When considering a topic such as the emotional life of God, much of our conclusions will be theoretical to some degree, or at least rooted deeply in anthropomorphic language. Anthropomorphism is the utilization of human traits, emotions, or intentions to describe a non-human entity. Thus, in a very real sense, all language we utilize when speaking of God is anthropomorphic in nature. For example, when we delve into the eternality of God, we are limited by our own experience of time. Consequently, when we speak of eternity, we are bound by the usage of words which axiomatically exist within the confines of time and are therefore limited in respect to their etymological expression. We are creatures who live, move, and have our being within the realm of time, space, and matter, and it is impossible for us to fully actualize a God who is eternal, omnipresent, and spiritual in nature. The language we use is useful in that it grants us a platform from which we can gain a better understanding of the infinite God, but it is not such that we can claim a perfect understanding of His being and essence.
There is much about God, which is clothed in mystery. When we look to the Scriptures, we find an infallible expression of the God who cannot be expressed infallibly. This seems to imply a contradiction in terms, yet it is perfectly accurate. All that the Bible reveals about the existence and attributes of God is completely accurate and proceeds from God’s own revelation of Himself. In other words, Scripture perfectly conveys the revelation of the non-human God in the language of humans perfectly. Therefore, if it was sufficient for God to reveal Himself in such a way, then it is sufficient for us to utilize such language when speaking of God, and to trust that such language accurately depicts what He is like.
To further this approach, I believe that it is important to set forth a basic definition of the imago Dei. That is, what does it mean for man to be created in the image of God? This reflects a crucial aspect of man’s nature and purpose on this earth. We could say that it is because of this image-bearing status that God has chosen to speak to man in the first place, and in speaking to man, He has revealed certain realities about Himself, which, in turn, offer us a deeper understanding of the reality of being human. Obviously, there is a plethora of material out there dealing with this very subject, but for our purposes, I will limit to a working definition of the imago Dei. The image of God refers to the rational (i.e., logical), emotional, and moral faculties of man, which take their derivation from the character and person of God. Providing an illustration may be helpful at this point. For example, out of all creatures which God has made, we alone possess the ability to reason and appreciate beauty. We are able to logically contemplate between two varying decisions or opinions and choose that which we believe to be the best. This is quite a contrast to creatures in the animal kingdom who operate within the realm of instinct. Furthermore, we are able to appreciate beauty and have expressed such appreciation in the form of the arts and architecture. Certainly, creatures in the animal kingdom have the ability to create. We may consider a beaver constructing a dam, a bird building a nest, or a spider spinning a web. Yet these are done out of mere necessity and are instinctual in their nature, whereas man expresses creativity out of both necessity, as well as for the purpose of pleasure and aesthetics. Thus, our capacity to reason and creatively design provides a unique commonality between God and man, which no other creature possesses. For God too is a rational and creative Being (and infinitely more so), and He has chosen to reflect this likeness through man, who is the crown of His creation.
It is not difficult to see how this form of reasoning can translate to our emotional life as well. God is expressed throughout Scripture in a wide range of varying emotions. He is compassionate, gracious, loving, and faithful (Ps. 86:15). He is jealous, avenging, and wrathful (Nah. 1:1). Isaiah 53 pictures Jesus (who is the image of the invisible God) as a ‘man of sorrow’ who was ‘acquainted with grief’ (v. 3). These are all emotions that we ourselves can and have experienced, and they are part of what it means for us to bear the image of God. Therefore, for God to lay claim to such emotions in a merely figurative way, without any actual bearing on who He really is, would create confusion and overall contradiction between language and reality. If we cannot trust that that which the Bible communicates to us about God is accurate, then how can we be sure that any of it is accurate?
On the other hand, it is still safe to say that there is still a mystery enwrapped within such anthropomorphic language. I believe that, in part, this mystery stems from a two-fold source; 1 the shattered image that we currently bear, and 2—the very nature of God Himself. In the first place, concerning our shattered image, due to the ramifications of the fall, the image of God within man has been drastically changed. The depravity of sin has encompassed the whole of our moral being and defiles us in every way. So while we still remain rational beings, our rationality is corrupted by selfish and corrupt motivations. While we still experience a wide variety of emotions and feelings, they are subject to sin’s sway. We call good evil and evil good, and our emotions follow suit. A perfect example espousing both of these points can be viewed in those who march for a woman’s right to ‘choose.’ These men and women have ‘reasoned’ this subject out, concluded that it is good and right, and then their emotions follow suit, often causing them to become violently angry with those who do not agree. So while the image is still present, it has been horribly disfigured. Because of this defilement, even we who are of the household of faith have a difficult time discerning the true nature of emotions. Indwelling sin still prohibits us from experiencing and expressing emotions in a holy, righteous, and moral way. By the Lord’s grace, we can and do experience sanctified emotions, as expressed by the fruit of God’s Spirit, but there will never be a perfect experience of such emotions until we ourselves are perfected in glory. Therefore, understanding the emotional life of God becomes a difficult task. The best thing that we can do is take Scripture at its word and seek to know and understand God in the language He has presented. With the Spirit’s enablement, we will do just that.
Second, the very nature of God itself creates a mystery for us when trying to understand His emotionality. It cannot only be that our sin nature prohibits us from fully understanding God (though it does play a part), this is evident in that the angels, who have no sin nature, do not fully understand God. For any lesser creature to comprehend God entirely would be to say that such a creature possesses omniscience and is on par with God in some respect. This simply cannot be. Even after an eternity of eternities in glory, we will still not have come to the foothill of all that is God. So in one sense, the characteristics which we share with God shed light on our own nature and the concept of what it means to be truly human; they in no wise tell us what it is like to be God. Our finite minds cannot even begin to grasp such an awesome reality! God’s holiness alone prohibits this. Holiness does not necessarily imply moral perfection, although it is certain that God is morally perfect. Holiness implies that God is entirely ‘other.’ It is the ‘otherness’ of God which makes Him beyond our comprehension. So while God condescends to our level in many ways (especially through the person and work of Christ), we are unable to rise up to His level.
So does God experience love, happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, and the like? The short answer is, yes. How do we know this? Because the Bible says it is so. Yet all such emotions that God experiences (if we could even say that God experiences things) are enwrapped within the mystery of ‘otherness,’ and cannot be fully grasped by any of His creatures (whether angels or humans). I would say that God experiences the purest of emotions. He is not a being who is subject to His emotions like we so frequently are, but He expresses complete control over the entirety of His ‘emotional spectrum.’ I would also say that God’s emotions are directly connected to His perfect attributes. God’s anger and wrath seems to be directly tied into His perfect righteousness and is a direct expression of such righteousness against sin. This could probably be said about many of the other emotions that He is said to experience as well.
No matter what may be said concerning this subject, I think it is safe to say that we should take God at His word. The anthropomorphic nature of certain language in the Bible should not hinder us from coming to know and love God as we are commanded to. Furthermore, He has given us His Spirit to guide us in all things, and through His enablement, we will come to know God in just the way He intends us to. We should be grateful that God is not expressed as being a stoic, emotionless being. If that were the case, we would not be able to relate to Him at all. We would never be able to understand His great love for us or His fierce wrath against sin and unrighteousness. I would say that without the emotionality of God (as properly defined), we would be a miserable and doubting people indeed.