March 8, 2010

Does God Experience Emotions? (And an update on hyper-Calvinistic exclusivism)

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10 Comments
  1. What dr. michael said about, how YAWEH could incarnate human emotions is so true. We see in genesis 3:9 that God called to man ” Where are you”, as we could see here God knew where adam was but for a purpose he chose to demonstrate this emotion of not knowing where was adam. Lets take it a little further in verse 11 God asks who told them they were naked, of course GOD knew who had made them fall but God wanted to comunicate with adam in a way that they could comprehend eachtother. The only way communication could happen between men and GOD is if GOD incarnates human feelings and expresses them

  2. Hello Dr. Brown,

    Well I finally received your commentary on Jeremiah and have been looking through it. It is fantastic! You really did a great job in that commentary. It will be useful for many years.

    Now about this issue of God being “disappointed”, getting “frustrated”, getting “angry” etc. I did get a chance to read your discussion on Jer. 3:19 and I would like to share some thoughts with you here.

    As I said to Mwiya in another post, I distinguish between God’s character and attributes (which never change) and God’s interactions with us. One of His attributes is that He is all knowing, and yet when Jesus came to this earth at one point he states that only the Father knows the exact timing of Jesus’ second coming. Does this mean that Jesus was no longer God during the incarnation? No. We also have the passage in Philippians which speaks of him emptying himself when he incarnated. So while we cannot fully understand what precisely took place during the incarnation, we can minimally conclude that something was definitely different for Jesus when he was fully in time and fully human during the incarnation. And this makes sense if we think about it for a minute, if a being which is normally eternal and outside of time and beyond our comprehension, decides to enter time, enter actual human history, things cannot be identical for that being at that time (pun intended) as how things were for him before he entered time.

    I believe something similar is going on when God relates with us IN TIME. He has to speak in words easy enough for us to understand, and if he is really relating to us in the real world of space and time, then in some way he has to incarnate himself in space and time. I think this is what you are getting at when you state: “What then is the explanation? I suggest that the best way to balance the whole of the scriptural witness, neither negating God’s complete omniscience nor downplaying his “emotional” involvement with the world, is to recognize that God is able to enter into our situation and actually experience it as though he didn’t know the future. Thus his invitations, appeals, and entreaties are real, even if he knows his people will fail in the future, and his grief and even “disappointment” are real, despite his foreknowledge.”

    I am just a bit uncomfortable with your language that: “and actually experience it as though he didn’t know the future.” I am not sure that it is the case that he experiences it “as though he didn’t know the future”. Rather, when he relates to us in real time and space that relating to us is literally in time and space and so something is different.

    As an analogy I used to hear people say that in creating human persons capable of having and making their own choices, God chose to limit himself when he did so. That made me uncomfortable thinking that God could somehow limit himself when interacting with us. I thought this way until I became a father and had a child. When playing simple games such as checkers or tic tac toe: I “hold back”. I do not play “full out” to my strongest capacity. If I did so I would always win and might even discourage her from ever wanting to play any games with me if she would always lose! 🙂 While it is not quite the same obviously with God relating to us, at the same time there is the similarity in that the much superior person must “hold back” when relating to the inferior person. And we have biblical precedence for this in that the scripture says that if any man directly saw God he wouldn’t live! So God is omnipresent and yet not fully revealing himself. I believe the same thing must be true with his power, he must limit himself in his interactions with us or he would just blow us all away every time that he interacts with us. So it seems clear to me that he is in some sense “pulling his punches” when interacting with us. Just as I don’t play games at full strength with my daughter or I would overwhelm her: how much more must this be true in God’s interactions with us? Now it should be noted that when I “hold back” with my daughter, it is not as if I have lost my strength or no longer have the strength that I have. It is still there, just severely restrained, severely limited.

    So it seems to me that **when** God interacts with us **in real space and time** some kind of “incarnational principle” which you seem to be alluding to in your commentary, **is** operating and at the same time some kind of self-limitation on the part of God is occurring.

    Does God experience emotions **just like** we do? I would say No. But saying it is not identical is not the same as saying that it is not there at all. The bible is full of clear and unambiguous references to God’s emotions. And in each case they are not in the context of God in eternity watching over us from a far, but occur when he is relating to us in real time and space. And while we may not fully understand it or be able to articulate it precisely, something is different when he interacts with us directly in time and space.

    Robert

  3. When someone tells me that his God does not move at all and has no emotions…

    I can’t help but wonder not who, but what he is worshipping after all? Because the same can be said of wood.

  4. If God has no emotions, then there is no use to ask Him for mercy, because He cannot feel it.

    If God has no emotions, then there is no need to try and please Him, because He cannot feel pleased.

    If God has no emotions, then no one has ever felt His anger, nor will there be a “wrath to come.”

    If God has no emotions, He has never called anyone “My beloved Son.”

    The God we know from the Holy Scriptures overwhelmingly does not fit the description of an emotionless God.

    The God we know from our own subjective and personal experience does not fit the description of an emotionless God.

    And anyone who would try to convince anyone else of this obvious untruth is himself (or herself) spiritually dead to the Truth.

  5. Robert,

    You certainly make excellent points, and the whole subject is quite difficult to work through, given the various issues that must be held together.

    My reason for using the language I did — which you are uncomfortable with — was because of the expressions of divine disappointment that appear in Jeremiah, not to mention the Lord’s use of the word “perhaps” in terms of His hopes that Judah might repent. I am simply trying to be as faithful as possible to what is written in the Word, after much prayerful reflection on it.

    That being said, I would hardly be dogmatic about this issue, and I do appreciate your thoughts, which, in fact, are very close to mine, since both of us understand there to be some type of apparent “self-limitation” when God interacts us with in time (without ever limiting His attributes in reality).

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the commentary over all as well. Thanks for the very kind words.

  6. Hello Dr. Brown,

    “You certainly make excellent points, and the whole subject is quite difficult to work through, given the various issues that must be held together.”

    Thanks for the kind words and you are correct it is difficult to conceive or describe how an inherently eternal, omnipotent, omniscient being involves Himself in time and space when interacting with us.

    It reminds me of when physicists speak of black holes and singularities (i.e. a singularity is where the space time universe ends, where all of the ordinary laws of physics go out the window and you cannot explain a thing). Well if we can’t explain or understand singularities which are a part of nature, then how are we going to explain and understand how God the creator relates to time and space when he interacts with us in time and space? 🙂

    “My reason for using the language I did — which you are uncomfortable with — was because of the expressions of divine disappointment that appear in Jeremiah, not to mention the Lord’s use of the word “perhaps” in terms of His hopes that Judah might repent. I am simply trying to be as faithful as possible to what is written in the Word, after much prayerful reflection on it.”

    I understand what you are saying. Actually I believe that we hold the same position (I think our difference is only semantic not conceptual, we agree about the concept, I just don’t want to give people the wrong impression). I am just a bit uncomfortable with the expression as if he is not omniscient. I say this only because there are so many open theists running around! 🙂 And you are absolutely correct, we want to maintain that God is omniscient while at the same time saying ****something different happens**** when he genuinely relates to us in space and time.

    “That being said, I would hardly be dogmatic about this issue, and I do appreciate your thoughts, which, in fact, are very close to mine, since both of us understand there to be some type of apparent “self-limitation” when God interacts us with in time (without ever limiting His attributes in reality).”

    Again actually I believe that if we sat down and discussed if further we would find that in essence we hold the same view. There is some kind of “self-limitation”, or as if he is not omniscient, or however you want to express it, going on.

    I am again reminded that Jesus was God in the flesh and yet while on the earth and existing fully in time and space, he did not know the time of his own second coming but said the Father knew (so the Father who had not incarnated himself knew while the Son while incarnated did not know, though undoubtedly when he returned to heaven he again knew). So there is clear scriptural evidence that something different happens with God when this for lack of a better term, “incarnational principle” is operating.

    “I’m glad you’re enjoying the commentary over all as well. Thanks for the very kind words.”

    Well again your commentary is fantastic, encouraging to see and use for better understanding God’s word. And you will help a lot of believers to better understand Jeremiah and God’s word through the work that you have done.

    When I was in seminary one of my professors said when buying books don’t put much money into books you will only read once. 🙂 Instead, buy commentaries and reference works as they will remain your friends for life. Well I have a new friend in the Jeremiah commentary that you have produced. Thanks again Dr. Brown.

    Robert

  7. I’m late on this but someone may find these observations interesting. First, let me say that I respect Dr. Brown immensely and this discussion of God’s emotions and Dr. Browns’ observations are excellent. Though, in relation to the Calvinist-Arminian debate Dr. Brown seems to argue against himself.

    When he asked Dr. White about God’s grieving in Jeremiah what was the point he was trying to make? He wanted to make clear that God’s reactions were sincere, just as sincere as God’s entreaty to all of humanity to repent. Dr. White basically states that this question is only relevant for the Open Theist. Those who believe that God is omniscient must struggle with the apparent contradiction.

    If I am understanding Dr. Brown correctly he is saying that God is able to sympathize with and experience humanity through incarnation. I don’t disagree with this. This explanation allows God to display real emotion and even uncertainty (the “perhaps” in Jeremiah) in His relationship with human beings but still retain His transcendence.

    So, why could this not also be the explanation to Dr. Brown’s question to Calvinists that when God asks someone to repent it is not sincere because He knows the answer. God knows the answer but it is God’s incarnate emotion that asks the question.

  8. So, why could this not also be the explanation to Dr. Brown’s question to Calvinists that when God asks someone to repent it is not sincere because He knows the answer. God knows the answer but it is God’s incarnate emotion that asks the question.

    I don’t want to speak for Dr. Brown, but I would like to address this from my own perspective. The issue is not God knowing the answer (or response) ahead of time. That is not what makes the offer sincere or insincere. God can know the answer (the response) but still desire for someone to repent and ask them to do so. That is not at all the same thing as God calling on someone to repent, all the while personally making it impossible for the person to repent. That is not a genuine offer and it does not reflect a genuine desire for the person to be saved. Even worse, according to White, God never provided atonement for such a person and never intended to provide atonement for the person. So God essentially calls on them to repent and embrace an atonement that was neither intended for them, nor provided for them, while making it impossible for them to respond anyway. To say that such a thing represents a genuine offer or desire for such persons’ salvation is ridiculous in the extreme.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  9. Ben (Arminian Perspectives),

    Yes, exactly so. It is one thing to say that God can truly empathize with us in our weakness (He certainly does this through Jesus); it is another thing to say that His words and offers are insincere.

    So, Mike, thanks for your kind words and your excellent question, and thanks, Ben, for your answer.

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