The Passionate Impassible God: Toward a Biblical View of Divine Emotions
May we ascribe genuine emotional capacity to God? We’ve examined the answer of classical theism (Part 1) and open theism (Part 2). While we side mostly with classical theism, we tend to agree with those theologians who insist that divine impassibility need not preclude an affirmation of divine emotivity (Part 3). It’s our conviction that a comprehensive view of the all the biblical data compels us to affirm that God has capacities that are analogous to human emotions. So in this final post, we’ll attempt to formulate a biblical doctrine of divine emotions.
People commonly distinguish the emotions from the mind and the will. Unfortunately, these “distinctions” are sometimes described in terms of dichotomies. For instance, one dictionary defines “emotion” as “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive or volitional states of consciousness.”1 Worse, the emotions are often treated as entirely or largely physiological impulses that need to be ignored, controlled or, in some cases, suppressed, while the mind and will are ascribed to man’s higher and nobler nature. To use Plato’s “Chariot” illustration, the charioteer (the mind) must drive the chariot (the soul) with two horses, the one of noble breed (the will) and the other of ignoble temper (the emotions). The virtuous man learns to “rein in” the emotions using the mind and the will.
But while it’s true that human emotions have a physiological dimension (as do intellectual and volitional capacities), it’s equally true that emotions belong to the psychological or spiritual aspect of humans. Moreover, the emotions cannot be separated from either the mind or the will. The three are interdependent and co-functional. As related to the will, emotions represent an inclination toward or a disinclination away from someone or something.2 As related to the mind, emotions entail evaluations, assessments, attitudes, and beliefs regarding various states of affairs (whether real or supposed). Furthermore, emotions have a moral dimension and are, therefore, tied to the human conscience.
Matthew Elliott provides us with a helpful definition that highlights some of the observations made above:
Emotions are not primitive impulses to be controlled or ignored, but cognitive judgments and construals that tell us about ourselves and our world. In this understanding, destructive emotions can be changed, beneficial emotions can be cultivated, and emotions are a crucial part of morality. Emotions also help us to work efficiently, assist our learning, correct faulty logic and help us build relationships with others.3
Viewing the emotions as described and defined above corresponds with the biblical data. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the term “heart” is frequently employed as the seat of mental, volitional, emotional, and moral capacity.4
The God Who Feels
The Bible provides an overwhelming amount of data in favor of divine emotivity.5 God is said to feel such affections as love6 and hate,7 joy8 and grief,9 pleasure10 and anger,11 and peace.12 And this list is by no means exhaustive. Of course, the Scriptures also attribute human body parts to God, such as eyes,13 arms,14 hands,15 a mouth,16 etc. Obviously, God’s incorporeal nature constrains us to interpret the latter metaphorically, as “anthropomorphisms.” So, it has been argued, we must interpret God’s emotions in like fashion, as “anthropopathisms.”
Not Mere Physiological Impulses
However, as we noted in a previous post, emotivity has a psychological as well as physical dimension. This is true of mental activity as well. When humans think, there is both a psychological as well as physical dimension involved. Yet, very few theologians interpret cognitive activities ascribed to God metaphorically, as mere “anthroponouisms.” In fact, it can be argued that the essence of thinking, feeling, and choosing is not primarily physical but spiritual in nature.17 After all, may we not safely assume that the disembodied souls of righteous men in heaven presently experience joy, pleasure, and peace while the disembodied spirits of the ungodly experience sorrow, pain, and torment?18 What is more, the Bible ascribes emotional experience to angels, who are spiritual beings (Job 38:7; Pss. 103:20; 148:2; Rev. 5:11-14). It follows, then, that corporeality is not an essential feature of genuine emotivity. Hence, the obvious disjunction between human body parts (which are material) and divine “body parts” (which are metaphorical) does not equally apply to human and divine emotivity.
Rethinking “Anthropomorphic” Language
These considerations should prompt us to reconsider the way we think of so-called “anthropomorphisms” and “anthropopathisms.” Traditionally, Bible interpreters have reserved these expressions for some language about God. But since all special revelation comes to us via human language, then all special revelation is, in one sense, “anthropomorphic.”19 Furthermore, since the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20), we may speak of general revelation as, in a sense, “anthropopomorphic” or, more generally, “cosmomorphic.”20 Of course, this line of reasoning corresponds nicely with man’s identity as “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26-27). As such, human beings are analogues of God. More precisely, we are visible replicas and representatives of the invisible God. Hence, we might even reverse the tables and refer to humans as “theomorphs” and human language as “theomorphic.”21 Consequently, there is a reciprocal interplay between our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves (and the world around us).
Knowing God By Knowing Ourselves (and Vice Versa)
This is the note on which Calvin begins his famous Institutes:
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he ‘lives and moves.’ For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves…. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself…. Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.22
Conversely, writes Calvin, “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”23
Unfortunately, Calvin forgets his own counsel when it comes to interpreting divine emotivity. Instead of looking for analogy, Calvin stresses discontinuity. Hence, when interpreting God’s grief in Genesis 6:6, Calvin insists,
The repentance [“grief,” NIV], which is here ascribed to God, does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he should, in a certain sense, transform himself…. Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains for ever like himself in his celestial and happy repose: yet, because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity.24
Two logical inconsistencies appear in Calvin’s reasoning. First, he seems willing to allow God the emotions of anger and detestation (or does he mean for us to take these figuratively too?) but not the emotions of regret and sorrow. Second, he argues that God (through Moses) uses descriptive language that, on the one hand, is not properly true of himself in order to, on the other hand, make known to us what “could not otherwise be known.” Did I miss something?
Similarly, when commenting on Isaiah 63:9, which reads, “In all [Israel’s] affliction [God] was afflicted,” Calvin remarks,
In order to move us more powerfully and draw us to himself, the Lord accommodates himself to the manner of men, by attributing to himself all the affection, love, and (sumpatheia) compassion which a father can have. And yet in human affairs it is impossible to conceive of any sort of kindness or benevolence which he does not immeasurably surpass.
So far so good. But then Calvin adds his anthropopathic qualifier: “not that [God] can in any way endure anguish, but, by a very customary figure of speech, he assumes and applies to himself human passions.”25 Hmm. Does God really feel something analogous to human sympathy? Or is this just a “rhetorical device” to make the people feel good?
Correspondence and Discorrespondence
Of course, it’s true that divine emotivity is not univocal with human emotivity (any more than divine knowledge is univocal with human knowledge). Hence, one may speak of a degree of “accommodation” when applying language used to predicate human emotions to God. Nevertheless, as the imago Dei, man is an analogue of God. Hence, when we approach “anthropomorphic” language biblically, we won’t place all the emphasis on discorrespondence. That’s not where the Bible places the emphasis! Listen to the language of Psalm 94:9: “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” The psalmist is certainly not implying that God has physical ears or physical eyes. He’s assuming a certain discontinuity between Creator and creature. Nevertheless, the emphasis of the text is on continuity or correspondence. Our hearing ear and our seeing eye are visible replicas of God’s invisible and spiritual ability to perceive.26
Similarly, divine emotivity is the archetype of human emotivity, which is the ectype. Human emotions were not designed by God in order to cloud or confuse our understanding of what God is like. Rather, they were purposely designed to provide us with some analogy of the way in which God, as a moral being, evaluates and inwardly responds to good or evil. We are, therefore, compelled to agree with Donald Carson when he writes,
It is no answer to espouse a form of impassibility that denies that God has an emotional life and insists all of the biblical evidence to the contrary is nothing more than anthropopathism. The price is too heavy. You may then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21).27
Back to Genesis 6:6
According to Genesis 6:6, God responds to human sin with grief and heartfelt pain as we saw in our introductory post. In light of the biblical data, we should not interpret God’s sorrow and anger in Genesis 6:6 merely as a figure of speech that points to outward acts (i.e., judgment) rather than to an inward feelings (as it normally does vis-à-vis humans). After all, God has plenty of human words at his disposal to refer to judgment literally. Indeed, God employs such literal terminology in the subsequent context when he portends a worldwide flood (6:7ff.). So if God can use plain language to depict his imminent intervention in judgment, why employ a figurative expression that might lead the reader to the “mistaken” notion that the Almighty might have something analogous to human feelings?
Need I say more? God through Moses discloses to us that the escalation of human hubris and the misery that followed in its trail prompted him to grieve. Of course, his grief was not accompanied with literal tears or heaving breast. Nor was it tainted with sin. But it was grief nevertheless. Hence, Victor Hamilton is correct when he observes, “Verses like this remind us that the God of the OT is not beyond the capability of feeling pain, chagrin, and remorse. To call him the Impassible Absolute is but part of the truth.”28
Impassible & Passible
But doesn’t the conclusion reached above contradict what the Bible teaches regarding God’s transcendence, sovereignty, omniscience, and immutability? If God is above time and space, if he’s decreed and determines the end from the beginning, if he’s immutably happy in his “celestial repose,” how can we conceive of him as being moved to respond with sorrow by something outside himself (i.e., human sin and misery)? In other words, if we interpret God’s emotions as genuine inward responses to outward stimuli, won’t we compromise the doctrine of God’s impassibility?
The simple answer is “no.” God has determined the end from the beginning. He ordained the Fall (Gen. 3:1-6) and the proliferation of human sin (Gen. 6:5). He ordained his outward redemptive/punitive response to human sin (6:7ff.) But he also ordained his inward emotional response to human sin (6:6). In that sense, we may speak of God as “impassible.” Nothing takes God by surprise.
On the other hand, God manifests his covenant presence within the matrix of human history. He not only exists outside of time and space, but he has chosen to manifest his presence within time and space. And within the matrix of human history, God responds or, if I may use the term without being misunderstood, he is “moved” by human events. In this (guarded) sense, we may speak of God as “passible.” Samuel Waldron, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology at Midwest Center for Theological Studies, agrees. “We must,” argues Waldron, “augment the doctrine of impassibility with a clear doctrine of divine relationality.” That is,
We must, I think, clearly affirm that God is both impassible and passible. As the God who was free not to create, as the God who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, as the God who has no needs not satisfied by his own fullness, He is and must be immutable and impassible. He is (always has been and will be) serene in the blessedness of the inter-Trinitarian fellowship of persons and in the execution of His immutable and comprehensive decree.
Yet by His free act of creation God has chosen to subject Himself to the influences of His creatures. Of course, He has done this without giving up His position as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe who in Himself is immutably serene, has no need-based emotions, and who is immutable in His comprehensive purpose. Thus, He is only passible in exactly those ways and for exactly those purposes that He has freely chosen in His decree and in no other way. The fact, however, that He has chosen to be passible and passible in only those ways He has chosen does not devalue or deny the fact of His passibility. It simply means His passibility is limited and has to do with His purposes in the world—His free decision to glorify His name in the world. It also means that it coexists with an infinite and transcendent impassibility in God considered in Himself eternally.29
John Frame, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, speaks in a similar fashion:
Although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. It ordains a historical series of events, each of which receives God’s evaluation. God evaluates different events in different ways. Those evaluations themselves are fixed in God’s eternal plan. But they are genuine evaluations of the events. It is not wrong to describe them as responses to these events.30
In the words of J. Oliver Buswell, “Does ever a sinner repent, there is always joy in the presence of the angels (Luke 15:7, 10). Does ever a child of God, ’sealed’ by the Spirit, fall into sin, the Holy Spirit is ‘grieved’ (Eph. 4:30).”31 In other words, God really responds emotively to events that transpire within history. One might say that God is “impassible” from the perspective of his transcendence and “passible” from the perspective of his immanence.
Producer, Scriptwriter, Director, and Actor
Let me try to illustrate. Imagine God as the cosmic movie producer, scriptwriter, and director. God has also chosen, like many modern directors, to participate in the story as one of the main actors. Indeed, he’s given himself the leading role! He’s created a magnificent epic. It’s full of tragedy. But it has a happy ending. As the scriptwriter, producer, and director, God takes pride in his work and enjoys it with a sense of peace, calm, and gratification, knowing the plot has a glorious ending. But as God actively participates in the various stages of the plot in the capacity of actor, he weeps at misfortune, grows angry at injustice, and rejoices in the triumph of good. Granted, this illustration fails to capture the full complexity of God’s heart.32 But I believe we must embrace all the biblical descriptions of God even if we can’t fully conceptualize their relations.
So I affirm that God is self-contained, independent, and wholly satisfied with himself. He possesses a kind of joy that cannot be marred. Yet, I also affirm that within the matrix of human history God experiences grief, sorrow, anger, pleasure, love, hatred, jealousy, joy and peace. All of these emotional responses are perfectly consistent with his unchanging “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”33
Diagram of God’s Impassible-Passible Emotive Responses
As illustrated above, God’s emotivity is both an inward reaction to external states of affairs and events and also an inward response of his moral virtues toward eternal states of affairs or events within the matrix of human history. Moreover, all outward states of affairs and events, as well as God’s inward reactions and responses within the matrix of human history have been decree by God outside the matrix of human history. Accordingly, God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and immutability remain intact.
What About the Confession of Faith?
Does the affirmation of divine emotivity (above) require us to reject the Confession’s teaching that God is “without … passions”? Some scholars, like Wayne Grudem, believe so.34 But I’m not convinced we need disagree with our forefathers. We may, however, need to clarify or augment their teaching.
Qualify “without passions”?
I have a facsimile copy of the 1689 (actually, 1677) Baptist Confession of Faith. There’s no proof text given. I don’t have a facsimile edition of the Westminster Confession. But in the edition I do have,35 as well as later editions of the Baptist Confession, Acts 14:11, 15 is given as a proof text. In that passage, Paul and Barnabas dissuade the crowds in Lystra from venerating them as “gods” (14:11) since they were mere mortals, that is, “men of like passions” (14:15, KJV). The English phrase translates a Greek term ὁμοιοπαθής, which means “experiencing similarity in feelings or circumstances.”36 Most modern translations render it “the same nature” (NKJ, NAS, ESV, CSB; NET) or “human like you” (NIV). At best, the text teaches that humans have human passions and, by way of inference, that deity does not have human passions.
So the framers of our Confession may have been thinking of the physiological dimension of human emotion, which, of course, could not be predicated of God. This would fit the context since the term “passions” is immediate preceded by the words “body” and “parts.” Unlike man, God is incorporeal (immaterial) and simple (not consisting of divisible constituent parts).37 Moreover, human emotive responses are often passive and sometimes unpredictable in the sense that they’re produced by outward stimuli, which are sometimes beyond the person’s control. God’s emotive responses are genuine responses to states of affairs and historical events. But God’s emotions are never passive or unpredictable.38 God has sovereignly decreed both the historical circumstances that provoke his response as well as his response to those historical circumstances. And as noted above, God is always in perfect control of his emotive responses.
This reading of the Confession inclines Robert Reymond to remark, “When the Confession of Faith declares that God is ‘without … passions’ it should be understood to mean that God has no bodily passions such as hunger or the human drive for sexual fulfillment.”39 Consequently, maybe the simplest way to do this is to insert the term “human” before the phrase “body, parts, or passions.” Some might object that such a “clarification” could imply that God does in fact have a body, just not a human one. But such an inference would be unwarranted in light of the larger context: “God is … a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (emphasis mine). The Children’s Prove It Catechism, which is based on the theology of the Confession, asks, “What is God?” and calls for the response, “God is a Spirit and does not have a body like men” (emphasis added). Certainly, no one would fault the Catechism for promoting the Mormon idea that God has a real (divine) body. Besides, in light of the Scripture’s frequent anthropomorphic language (i.e., describing God as having human body parts) the qualifier “human” before “body” make sense.
Nonetheless, to avoid potential misunderstanding, one could shift the adjective “human” in the clause so that it only qualifies “passions.” Stan Reeves’ soon-to-be published modern English version Confessing the Faith does this: “God … has no … changeable human emotions.”40 Note also how Reeves’ modern version uses “emotions” instead of “passions” since the former is more commonly used today and also adds the qualifier “changeable,” which highlights the sometimes unpredictable nature of human emotions in contrast with divine emotions. It may also be appropriate to add a qualifier like “impure,” distinguishing our often sinful emotional responses from God’s ethically pure emotional responses.41 Such qualifiers (i.e., human, emotion, changeable, impure) might help to clarify the intent of the Confession and prevent modern Reformed Christians from arriving at the unbiblical conclusion that God does not experience what are analogous to human emotions.
Balance the impassible with the passible?
On the other hand, I suspect the framers of the confessions (WCF, Savoy, LBCF) were influenced by certain philosophical notions related to divine impassibility.42 It is possible, therefore, that their doctrinal formula, viz., that God is “without … passions,” reflects an attempt to protect God’s transcendence, sovereignty, and immutability by means of precluding any genuine emotivity as a proper predicate of God. If so, then we may laud their zeal to protect God’s transcendence and agree that God is the ultimate cause behind every event in human history, including his own responses to sin (inwardly and outwardly). Hence, God is not passive. He is, in this sense, impassible.
But affirming God’s impassibility vis-à-vis his transcendence, sovereignty, and immutability is only one part of the truth. God is also covenantally present within the matrix of human history, and in that capacity he responds to events both inwardly and outwardly. In light of this, I would prefer a positive affirmation of God’s emotivity as well. Accordingly, it may be appropriate at some point, for the sake of removing ambiguity and enhancing clarity, to augment the Confession’s excellent summary of God’s nature with an affirmation of his relationality toward the work of his hands not only outwardly (via the works of creation and providence [redemptive/ punitive]) but inwardly (via emotive responses). Somehow, we, as Reformed Christians, need to make it plain to the world and to the church that the God we worship and serve is a God who genuinely feels.
- See Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on the Random House Dictionary, 2012 (accessed March 23, 2012). [↩]
- See Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections (1746; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961), 24-27. Edwards does a fine job of demonstrating the connection between emotions (or “affections” as he calls them) and the will. [↩]
- Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2006), 54. Before Elliott’s book was published, John Frame argued for a connection between the mind and the emotions, viewing that latter as cognitive evaluations of events or states of affairs. See The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002), 509-12, 528-29, 608-11. Since Elliott’s publication, others have developed the cognitive view of emotions further with reference to God. For example, see Kevin Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 407-16 [↩]
- The term “heart” [לב] can be used for the physical organ that pumps blood (1 Sam. 25:37; 2 Kings 9:24). But its primary usage is for the seat of man’s intellect (Gen. 6:5; Deut. 29:4; 1 Kings 3:12; Eccl. 2:1; Song 5:2; Isa. 44:19), his volitional powers (Deut. 2:20; Judg. 9:3; 1 Chron. 22:19; Ps. 37:4; Eccl. 8:11), his emotions (Gen 34:3; Exod 4:14; Deut 20:3, 8; Josh 2:11; Judg 16:25; 1 Sam 1:8; Pss 4:8; 13:3; 25:17; 34:19; Prov 14:10; Eccl 2:20; Isa 1:5; 7:2; 24:7; 40:2; 57:15; Jer 4:18; 8:18; 15:16 ), and/or his moral capacity (Job 27:6; Pss. 32:11; 40:13; 51:12; 1 Sam. 13:14; 24:6; 2 Sam. 24:10; 2 Kings. 20:3). Similarly, the Greek word καρδια is the seat of man’s mind, will, emotions, and/or conscience (Mark 12:30; Luke 21:14; Acts 2:26; Rom. 2:15; 9:2; 2 Cor. 4:6; 9:7; Eph. 1:18). [↩]
- Greg Nichols provides a helpful overview, collation, and exposition of the biblical data related to God’s emotions in his article, “The Emotivity of God,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 1:2 (2004): 95-143. The verses below related to divine emotivity are drawn from Nichols’ survey. [↩]
- Deut. 7:13; 10:15; Ps. 18:19; Prov. 11:1; 12:22; 15:8; Isa. 42:1; 61:8; Jer. 9:24; John 17:24. [↩]
- Pss. 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16; Isa. 1:14; 61:8. [↩]
- Deut. 28:63; 30:9; Jdg. 9:13; Neh. 8:10; Pss. 16:11; 60:6; 104:31; Isa. 62:5; 65:19; Jer. 32:41; Zeph. 3:17; Luke 15:7, 10; John 15:11; 17:13. [↩]
- Gen. 6:6; Jdg. 10:16; Pss. 78:40; 95:10; Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:10, 17. [↩]
- Num. 23:27; 24:1; 1 Kings 3:10; Pss. 69:3; 149:4; Prov. 16:7; Eccl. 7:26; Ezra 10:11; Rom. 8:8; Phil. 4:18; Col. 3:20; 1 Thess. 4:1; Heb. 11:5, 6; 13:16, 21. [↩]
- Num. 11:10; 22:22; Deut. 4:25; 6:15; 7:4; 9:18, 19: 13:17; 29:20; Josh. 7:1; Jdg. 2:12, 14, 20; 3:8; 10:7; Pss. 2:12; 7:11; 78:49; 85:3; 90:11; 103:8; 145:8; Jer. 4:8; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 9; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Heb. 3:11; Rev. 6:16, 17; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15. [↩]
- Ps. 23:4; John 14:27; Rom. 15:33; Phil. 4:7, 9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16; Heb. 13:20. [↩]
- Gen. 6:8; Deut. 11:12; 2 Sam. 7:19; 15:29; 1 Kings 15:5; 2 Kings 12:2; 14:3; 15:3, 34; 16:2; 18:3; 19:16; 2 Chron. 17:17; 14:2; 16:9; 24:2; 25:2; 26:4; 27:2; 28:1; 29:2; 34:2; Pss. 11:4; 34:15; Prov. 5:21; 15:3; 22:12; Isa. 37:13; Jer. 5:3; Amos 9:8; Zech. 4:10; 1 Pet. 3:12. [↩]
- Pss. 44:3; 89:10, 13; Isa. 40:10-11; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 62:8; John 12:38. [↩]
- 1 Sam. 15:11; 2 Chron. 20:12; Job 19:21; 27:11; Eccl. 2:24; 9:1; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:23; 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 10:12; 1 Pet. 3:22; 5:6. [↩]
- Deut. 8:3; Jos. 17:4; 2 Chron. 35:22; 36:12; Isa. 1:20; 34:16; 40:5; 58:14; 62:2; Jer. 9:12; 23:16; Micah 4:4; Matt. 4:4. [↩]
- Both Charles Hodge and John Gill affirm that the capacity to think, will, and feel belong properly to the nature of spiritual creatures. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), 1:378, 79, 80; Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg, 1839), 1:51. Unfortunately, Gill, unlike Hodge, denies that affections “properly” belong to God (1:146). [↩]
- One need only think of the prospect of emotional happiness that awaited the thief on the cross in Paradise (Luke 23:43) or the apostle Paul when he would be “absent from the body” (Phil. 1:21, 23; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). [↩]
- See Vern Poythress, God-Centered Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1999), 32-36. [↩]
- James Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1988), 19-26; idem, Creation in Six Days: A Defense of the Traditional Reading of Genesis One (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999), 105-11; Frame, The Doctrine of God, 366-68. [↩]
- Moisés Silva makes this point in God, Language, and Scripture, vol. 3 in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 206. [↩]
- Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:35-36 [Book I, 1.1]. [↩]
- Ibid., 1:37 [Book I, 1.2]. [↩]
- Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:248-49. [↩]
- Commentary on Isaiah, trans. William Pringle (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 3:346-37. See also his commentaries on Deuteronomy 5:29; 32:29; Psalm 81:13; Lamentations 3:33; and Hosea 11:8. [↩]
- As biblical theologian Richard Gaffin observes, “[The questions of Psalm 94:9] are plainly rhetorical and, within the broader framework of biblical teaching, highlight that capacities in human beings, like hearing and seeing, do not merely derive from God but are reflective of his own divine capacities.” “Speech and the Image of God: Biblical Reflections on Language and its Uses,” The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, ed. David VanDrunen (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2004), 182-83. [↩]
- The Difficult Doctrine of God’s Love (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 58-59. [↩]
- The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, NICOT, ed. Robert L. Hubbard Jr. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990), 274. [↩]
- Samuel Waldron, “‘Without Body, Parts, or Passions’: A Contemporary Defense of Divine Impassibility” (Unpublished paper, 2008), 15-16; cited with the author’s permission. [↩]
- Emphasis added; The Doctrine of God, 610. See also K. Scott Oliphint’s helpful discussion in God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 86-88, 181-222. [↩]
- A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), 1:57. [↩]
- I might also add that as with any attempt to illustrate something about God by using something from this world, there are bound to be areas of discorrespondence. Unfortunately, most of us know too well that most actors and actresses are usually anything but themselves when on stage. Contrary to that common pattern, in the “movie illustration” I’ve used above, God as “actor” is playing his “own part” and accurately portraying himself. [↩]
- The phrase is taken from the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A #4. [↩]
- Systematic Theology (Zondervan; Grand Rapids, 65-66. [↩]
- I’m using the edition printed in Philip Schaff’s The Creeds of Christendom, 6th edition (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 3:598ff. [↩]
- BDAG, s.v. [↩]
- The proof texts given for God being without “parts” include Deut 4:15-17; John 4:24; Luke 24:29, all of which seem to underscore God’s incorporeal nature. Accordingly, it would appear that “without parts” is a further affirmation of “without body.” Possibly, though, it’s expressing a corollary idea: unlike material beings, God can’t be divided into body/spirit, form/matter, actual/potential, substance/accidence. These distinctions are more philosophical in nature and pertain to what classic theologians call God’s simplicity or indivisibility. [↩]
- Describing God’s emotivity, J. I. Packer writes, “[It is] not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in the face of the creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are. In other words, he is never in reality the victim whom man makes to suffer: even the Son on his cross, where ‘a victime led, thy blood was shed,’ was suffering by his and the Father’s conscious foreknowledge and choice, and those who made him suffer, however free and guilty their actions, were real if unwitting tools of divine wisdom and agents of the divine plan (cf. Acts 2:23; 1 Pet 1:20). “Theism for Our Time,” 16-17, cited by Donald Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 236-37. [↩]
- A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 179. [↩]
- This update of the 1689 can be downloaded here. [↩]
- Some have suggested that the term “passion” always denoted a negative desire or emotive response in the seventeenth century whereas “affection” always denoted a positive virtue. See, for example, Jim Renihan’s “Are You Passionate?” A diachronic study of the usage of these terms reveals that both were and continue to be used both in positive and negative senses. Context, not the etymology of these terms, determines whether the sense is positive or negative. See my “Yes, We May Be Passionate.” [↩]
- A number of commentators on the Confession press the discorrespondence beyond the metaphysical distinction of divine/human and the ethical distinction of holy/sinful. They follow many classical theists and interpret emotions predicated of God as mere metaphors for divine volition or action. Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? The Westminster Confession: Yesterday and Today (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1965), 29-30; Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1845; reprint, Ross-shire, U.K.: Christian Focus Publications, 1992), 26-27; G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964), 24. A. A. Hodge at first appears to affirm divine emotivity when he writes, “By spirit we mean the subject to which the attributes of intelligence, feeling, and will belong as active properties” (emphasis added). But when he addresses the Confession’s preclusion of “passions” to God, Hodge remarks, “When [the Scriptures] speak of his repenting, of his being grieved or jealous, they use metaphorical language also, teaching us that he acts toward us as a man would when agitated by such passions.” Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1901), 73-74. [↩]