God Is Impassible and Passionate: A Theology of Divine Emotion

According to King Solomon, godly thinking and living require balance: “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (Eccl 7:18 NIV). What Solomon says about practical godliness is certainly relevant for doctrinal formulation. The notorious “pendulum swing” has often been the bane of good theology. I believe this is true with respect to the biblical teaching regarding God’s emotions. Some classical theologians, in an effort to guard God’s transcendence, have formulated a doctrine of divine impassibility that sometimes falls short of positively and clearly affirming that God has an emotional life in relation to the world he has created (see Part 1). A growing number of modern theologians, in an effort to stress God’s immanence, ascribe to God emotions that are far too humanlike in character and, as a result, they completely reject the doctrine of divine impassibility (see Part 2). In our last post (Part 3), we heard from a good number of Reformed-Evangelical theologians who attempt to “grasp the one” (transcendence) while “not letting go of the other” (immanence). In this post, we’ll attempt our own formulation of God’s emotional life in a way that’s exegetically based, biblically balanced, and theologically coherent.

Defining “Emotions”

People commonly distinguish the emotions from the mind and the will. Unfortunately, these distinctions often become “dichotomies.”

The Intellectualist Model

Much classical Greek philosophy, for example, made a sharp distinction between the intellect and the will. The emotions or “passions” were often depicted as the irrational and sensual appetites or impulses of the will that had to be “reigned in” and controlled by pure reason. Plato, for instance, uses the allegory of a charioteer (= reason) who is driving and steering two horses, the one a noble steed (= righteous desires) and the other an ignoble maverick (= irrational and sensual passions).1 Some of the early church fathers, medieval scholastic theologians, and Reformers followed this “intellectualist” faculty psychology that left emotions with the short end of the stick.2 Of course, we agree with Plato and the intellectualist Christian theists that sinful emotions are irrational. But, as we’ll argue below, emotions per se are not irrational. What’s more, the intellectualist view sometimes forgets that any use of reason not subject to the law of God is both irrational and also sinful.

The Evolutionary Model

Many modern views of the emotions exhibit the same kind of false dichotomy. For instance, those who follow a Darwinian evolutionary model, construe the emotions as the remnants of an inherited “fight-or-flight” survival mechanism. Charles Darwin himself described human emotion as “the excited nervous system” affecting “the body, independently of the will.”3 This kind of thinking may account for the way modern dictionaries often distinguish the emotions from intellectual or volitional capacities. “Emotion,” according to a popular online dictionary, is “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.”4 Interestingly, the evolutionary theory of the emotions, like the intellectualist view of Greek philosophy, supports the notion that emotion is a baser function than intellect.

An Integrative (and Biblical) Model

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 disinclination away from someone or something.5 As related to the mind, emotions entail evaluations, assessments, attitudes, and beliefs regarding various states of affairs (whether real or supposed). Furthermore, human emotions have a moral dimension and are, therefore, tied to the human conscience.

This holistic view of human emotions corresponds with the biblical data. The Scriptures do not provide us with a technical definition of “emotions” or “affections.” They are, however, replete with emotional or affective language such as love, hate, joy, sorrow, delight, anger, compassion, peace, and so on. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains classifies such language as “Attitudes and Emotions” (Domain 25) and adds the following note:

Domain 25 Attitudes and Emotions is very closely related to a number of domains, including Think (30), Psychological Faculties (26), Sensory Events and States (24), Behavior and Related States (41), and Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behavior (88).6

According to the observations of Lexicographers Louw and Nida above, there is plenty of semantic overlap between emotions or affections and what we think of as cognitive (“the mind”), volitional (“the will”), and moral (“the conscience”). This evidence is consistent with the fact that both the Old and the New Testaments employ a single term, namely, “the heart,” as the core or the seat of mental, volitional, emotional, and moral capacity.7

With these considerations in view, 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.8

Hence, emotions involve one’s perception of reality. Moreover, they are ethical in nature and, therefore, value based. Emotional capacity is the quality of being inclined toward or disinclined from some object, person, or state of affairs relative to one’s cognitive perception and moral judgment. Emotions or affections are not the same as moral virtues, but they often serve as the expressions of moral virtues. Furthermore, emotions or affections are often what motivate one’s actions or behavior.9

Hence, we must reject the rather negative view of human emotions promoted by Greek philosophers and many modern naturalists.

The God Who Feels

How does our understanding of human emotions apply to our view of divine emotional capacity? To begin with we wish to underscore the undeniable fact that the Bible describes God as full of emotion.10 God is said to feel such affections as love11 and hate,12 joy13 and grief,14 pleasure15 and anger,16 and peace.17 And this list is by no means exhaustive. Of course, the Scriptures also attribute human body parts to God, such as eyes,18 arms,19 hands,20 a mouth,21 and so on. Since God’s incorporeal nature constrains us to interpret the latter figuratively, as “anthropomorphisms,” we must also, it is argued, interpret God’s emotions as “anthropopathisms.” Fine and well.

Not Mere Physiological Impulses

However, emotions or affections have 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. In fact, it can be argued that the essence of thinking, feeling, and choosing is not primarily physical but spiritual in nature.22 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?23 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 emotional capacity. Hence, the obvious disjunction between human body parts (which are material) and divine “body parts” (which are metaphorical) may not equally apply to human and divine emotion.

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, all special revelation is, in one sense, “anthropomorphic.”24 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.”25 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.26

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.”27

Similarity and Dissimilarity

Of course, it’s true that divine emotions are not univocal with human emotions (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 dissimilarity. That’s not where the Bible places the emphasis. Consider 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. As biblical theologian Dr 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.28

Similarly, divine emotion or affection is the archetype of human emotion or affection, which is the ectype. Human emotions or affections 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, feels. More precisely, God’s emotions are his cognitive and affective evaluations of the world and characterize his responses to the good or to the evil. We are, therefore, compelled to agree with Dr 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).29

Similarly, Reformed pastor, blogger, and author Kevin DeYoung insists, “We should not be afraid to speak of God in the way Scripture does and the Bible is full of emotional language. If we try to push aside God’s emotional life as nothing but a human way of talking about God (anthropopathism), the price will be too high. We’ll be left with a God that seems hallow [sic; read, “hollow”] and distant.”30

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 divine activity (i.e., judgment). Rather, we should understand more. Moses’ depiction of God’s grief and heart-felt pain signify real divine affective-emotive feeling (as it normally does in humans). After all, God has plenty of human words at his disposal if he wished to refer to his retributive action of judgment exclusively. 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?

We submit that God through Moses is revealing to us the fact that the escalation of human hubris and the misery that follows in its trail occasions from him31 manifestations of his holy grief and anger. Of course, God’s grief and anger are not accompanied with literal tears, heaving breast, or clenched fists. Nor are his grief and anger tainted with sin. Nor does the displeasure ascribed to God entail any lack in God’s essential perfection or mar his calm and transcendent bliss. But it is displeasure nonetheless. 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.”32 The other part of the truth, as K. Scott Oliphint reminds us, is that God has condescended and has assumed covenantal relationship with his creation in which he genuinely relates and responds to the plight of man. In his words,

God has condescended in such a way that his disposition toward his human creatures is indeed dependent on them, though not, of course, in any ultimate way; God remains the “I AM.” But, as condescended, God has determined that he would react to what takes place in creation and, specifically, in and with man.33

Affirming God’s Transcendence and Immanence

We have concluded that God really has an emotional life. But doesn’t that conclusion contradict what the Bible teaches regarding God’s transcendence? That is, God’s immutability and eternality? In plainer terms, how can we harmonize the notion of God feeling a certain way toward a certain situation (e.g., Adam before the Fall) and another way toward a different situation (e.g., Adam after the Fall) with the doctrine that God doesn’t change? Or how can we harmonize the idea of God first evaluating an event and then responding emotively to the event with the doctrine that God knows and experiences the past, present, and future timelessly? If God never changes in any sense and if God is wholly outside time and space, how can we conceive of him being “moved” or “affected” by the plight and prayers of men?

Can God Change His Mind (or Feelings)?

As with many theological questions, the one above can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” Rather, it requires both a “Yes” and also a “No” kind of response. Let’s begin with the “No!”

1. The Unchanging Essence of God

To begin with, we affirm that immutability precludes any ontological change. God is not in the process of becoming more “God-ish.” He is fully actualized Deity. God cannot become any more God or any less God. He is the epitome of perfect “God-ness.” This is the great truth highlighted in his use of the honorific plural Elohim.34 As God he is self-existent and independent. He has life in himself and is the giver of life. Yet he does not depend on his creation for fulfillment (Job 35:4-8; Acts 17:24-25). What’s more, God is not limited by space or time. He is both infinitely immense (transcending all space) and also omnipresent (fully present at every point in space). He is both supratemporal (above time) and omnitemporal (fully present at every point in time). Moreover, God’s knowledge is absolute and unlimited. He knows all things comprehensively, immediately intuitively, independently, and permanently. There is no gain or loss in what God knows. Finally, God as God is infinite and unchangeable in his power. By the word of his power, God created all things and sustains all things (Gen 1:1; John 1:3; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:3). God is able to do or to effect everything and anything that is consistent with his own perfection.35 In all these ways, God is ontologically perfect and immutable.

Second, we affirm that God’s sovereign purpose is fixed and unalterable. According to Scripture, God has planned the entirety of history from the creation of all things unto the consummation of all things (Isa 46:10; Eph 1:11). And the Bible asserts unequivocally that whatever God has decreed shall come to pass (Psa 115:3). No other creature or power in the universe can thwart his plan (Dan 4:34-35; Rom 9:15-21). Therefore, what God wills decretively is immutable.

Third, we must emphatically deny any change in God’s moral character and virtue. God can never increase or decrease in his “wisdom,” “holiness,” “justice,” “goodness,” or “truth.” God’s wisdom is infinite and unsearchable (Ps 139:6; Rom 11:33-35; 16:27; Col 2:3). He is the epitome of holiness (Ps 105:3; Isa 6:3; 57:15; Rev 4:8). His justice is the absolute and invariable standard of all righteousness (Gen 18:25; Deut 32:4; Job 34:10; Rom 3:25-26). God’s goodness is his supreme and superabundant benevolence (Exod 33:19) whereby he seeks to “communicate happiness to his creatures, as far as is consistent with his other perfections.”36 God expresses his goodness towards people indiscriminately (“common”) and discriminately (“saving”) in the form of love, grace, mercy, compassion, forbearance, and the like (Exod 34:6-7; Neh 9:17; Ps 103:8-14; Luke 6:35-36; Rom 2:4-5; Eph 2:4-10; 2 Peter 2:9). Furthermore, God is truth, the sum of truth, and nothing but the truth (John 8:26; Rom 3:4; Titus 1:2). In summary, God is ethically immutable.

Finally, we can affirm that God is perfect and constant in his emotional or affective capacity. We agree with Reformed pastor and author Kevin DeYoung that “to be impassible is not to be passionless. To be immutable is not to be motionless. God is always active, always dynamic, always relational” (emphasis added). Indeed, as DeYoung goes on to explain,

It is because God is so completely full of action that he cannot change. He is love to the maximum at every moment. He cannot change because he cannot possibly be more loving, or any more just, or any more good. God cares for us, but it is not a care subject to spasms or fluctuations of intensity. His kindness is not capable of being diminished or augmented.37

Hence, God is emotionally or affectively immutable and impassible.

In conclusion, we may and should affirm God’s essential immutability in all the ways above and confess with the apostle James that with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV).

This being true, in what way may we predicate change of God?

2. The Changing Relations of God

We believe that God changes the way he relates with his creatures.38 The God whose essence, moral attributes, and decretive purposes never change actually ordains change. Those changes not only entail the world he created, but also include his changing responses and actions in relation to the changing world. Moreover, we believe God’s extrinsic “responses” are not merely the effects of his actions (redemptive/retributive) but they include the manifestation and revelation of his cognitive and affective valuations, which are grounded in God’s unchanging moral perfections. Thus, the changing relations of God actually reinforce the unchanging essence of God, which we’ve just affirmed above.39

Let’s attempt to illustrate our point using two imaginary characters who were born the same year, 1950, and who died the same year, 2012.

The first, Bill Black, was born to Christian parents. From the time of his birth to the time of his death, Bill enjoyed many temporal blessings from God. What’s more, being brought up in a Christian home, Bill was exposed to the gospel at a very early age. Accordingly, we may say that God showed or manifested plenty of “common” kindness, mercy, and forbearance toward Bill throughout Bill’s lifetime. God’s revealed intention behind this common grace was to lead Bill to repentance (Rom 2:4). But alas! Bill dies in unbelief and rebellion against God. At that moment God consigns Bill to hell, and Bill experiences a significant change in his circumstances. Yet, that change in Bill’s state is a result of God changing in the way he relates to Bill. Now, God pours out his pure, holy, and unmitigated wrath upon Bill (Luke 16:19-31; Rom 2:5; 2 Thess 1:9). It is not merely the case that Bill no longer experiences the effects of God’s kindness, mercy, and forbearance. It is also the case that God himself withdraws his kindness, mercy, and forbearance from Bill. Of course—and we want to underscore this point—God’s change in the way he relates to Bill does not entail a subtraction from God’s perfect goodness. Nor does it result in an increase in God’s perfect justice. God’s essential nature and moral qualities are constant and unchanged. But whereas before it might have been said that God really loved Bill, now it is no longer the case that God feels or shows benevolence to Bill. Bill has become fixed in his unbelief and hatred of God, so God, as a result, feels and shows only holy hatred and righteous indignation toward Bill. Once again, this change in God’s relation to Bill is not indicative of any change in God’s essence, character, or purpose. Indeed, it is the constancy of God’s being, character, and purpose that necessitate the change in God’s relation to Bill. The result, we contend, is that God now feels and acts differently toward Bill in hell than God felt and acted toward Bill when Bill was in the land of the living.

The second character, Tom White, was born and raised in a non-Christian home. Tom’s parents divorced when Tom as twelve years old, and Tom began down a pathway of drug abuse, thievery, and immorality. Although God showed Tom, as he did Bill, much common kindness and forbearance, yet he was displeased with Tom’s rebellious and godless lifestyle (2 Sam 11:26; Pss 7:11; 11:5; Prov 6:16-19). Tom was not at peace with God and, conversely, God was not at peace with Tom. Tom was a child of God’s wrath like the rest of sinful humanity (Eph 2:3). Nevertheless, when Tom was thirty-two years old he met an evangelical Christian at work named Paul. Paul shared the gospel with Tom, and Tom fell under the Spirit’s conviction. Two weeks later Tom visited Paul’s church where he heard the gospel preached and was marvelously converted. Tom’s attitude and affections toward God changed. Whereas before, Tom was at enmity with God, now Tom, having been justified by faith in Christ, is at peace with God (Rom 5:1). Moreover, because Christ has satisfied God’s justice and pacified God’s wrath, it is also the case that God is now at peace with Tom.40 God now sees Tom in Christ, and God now rejoices in Tom’s coming to repentance (Luke 15:7, 10). As noted above, God’s change in the way he relates to Tom does not entail a subtraction from God’s perfect justice or an addition to God’s abounding grace. God’s doesn’t become more gracious in saving Tom, nor is he less just. God’s “attribute” meter always remains at the save level: utter perfection. Nonetheless, we believe it is the case that God relates to the post-conversion Tom differently than he related to the pre-conversion Tom.

To these two “imaginary” examples we’ll add a real example: King Saul. According to 1 Samuel 15:1-23 Saul did not “delight” Yahweh with obedience and devotion, but he displeased the Lord with disobedience and rebellion. God communicates his displeasure to the prophet Samuel with these words: “I am grieved [נחמתי] that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions” (1 Sam 15:11, NIV). The Hebrew word translated “I am grieved” (נחם) is later used by Samuel in verse 29 when he’s assuring Saul that God’s threats are not empty: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind [ינחם]; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind [להנחם].” The NIV translates the term differently in each context to (rightly) bring out the different intended senses. God is displeased by Saul’s actions (15:11, 19) and, as a result, changes his relation to Saul (15:22-23). Nevertheless, the prophet Samuel declares that the change in God’s relationship to Saul actually serves to underscore God’s immutable character (15:29). In the words of Kevin DeYoung in his article on divine impassibility:

God is sorry in this passage because Saul has changed, but this does not mean God has changed. The change in God is a response to a change in someone else. In fact, God’s “change” is a manifestation of his unchanging character. God’s passion for the glory of his name, his passion for righteousness and justice never change. But when the external world changes, God’s relationship to that world also changes. So when Saul’s behavior changed, God, immutable in nature and purpose, chose to respond to Saul in a different way in order to be true to himself. God changed his mind in order to not change his mind.41

DeYoung then offers a helpful analogy to illustrate how God’s relational changes function as expressions of God’s essential and moral unchangeableness. “One way to think of God’s immutability and his emotional life,” says DeYoung,

is to think of white light refracted through a prism. The light is unchanging. Its nature is consistent. But as it passes through the prism we see the white light in all the colors of the rainbow. In the same way God is immutable and impassible, but when his nature and character [are] refracted through the prism of constant change, we see differentiation. The different colors are not an illusion. We really see them. They are really there. Just like God’s emotions are not an illusion. The different colors are an expression of the same white light, just as God’s emotional interaction with the world is an expression of his immutable, impassible character.42

So to affirm that God in some sense can “change his mind,” that is, vary the revelation and expression of his attitude or affections relative to changing states of affairs in creation in no way compromises one’s commitment to God’s essential immutability. That is, these relational changes do not constitute changes in God’s essence. God remains always and fully pleased with the good; he remains always and fully displeased with the evil. Thus, the unchanging God changed his assessment of Adam and the world of humanity after the Fall? Before the Fall God looked upon what he had made and said, “Very good!” (Gen 1:31). After the Fall and sin’s proliferation throughout all the earth, God gave a different evaluation: “Only evil continually!” (Gen 6:5). We don’t interpret God’s evaluations as cold, indifferent, and mechanical. We see them, rather, as full of feeling. What’s more, God’s prelapsarian assessment is different from his postlapsarian assessment. Had God not expressed a different attitudinal-affective posture toward the human race after the fall, we’d have to conclude that God’s essence and moral nature had changed since he loved righteousness pre-Fall and loved evil post-Fall. Changing contingencies in a fallen world demand different responses from a God who is unchangeably holy, righteous, good, faithful, and just.

Dr Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California, agrees.

Does God’s loving make the creation lovely? Or does God love the creation because in it, as the result of his work, he sees its intrinsic value? Even with the analogical proviso, it is difficult to square the creation narrative, not to mention the so-called nature psalms, with the view that God does not respond to the creation…. I should affirm that God’s goodness and love as the cause of the goodness and loveliness in the creature in no way mitigates the responsive delight that God shows in the work of his hands.43

Dr Horton does not view his affirmation of God’s changing responses to a changing world as inconsistent with the classical theism he affirms and to which he subscribes in the Westminster Confession. As Dr Horton explains,

In a variety of ways, that which the tradition at its best has wanted to affirm is retained, yet by means of a more explicitly relational (communicative) conception. If we supplement this account with the notion of covenant, we can perhaps find more suitable ways of defending God’s independence and perfection than traditional formulations have been able to do on the basis of a purely causal understanding of the God-world relationship.44

We agree with Kevin DeYoung, Michael Horton, and other Reformed theologians like them.45 We unhesitatingly affirm the immutable essence of God in the ways we expounded above. Nevertheless, we also affirm the mutable relations of God. The Bible everywhere represents God as responsive. Moreover, his responses change in relation to the changing people and events that he has ordained.

Does God Have “Time” for Emotions?

One possible objection to the position we have outlined and affirmed above comes from the notion of God’s relationship to time. The Confession and the Scriptures unambiguously describe God as “eternal.” But what does that mean? Lexical studies on the terms associated with “eternity” or “everlasting” usually refer to long periods of time or to time without end.46 In the case of God, he would have neither beginning nor end: “from everlasting to everlasting [he] is God” (Ps 90:2). Yet the Creator-creature distinction means that we can’t rely on the usage of “time vocabulary” alone to determine God’s precise relationship to time.47

1. Timelessness vs Omnitemporality

Historically, two primary positions have emerged. Classical theism has tended to construe God’s eternity in terms of being above or outside of time. Perhaps the most oft quoted definition of this view comes from the early sixth century philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius. He defines God’s “eternity” as follows: “Eternity, then, is the whole, simultaneous and perfect possession of boundless life.”48 Or, in the words of Charles Hodge, “With [God] there is no distinction between the present, past, and future; but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him duration is an eternal now.”49 Important for the timelessness view is the notion that God does not experience duration or succession.

Until recent times few challenged this position.50 But now the majority position is the one that construes God’s eternity in terms of his existing in and throughout time. In the words of Yale Divinity School philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff,

The God of Scripture is One of whom a narrative can be told; we know that not because Scripture tells us that but because it offers such a narrative. I hold that an implication of this is that God is in time. If something has a history, then perforce that being is in time.51

Whereas the classic view describes God’s relationship to time with terms like timelessness, atemporality or supratemporality, the modern majority view prefers terms like everlastingness, sempieternal or omnitemporal. Defenders of the modern majority view or variations of it include Richard Swinburne,52 Alan Padgett,53 William Lane Craig,54 as well as evangelical and Reformed theologians J. Oliver Buswell,55 John S. Feinburg,56 and Robert L. Reymond.57

Some scholars insist that the evidence is indeterminate. For example, the Reformed philosopher and theologian Ronald Nash surveys the arguments on both sides and concludes, “The jury is still out, and I presently see no reason why theism cannot accommodate itself to either interpretation.”58

But advocates of the classical view have not remained silent. In particular, the Reformed philosopher-theologian Paul Helm has offered a comprehensive and impressive defense of divine atemporality.59 He admits that the Bible does not explicitly teach the nature of God’s relationship to time. In his words, “The language of Scripture about God and time is not sufficiently precise as to provide a definitive resolution of the issue one way or the other.” Nevertheless, Helm believes an affirmation of divine atemporality or timelessness is consistent with the data of Scripture.60

2. Timelessness = strong impassibility

More specifically and for our purposes, Helm believes divine atemporality demands a very strong view of divine impassibility. His argument runs as follows:

(1) God is timelessly eternal.
(2) Whatever is timelessly eternal is unchangeable.
(3) Whatever is unchangeable is impassible.
(4) Therefore, God is impassible.61

In other words, thoughts, feelings, and actions usually involve some duration of time in human experience. The duration may be long in some cases (such as growing in one’s affection for another person). The duration may be relatively short in other cases (as in the immediate surge of fear when a vicious animal suddenly appears). But in every case there is some duration, some succession of moments. However, if God is not in time, his thoughts, feelings, or actions cannot take time. God’s experience is a timeless now. God’s infinitely vast “universe” of experience is collapsed into an infinitesimally small “gravitational singularity” of experience.

Therefore, some might conclude, it is impossible to predicate of God any real responsiveness. After all, the very notion of “response” seems to denote some kind of sequence or “preceding” event. Accordingly, some deny that relational changes can be predicated of God since such changes would require God to be in time. In a word, God doesn’t have “time” for emotions.

3. Some reservations about the timelessness view

Before we address this problem directly, we should note that the question of God’s relationship to time is complicated. Most admit that the biblical data by itself is inconclusive or, at least, non-explicit. Many of the arguments are based on philosophical and metaphysical inferences from Scripture and from the light of nature. And even among those who affirm the doctrine, one will find admissions of ignorance. For example, Louis Berkhof concedes, “The relation of eternity to time constitutes one of the most difficult problems in philosophy and theology, perhaps incapable of solution in our present condition.”62 Indeed, humans are still striving to understand time—as we “know” it. If our relation to time is still, in some senses, a mystery for us, may not God’s relation to time be, in some senses, beyond our comprehension?63

For this reason we are uncertain about and even uncomfortable with some of the conclusions that defenders of divine timelessness or atemporality draw. We believe there are occasions when they wade too deep into the waters of speculation and too far from the solid shore of biblical language.

Paul Helm, for example, argues that from God’s standpoint, the creation had no beginning. “According to the eternalist,” Helm avers, “there need be no temporal first moment of creation, and so the universe need not have begun (temporally) to exist, for from the divine standpoint the universe is eternal, even though it exists contingently.”64 But this seems to remove the doctrine of “creation out of nothing” (creatio ex nihilo) from a temporal category and assign it to a mere logical category.

Helm also concludes that there never was a time in which the Son of God was not incarnate:

One thing to note is that if God the Son is timelessly eternal and yet incarnate in Jesus Christ, there is no time in his existence when he was not incarnate though since he became incarnate at a particular time in our history there were times in that history before the incarnation, and times since. This does not mean that the incarnation was logically necessary, any more than it means that the creation was logically so…. The point is … there is no preexistent Christ with a life history independent of and prior to the incarnation. There was no time when the eternal God was not Jesus of Nazareth.65

Perhaps for those who embrace the atemporalist position that may seem a legitimate way of viewing a redemptive event from God’s vantage point. But in our opinion it is speculative and runs counter to the language of the great creeds (Nicene, Chalcedon) and of Scripture that clearly speak of the incarnation event as happening in time. “When the fullness of time had come,” Paul writes, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4 ESV). The apostle Peter agrees, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet 1:20 ESV).

Finally, we would highlight the affect Helm’s notion of divine timelessness colors the way he understands the application of Christ’s atoning work to believers and their transition from wrath to grace. He remarks,

So the truth about atonement, about reconciliation to God, has to be represented to us as if it implied a change in God, and so an inconsistency, an apparent contradiction, in his actions towards us. But in fact there is no change in God; he loves us from eternity. There is however, a change in us, a change that occurs as by faith Christ’s work is appropriated. The change is not from wrath to grace, but from our belief that we are under wrath to our belief that we are under grace.66

Of course, Helm is depicting half of the truth. Certainly, we change in our views toward God. And certainly God loves his elect from eternity. But the Scriptures plainly teach that God hates and is angry with the wicked in time. Hence, we share Dr Oliphint’s concern with Helm’s construal: “This seems far from the biblical understanding of God’s disposition toward us.”67

4. Why Not “Both … And”?

With these qualifications and reservations in view, we want to affirm that God exists timelessly and is, therefore, above time (supra-temporal). But we see no reason to deny that God is fully present at every point in time (omni-temporal) just as he is fully present at every point in space (omni-present). This is not to suggest that God’s essence takes on the properties of space and time. There can be no mixture or coalescence. Nevertheless, God himself, and not just his will, is entirely present (praesentia repletiva) at every point within the space-time continuum.68

On the one hand, we affirm that God is without beginning or end. Moreover, it seems to us that time, as we know it, is a facet of creation and, therefore, not a necessary part of God’s existence. Furthermore, God’s knowledge is not limited by time, as ours is. He knows the past, present, and future intuitively, immediately, and exhaustively with equal vividness. Finally, we affirm that God cannot be subject to the kind of temporal succession or sequence that necessarily involves age or decay, growing or diminishing, improving or worsening, succeeding or failing, and so on.

On the other hand, we believe God knows what succession or sequence is. After all, God created and governs a world of succession and sequence. He is the author of redemptive history, which has a beginning and an end. What’s more, God the Son entered time in order to become a major participant in that history (John 1:14; Gal 4:5)! Even if we allow that God a se does not experience any kind of temporal sequence, he must, it seems to us, be aware of some kind of logical or rational sequential relationship, i.e., cause, then effect, or, as we might suggest, cause, then effect, then response, then effect, and so on. For this reason, we don’t believe it is improper to speak of God’s actions in the world in terms of “responses.” Dr Helm himself seems to allow for such a construal. When speaking of God’s action in the world, Helm writes, “Not only may such a God act within time but he may also be said to act in response to what happens in time.”69

5. Does timelessness really preclude emotions?

What’s more, Dr Helm seems to understand God’s actions as motivated by divine feeling. To be sure, he distinguishes God’s feelings from mere human feelings. Nevertheless, he is prepared to say,

A person may be so passionate about truth telling that he takes extreme care to speak the truth himself. A detective may be so passionate about solving a crime that he is utterly careful and scrupulous about assembling and weighing the evidence. If God in himself is said to be passionate, then this is how it must be with him. We must think of him as essentially impassioned, full of feeling, utterly engaged in the most clear-eyed way possible. In other words, we must not define passion in terms of irrationality, as a misunderstanding or miscalculation of good and evil, as Stoicism is inclined to do.70

6. The refraction of God’s timeless passion in time

But the question still remains of whether we should view God’s emotion or affection as “one” or as “many.” When Helm speaks of God’s perfect passion or essential impassionedness, is he merely thinking of God’s singular happiness in his celestial repose? Or does God’s singular happiness in himself also allow for the varied expressions of emotional relationships God sustains with creation, as depicted in Scripture. Dr Helm seems to make allowance for the latter. He argues that we must resist “the pattern of thought that says, either God is simple and impassible, uncaring and unfeeling, or he is an all too-human God who reacts with human-like passion to what he learns about his creation.” According to Helm,

There is a “third way”: to recall God’s settled attitudes to what he has ordained to come to pass, the varied ways in which the fullness and goodness of God are refracted in the varied life of his creation, and to see this fullness and goodness supremely refracted in the incarnation, under the all-too-familiar conditions of time and space.71

Note that Helm employs the same illustration as DeYoung: that of a prism. On God’s side there is the pure white light of his infinite passion for and happiness in his own glory. Yet, as the pure light of God’s sublime love for himself and all that reflects his glory refracts through the prism of time and space history, it takes on the character of manifold cognitive and affective valuations, each appropriate to the state of affairs to which it relates. Accordingly, as Helm writes in another place,

If we think not only of God himself, in isolation, but of a Creator God, then we can see how it is reasonable to think of God’s having pleasure or joy or peace not only in himself but also in his works as they reflect himself: he has the joy and pleasure and contentment of seeing fitfully in others what he has in full measure in himself alone. And the same delight he has in the delightful may be experienced as mercy in the penitent and justice by the impenitent.72

7. Yes, God has “time” for emotions

In conclusion, we believe an affirmation of divine timelessness or atemporality does not necessarily undermine our affirmation of divine responsiveness or relational mutability. Furthermore, we are sympathetic with a growing number of theologians who reject the “either … or” approach to the question of God’s relation to time and who posit something more like a “both … and” approach. Since the acceptance of Einstein’s theories of relativity, philosophers and theologians see time and space no longer as different or separate realities but rather as dimensions of the same reality. If this is true, then the God who is everywhere must also be everywhen.73

Older theologians spoke of God’s relationship to space as both outside (immensity) and also throughout (omnipresent), but they tended to speak of God’s relationship to time only in terms of his being outside of time (atemporal).74 However, a number of Reformed-evangelical theologians are arguing for a position that upholds God’s freedom from the constraints of time (atemporality or supratemporality), but that also affirms God’s freedom to act and respond within time (omnitemporality).75 As John Frame puts it, “[God] is both inside and outside the temporal box—a box that can neither confine him nor keep him out.”76 Or, in the words of Michael Horton,

Although God transcends time and space, he enters both freely as through an open door that he has created. More than this, even enters must be understood analogically, since God is already present in every moment and permeates every place.

To say that God is infinite is not to say that he is infinitely extended throughout time and space (the pantheistic view of ancient philosophers like Seneca and modern philosophers like Spinoza). Rather, it is to say that God transcends the very categories of time and space. Just as God can freely relate to the world without being conditioned by the world in his being, God can freely enter time and space without being circumscribed or contained within either. To affirm God’s infinite character is simply to witness once again to the marvelous truth that the difference between the Creator and creature is qualitative rather than quantitative.77

So God transcends space-time and he remains unchangeable in his essence. Nevertheless, God condescends and engages humans in covenant relations within the matrix of real redemptive history.

A Recap—Genesis 6:6

Returning to Genesis 6:6—did the Fall and spread of human depravity take God by surprise, make him vulnerable, or force him to revise his “Plan A”? The simple answer—“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.). Moreover, he ordained his affective-emotive response to human sin (6:6). In that sense, we may speak of God as “impassible.” God’s emotions are never passive or involuntary. 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 we may use the term without being misunderstood, God is truly “moved” by the plight and prayers of men.

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.78 But we must embrace all the biblical descriptions of God even if we can’t fully conceptualize their relations. After all, isn’t that a necessary ramification of the doctrine of God’s incomprehensibility?

Summing It Up

So we affirm that God is self-contained, independent, and wholly satisfied with himself. He possesses a kind of joy that cannot be marred. Yet, we also affirm that within “the matrix” of time and space, God expresses various cognitive-affective valuations such as grief, sorrow, anger, pleasure, love, hatred, jealousy, joy and peace in ways that are perfectly consistent with his unchanging “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”79 Accordingly, God’s transcendent qualities—his sovereignty, immutability, and eternality—remain intact.

What About the Confession of Faith?

A positive affirmation of God’s emotional life raises the question of whether those of us who subscribe to a Reformed confession need to reword or qualify its language. The first of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England asserts, “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions.” Similarly, the Westminster Confession reads, “There is but one only and true living God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). The Savoy Declaration (Congregationalist) and Second London Confession (Baptist) basically follow the language of the Westminster and affirm God is “without passions.”80 We don’t agree with theologians like Wayne Grudem who deny impassibility and would remove it from the confessions.81 Better, we think, to affirm the doctrine but to clarify what we mean.

On the Usage of Passion Terminology

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most people used the term passions to denote the kind of human emotions that are sensual (bodily) or sinful. As suggested above, an “intellectualist” psychology inherited from Greek philosophy tended to view the emotions as a “weakness” and, thus, may have influenced the more negative usage of the terminology. To be sure, the New Testament often speaks of passions in a negative way, i.e., sinful passions. Yet the Greek terms commonly employed (ἐπιθυμία; πάθος) can simply mean strong desire and may be used in positive senses.82 Similarly, some seventeenth century theologians used “passions” (or one of its cognates) to predicate positive human behavior. For example, the Puritan Richard Baxter offers the following counsel:

Passions are not sinful in themselves; for God hath given them to us for his service…. Passions are holy when they are devoted to God, and exercised upon him or for him…. Turn all your passions into the right channel, and make them all Holy, using them for God upon the greatest things.83

Today, the term passion and its cognates are commonly employed to denote positive Christian attitudes and behavior. Believers speak of having a “passion for God,” of being “passionate for missions,” and so on.

Additionally, pastors and theologians are increasingly employing the terminology as a predicate of God in a good and biblical sense. One can speak of “God’s passion for his own glory.”84 And as noted above, even those who defend the teaching of the confessions that “God is without passions” insist that such an affirmation in no way suggests God is devoid of emotion. Kevin DeYoung asserts, “To be impassible is not to be passionless.”85 Paul Helm urges us to conceive of God as “essentially impassioned, full of feeling.”86 Or as Thomas Weinandy somewhat paradoxically puts it, “God is absolutely impassible because he is absolutely passionate in his love.”87

On the Need for Clarification

Because of the positive uses of passion and its cognates not only when predicated of humans but also (nowadays) when predicated of God, some modern Christians think the Reformed confessions are actually denying God has emotions. Having served as a pastor of several confessional Reformed Baptist churches, I have personally encountered these assumptions in membership interviews. The assertion that God is “without passions” strikes many people as a denial that God has an emotional life. It becomes necessary at this point to explain how God is without passions, on the one hand, yet full of passion, on the other.

1. God’s passions aren’t human

Perhaps changing or augmenting the confession’s language is the best solution. The question, then, is this: What word or words do we substitute or add in order to bring clarification? One modern English update of the Westminster Confession takes a step in the wrong direction. It describes God as “without … emotions.”88 More commonly, however, modern English updates attempt to distinguish divine emotions from human emotions. In this way, one may affirm that that God really feels joy, love, anger, grief, peace, and so on. But he only does so in ways appropriate to his divine nature. So the “Plain English Westminster” reads, “[God] doesn’t have a body, multiple parts, or human passions.”89 Similarly, Carey Publications’ update of the Baptist Confession reads, “[God] is … without body, parts, or the changeable feelings of men.”90

To support the “human” qualifier above, we could highlight a common proof text for “without passions” in the Westminster Confession91 as well as later versions of the Baptist Confession.92 That text is Acts 14:11, 15. In context, 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 word ὁμοιοπαθής, which means “experiencing similarity in feelings or circumstances.”93 Most modern translations render it “the same nature” (NKJ, NAS, ESV, CSB; NET) or “human like you” (NIV).94 The text seems to imply that humans have human passions and, by way of inference, that deity does not. The framers of our Confession may have been thinking of the physiological dimension of human emotion, which, of course, cannot 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, that is, not consisting of divisible constituent parts such as body and soul.95

Some commentaries on the Confession seem to support this interpretation. According to A. A. Hodge, for example, God as Spirit possesses “the attributes of intelligence, feeling and will” as “active properties.” However, “we deny,” says Hodge, “that the properties of matter, such as bodily parts and passions belong to him.”96 Robert Shaw remarks, “The Confession affirms that God is a pure Spirit, according to the Scriptures, and in opposition to an ancient sect of heretics, who … held that God has bodily parts and a human form.”97 According to Robert Reymond, “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.”98 Similarly, R. C. Sproul comments, “The phrase without … passions means that God is not subject to human passions.”99  Robert Letham thinks this reading of the Confession may have some credence and remarks, “God is either incapable of the kind of emotions to which humans are susceptible or, if capable, chooses not to have them.” That is, “God is not subject to the fluctuations and vagaries that accompany such experiences.”100 Consequently, inserting the term “human” before the phrase “body, parts, or passions”101 or just before “passions” may be the simplest way to affirm impassibility without denying God’s emotional life.

2. God’s emotions aren’t passive

But the interpretation above is not the only one proposed for the phrase “without passions.” In addition to denying God has changeable human passions, Letham also offers two other possible readings. First, he notes that the term “passions” in the seventeenth century could denote spatial dimensions. Hence, one could speak of the “passions of a parallelogram.”102 Second, Letham notes that the term “passions” may be derived from the Latin verb patior, which signifies the quality of being susceptible to outside impression or influence. In this case, “without passions” doesn’t just mean God’s emotions aren’t human. It means that God is not susceptible to outside influences. That is, God’s emotions or affections are not caused from without (i.e., passive) but are caused from within (i.e., active).103 Dr James Packer seems to have this reading in view when he makes the following remarks on the language of the Confession:

God has no passions—this does not mean that He is unfeeling (impassive), or that there is nothing in Him that corresponds to emotions and affections in us, but that whereas human passions—especially the painful ones, fear, grief, regret, despair—are in a sense passive and involuntary, being called forth and constrained by circumstances not under our control, the corresponding attitudes in God have the nature of deliberate, voluntary choices, and therefore are not of the same order as human passions at all.104

The editors of The Modern English Study Version of the Westminster Confession seem to have this reading of the Confession in view when they render the clause as follows: “[God] is a most pure spirit, invisible, with neither body, parts, nor passive properties.”105

It’s also possible that some of the framers of the Confession may have endorsed a combination of the readings above. Robert Letham puts it this way:

God is not to be compared to the creature. He is spiritual and invisible. Immediately after our phrase, he is described as immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, and almighty—all attributes that set him apart from creation. In this way, he is without body and parts; he is not a composite being, he does not have spatial and temporal limitations that are an unavoidable aspect of creaturely existence. He is therefore “without passions” in the sense that he is not, nor can be subject to the limits or external constraints to which the creation is restricted, to the changeable locations, or the ebb and flow, of human feelings and appetites.106

3. God is impassible and passionate

We would prefer the rendering “nor passive properties” over “without passions.” Indeed, even the term “impassible” is in some senses preferable to “without passions.” It’s not that these more technical expressions are clearer to the modern reader or easier to understand. But, in our opinion, these more technical expressions are less likely to convey the false notion that God is emotionless.107

However, confessional Christians are cautious about changing the wording of their time-tested creeds. Such hesitancy is often a good thing.108 So it may be that those of us who subscribe to one of the confessions that describe God as “without passions” may need to content ourselves with the language as is. But in confessing a God “without passions” we must simultaneously confess that God is passionate both in terms of his intra-Trinitarian love and also in terms of his involvement with the world he made. The former is, of course, the ground of the latter. Another way of putting it is to speak of God’s passion for his intrinsic glory as well as God’s passion for his declarative glory. Intrinsically, God is self-sufficiently and perfectly glorious, not needing any praise from men. Nevertheless, God condescends to create a world that declares his glory, and he is passionately committed to the consummate end of all things in which every tongue will sing his praise.

Perhaps, then, we don’t necessarily need to change or augment the language of the Confession. If we understand divine impassibility rightly, we may—without contradiction—understand the closing words of paragraph one, chapter two in fully relational and properly emotive categories:

[God] is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

In any case, 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 full of feeling.


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  1. See Plato’s Phaedrus 246e-254e (written around 360 B.C.). Benjamin Jowett’s translation is available online: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  2. Thomas Aquinas, for example, is commonly known as an “intellectualist.” In his view, “The goodness of the will depends on its being subject to reason.” Aquinas thinks this “priority of the intellect” in humans is a reflection of what is true of God: “Now it is from the eternal law, which is the Divine Reason, that human reason is the rule of the human will, from which the human derives its goodness.” Summa Theologica, Part II, Q19, Art. 3-4 [pp. 1520-21]: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.pdf (accessed Jan 25, 2014). John Calvin seems to agree with Aquinas in giving priority to the intellect when he writes, “The human soul consists of two faculties, understanding and will. Let the office, moreover, of understanding be to distinguish between objects, as each seems worthy of approval or disapproval; while that of the will, to choose and follow what the understanding pronounces good, but to reject and flee what it disapproves…. The understanding is, as it were, the leader and governor of the soul; and the will is always mindful of the bidding of the understanding, and in its own desire awaits the judgment of the understanding.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 volumes, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.15.7 [1:194-95]. According to Richard Muller, Calvin believed the Fall resulted in a disruption of man’s faculties so that the will was no longer subject to the intellect. In that case, redemption, for Calvin, involves the restoration of the intellect to its rightful place as ruler. See Richard Muller, “The Priority of the Intellect in the Soteriology of Jacob Arminius,” Westminster Theological Journal 55:1 (1993): 56-57, 67, 71-72. We agree, rather, with Cornelius Van Til and John Frame, both of whom reject the priority of the intellect and treat mind, will, and emotions as co-dependant aspects of man’s inner being. See Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 34; John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 335-36. []
  3. Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1920), 348. []
  4. Emphasis added. See Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on the Random House Dictionary, 2012 (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  5. 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. []
  6. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 288. []
  7. 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). For a more detailed and helpful study of the Hebrew and Greek vocabulary related to emotions or affections, see Mark L. Ward Jr., “Paul’s Positive Religious Affections” (PhD Diss.; Bob Jones University, 2011), 68-85. []
  8. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2006), 54. []
  9. A number of philosophers, ethicists, psychologists, pastors, and theologians have adopted this more cognitive and ethical understanding of emotions. For example, see philosopher Robert C. Solomon’s The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993); ethicist Robert C. Roberts’ Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); psychologist Sam Williams’ “Toward a Theology of Emotions,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 7:4 (2003): 58-73; pastor Brian Borgman’s Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009); and theologians John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 509-12, 528-29, 608-11, and more Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 398-416. []
  10. 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 emotion are drawn from Nichols’ survey. []
  11. 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. []
  12. Pss. 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16; Isa. 1:14; 61:8. []
  13. 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. []
  14. Gen. 6:6; Jdg. 10:16; Pss. 78:40; 95:10; Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:10, 17. []
  15. 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. []
  16. 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. []
  17. Ps. 23:4; John 14:27; Rom. 15:33; Phil. 4:7, 9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16; Heb. 13:20. []
  18. 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. []
  19. Pss. 44:3; 89:10, 13; Isa. 40:10-11; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 62:8; John 12:38. []
  20. 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. []
  21. 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. []
  22. 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: Eerdmans, 1986), 1:378, 79, 80; John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg, 1839), 1:51. []
  23. 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). []
  24. See Vern Poythress, God-Centered Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1999), 32-36. 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.” See James Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1988), 19-26; Frame, The Doctrine of God, 366-68. []
  25. 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. As this relates to divine impassibility, see A. B. Caneday, “Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure,” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 149-99. []
  26. Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:35-36 [Book I, 1.1]. []
  27. Ibid., 1:37 [Book I, 1.2]. []
  28. “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. []
  29. The Difficult Doctrine of God’s Love (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 58-59. []
  30. “Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies: Why the Gospel of Christ’s Suffering is More Glorious Because God Does Not Suffer” (2010): http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2010/04/T4G-2010-KDY-v_2.pdf (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  31. We employ the verb “occasions” to avoid the notion that God is susceptible to passive impressions. God’s responses to his world are ultimately and fundamentally active, that is, arising from his own unchangeable moral character and expressed in accordance with his eternal decree. Nevertheless, we should not hesitate to describe God’s expressions of grief and anger as real “responses.” []
  32. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, NICOT, ed. Robert L. Hubbard Jr. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990), 274. Of course, there are elements of pain, chagrin, and remorse that are not consonant with God’s perfections and cannot be predicated of him. But the basic component of displeasure is how a perfect God must respond to sin. []
  33. God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 214. Oliphint employs the incarnation of Christ in which what is true of both Christ’s divine nature and his human nature may be properly predicated of the person as a model for understanding God’s pre-incarnation covenantal dealings in the Old Testament. In this way, Oliphint accounts for God’s essential immutability, which is necessary and intrinsic, as well as God’s relational mutability, which is contingent and extrinsic. []
  34. Bruce Waltke and M. O’Connor explain, “In this usage (sometimes called the pluralis majestatis) the referent is a singular individual, which is, however, so thoroughly characterized by the qualities of the noun that a plural is used.” Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), § 7.4.3). Thus, in the case of God the idea expressed is something like “the very essence or epitome of Deity.” See also this plural used of God when he is referred to as “the Holy One” (Prov 9:10) or as “the Lord” (Exod 15:17; Deut 10:17; Ps 8:2). []
  35. Obviously, God cannot deny himself, like, cease to exist, create a square circle, etc. []
  36. Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1845; Reprint, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1992), 35. []
  37. Emphasis added; “Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies” (2010): http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2010/04/T4G-2010-KDY-v_2.pdf (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  38. Originally, I had worded this sentence, “God changes in terms of his relationships with his creatures.” As least one of my readers interpreted that to mean something like, “God’s relationships with his creatures produces intrinsic changes in God.” Of course, that’s not what I meant. For as I go on to say, “The God whose essence, moral attributes, and decretive purposes never change actually ordains change. Those changes not only entail the world he created, but also include his changing responses and actions in relation to the changing world.” Hence, the changes I’m speaking of are not essential changes within God. Rather, they entail God’s ad extra (external) activity in the world. Yet, though these external activities on the part of God do not cause changes in God’s essential nature, decree, moral character, or affective capacity, they do, nonetheless, serve to reveal, manifest, and express God’s moral character and affective disposition toward states of affairs, i.e., his pleasure toward the good and his displeasure toward the evil. []
  39. To note another adjustment in terminology: originally, I contrasted God’s essential immutability with is relational mutability. But to prevent any misunderstanding that “relational mutability” entails some kind of “essential immutability,” I’ve changed the wording. Now I contrast “the unchanging essence of God” with “the changing relations of God.” []
  40. As Charles Hodge remarks, “The phrase … we have peace in regard to God, properly means, God is at peace with us, his ὀργὴ (wrath) towards us is removed.” A Commentary on Romans (1935; Reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1972), 132. []
  41. Emphasis added; “Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies” (2010): http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2010/04/T4G-2010-KDY-v_2.pdf (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  42. Ibid. []
  43. Emphasis added; Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2005), 44. []
  44. Ibid., 45. []
  45. See, for example, Bruce A. Ware, “An Evangelical Reformulation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29 (1986): 431-46; Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 177-84; John Frame, The Doctrine of God, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 559-72; John W. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 327-28, 329-20; K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us, 82-88. []
  46. See Oscar Cullman’s Christ and Time (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950). []
  47. James Barr has incisively criticized Cullman’s argument that the biblical vocabulary itself precludes the notion of timelessness. See his Biblical Words for Time (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1969), 67-85. []
  48. From his Consolation of Philosophy cited by Gregory E. Ganssle in God & Time: Four Views (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 23), 23. []
  49. Emphasis added. Systematic Theology, 1:385. []
  50. One apparent exception is Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), a philosopher and Anglican minister. []
  51. From his essay “Unqualified Divine Temporality” (p. 188) in God & Time: Four Views, 187-213. []
  52. The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1977). []
  53. God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time (New York: St. Martins, 1992). See also his essay “Eternity as Relative Timelessness,” in God & Time: Four Views, 92-110. []
  54. Time and Eternity (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001). See also his essay “Timelessness & Omnitemporality” in God & Time: Four Views, 129-60. Craig argues that God was outside time before he created but inside of time after he created. []
  55. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), 40-47. []
  56. After an extensive survey of the biblical data, Feinberg concludes, “While Scripture affirms divine eternity and teaches that this means unending existence always, we cannot answer from the Bible alone whether God’s eternity is temporal or atemporal in nature.” No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 264. Nevertheless, philosophical considerations incline him toward the idea of omnitemporality (375-433). []
  57. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 172-77. []
  58. The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 83. []
  59. See his Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1988), as well as his essay, “Divine Timeless Eternity” in God & Time: Four Views, 29-60. []
  60. “Divine Timeless Eternity,” 31-33. []
  61. “The Impossibility of Divine Passibility,” in The Power and Weakness of God: Impassibility and Orthodoxy, ed. Nigel M. de S. Cameron (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1990), 119. []
  62. Systematic Theology (1941; Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 60. []
  63. For example, with the advent of Einstein’s theory of relativity, it now appears the notion of “simultaneity” is relative to our inertial reference point in space-time. Hence, whether or not two events are simultaneously “present” depends on one’s position in the space-time continuum. In other words, one person might describe event A and event A´ as equally “present”; another person may, from a different vantage point, describe event A as “past” and event A´ as “present”; and a third person who is situated in another location may experience event A as “past” and only anticipate event A´ as “future.” Yet each person’s account of the events would be true relative to their inertial reference point in space-time. How then do we understand God’s experience of “simultaneity”? []
  64. “Divine Timeless Eternity,” 49. []
  65. “Divine Timeless Eternity,” 54. []
  66. John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 395. []
  67. Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 239, n. 13. []
  68. In a review of Rob Lister’s book God Is Impassible and Impassioned, Nathan Sasser objects to the dual aspect approach. Sasser asserts that classical theists portray God’s omnipresence not in terms of “present in all of space” but in terms of “co-existent with every point of spatial existence.” He cites Turretin. Accordingly, Sasser argues, “The temporal parallel is ‘co-existence with every point of time,’ not ‘presence in every point of time.’ However, Turretin is simply denying, first, that God’s essence can be distended throughout space; God is, rather, repletively present everywhere. Second, Turretin denies that God’s omnipresence entails any confusion or mixture of God’s essence with the created reality of space. Third, Turretin denies that God’s essence or existence can in any sense be confined to space. We are quite certain that Lister (and Bruce Ware whom he follows) would agree. Moreover, with these important qualifications in view, we don’t see a significant difference between God’s co-existing “in” time and his “co-existing “with” time. Nevertheless, Sasser avers, “Presence in time or space is incompatible with non-temporality and non-spatiality.” To affirm both “entails a denial of God’s simplicity.” We fail to see how Sasser’s conclusion necessarily follows. The reader may find Sasser’s review (Sept 2013) on the website “Reformation 21”: http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/god-is-impassible-and-impassioned.php (accessed Jan 30, 2014). []
  69. Emphasis added; “Divine Timeless Eternity,” 53. []
  70. Emphasis added. “B. B. Warfield on Divine Passion,” Westminster Theological Journal 69 (2007): 102. []
  71. Emphasis added. “B. B. Warfield on Divine Passion,” 104. []
  72. Emphasis added. “Divine Timeless Eternity,” 40. []
  73. We borrowed this from Millard Erickson who states it thus: “A being that is everywhere is also ‘everywhen.’” God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 138. []
  74. Louis Berkhof, for instance, defines God’s relationship to space in a “both … and” fashion: “That perfection of the Divine being He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole being.” However, Berkhof’s definition of God’s relationship to time is one-sided: “That perfection of God whereby He is elevated above all temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses the whole of His existence in one indivisible present.” Systematic Theology, 60. []
  75. These include, but are not limited to Millard Erickson, God the Father Almighty, 131-40; John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 553-59; K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us, 73-79; Rob Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 226-30. []
  76. The Doctrine of God, 559. []
  77. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 256. []
  78. 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 dissimilarity. 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. []
  79. The phrase is taken from the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A #4. []
  80. Some of the initial wording in the Second London Confession follows the First London Confession rather than the WCF or Savoy. But all three affirm God is “without passions.” []
  81. In Grudem’s opinion, the statement “without passions” in the Westminster Confession “goes beyond what we have affirmed in our definition above about God’s unchangeableness, and affirms more than that God does not change in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises—it also affirms that God does not even feel emotions or ‘passions.’” After exegeting Acts 14:15, Grudem concludes, “Of course, God does not have sinful passions or emotions. But the idea that God has no passions or emotions at all clearly conflicts with much of the rest of Scripture, and for that reason I have not affirmed God’s impassibility in this book.” Systematic Theology (Zondervan; Grand Rapids, 2000), 165-66. Personally, I believe Grudem has misconstrued the doctrine of impassibility. []
  82. Normally, it is the context and surrounding modifiers that indicate whether or not the terms should be understood as denoting negative or positive kinds of desire. For example, in Romans 1:26 Paul doesn’t condemn “passions” per se but “dishonorable passions” (πάθη ἀτιμίας). Moreover, while the term ἐπιθυμία is sometimes used to refer to sinful desires such as lust or covetousness, it is also used positive to denote a strong desire to do something good. Jesus is portrayed as saying to his disciples, “I have earnestly desired [ἐπιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα] to eat this Passover with you” (Luke 22:15). In this case, both the noun and cognate verb (literally, “I have strongly desire with strong desire”) denote a virtuous desire. []
  83. Christian Directory (Reprint, Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 273, 275. Similarly, John Owen describes the believer’s battle against indwelling sin in terms of “a most passionate expression of desire for deliverance.” In his treatise “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” in vol. 6 of The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (1850-53; Reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1967), 59-60. 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?” (June 3, 2008): http://www.reformedbaptistinstitute.org/?p=105 (accessed Jan 24, 2014). A diachronic study of the usage of these terms reveals that both were used and continue to be used in positive and negative senses when referring to humans. Context, not the etymology of these terms, determines whether the sense is positive or negative. See my reply to Renihan’s article, “Be Passionate As Your Father in Heaven Is Passionate” (Jan 6, 2014): http://drbobgonzales.com/2014/01/06/be-passionate-as-your-heavenly-father-is-passionate/ (accessed Jan 24, 2014). []
  84. This is the title of John Piper’s book God’s Passion for His Own Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), which is about Jonathan Edwards’ treatise “The End for Which God Created the World.” []
  85. Emphasis added; “Tis Mystery All, The Immortal Dies” (2010): http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2010/04/T4G-2010-KDY-v_2.pdf (accessed Jan 25, 2014). []
  86. Emphasis added. “B. B. Warfield on Divine Passion,” 102. []
  87. Emphasis added; Thomas Weinandy, “Human Suffering and the Impassibility of God,” Testamentum Imperium II (2009): 12. []
  88. The Westminster Confession of Faith: An Authentic Modern Version, 4th edition, ed. Douglas F. Kelly, Hugh W. McClure III, and Philip Rollinson (Signal Mountain, TN: Summertown Texts, 2004), 7. This part of the update reflects the updated version adopted by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The editors responsible for this rendering either had a poor view of the term emotions in general or intended it here in a more narrow (and negative) sense. []
  89. Emphasis added; “The Plain English Westminster” (2009-2013): (http://benhoyt.com/writings/pew/ (accessed Jan 29, 2014). []
  90. Emphasis added; A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 Rewritten in Modern English (Carey Publications, 1975), 18. The original draft of the Founder’s Press update renders the clause “God … has no … changeable human emotions.” The final version, however, drops “human” and simply reads “changeable emotions.” Confessing the Faith: The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century (Cape Coral, FL: The Founders Press, 2012), 14. []
  91. I am aware that the proof texts for the Westminster Confession were added after the Confession was originally published. I’m using the edition printed in Philip Schaff’s The Creeds of Christendom, 6th edition (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 3:598ff. []
  92. I have a facsimile copy of the 1677 (a.k.a. 1689) Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. The proof texts given for the clause including the phrase “without passions,” namely, 1 Timothy 1:17 and Deuteronomy 4:15-16, do not speak directly to the question of emotions. []
  93. BDAG, s.v. []
  94. The rendering of these translations is further supported by a somewhat parallel expression in verse 11: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (ὁμοιωθέντες ἀνθρώποις). []
  95. The WCF 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, one might infer from these verses that “without parts” is a further affirmation of “without body.” Yet, as I’ll note, it’s likely the framers of the Confession had something more in mind. []
  96. Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1901), 73-74. []
  97. Shaw indentifies this sect as the AnthropomorphitesAn Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1845; Reprint, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1992), 26. []
  98. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 179. []
  99. Emphasis his; Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, 3 volumes (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 1:37. []
  100. The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 161. []
  101. 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, the qualifier “human” before “body” makes sense in light of the Scripture’s frequent anthropomorphic language (i.e., describing God as having human body parts). []
  102. The Westminster Assembly, 160. []
  103. Ibid. []
  104. Emphasis added; Knowing God: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 121. []
  105. “The Modern English Study Version” (1993): http://www.opc.org/documents/MESV_frames.html (accessed Jan 30, 2014). []
  106. The Westminster Assembly, 162. []
  107. We acknowledge that some classical formulas of divine impassibility deny that any emotions can be properly predicated of God. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, follows Aristotle’s “substance metaphysics” and defines God’s simplicity in terms of an absence of any passive potency. Since passions are in some sense passive potencies, argues Aquinas, it follows that God has no passions. See Summa Contra Gentiles, Q89, sec. 1-7. For a fuller analysis of Aquinas’ doctrine of divine simplicity, see James Dolezal, God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 31-66, 81-88. However, an entailment of God’s absolute independence is his freedom to actualize some states of affairs while choosing not to actualize others. For example, God was under no necessity to create this present world. But he freely chose to create. The Son of God could have summoned legions of angels to rescue him from his enemies. But he chose not to do so. So we have potential states of affairs that were never actualized. It would seem to follow that there are things God could do (potential) that he chooses not to do (act). For this reason, some aspects of Aquinas’ metaphysic are suspect. []
  108. I agree with Robert Martin’s remarks: “Periodically it may be necessary to revise the great confessions of faith. We should not, however, revise them at every whim or with every change of theological fashion. These documents were not the productions of haste and they should not be revised in haste.” From his introductory essay in Samuel Waldron’s A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession, 2nd edition (Durham, Great Britain: Evangelical Press, 1995), 21. []
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