Can God for example sigh? Can He grieve? Can He burn with anger? All of these examples in some form have Bible backing.

Or are these merely metonymic figures of speech, metaphors?


The answer is YES, God is capable of human emotions.

The common topic in theology for this question is the discussion on 2 contrasting attributes of God: passibility vs. impassibility. This answer borrows heavily from the two GotQuestions.org articles linked above.

Let's consider the data:

  1. As you mention, Scriptures presents God in emotional terms, suggesting His passibility. Another clear data is how all mainstream Christianity teaches that Jesus is fully human, and thus should be capable of the full range of human emotion, including his fear, anger, sadness as clearly depicted in the gospels.

  2. Allowing this, another clear teaching is that those desires of God and Jesus are well-ordered: proper and without sin, like what humans should have.

    • If God is angry, it's righteous anger.
    • If God is jealous, it's because of His righteous demand to be loved back (using the symbol of Jerusalem whom God picked up as a nobody, clothed her with luxury, but ended up prostituting herself to lesser gods that couldn't even protect her).
    • If God is grieving, it is out of love, not despair.
    • If God is compassionate, it is a compassion which reaches out in love resulting in sending His Son Jesus for our salvation.
  3. Another clear teaching is from the angle that everything God created must have originated from God, including emotions. Protestant theologians agree with St. Anselm's famous ontological argument for God: "nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived". Because we experience emotion, God must be capable of that too.

But this creates an apparent conflict with another attribute that we would like God to have: impassibility. Not impassibility in the sense of being aloof, untouched, apathetic, but impassibility to support His immutability (unchanging nature). So we want Him to grieve, but not "crippled with grief". We want Him to support our freedom of choice, but not catch Him by surprise (like in Open Theism).

It's a delicate balance, and the Scriptures seems to chart a middle ground, showing how:

Although His nature and character remain the same, the way He responds to us may differ according to the situation. He always responds in ways that are consistent with His other attributes.

Jesus is key to proper balance as the article concludes:

perhaps in Christ we can understand immutability in a way that will allow us to see a perfect, unchangeable God who still experiences pain and emotions. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” yet we know that Jesus changed—He grew, He acted, He had emotions, He died, He rose, and He felt anger, compassion, and hunger—yet His changes never indicated that He was anything less than perfect to begin with.

Another way of conceiving God as capable of human emotions is to consider how the 3 persons in the Trinity love one another and is linked to joy, allowing us to realistically participates in the Joy of God, a supreme emotion. John Piper (a Reformed Protestant pastor and theologian) explains this vision of God (from Jonathan Edwards) in his 2020 article Can We Explain the Trinity? My Favorite Image for the Greatest Mystery. There is a major section of the article ("Words: Inadequate and Indispensable") that help us to understand the proper role of "metonymic figures of speech and metaphors" you mention in your question to understand God.

  • 1
    The key point is that God is never swayed by external forces - that is what the passions are. It's hard for us to understand because we are always influenced by external factors, but for God, the emotions that he has always arise purely from within himself.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 15 at 0:33
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 15 at 6:27
  • @curiousdannii I disagree. There's clear Biblical evidence of God reacting emotionally to human activities (e.g. getting angry at humans for their sins).
    – nick012000
    Jul 15 at 16:21
  • 1
    @nick012000 Yes, but that's not considered a passion by theologians. He's fully in control of his anger.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 15 at 22:13

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