Thursday, October 05, 2023

God's emotions!

In a previous post I argue that God does not have emotions, see here. In this post I want to assert that God does have emotions like us. Joy and sorrow, compassion and anger, astonishment and disappointment are all part of the range of feelings experienced by God. 

But I am not contradicting myself.

How am I able to hold that God both does and does not have emotions? Because God did something that enabled him to do things that God cannot do. Given the aseity (self-existence) of God, he cannot die. His life is self-sustaining. Given his immensity, God cannot be bound by space. Given his eternity, God is not subject to time. Given his impassibility, God experiences no fluctuating feelings. But the God who has life in himself became mortal. The omnipresent God was bound by space. The eternal God entered time. The impassible God experienced fluctuating feelings. How? Because 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14).

At the incarnation the Son of God took a human nature. In his human nature our Lord not only had a human mind and will, but also human emotions. B. B. Warfield writes most helpfully on this in his essay, The Emotional Life of Our Lord. Even in his exalted state, Jesus 'knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust'. He knows what it is to be a member of suffering humanity from the inside. Jesus  can therefore sympathise with us in our weaknesses, having been tempted on all points as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15).

The Reformers developed the idea of the 'communion of attributes' to help clarify the relationship between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ. They certainly did not mean that divine attributes are communicated to Jesus's human nature, or the other way around. At the incarnation the Son of God became what he was not [man], without ceasing to be what he was [God]. That is the so-called extra-Calvinisticum. According to John Calvin, 'The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning. ' (Institutes of he Christian Religion, II:xiii.4). 

The 'communion of attributes' is an aid in making sense of passages in the Bible say things like, 'they... crucified the Lord of glory' (1 Corinthians 2:8), or 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). Does that mean Jesus suffered as God and died on the cross? No. Should we understand, then, that Christ's human nature died for our sins? No. We believe the person of the Son of God gave himself to the suffering and death of the cross in his human nature. The Second London Baptist Confession explains,

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature. (8:7 - see also WCF and SDF) 

It is in that sense we may speak of 'God's emotions', because in the person of the Son, God entered into the sorrows and joys of life in our fallen world, 'tears and smiles like us he knew'. We don't need to cut God down to size to make him more relatable when he has already descended to our level. In other words, if you want a God who feels like us, don't deny the impassibility of God, proclaim the incarnation of God. 'And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us'.

See here for an earlier post on Anselm and the suffering of the impassible God.

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