Dec 5, 2009

Does God Have Emotions?

Randy AlcornBy Randy Alcorn

Some time ago theologians formulated the doctrine of God’s impassibility. They argued that God was “without passions.” Their motive was to distinguish God from the mood swings and more erratic and unstable aspects of human emotions. Unfortunately, many Christians came to believe that God doesn’t have emotions.

It’s critical that we know the heart of God. He genuinely loves and cares about us. If we believe he has no emotions, then we will never feel his love for us, nor will we experience deep love for him.

An abundance of biblical passages show that God experiences a broad range of emotions. God commands us not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). God is said to be “angry” (Deuteronomy 1:37), “moved by pity” (Judges 2:18, ESV), “pleased” (1 Kings 3:10), and “to rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Genesis 6:6 says, “So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart” (NLT).

Some explain these verses as ascribing human emotions to God so that we can relate to him better. But surely God wants us to relate to him as he really is, and passages that don’t describe him as he is would mislead us. God wants us to understand that he can genuinely grieve, his heart full of pain. Surely he didn’t choose these powerful words so we would respond, “Of course, God didn’t really feel moved—he has no emotions.”

Since God made us in his image, we should assume our emotions are reflective of his, even though ours are subject to sin while his are not. Consider a small sampling of verses illustrating God’s emotions:

Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. (Exodus 32:10)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:13)

“In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:8)

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

Nor does God limit his compassion to his children. He says, “I wail over Moab, for all Moab I cry out” (Jeremiah 48:31).

A passage about God’s goodness and compassion contains a remarkable statement: “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9). A form of the same word is used to describe God’s people’s distress as to depict God’s own. Yes, our distress can involve feelings which God doesn’t feel, such as helplessness and uncertainty. But clearly God intends us to see a similarity between our emotional distress and his.

The fact that the second member of the triune God suffered unimaginable torture on the cross should explode any notion that God lacks feelings. In the suffering of Jesus, God himself suffered. No one who grasps this truth can say, “God doesn’t understand my suffering.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a Nazi prison camp, “Only the suffering God can help.”

Related Links

Was Jesus ever angry? -
Jesus' Compassionate Power, Part 1 - Grace to You (John MacArthur)
The God Who Suffers - Christianity Today (Dennis Ngien)
Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ - Martin Bobgan (Book)
If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil - Randy Alcorn (Book)