Does a Red-Faced God Sing the Blues? Emotions, Divine Suffering, and Biblical Interpretation - page 3


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Does a Red-Faced God Sing the Blues?
Emotions, Divine Suffering, and Biblical Interpretation

by Kevin Vanhoozer
Senior Teaching Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

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Divine emotions: covenantal concern–based dramatic construals

  Roberts’s definition provides several helpful concepts with which to elaborate the Bible’s depictions of God’s “inner life” and minister understanding, though we also need to modify his account in light of the biblical material.
  First, God has neither body nor biochemistry. God can nevertheless have emotions if we understand them as mental states, each with its own object and mode of awareness. God’s cognitions, volitions, and affections alike always have particular objects: “Jacob I loved …. Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13).
  Second, God’s emotions are unintelligible apart from his construals of human history (e.g., God views Israel’s worship of the golden calf as heinous). In particular, God’s emotions proceed from his construals of the ways in which human beings respond to his words and deeds that comprise the drama of redemption, especially as these come to a climactic focus in Jesus Christ (call it theodramatic construal). Unlike our construals, however, God’s construals are always objective, hence his judgments about situations are always right and true (remember the “Authorial qualifier”). Finally, God’s concerns are covenantal. Israel is the object of God’s intense concern inasmuch as she relates to God’s own important project: forming a people that will glorify him and be his. The theodrama is ultimately a love story. Better: it is the story of God’s marriage (a covenantal relationship) to his people, his treasured possession. It is surely significant that, with very few exceptions, almost all of the biblical depictions of divine emotions take place in the context of God’s covenant relationship to Israel (and later, the church). Even God’s “hating” reflects a covenantal concern, namely, that some people are “not my people” (Hos. 1:9) and are thus under judgment.
 In a nutshell: God’s emotions, as covenantal concern--based construals of various scenes in the drama of redemption, display the whole panoply of divine perfections.

Conclusion: towards an Evangelical theology of the divine emotional attributes

The challenge for a theology of divine attributes is to avoid the two extremes of mythologizing and demythologizing. To “mythologize” biblical texts that attribute emotion to God is to see God as a larger-than-life Othello, tormented by a strong, possibly irrational, passion that causes him to suffer change and experience brokenness. Conversely, to “demythologize” God’s jealousy would be to see it as a mere figure of speech that neither means what it says nor is in any way reality-depicting.
  The biblical ascription of jealousy to God is indeed reality--depicting: it represents God’s true construal of the theodramatic situation, his legitimate (and constant!) concern to preserve an exclusive relationship with Israel, and all the other perfections of his nature. God’s “feeling” jealous is his covenantally concerned cognition of Israel on the verge of transferring her allegiance. However, this feeling is not an instance of God changing emotional states. On the contrary, God is always and at all times fully himself. God’s jealousy is no irrational passion but rather a fitting display of his love, goodness, wisdom, righteousness, etc. – the sum total of the divine perfections.

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