God experiences emotion, Part 2

May 12, 2014

This is a brief follow-up to last week’s post, “Being emotional is part of what it means to be made in God’s image,” itself a response to a fellow UMC pastor and blogger, Jason Micheli, who argues that God experiences no emotions. Therefore, he says:

Sin doesn’t alter God’s attitude to us; it alters our attitude to him, so that we change him from the God who is simply love and nothing else into this punitive ogre, this satan.

Sin matters enormously to us if we are sinners; it does not matter at all to God.

In a fairly literal sense, he doesn’t give a damn about our sin.

It is we who give damns.

There’s simply no way to reconcile Micheli’s ideas with scripture, as many commenters to his blog posts on the topic have made clear. I found this exchange interesting (click to expand):

micheli

So God doesn’t “take offense” at sin. But he “cares in the sense that sin keeps us from being fully alive.” So if this statement is true, how is it true that sin “does not matter at all to God”? Does “at all” not mean at all?

If God allows himself to care in any sense—and Micheli concedes that there is one sense in which God cares—then God is still being affected (which means changed to some extent) by something that we human beings do. To say that God cares because sin keeps us from being fully alive nearly sounds like—I don’t know—regret or sadness on God’s part.

By the logic of the corner he’s painted himself into, I call foul!

But I’m not surprised that any Christian who professes to believe this nonsense would fail to be consistent. So I’m sympathetic with him.

Why can’t he just say God experiences emotion because scripture portrays God as experiencing emotion (frequently)? If some human-made philosophical system fails to account for this fact, then that philosophical system is obviously wrong. After all, classic Christian theology agrees with him that a transcendent God, though knowable, is also incomprehensible to us mere mortals.

2 Responses to “God experiences emotion, Part 2”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I totally agree that God experiences emotions. In fact, I would argue that our feeling emotions is part of being made “in the image of God”; which would mean, that is what God is like. (Of course, God always feels his emotions correctly, appropriately, whereas we, because of sin, frequently do not. God is perfect, whereas we, because of sin, are imperfect, but we are still “like God.”)

    I also believe God changes his behavior because of his emotions from what it would otherwise be without those emotions. Thus, Terbreugghen’s comment about “everlasting fire.” What I believe on that subject in particular is that, like us except perfectly and appropriately so, God feels hatred. That is why he casts people into hell. I have to disagree with the great C.S. Lewis on that point (“self-chosen exile,” per Micheli). “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.”

    Is hatred incompatible with “God is love”? I think not. I think that, without even bringing other aspects of God into play (such as justice), hatred is compatible with love on its own terms. Love is like a continuum. Thus, just as temperature is the presence or absence of heat, love can “vary” in its intensity, positive or negative, the “top part” being called “love,” and the bottom part being called “hatred” (like great heat being called “hot” and great absence of heat being called “cold”). Love is a conditional thing; particularly, if we respond back to love with love, then the love is not only maintained but increased. Whereas, if love is rejected, then love disappears and hatred comes in its wake.

    Of course, I am not maintaining that this is a “moment-by-moment” fluctuation with God. “God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish.” But God’s longsuffering comes to an end, as Romans 9 indicates. Then those who reject become “vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks, Tom. I cover some of that same ground in my previous post on the subject. The idea that an eternal God is incapable of experiencing emotion, as Micheli argues, is just bizarre.

      I just got a copy of C.S. Lewis’s _Great Divorce_. I got tired of reading _about_ what it says rather than reading what it says. So we’ll see. Lewis broaches the topic of hell with great humility in a chapter in _The Problem of Pain_. I doubt that he puts it quite the way Micheli puts it.


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