Is God blissfully unmoved by the world’s anguish? An argument for God’s emotions.
On a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, he got the call. Nicholas Wolterstoff answered, and within seconds the cold burning pain arrived.
“Is this Eric’s father?”
“Mr. Wolterstoff, I must give you some bad news.”
“Eric has been climbing in the mountains and has had a serious accident.”
“Sir, I must tell you, Eric is dead.” [via]
Shortly after the death of his son, Wolterstoff, a Yale Divinity School Professor of Philosophical Theology, rejected the traditional picture of God’s impassibility–a God blissfully unmoved by grief.
Shattered by his son’s death, Wolterstoff said:
I found that picture impossible to accept—existentially impossible. I could not live with it; I found it grotesque. [via ]
Still, in the face of this tragedy, the question remains: Is the doctrine of God’s impassibility scriptural, historical or even useful? The answer is yes. Here’s why.
The Difficult Doctrine That Should Never Be Neglected
To be perfectly honest, the doctrine of God’s impassibility is a difficult doctrine. But you shouldn’t ignore it. A lot hinges on this doctrine.
First, let’s define impassibility.
To say that God is impassible is to say that God is without passion. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God is “without body, parts, or passions, immutable.”
What is passion? Passion can be described any powerful feeling or emotion, like joy, grief, hatred or regret.
According to Clark Pinnock, a passionate “God is not cool and collected but is deeply involved and can be wounded.”
But there are serious problems if this is true of God.
Why We Don’t Want God to Be Passionate
Imagine: God in one hour pulled in one million different directions by things people say and do. If this were true, then God would not be in control of his own mind or moods.
Furthermore, if this were true, what guarantee do we have that God’s love will be constant?
God’s consistency should encourage and satisfy us. Because He is always in love with the obedient and always at odds with the wicked, we will never doubt what he thinks about us.
However, nothing in the world can inflict misery or pain on God. Let me show you what I mean.
Biblically, God Can’t Suffer
The Bible teaches that God is the source and will behind all of his affections. All action in the universe springs ultimately from God.
He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Acts 17:25
Passion involves a desire for what is lacking. God lacks nothing. God is an all perfect being, thus lacks nothing and craves nothing.
But this does not mean that he doesn’t have feelings.
Does This Doctrine Diminish God’s Love?
However, Philip Johnson argues, even though God has these feelings, he’s not a slave to fits of melancholy or bouts of rage:
…Scripture often stresses the constancy of God’s love, the infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections.
James 1:17 said, God “does not change like shifting shadows.” On the other hand, our feelings toward evil, love, faith, change.
Which brings me to my next point.
Never Make This Serious Mistake About God
Whether you like it or not, God is not like you. The Bible says:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
Furthermore, you must recognize that you and I cannot fully understand God without adjusting our language. That’s why in order to understand God, we use human language.
We can learn much from figures of speech, nevertheless God still remains inscrutable. So, what are we to think when God became so angry at Israel that he threatened to wipe the nation out and cancel the covenant with Abraham?
What we can’t do is make God look like an ogre prone to temper tantrums. It’s a serious mistake to project our passions onto God.
God is not like men.
Nor can we say that God is removed or aloof. As Johnson explains, it takes a personal God to make this kind of threat.
What Do You Think about God’s Emotions?
Unlike men who are prone to withholding love as a punishment, overreacting or completely shutting down when we need them the most…God is always going to be constant with his affections.
So while God’s lack of passion may seem grotesque, in the end, what we really have to look at is that God will pour out his love and mercy on us when we need it most.
**Part of The Nature of God series.**