More On Impassibility

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been studying the doctrine of God and we’ve been using the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas as our guide. Last time, we discussed the topic of immutability and with that, impassibility. No one has said anything about God not changing yet, which is clearly taught in Scripture, but I have had a reply about impassibility, to which I would like to address that tonight and keep in mind, this is building on the prior foundation of the other doctrines of God. Before that, I ask for your prayers. First, my prayer of being a more Christlike man. Second, for my financial situation with income tax refunds certainly helped, although with my political stance I do hope the future doesn’t change that too much. Finally, I ask for prayers for a third related situation.

Poster Jeff, who I think I know, left some comments. I’d like to go through them.

My post: “It can produce emotions, but emotions are a trait of bodily beings as they are a reaction to something. Since God does not have a body, then he does not have emotions.”

Jeff: I don’t understand why a spiritual being can’t have emotions.

Reply: Note that saying it’s not understand why a spiritual being can’t have emotions doesn’t mean that spiritual beings have emotions. The best reply at this point would be to be agnostic and say “I’m open to the case.” Of course, Jeff could be, but it seems he’s arguing otherwise.

My case is they don’t because being a body, we have chemicals and physical sensations angels don’t have. Consider the act of love. Love is seeking the good of the other. You don’t need emotions to do that. In fact, we can do that when we don’t have emotions and at times when we have contrary emotions. I’m sure a mother isn’t always brimming with love when she has to wake up early the next morning and she hears crying at 2 A.M.

Jeff: I think what you might be trying to say is that God can’t have “flighty” emotions.

Reply: No. I’m not nor has impassibility throughout the ages taught that. If I had meant flighty emotions, I would have said such.

Jeff: He’s not like a teenager who is your best friend one minute and then two days later can’t stand you; he’s not like a girlfriend who “loves you but isn’t ‘in love’ with you”, etc.

Reply: He’s not one who has flighty emotions because he has no emotions. It’s the same reason God can’t have a toothache. It’s not because he has indestructible teeth, but because he has no teeth.

Jeff: But, for example, you attribute joy to God, and joy is certainly an emotion.

Reply: To which I say “Why should I believe it is?” I think there is an emotion of joy but the danger is we are taking the attitude and making it an emotion. For instance, we read about God having compassion and then thinking “God must have emotions!” No. He has compassion. He seeks the good on those who are in pain.

Now when we do that, we can have a corresponding emotion. Also, we may not always have that. That’s fine either way. What matters is that we do the compassionate thing.

Joy is not an emotion. Joy is having what you want. God does. He has himself. That does not mean he has an emotional response about it. We often do and do so so much that we think it must be an emotion.

Jeff: Do you mean that God can’t have emotions that fluctuate seemingly at random (which is how humans sometimes are), or maybe that He has something like a “posture” that is emotional but permanent — eg God is always in a state of joy, God always loves you, and His posture towards a person or a situation never changes?

Reply: The latter is more like it. I just don’t tie any emotion to this since God is not in a body. Note the word in emotion is motion, which indicates a change. God does not change in his substance to have emotions. In fact, angels don’t change in their substance either. Humans do as body/soul unities. Now when we are just souls apart from the body, we won’t have emotions, but we won’t be fully human.

Keep in mind in all of this I am not condemning emotions per se. Emotions in us are good things for that is how God made us. Of course, we can misuse them and give them a place that they do not deserve, just as we can with our minds and our bodies. However, they do not exist in God because he is a different kind of being.

Jeff: I would likely quibble with that a bit, but I think your statements in your post, taken collectively, require the conclusion that you don’t consider joy to be an emotion, which would be surprising.

Reply: Which is expected for a post-Cartesian person probably in American culture. Go back before Descartes and your view would have been considered the unusual one. This is the post hoc fallacy actually. Because an emotion follows joy, the emotion is joy. No. One can have joy without a strong emotional response and the same for love.

Keep in mind we can go to Scripture where God seems to experience emotions. This is metaphorical language. I could go to Scripture and say God raises us up on eagles’ wings, longs to gather us like a hen, and protects us under the shadow of his wings. Well the conclusion is obvious. God, according to the Bible, is a big chicken. Those would be interpreted metaphorically however to avoid the obviously absurd conclusion.

I’m consistent in my hermeneutic. Does that mean God doesn’t have literal love towards us? No. The love is real. It’s just not an emotion. That distinction needs to be made clear. I haven’t really taken anything from you. God loves you just the same as he always has. He’s just not sentimental. He is eternally unchanging in his nature which means his love for you can never end.

I don’t know about you, but I consider that awesomely good news.

We can continue tomorrow.

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