For a while now I’ve been fascinated with how the Bible describes who God is and what He feels. For some, the idea that God has feelings or emotions and reveals them to us may be a strange thought, but we feel deeply because God is a being full of emotion.
Lately this fascination with who God is has taken a more important turn. It seems at every turn there is someone new presenting a different view of who God is that is contrary to the Bible. This would be understandable if it was an enemy of the faith, but more and more often it’s someone claiming the name of Jesus.
So for the last few weeks, as I’ve been reading through the book of Romans I have been paying close attention to what the apostle Paul says about the emotional makeup of God. Who did Paul say He was? What did Paul say God felt? What is God like according to Paul? The following are some thoughts from my study:
- God’s Wrath: Surprisingly, God has strong, stern, fierce anger, which the Bible calls wrath. This wrath is revealed against those who seek to suppress or lessen the truth of holy living through their actions (1:18), God has vessels designed for wrath (9:22), He is severe towards those who fell (11:22), and this wrath is a basis for Paul warning against believers taking revenge on others (12:19). Obviously this severity is held in tension with God’s kindness (11:22) but it should not be ignored. God feels anger against those who do evil. This is significant because often we want to believe that the Old Testament God who showed wrath was a mischaracterization of God. In fact, Paul, the apostle of grace believed that God still felt wrath.
- God is kind: I love this about God. He deals with us with kindness though He could deal with us a thousand different ways. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (2:4) and it’s this kindness that He continues to display to us who continue to believe (11:22). This kindness must be held in tension with God’s severity (11:22), since He has both and one doesn’t cancel out the other.
- God is just: God’s justice means He does what is right. He has a just sentence against those who do evil (1:32) and the idea that God would ever be unjust is unthinkable to Paul (9:14). We would do well to remember that God doesn’t bend His thoughts or actions around our thoughts about what is right or not.
- God is merciful: God gives mercy to those who don’t deserve it out of the goodness of His character. The idea that God would invite humans regardless of ethnicity or sin into His very life is mercy that should motivate us to submit to God (12:1) and His mercy is especially revealed in welcoming Gentiles who weren’t looking for God (15:19).
- God feels love: God actually feels affection for human beings. He is not an unfeeling stoic or an unloving Father. In fact, when we follow Christ, we receive from God a love that we cannot be separated from despite our circumstances (8:39) and this love motivates us to pray (15:30). If you understand the meaning of love but don’t feel loved by God, I would encourage you to spend time meditating on these verses. God actually wants to pour out love into our hearts experientially.
- God can be pleased: God can actually be happy based on the actions of His people. Paul says that God is pleased through a life lived by the Spirit and by believers living without judging other believers (14:8). God is ultimately pleased by the death and resurrection of His Son, but he finds pleasure when those who have experienced the reality of the cross live lives trying to please Him.
- God is generous: There is no stingy-ness in God, despite what you sometimes see in His people. Paul says that God “abounds” or overflows with generosity (10:12) to those who call on Him. This is a God who isn’t half-hearted in His commitment to us, He overflows with generosity.
- God is faithful: This means God doesn’t change. Paul says His faithfulness remains in spite of our faithlessness (3:3). If God has spoken, we can trust Him to do it regardless of the situations going on around us.
- God is wise: You can’t read the book of Romans without believing that God is smart and knows what He’s doing. Paul calls Him the only wise God (16:27). He stands out in His wisdom, even though the world often believes that the things God says are foolish. They don’t see the end like He does.
Paul believed that God had a deep well of emotions. God was full of wrath, kindness, justice, mercy, love, pleasure, generosity, faithfulness, and wisdom. He was all of these without denying any of them. This is the God of the New Testament–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not deviate from this representation of God, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
What surprised you? Did I miss anything? How does what is revealed here mean for our lives?
It’s a common problem.
Someone is reading the Bible or talking about God with another believer and they stumble across a truth about God that they don’t like or agree with. The person could be offended by God’s character or His standard or simply the fact that He is a He. They could be offended by how He acts in Scripture or something they perceive He has done in their lives.
The problem is we as humans begin to build idols around these offenses. These aren’t idols of wood and stone like the pagans used to worship. Instead, these idols are thoughts and opinions about God that fly in the face of what the Scripture teaches. When we encounter a facet of God that we don’t like, our natural, human response is to recreate God into someone who is more like us. And this–this God who is like us instead of who He really is–is a problem.
Let me give you one example: Romans 11:22 says this, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” For one person, the idea of a kind God is difficult. They see God as a hard man, punishing sin and don’t understand His kindness. Their temptation is speak of God as only just and never merciful. Another person loves God’s kindness and how He is better than we can ever imagine, yet they struggle with God’s severity. How could God be kind and severe, they wonder? So they only teach on God’s kindness, leaving out any mention of His righteous judgment against what is wrong. The problem is both of these very different people begin to build God into their own image instead of letting Scripture shape their understanding of who God is.
‘There’s lots to be said about how to truly understand God as He really is. But we can start here: God is different than us and we must get comfortable with that. He has a different nature than us. He sees things differently than we do. We are not His equal to judge Him. Nor is He a mix tape where we can pick the parts we like best and place them next to each other and chose that as our God. We take God as He is, not as we want Him to be.
Once we settle the argument in our hearts that God is different than we’d like Him to be, we can begin to see who He really is. There will still be tremendous questions that remain to be answered, some of which will never be fully understood because He’s God. This is what we signed up for–to draw close to God.
We just have to get comfortable with a God who is not like us.
[Editor’s Note: If the thought of understanding the nature of God is interesting to you, I wrote a 22 Day series based on A.W. Tozer’s book “The Knowledge of the Holy.” You can read the and follow along in the book series here.]
It seems like every where I go, people are distraught about God and how He’s perceived in the world. Christians–people who are supposed to declare the goodness of God–are spending an inordinate amount of time either apologizing for God being the way He is or trying to say He’s different than what the Bible says He is. All of this is in some kind of misguided fear that God will look bad and unappealing to our unbelieving or once-but-not-now-believing friends.
This looks different depending on where you go and who you talk to, but the basic premise is this: The God the Bible describes is old-fashioned. He worked as God of the first century, was definitely better than those B.C. gods, but the times have changed. Penal sacrifice, lists of sins, submission to His lordship…all of these are things that were applicable then, but need to be updated. So they take the best parts of the God of the Bible, exclude the parts they don’t like, and present a sort of God 2.0. This God is not only like the God of the Bible, but He is so unbelievably good that He’s not awkward to bring up at parties.
For those of you who struggle with this, I have good news: We don’t need to exaggerate the goodness of God! We have a God who created everything out of nothing! Nothing! And then, after He created everything, He created mankind and set him over every amazing thing He made. When mankind had the audacity to spit in His face and turn our backs against Him, God started a rescue plan that culminated in being born into this Earth, living as an innocent man in a despicable world, and dying the death of a criminal, all so He could restore humanity to its rightful place of having a relationship with God!
This relationship could be restored as easily as repenting and believing that He did what He said. There were no mountains to climb or any money to give. No secret wisdom for the wise that only a select few could have. As many as wanted to could come to God. Also, if you’re sick, there’s healing! If you have demons bugging you, there’s freedom from that! He will restore everything that’s been lost in your life, you just need to ask.
This is why the Psalmist says:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Now there are all sorts of accusations that can and will be leveled against God. But those are accusations against a God who is nice but never does anything. Beloved, we have a real God who pardons us for all the crap we have put Him and others through. We have a God who heals all of our diseases. We have a God who redeems our lives from destruction that we caused ourselves AND He sets His loyal love on us. We, who turned are backs on Him, became the objects of His affection.
Beloved, you might be able to make up a Genie who serves you, but that Genie isn’t real. Nor is he God. But God, friends, God will restore you and your life if you surrender it to Him. You can’t exaggerate this. It’s literally too good to be true. If anyone in real life ever treated you like this, your story would not be believed.
So the next time you are tempted to believe that God needs to be updated to fit the modern era and conform to modern sensibilities, remember how ridiculously good He is. Don’t try to exaggerate His goodness–you’ll end up in error–but declare in truth how good He really is.
You won’t regret it.