God as Emotional Friend

March 31st, 2021 / 3 Comments

“God experiences emotions.” Open and relational theologians believe this statement is true. But it carries baggage. What do they mean by it?

I’m nearly finished writing a book introducing open and relational theology. I write in an accessible way and explain the basic ideas. It should help both newbies and vets to identify the core ideas and areas without consensus.

God is Emotional

Theologians in the past distinguished God from deities in the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian pantheons. They were believed to experience emotional outbursts leading to harm, manipulation, or deception. Creatures felt the brunt of these divine power grabs. A deity whose anger causes suffering or jealously leads to selfishness can’t be trusted. Better to say God has no emotions, thought many, than wonder if God’s emotions lead to violence.

Others said God does not experience emotions because immaterial. Only physical beings feel emotion, the claim goes, so an immaterial God can’t. The wind doesn’t feel, so why think the divine Spirit does?

This “immaterial” claim has always puzzled me. How could anyone prove that an immaterial God feels no emotions? I think it’s simply an assertion, and most who make it simply extend their apophatic assumption God isn’t like us.

It makes most sense relationally and biblically to say God experiences emotions. I’ve written about this in detail on previous blogs.

Some in the open and relational movement speculate God has a physical dimension that’s invisible. This would mean God is not immaterial after all. Others claim God does not require a material dimension to feel emotions. If angels can be emotional (assuming they exist), why can’t God?

The important point is this: open and relational thinkers believe God experiences emotions without thinking they lead to moral meltdowns. God relates intimately with creation and feels all that’s publicly feelable. Because the divine character never changes, God can be emotional without breaking bad and be personal without becoming your pool boy.

The Perfect Friend

Imagine the perfect friend. She gets angry when the poor are mistreated and vulnerable oppressed. She’s pissed! But she doesn’t retaliate with revenge or repay evil with evil. She stands against injustice, and acts to comfort and liberate. And when you need help, she gives generously. That’s a friend you can trust.

This perfect friend grieved when your child died. And when your sister was raped. She felt went through intense mourning. But these genuine feelings don’t sink her into an immobilizing depression. She sits with you, empathizes, and makes hot casseroles as she commiserates. She cares about you and those you care about. This friend is compassionate.

This perfect friend was the life of the party at your graduation. No one dances like she can! But she didn’t trash the place or hog all the attention. She’s got a way of lightening the mood, breaking the ice, and helping everyone have a good time. Your friend’s a joy to be around.

This perfect friend helps without hurting others or herself. She acts for your good without becoming your “little buddy” who ignores everyone else. You can’t manipulate a perfect friend who works for the common good. Your friend has healthy relationships.

And when you “just wanna chill,” this friend has time. Every day doesn’t need to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, although a few days are. You don’t always embark on the gargantuan task of “saving the world,” but sometimes you try. You can count on your friend’s presence for mundane moments too.

An open and relational God is like this perfect friend. But even better.

God relates intimately with creation and feels all that’s publicly feelable. Because the divine character never changes, God can be emotional without breaking bad and personal without being a pool boy. (A few sentences from my forthcoming book.) Click To Tweet
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Comments

Robert Perreault

Can your book be pre-ordered?


thomasjayoord

Thanks for asking! I’ll put it in pre-order in May or June.

Tom


TamilIan

Reading this short essay left me with feeling that I’d like to start talking g with my friend again, even the mundane. Looking forward to the book coming out.


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