Sunday, April 15, 2018

Does God have emotions?


An accusation sometimes leveled by theistic personalists against the classical theism of thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas is that their position makes God out to be “unemotional” or “unfeeling” and thus less than personal.  Is the charge just?  It is not, as I’ve argued many times.  So, does God have emotions?  It depends on what you mean.  On the one hand, as Aquinas argues in Summa Contra Gentiles I.89, it is not correct to attribute to God what he calls “the passions of the appetites.”  For passions involve changeability, and since God is purely actual and without passive potentiality, he cannot change.  Hence it makes no sense to think of God becoming agitated or calming down, feeling a sudden pang of sadness or a surge of excitement, or undergoing any of the other shifts in affect that we often have in mind when we talk of the emotions.  On the other hand, no sooner does Aquinas say this than he immediately goes on in SCG I.90-91 to argue that there is in God delight, joy, and love.  And of course, delight, joy, and love are also among the things we have in mind when we talk of the emotions.

I have discussed the sense in which God can be said to love in Five Proofs of the Existence of God (at pp. 228-29), and I won’t repeat here what I already said there.  But let’s talk about Aquinas’s arguments for attributing delight and joy to God.

Delight and joy both essentially involve the actual possession of some perceived good that one wills, with the difference, in Aquinas’s view, being that in delight the good in question is “really conjoined” to the one who is delighted whereas in joy it need not be.  Hence, suppose you and your child are both looking forward to some ice cream you have ordered on a hot summer’s day.  When you actually get it and start eating it you take delight in it insofar as it is sweet, cool, and refreshing.  Your child also delights in it, for the same reasons.  Now, as Aquinas uses the term, you don’t, strictly speaking, delight in your child’s ice cream, precisely because he (and not you) is the one who is eating and enjoying it (and is thus “conjoined” to that good).  However, you do take joy in his having the ice cream, insofar you take his possession and enjoyment of his ice cream to be good in just the way your possession and enjoyment of your own ice cream is good.

In God’s case, Aquinas says, “it is apparent that God properly delights in Himself, but He takes joy both in Himself and in other things.”  However, there are aspects of joy and delight as they exist in us that cannot be attributed to God.  Most obviously, in us joy and delight wax and wane.  We might go from being miserable to merely feeling blah to being in a moderately good mood to feeling deliriously happy and then back again to misery, or blah-ness, or mere moderately good spirits.  Since God is immutable, no such transitions can occur in him.

Another difference derives from the fact that while there are intellect and will in God, there are no sense organs in him, since he is incorporeal and impassible.  Go back to your enjoyment of the ice cream.  It occurs because certain sense organs are altered by the ice cream, and this occurs at a particular time and place.  It is this particular sweetness of this particular object that affects you and that you enjoy here and now.  And the enjoyment is associated with certain sensations in particular parts of the body.  These material, spatial, and temporal limitations do not apply to God.  His delight and joy in a thing does not have anything to do with his being altered by it, or with him having sensations in body parts, or with some particular need being satisfied in a particular way on a particular occasion.  

Critics of classical theism are apt to judge that such qualifications must entail that delight and joy can exist in God only in some thin and disappointing manner.  They are likely to suppose that God, as the classical theist conceives of him, lacks the rich delight and joy of which we are capable, and can possess only some bloodless, machine-like ersatz.  But that is exactly the opposite of the lesson they should be drawing.  In fact, our delight and joy are much less than God’s, and precisely because they are limited by the body and the senses.  God’s delight and joy never wane, and they are not limited to a succession of fleeting experiences of particular finite goods at specific times and places.  Rather, they involve the eternal and metaphysically necessary possession of an infinite good.  It is preposterous to think of that as somehow inferior to the piddling pleasures of which we poor rational animals are capable.

The theological imaginations of critics of classical theism are limited precisely because they rely on imagination, in the sense of forming mental imagery – on exercises like considering what things would seem like for them if they remained conscious and able to think but lost their sense organs and viscera, and concluding, absurdly, that that must be the kind of thing the classical theist has in mind.  In effect, they start conceiving of God as a kind of defective human being.  They are so lost in anthropomorphism that even when they think they are avoiding it they are in fact only sinking deeper into it.  Tell them that God lacks our bodily limitations and they conclude that what he has must be something less than what we have, when in fact the whole point is that it is something more than what we have.  

Even these critics of classical theism seem not to make this mistake where the divine intellect is concerned, or at least not to make it as badly.  If you tell them that God’s intellect is not limited by having to take in information through sense organs or by having to process it through neural activity, they don’t conclude from this that God must therefore be dumber than us.  Yet for some reason they suppose that if God lacks experiential episodes like ours, then he must be less capable of joy, delight, and the like than we are!

(At pp. 215-16 of Five Proofs, I proposed a series of analogies – the conjunction of all true propositions, the way that colors are contained in a beam of white light, and the way that a variety of shapes are contained virtually in a lump of dough – as means by which to get a handle on what it means to say that there is in God all knowledge.  It might be a useful exercise for the reader to try to apply such analogies to the attempt to get a better handle on what it means to say that there is in God unlimited delight and joy.)

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76 comments:

  1. "In us joy and delight wax and wane. . . . Since God is immutable, no such transitions can occur in him."

    So God never begins to delight or have joy. And hence, God's unlimited delight is never in response to creaturely actions at a particular time, but always immutably and for all times.

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    1. I think some people interpret God's immutability as if he cannot act in response to something outside himself, but I find this erroneous (when considering the theological implications).

      Clearly God, in himself, can choose to respond to a created good acting towards its created end. In the case of an exterior being with will, God, through himself can choose to respond to his own goodness and in turn respond to a creature.

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    2. I agree that God can certainly act, on the occasion of things outside himself, without changing his nature.
      The issue, however, is whether that makes any difference to God. Feser argues that immutability implies no possibility of losing joy or delight. But surely that also implies no possibility of beginning joy & delight as well?

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    3. This is why the analogical and univocal debate is important.

      It is possible both ways of speaking of God are true, or that neither contain the complete truth.

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    4. I will remember your wise words when in the future I read this blog and the comments. Contradictions are not a show-stopper.

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    5. Sometimes contradictions indicate an error, or sometimes they indicate a potential new line of inquiry.

      As an analogy, when the theory doesn't match the experimental results in quantum physics a new path may be taken that wasn't even comprehensible before.

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  2. I've said this before here: ascribing the personal nature of the God of classical theism to his possession of intellect and will tends to give a misleading picture of God to modern people. For moderns, a being merely possessed of intellect and will sounds like a cross between a computer and Hitler. Of course, that is because moderns have deeply impoverished notions of intellect and will. Nonetheless, this can be a serious impediment to understanding. Many ostensible theistic personalists have a more classical theist conception of God than they may be aware of, but hold back from adopting classical theist language because they don't understand it. I was one of those.

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  3. With the Incarnation classical theism and Theistic Personalism are reconciled. God really does experience emotions like an ordinary human. The anthropromphism in the old testament is prophetic language pointing to Christ.

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  4. What about a "negative" emotion like anger, particularly righteous anger? Does he experience it, or is it considered a deficiency in some sense?

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  5. Oh man, I've been hanging out for some fresh Feser. The shakes were setting in...

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  6. 1) What is the difference between delight and joy then?

    If delight is something one has for oneself, and joy for oneself and others, what is it that makes joy for the good one has and delight for the good one has different from each other?


    2) Does God have more joy for Himself, or for creation?

    It would seem nonsensical to say that God has more joy for creatures than He does for Himself, since that would mean created good is greater to God than His own uncreated goodness.

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  7. I always want to think of such questions in light of the incarnation. Specifically Philippians 2:7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Another translation is this but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

    Clearly there is something radically different between God's existence and human existence to use such words as "emptied" and "became nothing" to describe the incarnation. One only has to think of those theophanies in the Old Testament to realize this as well. The burning bush, the presence of God in the terrifying cloud over the ark, on the mountain, in the still quiet voice of Elijah, in the visions of Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets.

    But then another part of me thinks that we can have our cake and eat it to. Yes, God has all the qualities described by classical theism, and yes, that seems to make his being/existence seem so much more remote and different from human existence. But that fact should only make us wonder so much the more on the universe shattering impact of the incarnation. That God somehow took on human nature, such that his divine and his human nature are conjoined into the third person of the Trinity, is an event beyond our natural abilities to comprehend. This event can only be known by revelation.

    Perhaps the personalists should take a closer look at the concept of the hypostatic union before criticizing classical theism.

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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  8. As it happens I hold that the classical view of God being simple (and thus immutable and impassible) is right, for the greatest conceivable being is the metaphysical ground of reality. But I find that this view is also wildly incomplete for the greatest being I can conceivable I can conceive is far more than that. I wish to argue not that classical theism is false but that it does not make God justice.

    Feser writes: “Hence it makes no sense to think of God [..] feeling a sudden pang of sadness or a surge of excitement

    Consider then this problem: What if God wants to feel sadness when a creature sins, and wants to feel a surge of excitement when a great sinner repents? Does anybody here really believes that God’s will would be restricted by the theory of classical theism?

    The classical theist may answer thus: “God being perfectly rational will never want a state which is less than perfect, and having such changing emotions (depending on creaturely will no less) entail less than perfection. Thus it’s not of course that classical theism restricts God but God’s perfect rationality entails that he will never want such fleeting emotions.”

    Now on my sense of the divine a being lacking empathy is less than the greatest I can conceive. I am reminded of the parable of the prodigal son the father is overjoyed *because* the son came back home. But then again the classical theist may beg to disagree and claim that an immutable impassible God of eternal pure delight is greater, and that’s that.

    So let me try a different case in point. Feser writes about “what it means to say that there is in God all knowledge”. The 10^1000 digit in the decimal expansion of pi is a piece of knowledge, and therefore according to classical theism God knows its value. But suppose God does not want to know this datum since it is entirely useless; should we think that God must know it whether he wants or not? To know things one knows are entirely useless does not strike me as a fitting perfect rationality.

    Here an even stronger example: Consider any small sin you have committed, any little shameful thing. According to classical theism God must know about it for all eternity for he is immutable. Does this make any sense? When all is completed and the eschaton of creation is reached and evil is vanquished (in the sense that on classical theism it will be vanquished) – wouldn’t the greatest conceivable being choose to forget all the ugly and transient details? Does anybody here really judge that the greatest conceivable being would want to remember for all eternity every single ugly deed everyone of us has ever committed?

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    1. I don't want to forget about my sins - only not commit any new ones! David says, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, he who pardons yours sins.' If I forgot about my sins, would I not forget my grounds for praising God. True, I forget many of my sins, but I still am aware of many of them and that I am in general a sinner. Hence, I have occasion to rejoice, for I know from what God saves me, and from what he sanctifies me. If I have reason for remembering my sins, why wouldn't God have such reason? Not that your questions are well put anyway, as God can't just wipe his memory as if it were some files on a computer. And the same, more or less, holds for your other questions and tests for greatness.

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    2. @Sean Killackey,

      If I have reason for remembering my sins, why wouldn't God have such reason?

      I explained that. And please remember we are talking about eternity here. About the state of reality at the eschaton.

      Not that your questions are well put anyway, as God can't just wipe his memory as if it were some files on a computer.

      I find it always interesting when people tell God what he can or cannot do :-)

      Here’s what I think is the correct understanding: God, being the metaphysically ultimate, makes not only what is but also what is possible to be. Thus modal logic breaks down when one speaks about God. It makes no sense to talk neither about what is possible nor about what is necessary for God, neither about what God can do nor about what God must do.

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  9. A few quick points:

    1. Joy, however liberally you define it, is a passion, not an action. Consequently if (as Ed claims), God has no passions, it follows that He has no joy.

    2. Just because God is incorporeal, it does not necessarily follow that He is impassible.

    3. Just because God is unchangeable, it does not necessarily follow that He is impassible. Conceivably, creatures could still cause God to (timelessly) experience emotions, by virtue of some power which He chooses to bestow on them.

    4. To say that God could not give creatures the power to influence His emotions is to limit God's power.

    5. Nor will it do to say that to ascribe emotions to God is derogatory to His dignity. Such a claim needs to be justified.

    My two cents.

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    1. How do you define passions? And how could that which is unchangeable and incorporeal have them?

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    2. Hi JohnD,

      Good question. I would define a passion as a subjective experience (not necessarily a bodily one or a temporal one) with an external cause.

      Thus a passion necessarily involves a "feeling of what it is like" because it is a subjective experience. However, according to Thomists, God is wholly active and in no way passive: nothing can make Him feel anything. God is all "out" in no "in."

      What's worse, since God is wholly active, God cannot make Himself feel anything, either. Thus on the Thomist view, whereas a bat can have a feeling of "what it is like" to be a bat, and an angel can have a feeling of "what it is like" to be an angel, God has no feeling of "what it is like" to be God.

      Don't you think that's a little strange? And wouldn't you be inclined to pity a being like that, with no subjective inner life?

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    3. I could be completely off the track here, but I think that saying that God doesn't change would be true because for Him the whole creation (all the billions of stars and billions of years and anything else) is a single act. He causes it all in one action, therefore if he loves sinners, hates sin, comes into the world to redeem us, works any miracles in any period at all, it is all a single act, and therefore He doesn't change. God is eternally causing the beginning and the end and everything in between - it is only humans who have to wait and see what's next.

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    4. Vincent Torley:
      "To say that God could not give creatures the power to influence His emotions is to limit God's power."
      Just as saying that God cannot create a contradiction limits His power, no? You of course do not take the two to be parallel, but at this juncture it seems they are, because you are in effect saying that God can make His creatures more powerful than He is in that particular respect.

      I want to take issue with your other comments (especially that preposterous complaint that Thomism denies God's inner life), but there are other things I need to take care of, and I should wait until I know how this point I disputed comes out.

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    5. Vincent Torley: Don't you think that's a little strange?

      God is strange. He is wondrous, He is aweful, He is ineffable.

      Perhaps better to pity those creatures who cannot accept that God is infinitely beyond our mortal comprehension and so keep trying to redefine God in their own image.

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    6. Grace and Rust:

      You accuse me of saying that God can make His creatures more powerful than He is in a certain respect. I don't know where you get this idea. What I do hold is that God can endow creatures with the power to make Him (timelessly) aware of states of affairs obtaining in the world, so that He is always aware of what we're up to, like a watcher on a high hill. This is how most Catholic laypeople envisage God as knowing what we're up to: "God sees all." The key point here is not that God has eyes, but that He is (timelessly) informed of what goes on in the world.

      If you think that's a logical contradiction, because God is Pure Act, then I suggest you read this recent post of mine:

      http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/flawed-logic-and-bad-mereology-why-fesers-first-two-proofs-fail/

      You also claim that I think Thomists deny God has an inner life. Not quite. What I believe Thomists deny is that God has subjective experiences. But if you disagree with my understanding of Thomism, then I'm all ears.

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    7. So it's been a day, with no response.
      So I'll just take issue with that other statement you made:
      "What's worse, since God is wholly active, God cannot make Himself feel anything, either. Thus on the Thomist view, whereas a bat can have a feeling of "what it is like" to be a bat, and an angel can have a feeling of "what it is like" to be an angel, God has no feeling of "what it is like" to be God."
      That's a clear non-sequitur. Should we say that God cannot cause Himself to feel anything, that does not mean He has no inner life. This is plain enough, since we also hold that God is omniscient, and thus knows Himself. In the case of a rational being, to know oneself is to have an inner life. And for God, because He is Goodness Itself, He always experiences joy, for He is eternally in possession of the Good, and always aware of the fact.

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    8. Hi Grace and Rust,

      I'm puzzled by your statement that "it's been a day, with no response." Didn't you read my post dated April 20, 2018 at 7:39 AM?

      The sticking point, as I see it, is this. Even you acknowledge that God cannot cause Himself to feel anything. In other words, God has no subjectivity. However, you still want to say that God has an inner life, and can be said to experience joy, because He is eternally in possession of the good.

      Well, if "inner life" means having thoughts, then on the Thomist model, God has an inner life. But if "inner life" means subjectivity, then even on your model, God doesn't have one. He knows, but He doesn't feel. As I wrote above, it's all "out" and no "in": God is purely active and in no way passive. And the problem with that, as I see it, is that on Aristotle's philosophy, joy is defined as a passion. Even if we define joy broadly as applying to the intellectual appetite rather than the sensitive appetite, it's still something felt, rather than something done. There's no way that Aristotle would regard an action as "joy."Having the thought that one possesses the Good is not joy. Neither is willing that Good joy. Thoughts and volitions are both actions, and joy is not an action. My two cents.

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    9. Vincent Torley
      Your response, which really doesn't seem to address my problem, wasn't approved until after I put that up.
      And if you don't see how I came to the original conclusion, it's simple really: if we can make God feel a certain way, then we have more power over what God feels because He no longer has full control over what He feels.
      Your own response doesn't really help, because in that case, we aren't making God feel a certain way in His timeless state if He is simply aware of what we're doing in His nunc stans.

      I'll address your claim about God lacking subjectivity in the next one.

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    10. Vincent Torley,
      You found it strange when I said yoy think Thomists deny that God has an inner life. You shouldn't, since you originally said:
      "God has no feeling of "what it is like" to be God.
      "Don't you think that's a little strange? And wouldn't you be inclined to pity a being like that, with no subjective inner life?"
      The reason my interpretation should be expected is that 'subjective inner life' is normally seen as redundant. To have a subjectivity is to have an inner life, and vice versa. And to have a subjectivity is to have a "feeling" of "what it is like," of which I showed that God does indeed have such a "feeling" of "what it is like to be God."
      In any case, it seems that the case you make rests on equivocating between different kinds of "out." God is only "all out and no in" in the sense that nothing inside of Him is caused by something else. You appear to over-extend the "out" top mean something more... nebulous. Apparently the distinction between active and passive potency fell out of the equation somewhere.
      Adding to that, I did not acknowledge that God cannot cause Himself to feel anything; I said "should we say..." I was clearly being hypothetical. And I leave it as a hypothetical because I'm skeptical about whether it follows from the claim that nothing outside of God influences Him.

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    11. Hi Grace and Rust,

      I'll let this be my final comment on this post. If you wish to reply, you are most welcome to do so.

      I fully agree with you that the claim that nothing outside of God influences Him does not (by itself) imply that God cannot cause Himself to feel anything. However, I'm also aware that Thomists claim that God is Pure Act, and that claim does imply that God cannot cause Himself to feel anything.

      I'm also cognizant of the distinction between active and passive potencies. However, the capacity to feel something is clearly a passive potency. My own personal view is that God's essence is entirely devoid of passive potency, but that His mental states are not. The link I cited in my previous post explains why this need not detract from the simplicity of God.

      You also argue that "if we can make God feel a certain way, then we have more power over what God feels because He no longer has full control over what He feels." In reply: (i) I am not proposing that we can make God (timelessly) feel a certain way, but rather, that we can make God (timelessly) know certain facts about what goes on in this world; (ii) the objection that God would then no longer have full control over what He knows is groundless, because it is God Who freely chooses to endow creatures with the causal power to make Him (timelessly) aware of certain facts.

      I shall lay down my pen there. Over to you.

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  10. "If you tell them that God’s intellect is not limited by having to take in information through sense organs or by having to process it through neural activity, they don’t conclude from this that God must therefore be dumber than us. Yet for some reason they suppose that if God lacks experiential episodes like ours, then he must be less capable of joy, delight, and the like than we are!"

    That's gold Jerry! Gold!

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  11. I'm confused by your constant reference to God as 'he' as well as incorporeal. Gender only exists as a function of reproduction so assigning God a general seems a historical throwback to a more patriarchal time and we should really be using 'it' even though that word has pejorative connotations.

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    1. Use of the masculine pronoun for God is defended by Feser on pp. 246-248 of Five Proofs. One of the reasons given is that the father plays the active role in procreation, the mother the passive role, and God is pure Act. God can exist without the world, which depends on Him utterly; the mother's and child's dependence on the father is like this mutatis mutandis. Feser says maternal or feminine imagery/language would suggest pantheism or a similar conception, which would be at odds with key attributes of the God of classical theism.

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    2. 1- "it", as you mention, sounds pejorative. God has intelligence and will in a manner much more perfect than us. So how can we use "it" when talking about God? It would be ridiculous.

      2- "He" is also used as neutral in English. The masculine form is standard for such cases.

      3- God's relationship with the world finds more analogies with male symbollism; the most important one, that God created the world, He didn't "give birth to it" in some kind of emmanation or panentheistic generation. It's with good reason that we use "He" for God even though He has no gender. Likewise the First Person is "God the Father" not God the Mother, as God is the external creator of the universe.

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    3. Classical theists use all language analogously to refer to God. Hence "He" does not imply gender at all. Only someone with an anthropomorphic view of God would think that it does.

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    4. Characterizing the difference between male and female as active vs. passive is not really correct. A better way to characterize it might be initiating vs. receptive. Both are active, but one is the first mover, so to speak.

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    5. March Hare,
      You have a misunderstanding of gender that is all too common now. Gender is a grammatical category. The correct subject pronoun for referring to a masculine noun is "he." "God" is a masculine noun and so "he" is the correct subject pronoun. I was surprised that Ed did not mention this in his book. Ed defended the correct pronominal usage, but did not give the proper reason. In certain French Bibles, "la parole" (a feminine noun) occurs for "the Word" in John 1:1. In John 1:2, those French Bibles use "elle" (a feminine pronoun) for the pronoun referring to "the Word." The fact that the Word became the male Jesus Christ is irrelevant to correct pronominal usage.

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    6. @ Thursday: Prof. Feser explicitly characterizes the difference between male and female as active vs. passive with respect to their roles in procreation and, by extension, child rearing. Feser then explicitly says that there are analogies between these roles and God's relationship to the world. "God is active insofar as he creates the world, whereas the world is passive insofar as it is created by God" (247). Feser explicitly maintains that the pronoun "he" used for God is appropriate because the image of God as father displays the Act-Potency distinction.

      Feser does not want matter or creation to be depicted as "active" in this connection because he says feminine language applied to God opens up the door to pantheistic, or panentheistic, thinking.

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    7. Gender is a grammatical category. The correct subject pronoun for referring to a masculine noun is "he." "God" is a masculine noun and so "he" is the correct subject pronoun.

      Timothy, I believe that in English, there are only a few nouns that have grammatical gender AT ALL. "God" is not one of them. The English language is not a language that assigns gender to all nouns. Ships are feminine in English (not in Russian), but "farmer" is not feminine (as it is in Latin). Nor is it masculine. Nor neuter. It doesn't have a gender. Nor does janitor, or astronomer, nor doctor, etc.

      Most nouns in English have no gender properly speaking. As a result, most nouns that are not of a biologically sexed entity default to the neuter pronoun, but this is more a LACK OF GENDER than being ASSIGNED the grammatical neuter. Proper nouns for animals that have a specific sex that is known are given the pronoun applicable to the sex of the individual, so some dogs are given the masculine and some the feminine, proper nouns for animals which have a sex but which is unknown are assigned the neuter pronoun "it" as a default, but "dog" as such does not have an assigned grammatical gender. The term "god" in English does not have a grammatical gender: if you refer to a female god, such as Aphrodite, you use the feminine pronoun, and if to a male god like Ares you use the masculine pronoun, and "god" itself is not a gendered noun (it takes the neuter pronoun as default in the absence of being assigned a grammatical gender).

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    8. While generally, yes, birth is not ascribed to God, and I would never ascribe the title "Mother" to God the Father in prayer, I would like to point there are a few exceptions - most prominent of which is this:

      Before the mountains were born,
      and You were in labor with earth and mainland,
      from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Ps. 90:2)

      Grohman, "Metaphors of God, Nature, and Birth in Psalm 90,2 and Psalm 110,3," pg. 24 (however, the masculine "beget" is used in reference to earth/land in Genesis 14:19, "God Most HIgh, Begetter/Progenitor ["Creator"] of Heaven and Earth")

      Across ANE religions in general, female ascriptions were sometimes predicated of male gods which in no way made them essentially "female." So, procreative language, male and female, could be used of a deity otherwise usually portrayed as "masculine." The first one that comes to my mind is this:

      Has the rain a Father? Or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? And the hoarfrost, who has given it birth? (Job 38:29)

      There the masculine and feminine metaphors are paired and are both predicated towards God, who is predominantly portrayed as masculine. Both female and male usages could freely be employed for a "masculine" Deity without problem.

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    9. Tony,
      You are wrong. Most nouns in English have neuter gender. "It" is the appropriate pronoun to refer to a noun with neuter gender. "Goddess" has feminine gender. "God" has masculine gender.

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  12. At pp. 215-16 of Five Proofs, I proposed a series of analogies – the conjunction of all true propositions, the way that colors are contained in a beam of white light, and the way that a variety of shapes are contained virtually in a lump of dough – as means by which to get a handle on what it means to say that there is in God all knowledge. ...

    I loved this part of the book. The analogy of God's creating and knowing His creation with how the author of a book knows the characters and plot of the book was also very illuminating for me.

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  13. Have any of these people who attribute emotions to God, ever taken even a high school biology class?

    It's clear that what some people really esteem above all else, if not worship outright, is "emotion". How absolutely pathetic.

    One could make an argument that "love" as a kind of attraction of being to being and a recognition of its manifold implications, qualifies as an emotion of sorts, or could be understood as one.

    But these glandular stupidities are just too much to bear.

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  14. Taking off from DNW's comment (love as a kind of attraction of being to being involving emotions), has Prof. Feser ever addressed Dietrich von Hildebrand's conception of love? Hildebrand rejects the idea that love is simply a willing of the good for the beloved and instead regards love as a species of 'value response'. A value response occurs when I apprehend and respond to the intrinsic, objective value in a thing, irrespective of whether the thing is an objective good for me (for example, one might recognize the value in a beautiful work of art and respond to it both intellectually and emotionally). Love is a value response specifically directed towards a person, where the lover recognizes the inner beauty and splendor of the beloved and responds to it. Desiring the beloved's good follows from this, but it is not what love fundamentally is according to Hildebrand. Moreover, for Hildebrand, love necessarily also involves the emotions.

    For Hildebrand, love is a special case of value response, whereby the beloved does not remain merely a ‘value’ to which the lover responds for its own sake, but becomes an objective good for the lover (as well as for the beloved), thereby making love a ‘super value response’.

    I’d be interested in what a Thomist thinks of Hildebrand’s analysis.

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    1. We meet people who arouse a negative "value response" in us, i.e. we have trouble seeing anything good in them. Yet we are expected to love them also. Aren't we?

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    2. The ambiguities of the English word love.

      I expect we are instructed to will, and if possible work for the final good of others.

      An attraction to the good in being, is another matter.

      As the previous commenter implied, it is more like the contemplation of a value which is described in some contexts as the beloved object.

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    3. I don't have the book handy (The Nature of Love), but Hildebrand addresses this. Every person is made in the image of God, so he has value on that account, and it is this value to which we can respond.

      However, according to Hildebrand, the supernatural virtue of caritas is necessary in order to love our enemies or strangers. We respond to them as being made in God's image and loved by God.

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  15. The real criticism that concerns me isn't that God is emotionally "cold" on classical theism or something. Rather, it's that it seems hard to avoid a modal collapse. This post seems to fuel that fire.

    Why? By asking this: Does God have joy in his created creatures? If so, then without creation God was in potentiality to having joy for those creatures. And the only way out seems to be to claim God has always had joy in his creatures. But then creation has always existed.

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    1. Skylar, can God eternally take joy in His created order? That is, given that from all eternity He knew that He would create them, and how they would turn out, and the orderly creation they comprise, would He not be eternal in His joy in them?

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    2. Tony,

      I'm not sure I buy that line I wrote. I'm just concerned about it. Thanks for thinking through it with me.

      What you raise doesn't sound like joy to me. You use the word "would" here, which seems like God had a sort of counterfactual joy: God *would* have joy in his creatures if they exist. But that's like saying I would have joy in my children if I produced any. The counterfactual seems to indicate I'm in potentiality to that joy. And if it does in my case, I'm not sure how it doesn't in God's even if the joy I have and that God has aren't univocal. God could have joy in an analogous way and still be in potentiality to whatever that is on this counterfactual suggestion.

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    3. Another solution strikes me here, Tony, that I'll just mention but don't have the ability to develop right now.

      If joy involves both God and other things, then the joy he takes in creatures after creation could perhaps count as a "Cambridge" change. For his will doesn't change after creation and therefore "rests" in what he has done, which Aquinas says is sufficient for joy.

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    4. What you raise doesn't sound like joy to me. You use the word "would" here, which seems like God had a sort of counterfactual joy: God *would* have joy in his creatures if they exist. But that's like saying I would have joy in my children if I produced any. The counterfactual seems to indicate I'm in potentiality to that joy.

      Skylar, my use of "would" is the perspective from us time-bound and discursive thinkers. For God, there was no "waiting around" as to when he would get to the point of starting the universe, and again no waiting around for Abraham to be conceived, and then later David, and eventually Mary, and Pope Leo XIII: in his eternal moment, all of that is (in some sense) THE NOW, which he sees all in one. The "factual" is that God DOES IN FACT create this very world and not some other. And since all of it is present to him eternally, there is no "would be" on God's part, only on ours.

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  16. But didn't God create the sense organs? Did He not create them with the full knowledge of how they function and how a creature would perceive such things? Given God's infinite knowledge, how is it that He cannot know the taste of a strawberry?

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    1. Since He causes sense organs and strawberries to exist, God knows exactly how a strawberry tastes.

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    2. Yes, I understand that. Feser is certainly not making the preposterous claim that God doesn't know what things taste like. I'm replying to his statement:

      These material, spatial, and temporal limitations do not apply to God. His delight and joy in a thing does not have anything to do with his being altered by it, or with him having sensations in body parts, or with some particular need being satisfied in a particular way on a particular occasion.

      Since God created "[t]hese material, spatial, and temporal limitations," He must know what the experience is like. How is it that he created the nervous system to feel a touch, a caress, or pain, etc. unless He understands what it is He is creating? How can He create a tongue to taste the sweetness of ice cream and sense its coolness without knowing exactly what we experience when we taste it?

      I realize and agree with Feser that God's joy is far greater than ours. I'm simply saying that it appears God has to know precisely what we're experiencing since He made us with that capacity. In other words, He knows both what and how we experience the things we do. Though our limitations do not apply to Him, He fully "experiences" our limitations. He cannot feel pain, but He knows exactly what pain feels like when we suffer it.

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  17. I delight in this blog post.

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  18. I guess it all depends on how "emotions" are defined.
    If emotions are really different from, let's say intelligence, then it is obvious that God cannot have emotions.
    It's only if one can somehow manage to treat God's emotions and God's intellect, or God's knowledge as completely the same, that one can say that God has emotions.

    IOW at best God has emotions only as an analogy, in which case we shold ask ourselves if it makes sense to distinguish between God's emotions and whatever else we can say about Him.

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  19. Would it be fair to say that God does not "have" joy or intellect, but is Joy and intellect

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    1. No

      God is not joy and intellect. God's intellect is God's joy, is God's mercy etc...

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    2. Yes, Anonymous, this would be perfectly fine, although there would be also nothing wrong with saying that God has joy and intellect if you did not understand that to imply composition or mutability. If you taking 'having' to suggest either of the latter, then it is better to say that God is joy, etc.

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  20. @ Bill,

    Given God's infinite knowledge, how is it that He cannot know the taste of a strawberry?

    On the classical understanding God knows everything that can be known, and knows it eternally. Thus God also knows the taste of a strawberry and indeed how that particular strawberry I ate yesterday tasted. But creation itself (not to mention my choosing to eat that particular strawberry) are supposed to be contingent facts. Meaning “not necessary”, things that could not have been. But then how come God has eternal knowledge of them?

    One classical answer is that God knows eternally such contingent facts because they obtain within created time whereas God is outside of time. God knows and indeed knows eternally what we shall freely choose to do tomorrow because for God our tomorrow is his now, and so God has already observed what we shall choose to do in the future. This is a difficult idea to wrap one’s head around but at least does not appear to suffer from any logical inconsistency.

    What I find problematic is the premise that an immutable and absolutely simple God should immutably know all the contingent facts of creation. For what is immutable and absolutely simple is necessary (couldn’t be different), whereas the facts of creation are contingent (could well be different). This it seems to me is a logical inconsistency.

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    1. Danielos, I have questions a bit like yours. It still seems problematic to me that God as first mover/cause should be the principium primum of every motion AND that some events (or facts, as you say) in creation are contingent, could well be different. The reply I usually hear, that God is first cause of contingent event P as causing P to be contingent seems a logical inconsistency to me. Whether one comes at contingencies from the angle of God's knowledge or the angle of God's primary causation, I agree with you that something seems inconsistent. Esp. when some of those contingent events are said to be the outcomes of free willed acts of rational creatures. Those acts are supposed to be both under the dominion of the creature and secondary motions/causes in hierarchical series of causes ordered per se by God.

      Well, maybe I'm getting too far from the OP.

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  21. @Dianelos

    On the classical understanding God knows everything that can be known, and knows it eternally. Thus God also knows the taste of a strawberry and indeed how that particular strawberry I ate yesterday tasted.

    Yes, indeed, so should it not follow that God also created us with our emotional capacities? He created us to laugh, to cry, to do somersaults, backflips or to jump up and down when we're exuberant. So, it would seem that he knows exactly what we feel when we're joyous or stricken with grief, no?

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  22. @ Bill and ficino4ml

    From where I stand it looks like classical theists have had a correct insight about God (namely that as the metaphysical ultimate he is absolutely simple and thus immutable and impassible) and then clutched strongly at it insisting that God is thus and nothing else. When God is much more than that, as one immediately realizes when one considers the greatest being one can conceive. The various problems we’ve been discussing are an artifact of this error. Again, it’s not that the classical view itself is in error; rather the idea that the classical view exhausts the truth about God is in error.

    This “clutching” at the absolute is really what we are warned not to do in the OT commandment about making unto ourselves a graven image of God. I am surprised at the wisdom of this commandment which goes far beyond the mere depictions of God in pictures or statues by primitive peoples of old. So today some people make a graven image of the Bible, of the universal councils, of their church, of some theological insight. But the nature of God is such that to limit it in any way – and thus to build any whole image of him – is to obscure a fundamental truth about him, namely that the whole of God cannot be represented in any image entertained by a limited creature. A classical theist will tend to agree with what I just wrote, but then, paradoxically, fail to see that to claim that God is *nothing but* absolutely simple/immutable/impassible is as limiting an image as it gets :-)

    To love God entails to embrace the beauty of the mystery of one’s relation with God, not in that we cannot understand him but in that there will always more to understand. God’s mystery means that he is like an inexhaustible source of new delight.

    I say the God-concept which in our current condition is amenable to understanding is necessarily the living God of the religious experience in this world, that which some call the economic Trinity. And in this experience God’s goodness, and knowledge, and love, and beauty, and creativity, etc – are *not* identical. So much then for an important teaching of Thomism. Aquinas was a genius of his time, but it’s not like he was infallible nor like his understanding of God is beyond improving.

    Incidentally this trying to “clutch” at the absolute is a universal habit (not to say addiction) in Christianity today, and is found in all great churches including my own of Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course I may be wrong in all I say here. But if I am right then there is much growth of theology in front of us in ways less theoretical and more existential. Time will tell.

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    1. ...and then clutched strongly at it insisting that God is thus and nothing else.

      Do you have a citation from any legitimate Thomist who says that? Nobody I know or have read makes such a claim.

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  23. When God is much more than that, as one immediately realizes when one considers the greatest being one can conceive....

    is to obscure a fundamental truth about him, namely that the whole of God cannot be represented in any image entertained by a limited creature. A classical theist will tend to agree with what I just wrote, but then, paradoxically, fail to see that to claim that God is *nothing but* absolutely simple/immutable/impassible is as limiting an image as it gets :-) ...

    Are you not falling prey to your own complaint in saying that you "conceive" God as "the greatest being one can conceive"? How limiting - that God would be conceivable by mere humans, as if the human ability to conceive were able to be the measure of God. How puny. How pitiful a God that would be.

    God is NOT conceivable by humans. You can't conceive Him. Therefore, you should not say he is "the greatest being one can conceive." He is, rather, the greatest being one CANNOT conceive.

    rather the idea that the classical view exhausts the truth about God is in error.

    Why don't you actually get your facts straight for a change? The classical view DOES NOT assert that saying He is simple "exhausts the truth about God." Creepers. Go look at any classical theists actual claims: that He is immense, eternal, omniscient, and loving (and more). And, still more, that we cannot fully comprehend any of those - His immensity, eternity, omniscience, and love. Good grief, get a grip. You just make claims right and left without any basis.

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  24. So many posters here seem to imply that if we believe anything specific about God, then such beliefs must be wrong since God would be greater if we could not understand him.

    Very strange and perverse rhetoric!!

    For suppose God told us something about Godself. Something that we sort of understood.
    On the basis of the above rhetoric, that belief must be wrong! Hence, we can never believe anything God tell us!

    Or you can argue that that never happens. But just read the Bible. It is full just those tellings.

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  25. Doesn’t the Via Eminentiae entail a kind of playful dialectic between cataphatic and apophatic theology ?

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  26. Seems to me the key is "sort of understand." I don't believe the posters here mean to imply that God is utterly incomprehensible. It's just that we can only have limited understanding of God because we are finite beings. And we understand what we can understand about God analogously. A hopefully clarifying analogy: What your dog feels for you is not exactly the same as what you feel for your parents, since you and your dog are different orders of being, rational vs non-rational, but what Fido feels is analogous to what you feel, i.e., what Fido feels is to him what filial love is to you. In a similar way, God's love is so much greater than human love that it's not exactly the same thing, but it is analogous, i.e., God's love is to Him what human love is to us. And when we experience human love we understand something of God's love. Since, however, we are limited beings and God is not, we do not comprehend God's love in its fullness. Does that make sense?

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  27. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mbMcHExf6X4

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  28. Critics of classical theism are justified in saying the dubious emotions of the god of classical theism are thin and disappointing. Virtually no Christian believes in such a god or wants to have anything to do with such a god. It's certainly not the Yahweh or Jesus of the Bible.

    The attempt to elevate non-emotion to unlimited, permanent emotion falls flat. It's ad hoc. Painting a permanent smile on a portrait does not make a permanent emotion. Painting permanent "delight" on the god of classical theism is just as meaningless. There is no way to have a "personal" relationship with this cold, uncaring phantasm. This god can't possibly care that body organs are used for one purpose or another, whether designed for that purpose or not. It can't possibly care what happens to a human being. It can't possibly distinguish between good and evil. That's exactly what it means to say that nothing can wipe that 'delight' off its face. A theist might as well worship a mood ring stuck in 'happy' status. This god is identical to a cold, uncaring, godless universe.

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  29. Bill and Tony, you make similar points so I will comment on them together.

    Bill writes: “Do you have a citation from any legitimate Thomist who says that [God is absolutely simple and nothing else]? Nobody I know or have read makes such a claim.

    Tony writes: “The classical view DOES NOT assert that saying He is simple ‘exhausts the truth about God.’ Creepers. Go look at any classical theists actual claims: that He is immense, eternal, omniscient, and loving (and more).

    The Thomist may not say so explicitly, but what she says implies as much. She must of course deal with the received wisdom about the various essential attributes of God, such as omniscience, all-goodness, omnipotence, and so on. Given that the Thomist believes that God is nothing but simple she finds it necessary to conflate all these different attributes into a single thing (and ultimately to God’s existence). So she will say that God’s knowledge, power, goodness etc are all identical to each other, albeit not in our sense of using the terms but in the ontology of God. But since to say that in God goodness, power, knowledge, love, beauty etc are all *identical* to each other is unintelligible the Thomist must offer some defense of the doctrine. (In his book about Aquinas Feser writes about the “worries over whether it makes sense to say that God’s power is identical to his goodness” recognizing that if they were the same thing it would be “obviously false”.) Now in my judgment the Thomist’s defense only explains why the whole thing is unintelligible – but this is irrelevant to my argument. I ask, why would the Thomist need to offer any defense if it weren’t in fact the case that she thinks of God as nothing more than simple?

    Compare for example my alternative understanding: God, the greatest conceivable being, is the metaphysical ground of all reality and thus absolutely simple (and immutable and impassible). Also God, the greatest conceivable being, is much more than just the metaphysical ground of reality, namely he is a personal being who is perfectly good and loving, and also powerful, and also knowledgeable and intelligent, who creates the world and participates in it within time. And here by “goodness”, “love”, “power”, “knowledge”, “intelligence”, “time” I mean exactly what we understand when we use these concepts. We can understand these concepts related to God because we are made in his image.

    See? The alternative understanding I describe embraces classical theism’s correct view about the simplicity of God but in a way which is not limited by it. Thus it affirms the received wisdom about the essential properties of God without the need of any difficult defenses including the unnatural “when we say that God loves us we don’t mean it literally but analogically”.

    Tony writes: “we cannot fully comprehend any of those - His immensity, eternity, omniscience, and love.

    To quote Feser “we acknowledge the obvious fact that when ‘power’, ‘goodness’, ‘intellect’, and so on differ in sense while insisting that they refer to one and the same thing”.

    The problem is that this view removes any comprehension of God’s attributes. The statement “X is red and round, but in the case of X redness and roundness refer to one and the same thing and must be understood analogically” is unintelligible. Redness and roundness are different properties and that’s that.

    In comparison when I say that it is impossible for us to truly comprehend God I mean that even though we can comprehend (both in the doxastic and the experiencial sense) a ton of things about God, our comprehension will never be of the whole of God. We are finite beings and the knowledge of the fullness of God simply does not fit our scale of comprehensibility. Only in theosis shall we truly see God. But until then there is such a thing as lesser and greater understanding of God.

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  30. Tony,

    How limiting - that God would be conceivable by mere humans, as if the human ability to conceive were able to be the measure of God.

    Anselm’s definition does not refer to human comprehensibility. He says that God is the greatest conceivable being.

    Interestingly, Anselm's definition has an important epistemic dimension. It implies that for any one of us limited creatures any concept of God we entertain which is less than the greatest one one can conceive is necessarily wrong. I find that the idea that God is nothing but simple is much less than the greatest I can conceive, and therefore I conclude it is wrong. God is much more than simple (having no parts, immutable, impassible, etc).

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  31. Fred,

    we can only have limited understanding of God because we are finite beings.

    Right. Before considering the question of our understanding of God we should consider the nature of human understanding simpliciter. Here we see that our understanding about anything is circumscribed by the human condition: about how it is like to be a human being. Including therefore all of creation. Thus the contingency of creation and the limitations of our condition demarcate what we my understand about God. Having said that the human condition is not fixed but is transformed by repentance – but I won’t go there.

    In a similar way, God's love is so much greater than human love that it's not exactly the same thing, but it is analogous, i.e., God's love is to Him what human love is to us.

    (I won’t discuss a dog’s love for its master for even though I believe that there is such a thing it’s not really the dog’s love - the metaphysics of animals is a distinct problem.)

    That God’s love is so much greater than ours does not make God’s love different in kind than ours. Or qualitatively different, or beyond comprehensibility. God’s love may be perfect and “infinitely” greater than ours, and still be exactly what we mean when we speak of love. Or about how Christ loved us – which is an important matter in the context of Christ’s last commandment.

    Consider as an analogy the ocean and a drop of water. The ocean and what one may know about the ocean is much more indeed and in various senses - but still the ocean is just a big amount of water whereas the drop is a small amount. They are kind of identical in kind, and there is no gulf of comprehensibility between one’s knowing truths about a drop of water and about the ocean.

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  32. The following discussion concerns languages that have gender categories. Some languages have pronouns of various genders; some languages have verbs that are inflected for gender; some languages have adjectives of various genders; some languages have articles of various gender. If a language has one or more of these characteristics, then its nouns also have gender. If a verb is inflected for the feminine gender, then the subject noun must be feminine. If an attribute adjective is masculine, then the noun that it qualifies must be masculine. If a pronoun is animate (there are languages in which the two genders are animate and inanimate), then the noun to which it refers must be animate. If an article is neuter, then the accompanying noun must be neuter. This is true even if the form of the noun is usually associated with nouns of a different gender. In Hebrew, for example, there are many nouns that look masculine but are actually feminine because they are qualified by feminine adjectives, referred to by feminine pronouns and have subject-verb agreement with feminine verb inflections. English used to have distinct gender categories for adjectives, articles, and pronouns; hence, it had gender categories for nouns. It has lost its gender categories for adjectives and articles, but has retained its gender categories for pronouns. This suffices for English to retain gender categories for nouns, even if most dictionaries do not discuss them. The Old English word for “God” was “God” and it had masculine gender. The English word “God” still has masculine gender and therefore the correct pronoun to refer to God is “he.” This does not in any way imply that God is male. Traditional Jewish and Christian theology has always maintained that God is beyond the categories of male and female.

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  33. My post regarding the noun "God" having masculine gender was not meant to be a threadjack. It was meant to be a reply to March Hare's contention that God should be referred to as "it."

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  34. The bible never mentions the word emotions or the like.
    we don't have emotions. it must be better articulated. We have conclusions and ideas and passion behind them or not.
    anger does not exist without a reason. so there is no emotion of anger but only a reason for anger and then a degree of passion behind it.
    So God simply does have conclusions and passion about them.
    Emotions is a made up concept from somewhere.

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