In Scripture, there are passages that describe God as pleased, jealous, slow to anger, and other words we typically associate with our emotions. So does that mean God has emotions as we humans do?
That was the question a listener posed to Patrick Madrid recently on The Patrick Madrid Show. He said, “There’s that part in Luke where Jesus is baptized and there is a voice from the sky that says, ‘This is My beloved Son, with who I am well pleased.’ And I’m thinking that pleased is an emotion.”
Patrick responded, “This is a great question. And it gets to the heart of what do these terms mean. Especially when we see them applied to God in the Bible. Like God repented of ever having created man, we’re told in Genesis, before He sends the Flood to punish. What does that mean exactly? It would seem to suggest that God has emotions as we do. And the Church says no. I’ll give you the reasons why.”
Patrick first explained that when we see terms like emotions applied to God we have to see them in the context of another truth. And that truth is that God is perfect and infinite. He is “pure act.”
“This is a very important concept to understand in order to answer your question,” Patrick said. “An aspect of God’s nature is that He is the sum of all perfections, truth, goodness, beauty, unity, etc. He doesn’t have them as qualities like you do or I do. He is those things. He is existence itself.”
Patrick explained, “We know that there is nothing that God could have that He doesn’t have. There’s nothing that God could get that He doesn’t already have. Because then He would be not infinite in some way. In which case it would be contradictory to His nature as God. This has a very important place in looking at your question.”
In response to the listener’s question, Patrick told him that the answer is ultimately no, God doesn’t have emotions, because emotions are the result of something acting on you from the outside and making you feel happy, sad, or any other emotion.
“Now, God doesn’t have anything working on Him from the outside the way we do,” Patrick said. “We have our physiology, so when you’re hungry or tired you get ‘hangry’ because you haven’t had a meal in while, it’s those things that are working on you and they affect your emotions. It could be psychosomatic, it could be purely bodily, it could be the sight of somebody in need. It could be any number of things.”
“We humans experience these passions, these emotions. But God experiences none of that because if He did that would mean He could change. And because He can’t change we have to understand these phraseologies in Scripture correctly, to mean that God is pleased with Jesus, but it’s not a passing emotion. It’s not like yesterday He was in the doldrums and now His only-begotten Son is getting baptized and now He’s really happy about that.”
Human beings move in and out of emotions, often based on external forces. But God doesn’t experience anything like that. So why does Scripture use the language of emotions to describe God?
“You’ll see passages like that in Scripture, and it’s the inadequacy of human language that is conveying something true to us about God, but in a way we can understand,” Patrick explained. “But we have to keep a close eye on these other things that are true about God, lest we without even realizing it think of Him as just a glorified man who has emotions and appetites, which God doesn’t have.”
Listen to the full response below: