant. However, even in the English language words are available that refer to these things that people call love such as infantuation, lust, desire, obsession, affection, horny, etc etc. We have to read the bible to find out what God has in mind when iHe commands us to love and I believe I Cor 13 does a good job and of course other passages may be cited.

      Denson

  8. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    Even the Greeks with their different words had some confusion. In fact, even in Classical Greek the words agape and philia were not consistently employed, with various persons and writers putting a slightly different nuance of meaning on each and even used the former to mean the latter and vice versa;and in time came to be used interchangeably, as also in the Koine Greek, including in the NT. Again,both words are used to express the idea more commonly expressed by the other word. It is just the nature of language, that a word will have more than one meaning, and that one word will translate two different words of another language.

    It is not a confused and indistinct use of the English word “love” I am advocating. It is quite clear how I’m distinguishing them. But again, of course a word might be misunderstood, having two or more meanings, and another word or phrase should be used to clarify the meaning.

    Again, I’m not denying the Bible’s clear indication of what agape is and that we are commanded agapein. But you spoke of love. That’s a different story. That’s an English word having at least two meanings. And in the Scriptures, two Greek words are properly translated love which do not mean the same thing. As I have shown, one refers to “an unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) which one can will, the other to an “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.”

    Have you read my blog on this? I mentioned one biblical example of the usage of philia. Here’s a few others: The Apostle John was referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Clearly it means that Jesus was very fond of John in a human, emotional sense. For He also loved the other disciples as well, and all men in the agape sense. Note that both Greek words are used for this expression. So also the word phileo is used with reference to the Father’s love for us. John 16:27.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Pat,
      “Even the Greeks with their different words had some confusion. In fact, even in Classical Greek the words agape and philia were not consistently employed, with various persons and writers putting a slightly different nuance of meaning on each and even used the former to mean the latter and vice versa;and in time came to be used interchangeably, as also in the Koine Greek, including in the NT. ”

      I do not think neccessarily, the Greeks were confused. They used the words interchangeably. This of course can lead to misunderstanding. Careful reading should clarify the meaning intended in a particular instance. I don’t see why you view this as a licence to be muddleheaded. We have English vocabulary to describe all sorts of these states — fond of, like, besorted, infatuated, lust, desire, jealous, camaraderie, etc etc. Why call them “love” when one can be more lucid?

      “But again, of course a word might be misunderstood, having two or more meanings, and another word or phrase should be used to clarify the meaning.”

      Why just repeat what I have said in my last post?

      “Again, I’m not denying the Bible’s clear indication of what agape is and that we are commanded agapein. But you spoke of love. That’s a different story. That’s an English word having at least two meanings”

      The word love appears in the passages I quoted in the blog. Further, the meaning of the word in those passages is what I was discussing. Why bring up something I was not discussing at all? There are no two meanings to the word love in those passages I refered to. There is therefore no need for you wasting my time with a profitless wild goose chase! Also, none of the two meanings support your knee jerk theory of love. They are both volitional.

      “The Apostle John was referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Clearly it means that Jesus was very fond of John in a human, emotional sense. For He also loved the other disciples as well, and all men in the agape sense. Note that both Greek words are used for this expression.”

      Again I have no clue why Jesus’ being fond of John was a “human emotional sense” according to you. In any case, the correct translation should be “Jesus was fond of John or liked John”. That takes care of your fondness for “love”. Further, you haven’t explained how one can be fond of something or some one without being willing to be so. Why according to you is fondness and affection not volitional ?

      “So also the word phileo is used with reference to the Father’s love for us. John 16:27”
      If the word agape and phileo are in some instances used interchangeably, shouldn’t the clearer meaning be used to clarify the other. God’s love is agape. Therefore, the use of phileo in this passage has the meaning of the clearer, agape. When God is said to be a friend to us, it does not mean that He is a fan of the New York Red Knicks or the Chicago Bulls too or that He also likes a cold beer. The word friend is being used to express His faithfulness since friends can be very loyal. The word friend cannot be used to support wild fancies and obfuscation as you are so strenously trying to do with the word love.

      Denson

  9. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    Don’t you dare accuse me of muddleheadedness. The reason I call both ideas love is because both the Bible and our common vernacular does. It is up to you to distinguish the terms, that is, what you are referring to when you say “love.” That English word, and the Greek terms translated by that term do not solely refer to a non emotional act of the will. How can I demonstrate this any more clearly?

    You may have been discussing one form/meaning of love, but that is not what your assertion indicated. It is up to you to make clear what you mean to assert, that your assertion is limited to a specific meaning/usage of love.

    “Knee jerk reaction?” What the heck are you talking about?

    You continue to assert that both Greek words and both definitions of love are volitional. Again, I think I’ve shown that is clear false. One is clearly non volitional/emotional.

    Fondness is precisely an emotion because as I’ve indicated/shown it is not something one chooses to think. One can’t help but to love the things he finds lovely. Unwillingness has nothing to do with it. Volitional means one can choose to do the act. One doesn’t choose to love ice cream. He just does.

    I agree with the first part of your last paragraph. But I don’t agree that God is said to be our friend, though Jesus is, because he laid down his life for us (John 15:13-14).

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Pat,
      “Don’t you dare accuse me of muddleheadedness.”
      That’s what it seems to me.
      ““Knee jerk reaction?” What the heck are you talking about?”
      ‘One can’t help but to love the things he finds lovely. Unwillingness has nothing to do with it.’ That’s what I’m talking about.

      ” Fondness is precisely an emotion because as I’ve indicated/shown it is not something one chooses to think. One can’t help but to love the things he finds lovely. Unwillingness has nothing to do with it. Volitional means one can choose to do the act. One doesn’t choose to love ice cream. He just does. ”

      The things we like are not a choice? This is astounding!
      In any case, even if phileo is used for God loving His people, it would be hard to attribute it to emotions in Him, since He does not have any. Hence what the Bible calls phileo and agape are both volitional.

      Denson

  10. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    You are not reading what I write correctly.

    I didn’t say that phileo is used for God loving His people, nor was I in any way implying that God has emotions.

    You find is astounding that the things we like, we do so involuntarily? I suppose you think that we choose to like the various foods that we do, and every other object. That is astounding. I guess we should tell each other to start liking the foods they say they don’t like.

    “One can’t help but to love the things he finds lovely. Unwillingness has nothing to do with it.”

    That is not a knee jerk reaction. That is a clearly thought out irrefutable propositions.

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Pat,
      “You are not reading what I write correctly.”
      When we started, you sounded clear, now I don’t think I know or have any clue as to what your point is.

      “I guess we should tell each other to start liking the foods they say they don’t like.”
      That is what we sometimes try to do to our children concerning vegetables.

      Adios!

      Denson

  11. lawyertheologian says:

    Denson,

    I don’t know, but I think your not knowing what my point is is deliberate.

    It’s been the same point all along. Love is not solely a volition to think and treat persons properly. Love is also a non volitional feeling/emotion that we have toward persons and things. Those are the meanings of the word, like it or not.

    Yes, we try to get our children to like vegetables, but it’s obvious that it can’t be done. We like what like and dislike what we like and that’s the end of it. Of course, we can eat our vegetables whether we like them or not.

    BTW, why don’t you set this up for automatic notification of comments?

    Pat

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