All Christians should tread very carefully when describing God. That’s especially true when it comes to grappling with biblical passages that refer to His emotions. Scripture has much to say about divine wrath and divine love, but we must not make the mistake of assuming those divine characteristics resemble our own vacillating emotions.
The Puritans were rightly very careful and biblically precise when distinguishing between divine and human emotions. While men are often governed by their passions, God is not. His mercy, love, justice, and wrath all operate in accordance with His perfect righteousness. God cannot be moved by involuntary emotions, pain, or injury and is thus–as the Puritans stated—impassible.
Divine impassibility is not an easy concept to grasp. But that doesn’t mean it is a doctrine we should ignore. Nor should we assume—as some atheists erroneously assert—it means that God doesn’t care about us.
As we saw last time, the Westminster Confession describes God as “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). Robert Ingersoll, the famous nineteenth-century skeptic, responded: “Think of that!—without body, parts, or passions. I defy any man in the world to write a better description of nothing. You cannot conceive of a finer word painting of a vacuum than ‘without body, parts, or passions.’”  Robert Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, 12 vols. (New York, NY: Dresden, 1900), 2:361–62. Nowadays even some Christian theologians shun the idea of God’s impassibility because they think it makes God seem cold and aloof.
But it’s a false notion to say that because God is not vulnerable, cannot be hurt, and isn’t given to moodiness, He is therefore utterly unfeeling or devoid of affections. Remember, Scripture says God is love, and His compassion, His lovingkindness, and His tender mercies endure forever. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
The main problem in our thinking about these things is that we tend to reduce God’s attributes to human terms, and we shouldn’t. We’re not to imagine that God is like us (Psalm 50:21). His affections, unlike human emotions, are not involuntary reflexes, spasms of temper, paroxysms of good and bad humor, or conflicted states of mind. He is as deliberate and as faithful in His lovingkindness as He is perfect and incorruptible in His holiness.
The unchangeableness of God’s affections is—or should be—a steady comfort to true believers. His love for us is infinite and unshakable. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:11). His constant mercy is a secure and dependable anchor—both when we sin and when we suffer unjustly. “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13). Far from portraying God as unsympathetic and untouched by our suffering, Scripture stresses His deep and devoted compassion virtually every time it mentions the unchangeableness of God.
Notice that I have quoted almost entirely from Old Testament texts to establish the connection between God’s compassion and His immutability. The commonly held notion that the Hebrew Scriptures portray God as a stern judge whose verdicts are always unrelentingly severe is an unwarranted caricature. In fact, God’s lovingkindness is often given particular emphasis in the very places where His fiery wrath against sin is mentioned. (See, for example, Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 77:7–9; Isaiah 54:8; 60:10; Habakkuk 3:2). Even the prophets’ most severe threats and harshest words of condemnation are tempered with reminders of God’s inexhaustible kindness and sympathetic mercy (Jeremiah 33:5–11; Hosea 14:4–9).
Of course, there’s a careful balance that must be maintained here. It is neither wise nor helpful to pit the divine attributes against one another as if they were contradictory (they are not) or to act as if God’s merciful attributes automatically overruled the gravity of divine justice (they do not). “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). All God’s attributes are equally—and infinitely—exalted in Scripture.
It is a serious mistake, for example, to pit God’s power against His tenderness or imagine that His righteousness conflicts with His mercy. The converse is true as well, and this is the salient point: God’s power cannot be correctly understood apart from His benevolence. In fact, God’s power is best seen in His tenderness toward the helpless, because His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Of course, God’s fullest self-revelation came in the person of Jesus Christ. And we’ll consider the profound implications of His incarnation next time.
(Adapted from None Other)