Summary: The God of the Bible is a God of feelings. God is angry at our sins; God is in tears when he gives up an unrepentant sinner to hell.
Does God have Feelings?
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
Last Sabbath, Rev. Billy Barron delivered our Homecoming message, and I did listen to what he had to say. Contrary to what some people may think, I do listen to other preachers. Billy was reminiscing about our days together at seminary, and he said that sometimes when he was sitting through all those classes on theology, he wondered what he was doing there. I had some of the same thoughts.
As a young Christian, I went off to seminary to study for the Christian ministry with high ideals and high hopes. In particular, I hoped that my questions about God would be answered. I believed in God, I believed that a God of love sent Jesus to us. But I still had a lot of questions about God that I wanted answered. You see just because you believe does not mean that you must stop thinking and asking questions.
The most obvious question is that if God is love, why is the world is so bad? Or, a variation of that same question: Why do bad things sometimes happen to good People? Or, how about this one: A plane crashes, and 100 people are killed. But one person is miraculously unhurt. That person says, “God was with me, Praise God.” Does that imply that God was not with the hundred who died?
As I said, I had questions that I expected seminary to answer. I expected the professors to rattle off answers and settle finally any doubts I might have. But, when I got to seminary and got in class and began to actually raise my questions, my teachers frankly admitted that they did not really know any more about those things than I did. Besides, they said, we had books to read and material to cover that we would be tested on, so we had better get on with it.
I remember though, in talking about God, my teachers insisted that we should beware of “anthropomorphisms”—which means that we should beware of ascribing human traits to God. Erskine Seminary in the 1970’s was a strict defender of orthodox Calvinism, and Calvin had followed Medieval traditions about God, traditions which often were derived more from Greek Philosophers like Aristotle than from the Bible. Aristotle has said that God is the Unmoved Mover who moves everything, but who is himself not effected or moved by anything.
This is what is called classical theology. The emphasis is that God is totally different from us. Thus, God certainly does not have feelings like us. When we read in the Bible about God being angry or jealous or envious, we must take that as figurative language. That is just a human way of talking about God, but God is not human.
A problem with that way of thinking is that Genesis says that we are made in the image of God. Thus, we are like God to some extent. The question is: How are we like God? Classical theology says we are like God in that we can think. Human beings can reason. That is our divine image, but otherwise we are not like God at all. And certainly God does not have feelings.
Understand that I am not putting down my teachers here. They were conservative Calvinists, and this is what conservative Calvinism taught. They were following in the tradition of classical theology that was taught in most conservative seminaries.
But I was always troubled by the obvious fact that what classical Christian theology says about God and what the Bible says about God are so far apart. Everybody notices this. Take a devout reader of the Bible. Let her read a book on theology. The first thing she will say is: “This is not the God I find in the Bible.” Classical theology says that God knows about our feelings, but God feels nothing. God wills to do us good, but God does not care about us in any emotional sense.
In classical theology, feelings are regarded as weakness. Again, the theologians got that more from human society than from the Bible. In human society, particularly in Western society, there has always been the perception that thinking is a masculine, strong trait, and feeling is a feminine, weak trait. Thus, we admire great thinkers: from Plato and Aristotle to Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. We do not admire those who feel deeply. We regard them as weak and ineffectual people.
Since feelings are thought to be a weakness, they can never be applied to God, who can never have a weakness. Thus, God does not have feelings. God does not share our griefs and sorrows. The Classical theologian would say that God know about our sorrows, but God does not really enter into our sorrows and share them with us.