Day Eighteen of An Advent Calendar: Love and God’s Feelings

Wednesday, December 14, 2016     Wednesday after the Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9.8–17
2 Peter 2.1–10a
Mark 1.1–8
The text of the readings follows after the comments.

christ-pantocrator-sinai

One of the things I wonder about is whether God has emotions. Oh, I know, it says in the Bible that God loves people, gets angry, and rejoices. But, if God is wholly other, then it may be the case that when we ascribe emotions to God we are doing so metaphorically. For example, when we say God visits judgment upon his people may be another way of understanding that the created order is such that actions have consequences, and that pride, arrogance, and lies will lead to political weakness and the destruction of a people, from the elite to the ordinary folk.

This line of thinking has a long and venerable background, but it has also been quite contested. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin all held that God was “impassible” or incapable of having emotions. What, then, does this do to the love of God? James Franklin Harris in his Analytic of Religion (2002) quotes two thoughts on the matter which represents what is probably the consensus opinion (ignore the first three words):

james-franklin-harris

So the love of God is a central quality of God. Unlike in humans, it is not a passing emotion, but an eternal aspect of what it is to be divine, as central in doctrine as the Trinity or of God as being wholly other and independent of creation. Indeed, creation must be seen as an act of love by God. The redemption of humanity through the Incarnation is likewise and act of love.

So, to put it formally, our understanding of love, as much as we as humans can understand it, is analogous – our love is like the love of God, and flows from it. However, when we say that God gets angry like we get angry, that is not an analogy, but a metaphor, something that is true up to a point and then is wrong, because the description is really just a makeshift we use in place of saying nothing.

Of course, Jesus Christ has emotions, as he is human. He also does not have emotions, because he is divine (although he is, at core, love). Thus we can say that Jesus is both full of emotions and without them, because he is both human and divine. It is the paradox of the Incarnation that in the Word made flesh we see the divine weeping, rejoicing, filled with zeal, filled with anguish, tempted, and finally suffering. In this very human figure we see the divine in a way that we never could before. O come, let us worship.

 

Isaiah 9.8–17
The Lord sent a word against Jacob,
and it fell on Israel;
and all the people knew it—
Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—
but in pride and arrogance of heart they said:
‘The bricks have fallen,
but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
but we will put cedars in their place.’
So the Lord raised adversaries against them,
and stirred up their enemies,
the Arameans in the east and the Philistines in the west,
and they devoured Israel with open mouth.
For all this, his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still.

The people did not turn to him who struck them,
or seek the Lord of hosts.
So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day—
elders and dignitaries are the head,
and prophets who teach lies are the tail;
for those who led this people led them astray,
and those who were led by them were left in confusion.
That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people,
or compassion on their orphans and widows;
for everyone was godless and an evildoer,
and every mouth spoke folly.
For all this, his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still.

2 Peter 2.1–10a
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgement; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement —especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.

Mark 1.1–8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

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About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Baptised 1962. Anglican priest. Fly-paper brain. Husband & Father. Refugees welcome! I remember when Facebook was on paper.
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