Sunday, November 1, 2009

Understanding God: His "emotions"

God does not have emotions in the way that humans think of emotions, where emotions are defined as strong feelings. God has what one needs to think of as perfect appropriate responses to human activities. God is beyond complete understanding, but it is important that you be on the right path toward understanding him truthfully, rather than think you understand him and are on a completely wrong path of supposed insight. So I thought of this analogy (of course!)

When I say that God has "perfect appropriate responses" this is what I am trying to say. Since God is total perfection, his "emotional" response to anything that a human does (or anything else) is perfect for the situation. God "feels" only what is entirely truthful and authentic and correct to feel, regardless of the situation, since obviously there is no situation in heaven or in the God created universe, all of which were created by God, that he does not already have complete insight regarding. Thus God has "emotions" that humans sometimes observe, but what they are is the perfect appropriate response that God give to a situation, even if the humans who observe God's response don't fully understand it. But do not kid yourselves. If you read the scriptures you will notice that people are rarely actually "puzzled" or "dumbfounded" by God's reactions... people can pretty much understand in advance when God is wrathful or when God is pleased, since Biblical people pretty much knew full well what to expect. So here is the analogy I thought of to help modern people understand God's "feelings" better.

Suppose that you lived in a city that had one courthouse and one judge, and that judge always rendered perfect justice. In other words, the judge never made a mistake in any case brought before him. Here's how to understand God's wrath. Imagine that a person drags an innocent person off the street, into the courthouse, and right in front of the judge shoots the innocent person dead. The judge would be wrathful but not with the tinges of human anger. That perfect judge, who has already rendered perfect judgment to all types of cases would not be, like a human, "angry," "shocked," or "scared." The judge's reaction would be wrath. Wrath is also called "righteous anger," because it is a combination of indignation at unjust behavior combined with the perfect comprehension of what happened, all the implications and having the perfect "final say" in what happens to punish that person.

Because God is all knowing, whenever a person sins or is unjust, it is as if that sinning or unjust person dragged a innocent person in front of God the judge and shot the person, and one better be prepared for God's wrath, either immediately (on the spot justice, which means during one's life) or deferred wrath (which means upon the person's death and judgment).

So that is how to understand in Biblical times and in present times God's "anger," which is really wrath. It means that it is punishment time, either immediate or delayed, for the sins and injustice that God, as judge, always observes since he is all knowing. People who think God does not see and know all sins and all injustice are like the person in the analogy who drags an innocent person before the perfect judge and shoots him right in his presence, doing so either for shock effect, terrorism, or because he actually thinks he is better than the judge and is showing the judge "how to get things done." God is always present and God already knows all the circumstances around every thought and deed of humans, and thus there is no defiance or shock value one can manipulate before God. Further, God, like the judge in the analogy, is going to render perfect justice regardless if the crime is done in an anger inducing way by a human or not.

When you understand that, you can more fully appreciate how often God holds back his wrath, deferring it, allowing some time (but not as much as you think) for repentance and conversion of the heart and soul back to God. You also can understand why God "doesn't seem angry" because "he allows the wicked to flourish," but then those wicked find out just how "angry" God "really is" because they all wake up in hell when they die.

So God does not get "angry" like humans do for imagined or real slights, out of fear or shock, or vengeance, or jealousy, or even what some imagine to be good reasons to be angry (like being in war, for example). God is only "angry" when a person sins or is unjust (and that includes sins of neglect, meaning they are not doing the honorable things in service to God and in charity that they should be doing.)

You can also use this analogy to understand how God can be "sad," "grieved," be "aggrieved" or have a "grievance." You see how flexible the root concept of grief/grievance is, because it means both grief as in sadness, and grievance as in having a complaint. Complaint is a similar word, where one may complain over an inconvenience, but to be "plaintive" is to be sad (as in plaintive music). God cannot be sad in the way that humans are because humans are sad when they are in a situation that cannot be changed, while God is the source of all help and so he is never in a situation he cannot "change." So God can grieve but he is not sad. Here's how to use the analogy to understand it.

Suppose that after the shooting is done in the analogy courtroom, the bystanders suddenly realize that the innocent person who was dragged in front of the judge and shot was the child of the judge himself. A human judge would of course feel unbelievable sadness and grief at having his child murdered in front of him, because that child is now dead and gone. God, though, receives that child "on the other side," in heaven, and thus God is not sad the way the human judge would be because God "fixes it." God is not stuck with being "without" the child because of course the child is now in heaven. The human judge would be remaining stuck in sadness, however, because he is now without his beloved child. So for a human sadness is added to anger, while for God sadness is not added to his righteous wrath.

However, both God and the human judge in the analogy would both feel grief. How to understand grief? Grief is what happens when one has to now tell the grandparents, the mother, the siblings, the cousins, and the friends that the child has been killed. Grief is seeing the sadness that others must endure because of that action. This is why St Paul in Ephesians warns not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not made sad, but feels grief.

Now, to expand on the analogy to better understand God and especially grief, which he manifests, for lack of a better word, through the Holy Spirit. Suppose the innocent person who was murdered was not a child and perhaps not even a good person. Suppose the innocent person was a sinner or an evil doer, or an unbeliever. God would still feel grief for that person even though that person does not count among those who are saved and going to heaven. Why? Because only God takes no joy in injustice, whether against good people or "bad" people because it tarnishes in the darkness of sin both the person who performs the injustice and it cuts short the chance for the so called "bad" person to be redeemed. I say "only God" because just about every person I know succumbs to temptation to gloat at injustice if that injustice happens to someone "who deserves it." Some of the most unspiritual people I know like to post "karma is a bitch," because they are already gloating at a hopeful injustice happening in the future to catch up with an unjust person. In other words, the Bible warns that one will "reap what one sows," but that is different from an almost pagan hope that something bad will "happen" in the future, unrelated, to "make up for" something "bad" the person did in the past. That is trying to justify injustice with another injustice, a very unspiritual and incorrect take on reaping what one sows.

Anyway, remember, God knows the future, not only what will happen but all that could have happened. God knows if, for example, the innocent but sinful person who was killed in that analogy would have someday repented his or her ways and had been converted in heart and saved. But due to the injustice of the murderer that person's life ended and he or she receives perfect judgment, resulting in hell, if that be the case. The Holy Spirit grieves 1) at any injustice because it is against the good ways of God that God has enjoined upon humans 2) at the person who is not saved and goes to hell and 3) at the besmirching of the soul of the person who perpetrates the injustice. The Holy Spirit is not "sad" because as I said, God dispenses all perfect justice (both comfort and punishment) and thus is not ever in the helpless situation of sadness. The Holy Spirit of God does, most assuredly, feel deep grief (hence reference in scripture to the groaning of the Holy Spirit). It is not "sadness," it is grief... grief at the wrong road taken by humans, grief at the dirtying of their own and others' souls by humans, and grief at the unnecessary and avoidable chastisement that humans who perform and/or enable injustice must endure.

I hope that you have found this useful to think about and ponder. You can think of God's perspective of "joy" and "satisfaction" also in the way that "sadness" and "grief" were analyzed. Because God is the source of all joy and satisfaction, he does not feel per se those feelings which depend on fluxuating circumstances and processes required to reach those feelings which God already is (not "has" but "is"), but he does feel them, like grief, on behalf of humans in various situations. The one exception is creation, which God as Creator feels indeed as pure satisfaction, not self-satisfied the way humans are, but when God creates because all is good, and thus God is pleased with that. This is why God is able to appreciate a beautiful sunset alongside humans but of course from his perspective of its goodness, not only the aesthetics.

I just thought of a quick way artists can relate. Think of your favorite work of art and the time, either short or long, it took you to develop it. Part of your satisfaction with it is not just the aesthetics of it, which pleases you, but the method and time by which you achieved it. God created the entire universe with less than a sentence of speech, ha, so you can understand how God's aesthetic appreciation is pure as it is centered on its goodness, and not in the effort or cleverness or talent that went into its making. God didn't have to "work hard" to "paint" a perfect sunset. I hope that helps you understand! And "Hi" and "hey" to all the young people. God is not emo :-)