Does God feel?

Russell Minick Leave a Comment

I was at a cozy evening service in London and the pastor spoke about the feelings of God. He noted that many classical theologians have balked at the idea. Their fear being that God should not be able to be affected by people. The problem, like so often happens in Christian theology, is the text. Lofty philosophies, intended to provide an aesthetically simple truth, get pummeled with uncooperative passages expressing too much pathos.

To make his point, the pastor sampled from various accounts, but then turned to the book of Hosea. Hosea is a proper love story; complicated and shamefully filled with unwarranted betrayal and unexpected responses. God’s prophet brashly voices God’s… feelings.

Having already expanded on the metaphor of a jilted lover, Hosea 11 turns to have God speaking of Israel as his child, saying:

I loved him, I called him, I watched him defy me and go to others. I taught him how to walk, I picked him up when he fell down, I cared for his hurts, I gave loving direction, I took up slack for them, I humbled myself to feed him. But they have abandoned me and refused to come back to me. I should just let Israel go. He’ll see.

But God chooses not to react to humanity like one caught in typical Karmic causality. Though God is immanent enough to meaningfully experience the cause and effect of interpersonal choices, God is transcendent enough to respond based on his character, and he does that over and against his feelings.

God asks: How can I hand you over? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not carry out my seething pathos, I will not respond destructively to the betrayal; for I am God and not man. I have justification for wrath, but I choose freely to withhold it.

Hosea’s metaphors shift and change like a poet’s. Truth is woven in beauty to launch the willing reader into awareness of something that is related to, but not, the metaphors used. God is with us in our passions, but above us in the richness of his self-existence. God feels in response to us but acts in response to himself.

Can we feel but respond to others in response to God’s self-existence? Can we be passionately present without being slaves to karmic reactions?

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) You therefore must be telos, as your heavenly Father is telos.

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