February 26, 2013

The emotions of God

Last night a team of young women curlers won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Their skip (leader) never showed any emotion until the game was over. Even then, her team members were laughing and crying, but she only smiled. I don’t know anything about her, but did wonder about her stoicism. 

Today’s devotional is about the emotions of God. Some say that He is stoic, indifferent to pleasure or pain. They think that biblical descriptions of Him that say otherwise were written for our sake, but are not the way He actually is, perhaps assuming emotions are evidence of weakness or making God in our own image? 

I don’t agree. He created us in His image. Being in the likeness of God, even with our sin and hang-ups, we have both positive and negative emotions that are like those in the descriptions in the Bible about God. This passage alone is filled with some of the emotions that God experiences.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:8–13)

Slow to anger” does not mean “never angry.” Scripture describes the anger of God against sin. While He may laugh at those who shake their fist in His face (Psalm 2), anger is an appropriate response to evil from a Holy God. He continually tells us to be holy as He is holy, and to hate sin as He hates sin.
However, God is also abundant in love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) 

Can that amazing sacrificial love be mere goodness without emotion? Notice the psalmist says that God’s compassion is like that of a father for his children. While a dad might be more objective than most mothers, their love and compassion is strong, full of feeling. Consider the new father when he first holds his first child. Stoic? Hardly.

One emotion from this passage points to me, not God. It says in two places, “those who fear him” indicating that the people who are able to experience His love and compassion are identified by that emotion toward God. The word is not terror though, but a word for fear that means reverential awe. 

I agree, but it is not the same awe that I felt the first time I saw the new bridge over the Hoover Dam, or the layers of horizons in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the face of my first grandchild. It is more than that. Awe for God is a mixture of wonder at who He is and that He chose to reveal who He is to me. If I think deeply about Him and what I know about Him, and about our relationship, I feel a strange emotion that is difficult to describe. Fear might be a good word, for I know that God can do whatever He wishes. He has power over life and death, sickness and health, well-being and disaster. Truly, our God is an awesome God and I am helpless before Him — but He loves me!

One more thought. I believe that the people of God can feel the emotions of God. Because His Spirit lives in my heart, I feel indignation at sin even when it has nothing to do with me. I feel love for His people even when we have nothing in common but Jesus. I also feel joy at the conversion of sinners, a joy that is unknown to those who do not have Christ in their lives. I am jealous for the souls of others, and compassionate toward my enemies. These are not ordinary human responses because without Christ and the Holy Spirit, I would not feel them or care at all about these things.

The line of a song pops into my head. It says, “Let the love of God enfold you…” Like some people resist being hugged, some also resist being loved by this perfect and merciful God. His love is without conditions and without restraint. Not only does He love, forgive and show compassion to those who fear Him, He also laughs and hugs and offers His unending joy. He wants to wrap us up in all that. Wow. He is an awesome God. 

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