Matthew 9:36 records one of my all-time favorite passages in Scripture. It says that ‘When He (speaking of Jesus) saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Mark adds that in response to such compassion, ‘He began to teach them many things.’ (6:34). The compassionate Christ stands in stark contrast to the schools of thought, which promote that deity must be stoic and apathetic in nature. The Greeks, in their thinking, concluded that God, as the highest spiritual being in existence, must be without emotions because emotionality concerns itself with the flesh, which they believed to be manifestly evil. Thus, in such ‘wisdom,’ Christ could be regarded as no more than an insightful, human teacher. Paul comments on the Greek pursuit of wisdom in 1 Corinthians and concludes that God has operated in such a contrary way to their system of thought. A crucified, Jewish carpenter, turned Rabbi, from Nazareth, fully God and fully man, is the means by which He has chosen to confound the wise. Still, to this day, men and women doubt the validity of Christ’s deity based on assumptions that arise from this very premise. Yet the incarnation of the God-Man stands as the core of the Christian faith, and we place our present and future hope in the reality of this magnificent Person.
To be fair, when we look to the dual nature of Christ, there are certain questions that we will undoubtedly face when pondering deeply on this reality. For example, how can one person contain two natures? We see people in our own day who claim to have two personalities, and we place them in institutions. What are we to make of a man who claims to contain two unique natures? Yet this is exactly how the Bible speaks of Jesus Christ (i.e., Jn. 1:14; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5, etc.). While this is not meant to be a defense of the duality of Christ’s unique nature, the recognition that Christ is both entirely man and entirely God is important in any discussion that we take up concerning His emotional life. When we consider the emotions of Christ, we are not just considering the emotionality of a man, nor are we considering just the emotionality of God. Christ is entirely unique. I would agree that God does experience a wide variety of emotions and that such emotions find their origin within His being. Thus, ‘instead of saying that to some extent God has some humanlike qualities, we could say that man has some Godlike qualities,’ being that we are made in His image (class notes p. 10). Yet when we come to Christ, His nature contains more than just divinity. It also contains the true essence of man, minus those things which pertain to a sinful nature. So if we were to speak of Christ’s suffering and pain that was attributed to the crucifixion, then such suffering would stem forth from His human nature, being that divinity cannot experience physical pain. This is an example of an emotional response to a physical reality. Christ literally felt pain in His human nature, and this nature generated a real response to the pain.
What about emotions that come forth from within Christ without physical provocation? That is not to say there is no provocation, the verses cited from Matthew and Mark (see above) prove that Christ’s emotional response was generated from the observation that the people of Israel were like sheep without a shepherd. I would say that this response came from both of His natures. God is spoken of throughout the Old Testament as experiencing various emotions such as anger (Ex. 15:17), hatred (Deut. 12:31), love (Isa. 49:15), compassion (Jer. 31:20), etc. Thus, the expression of emotion seems to be a natural part of God’s being and, as already stated, all emotions that men and women experience (apart from those directly stemming from a sinful nature, such as lust, greed, fear, etc.,) originate from Him, and we experience them as a byproduct of our fashion after His likeness. In turn, if Christ is entirely God, then He experiences emotion in the same way as God the Father does. Likewise, Christ would experience emotion in His human nature as well because emotion is a natural component of the human experience. Christ came to sympathize with men’s weaknesses. He was tempted, experienced hunger, thirst, pain, and weariness. It is safe to say that all of these affected Christ on a human level, yet had no effect on His deity, whereas the purity of His emotions (such as love, compassion, anger, etc.) stemmed from His divine nature and were expressed through His human nature. So while pain, hunger, thirst, and weariness could not effect Christ in His divinity (for that would imply weakness in divinity), injustice, death (consider Lazarus), sin, and the like, directly affected the divinity of Christ and stirred up emotional responses that were channeled through His human frame.
There are many things about the Godhead that we will not know until we are received into glory and many more, which will be continuously revealed throughout the span of eternity. For now, let us take hold of what can be known about the Father, Son, and Spirit through the Scriptures and labor to worship God according to such knowledge.
I will end with a quote from Augustine’s ‘Confessions,’ which I believe captures the heart of this topic:
“Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working, ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou dost love, but without passion; art jealous, yet free from care; dost repent without remorse; art angry, yet remainest serene. Thou changest thy ways, leaving thy plans unchanged; thou recoverest what thou hast never really lost. Thou art never in need but still thou dost rejoice at thy gains; art never greedy, yet demandest dividends. Men pay more than is required so that thou dost become a debtor; yet who can possess anything at all which is not already thine? Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby.”