The Emotions of God

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The writer of Hebrews said of our Lord Jesus – the Son of God – that He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). The phrase “touched with” in Greek is that from which we derive the English word “sympathy,” which means to have the same pathos or emotions. John Calvin writes that “Christ has put on our flesh, and also its feelings or affections, so that He not only paroled Himself to be real man, but had also been taught by His own experience to help the miserable; not because the Son of God had need of such a training, but because we could not otherwise comprehend the care He feels for our salvation”.

The Apostle Paul also exhorts us to “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). The Psalmist also repeatedly reminds us that “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; Slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Psalm 145:8; 86:15; 78:38; 111:4; 112:4).

From the Holy Scriptures, we know that the Triune God displays a wide variety of emotions, showing that emotions are part of the divine nature of God. Benjamin Warfield, the Princeton theologian, writes that “A God without an emotional life would be a God without all that lends its highest dignity to personal spirit, whose very being is movement; and that is as much as to say no God at all.”

The major difference between the expression of our emotions and that of God’s is that His emotions are holy and perfect. Our human emotions are different from God’s because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). God’s emotions, as one writer puts it, are invulnerable, meaning to say that His emotions are not dependent on anything outside of Himself. God is never surprised by an event or person, and He is never overcome with emotion. His emotions are never sinful. They are always in line with His holy nature. As one writer puts it, “God’s emotions are always correct, righteous and moral because He is always correct, righteous and moral.”

In considering God’s emotions, let us see how those emotions are expressed.

God delights in His Son.

The emotions that the Father has for His only begotten Son reflect the same kind of emotions that human parents have for their children. There is innate joy and delight that the Father has for His Son. We see that delight in the OT. The Prophet Isaiah writes: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1; see Matthew 12:18).

We see that also in the NT. On the occasion of our Lord’s baptism, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). On the occasion of our Lord’s transfiguration, the Father expressed that same delight (Matthew 17:5).

God delights in righteousness and justice.

God delights in righteousness. God “loveth righteousness and judgment” (Psalm 33:5). “I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah9:24; Isaiah 61:8). The reason is that righteousness and justice are God’s nature.

God hates sin, and He grieves over our sinfulness.

Even as God delights in righteousness and justice, so He also expresses His hatred for unrighteousness. God hates sin because He is holy. Just as it is natural for us to be angry when we witness gross injustices. Indifference and apathy in those situations would be inhumane and immoral. Thus, God cannot be indifferent in the light of sin and unrighteousness.

It has been often said that God hates sin and loves the sinner. That is not what the Bible teaches. There can be no sin without the sinner. If there is sin, there must be a sinner. The Psalmist says, “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:4–5).

“The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (Psalm 11:5). The unrepentant sinner, therefore, will never experience the love of God.

When God saw the sinfulness of man in the days of Noah, the Bible tells us that “it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:5–6). When He saw the idolatry of His people in the days of the Judges, “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judges 10:16). The Psalmist, in recalling the unbelief of the children of Israel, writes, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways” (Psalm 95:10).

The Prophet Ezekiel compares the grief of God over the unfaithfulness of Israel to that of a husband over the unfaithfulness of his wife. God says, “I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols” (Ezekiel 6:9).

God loves and delights in His people.

That is the very nature of who He is. The Prophet Isaiah portrays this emotion most graphically when he compares the children of Israel to an abandoned child. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; Thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15–16; see also Psalm 103:13).

The Hebrew word for “compassion” connotes an intense feeling of tenderness. Just like the bond between a nursing mother and her child is intensely emotive, so is God’s love for His people. Jeremiah describes God’s love this way, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3).

We must know that there is nothing in us that causes God to delight in us. We are sinners. In our natural and unregenerate state, we are God’s enemies. So, God delights in us not because of who we are, but what He has made us to be by the atoning work of His Son. As Paul says, God “hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).

The Prophet Zephaniah captures God’s exuberant delight in us with these words, “The LORD thy Godin the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Isaiah tells us that God rejoices over us (Isaiah 62:5).In Jeremiah, God says, “I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul” (Jeremiah 32:41).

The God whom we worship is a God of emotions. He delights in our worship. He is pleased with our obedience. At the same time, He grieves over our sin and rebellion. Hence, to say that God is without emotions is to diminish the personhood of God.

This theological foundation and understanding of God are important because we are made in the image and likeness of God. While there is a wide gap between our emotions and God’s and the expressions of our emotions and God – ours are imperfect whereas God’s is perfect – nonetheless, in order to understand ourselves, we must know God so that the expression of our emotions would be more in line with the character of God, and what He expects us to be – to be holy as He is holy even in the matter of expressing our emotions.

Reflect: Be comforted that God expresses His love to His people, and grieves when we sin against Him. Thus let us strive to sanctify our lives and our hearts to yearn for God daily, for in so doing we set ourselves further apart from the world, and all the closer to our Heavenly Father.

Pastoral Letter by Pastor Isaac Ong – Calvary’s Weekly Bulletin (28 February 2021)