Many biblical beliefs are grounded in God’s lack of emotional intelligence. For those who would like to be freed from these beliefs, such as the fear of going to hell, understanding their own emotional attachments to these beliefs is a great place to start the de-conversion process. Part 1 of a 4 part series.
What is God like? is a question inquisitive people have been asking themselves for tens of thousands of years. It’s a great question, but what if we flipped the words around and asked the question, is God like us?
Realistically, the only way we can speculate about what God might be like is by looking directly into ourselves, and then comparing what we find with what we have been taught about God’s character. Make sense? After all, the Bible states that people are created in the “image” or “likeness” of God. Which implies emphatically, that people should use their reasoning skills to draw their own comparisons as to how God’s character might mirror their own.
Conversations about God is a four-part series in which we compare similar areas of our mental functions with what we presume God’s abilities are. In the series we’ll tackle four questions:
- Does God experience the same emotions we do?
- Does God share our intellectual abilities and deficiencies?
- How does God think?
- How could God even create the universe?
This weekend we’ll investigate Part 1:
Does God experience the same emotions we do?
Emotions are specific feelings the human mind experiences that cause tangible states of mind and real physical reactions. In many cases, extremely powerful emotions can cause psychosomatic reactions, which can lead to permanent mental and physical damage. There are major emotions and minor emotions, but the mind at any given time is likely to be feeling a simultaneous array of various emotions, which often makes it impossible to even describe how we’re feeling.
Some major emotions are love, compassion, hate, fear, anger, guilt, lust, desire, jealousy, and envy. Minor emotions, for simplicity sake, can be viewed as emotions that trigger feelings of lesser emotional intensity than major emotions. In some situations, we have names for these lesser emotions such as aggravation (as opposed to rage) or, feeling amused (as opposed to feeling euphoric). In addition, we know that emotions are not simply feelings we all experience at the same level of emotional intensity within our psyche. Rather, emotions impact everyone in uniquely different ways and with various nuances of sensations. For example, when a person is angry, they can experience any variation of this emotion from being slightly annoyed to being filled with rage.
As humans, we have the natural ability to just look at a person or judge by their actions how they might be feeling. People who are very happy, laugh. People who are anxious often look stressed. People who are filled with rage sometimes act in fits of violence and revenge — and so on. In our desire to understand what the character of God might be like we have to speculate if God shares similar emotions. After all, when we think about an entity such as God common sense suggests that this Being must have a distinguishable personality. He should even have facial expressions. And if God is the creator of these emotions, we might even presume that not only does he feel and express emotions, but he has mastered the control of his emotions.
But as we are about to see, speculating about God’s emotional personality, and whether or not he has mastered his emotions, can get very problematical.
Those who ascribe to the world’s biblical religions believe that God indeed possess and expresses the full gamut of the emotions we experience. Yet, how many believers have really given much thought to how God’s use of emotions impacts his character or personality? Think about this for a moment. Have you ever been through a painful breakup with a lover? Ever felt giddy with anticipation about Christmas morning? Ever experienced bouts of jealousy or envy? Have you ever been mad enough to kill? The problem with emotions such as these is that they have the power to take control of the mind and our judgment. Consequently, our use of emotions has traditionally been thought of as providing the impetus for both good and bad behavior. I realize that people have long assumed that God shares our same emotions, but do we really want to concede that God is controlled by his emotions in the same way we are?
Were we to consult the Bible, the answer would be a resounding yes! For the Bible is bursting with hundreds of stories, prophecies, proverbs, psalms, and other texts exemplifying how God acts with intense emotions. The Bible also graphically details the consequences of his emotional outbursts. When God is said to have slaughtered thousands of people with the help of the Israelites, he must have been angry. When the Bible tells of God’s attempt to drown the human race in a flood, revenge must have been one of the emotions that prompted his actions.
What are the emotions God feels when he commits “acts of God”?
We need not consult the Bible to find modern examples, however, because believers from many faiths heartily believe that God’s actions are fueled in part by his emotions. When a tornado rips through a small town killing a dozen people, this “act of God” must have had some emotional imperative behind it. When God is said to have spared the life of a sick child with cancer, did he do it during one of his merciful whims? When people feel that they are blessed (the underlying presumption being that others are cursed) it must be because they feel God is expressing feelings of satisfaction towards them.
If all of this seems unsettling, it’s because we recognize that our own emotions play a huge role in dictating our behavior and our actions. How we act typically falls into three morality-based categories: good, bad, or neutral. We’re quite comfortable in accepting the kinds of emotions which make us feel great and lead us to do positive things. But confronting the reality that both God and we have the potential to kill people through rage or revenge is an entirely different conundrum. Believers of God might at this point shrug their shoulders and rightfully acknowledge that they simply can’t possibly have a full grasp of God’s level of emotional intelligence. And how does one even begin to wrap their mind around the notion that God can manifest both negative and harmful emotions and still be acting “good?” Yet, emotional intelligence implies emotional control. So, we should rightfully question how a perfectly sublime and loving God can manifest emotions like anger, rage, vengeance, and jealousy for personal gain or intellectual satisfaction. In fact, were we to delve deeper and really take a closer look at how emotions influence the human mind, we might question altogether whether a God could or would utilize emotions in a similar fashion to which human beings do.
What does God look like without his robe on?
For example, consider the emotion of love. Love comes in many forms and we have long recognized how inadequate the English word is in trying to capture all of the various expressions of this emotion. Do you suppose God is capable of romantic love? Surely, we would hope God to be capable of love, but what is the likelihood (or point) of God creating a creature of the opposite sex with whom he could express romantic love? God would also first need to have a sexual orientation, and frankly, people are still not convinced whether God is a he, she, or an it. For the sake of argument, though, we’ll presume God is a he, and try not to imagine him without his robe on. Which brings up the visual of whether or not God would have the desire to be with a woman. This kind of mental speculation is really not as ridiculous as it sounds. If we are going to concede that God feels and expresses even romantic feelings, then we have to legitimately entertain the seemingly unspeakable ideas to get at the answer to this mystery.
What about other kinds of love? Say, the love and appreciation shared among good friends. I would like to think that God would give you the shirt off his back, that he’d pay you back if you loaned him money, or that he’d be one of the guys who would show up with the moving van to help you move. Is God a friend to everyone? If we can agree that a good friend is one who helps you financially in times of great need, who comforts you in times of trouble, who engages with your interests, or who accepts your faults, then by the strictest definition of friendship God really doesn’t interact with people this way. We know this because of the lack of equality in the world; a lot of people don’t even have a shirt to wear on their back much less enough food to eat.
What or who do you suppose God would be capable of hating? Better yet, ask yourself this question: If God created everything, then what did he create that he hated to create? People normally hate other people, because they hate the way a person looks. It’s hard to imagine God being repulsed by the way one of the creatures (which he presumably created) looks. Some people choose to hate other people because of what they believe, or how they think, or for other personality traits they find distasteful. Similarly, it’s hard to fathom God hating people because of their personality quirks. Believers might be quick to point out that God could hate sin. But this would likely be impossible as well. The reason is simple to say but might be hard for some to wrap their minds around: For if there is evil in the world, this evil exists to serve a purpose for God. Suffice it to say, that if God created everything, and there is a power called evil which dictates how people act, then God must have created this power too. Which means, that even if a person has sin or evil dwelling within him, those sins must be serving a good and noble purpose. So why would God hate a power that he needs and uses to his benefit?
I have always wondered how God could be angry. The reason being, we become angry when we’re confronted with a situation or something that makes us angry. In other words, we are not perpetually angry in the anticipation or knowledge that something may come along later in our lives to make us angry. Eons of time before God even thought of creating the world, was he angry with us because of the sins we would inevitably commit; because we were born into a world where evil was set free? Surely God cannot be angry at having made the universe the way he did and in ways he previously foresaw.
Can God really “regret” making mankind?
What about guilt? Does God feel guilty? Is he ashamed in any way of what he has done? Does he, for example, feel guilty for dispensing the curse to Adam and Eve or causing the universal flood? Does God feel guilty for allowing thousands of people to die every day of starvation? We avoid feeling guilty by abstaining from acts we believe to be wrong. If everything that God does has a purpose, there is nothing that he has done or will do that could be wrong.
Happiness and sadness are feelings that imply a continual flux in the emotional stability of men and women. When we are sad, we mope around the house, and when severely depressed we might stay in bed and avoid people. I wonder if God is sad at times and retreats into some dark corner of the universe where he pouts. When God feels happy again, are these the moments he comes out of hiding to spread sunshine in the world? I’m being facetious, but this is how we sometimes act when we are under the spell of these emotions, and it seems doubtful that God would suffer from sadness in a similar fashion. In addition, we can be sad and happy at almost anything. My son laughs at things I don’t find humorous, and I find humor in things that make him depressed. Are not happiness and sadness totally random feelings unrestricted by binding conditions? Two different people can be happy or sad over the same event, and more often than not, a person’s attitude is what determines whether they feel happy or sad at any given moment. Surely, God would not be subject to experiencing such mood swings.
Does God suffer from chronic depression?
A more severe form of sadness is depression. The medical community says that depression (among other factors) can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. We all experience depression from time to time, and some individuals suffer from chronic depression. Is there any reason to assume that God suffers from chemical imbalances in his brain and feels depressed? Could we conceptualize God feeling so depressed that he became suicidal?
The Bible also says that God is a “jealous God.” To be jealous implies that we favor one person over another, or that we deem someone or something to be our property much like we own a car or a home. If God is jealous, then he favors a person or a group of people over another person or group of people. But one would think that all the people God created would be his chosen people regardless of whether they bend the knee towards him. Jealous gods who vie for our worship to appease their own insecurities might work in a Game of Thrones’ plot, but favoritism is not befitting of the Being who is supposedly the creator of all people.
The emotion of envy is related to jealousy, and we usually think of envy as being a negative emotion. People envy others for various reasons. Some people envy those who have attained a level of financial success they have not attained. Other people envy celebrities for their influence and lifestyles. Still others envy the power and social status of their neighbors. Is there another creative power in the universe which possesses something that God is envious of having?
It should be clearer by now that when we examine even a fraction of the major emotions that human beings experience it seems highly unlikely that God would either express or be subject to experiencing these same emotions. If it seems unlikely that God would allow these major emotions to motivate and propel him to action, the question of whether God is capable of letting the lesser emotions dictate his behavior is equally absurd.
Can God be sexually aroused?
For example, we talked about the emotion of love, but what about infatuation? Infatuation resembles love, although, it’s a far weaker emotion. However, I can’t imagine God to love with any less mental energy and commitment than complete love. Infatuation usually refers to the beginnings of romantic love, and it’s hard to visualize God in a budding relationship with a person of the opposite sex, which grows and blossoms into passionate love. To stretch the analogy, passion, and its counterpart, lust, are full-blown romantic feelings that lead to sexual arousal and fornication. If it’s difficult to envision God feeling passionate towards another sexual being, it’s next to impossible to imagine him lusting after someone. The reason for this is that lusting — and to a certain extent desire — are considered taboo and sinful. Yet, if God created us to experience these emotions and feelings, it’s appropriate that we at least give some thought to why God cannot or will not abide by these same emotions.
Still another form of passion is what we would refer to as being intensely interested in a skill or occupation, such as how an artist might feel towards his craft or a person towards their profession. Some might think that God could be passionate about creating and then governing our universe, as well as watching his creatures thrive and enjoy life. Yet, passion is driven by an inner urge to create something new. It’s further fueled with emotions such as anticipation and excitement. Frankly, an all-knowing, all-powerful God, should not be able to feel any of these kinds of emotions. But if you still think God can be passionate about some things, he must also be capable of being less passionate, less excited, blasé, bored, indifferent, or disinterested.
I have not even begun to examine the full range of emotions that human beings possess, nor do I intend to. (In the Thinkadelics Table of Emotions and Mental States below you’ll find a list of over 600 emotions. When you have time, take a look at the chart and ask yourself if God should or could be feeling all of these emotions.) I merely wanted to illustrate that if we are willing to concede that God shares the same emotions that we do, we had better include all the major emotions, all of the lesser emotions, and all of the subtle emotions in between.
Does God experience all 600 of these emotions and mental states?
Click pic to open PDF
What might be the repercussions of discovering that it’s highly unlikely that God shares the same emotional characteristics that we do? The most obvious, is that it proves that many biblical stories are inaccurate. In fact, we should freely dismiss any biblical story that is emotionally based, because it’s also emotionally biased. In other words, the writers of the Bible obviously inserted their own value judgements relating to God’s mental/emotional states when describing biblical events. These writers had obvious biases based on their own emotional attachments to the events they were describing. Consequently, the storytellers then inserted the emotions that they wanted us to feel into the story and ascribed these emotions to God himself.
The second repercussion should provide many with a reprieve from their own feelings of fear, guilt, and worthlessness. Christianity is an emotionally charged religion. It paints a picture of God in which he’s ravaged by his own emotions, and many of its doctrines are developed around these emotional characteristics of God that we’ve been studying. If we were to analyze the doctrine of hell, for example, we would see that it can be divided into two distinct areas: it’s factual relevancy and it’s emotional characteristics. From a factual perspective, there is no evidence in real life to prove that hell is real. In this sense, the concept of hell is only a dry religious concept that can only be believed by faith. But if we include the emotional elements that fan the flames of this teaching (pun intended), we can see why the concept of hell is so distressing. People are filled with feelings of absolute terror when they consider that they might end up in hell. Why do they feel this way? Because they have been taught that God is full of wrath and is anxiously looking forward to the time when he can judge and exact his revenge on the wicked people of this world.
So, if a person can recognize that God is highly unlikely to suffer from such a severe lack of emotional intelligence and control, and that many biblical beliefs are grounded in the assumption that he is, then it’s easier to see that these beliefs are clearly false.