God Without Moods or “Passions”

What do theologians mean when they say that God is "without passions"? The other day I was doing some reading and came across this statement. Recently our pastor has been talking about the importance of living out our faith passionately, and now I discover that God Himself has no passions! This has caused me some serious confusion. Does this imply that He doesn't love us "passionately"?

Not in the least. When the Creeds and Confessions of the church declare that God is “without … passions,” they are not suggesting that He isn’t concerned for our welfare or doesn’t love us “passionately” as we normally understand that term. Bear with us while we try to explain.

What we are dealing with here is highly technical theological language. The English word “passion” comes from the Latin passio, which is in turn a noun derived from the verb patior/passus, “to suffer or endure.”

Originally, passion had to do with suffering (this is why we traditionally refer to the sufferings of Jesus as “the Passion of Our Lord”). In other words, it had reference to our human susceptibility to outside forces or influences. If someone strikes me, I am physically hurt and emotionally cast down by the experience. If someone else gives me a million dollars, I suddenly become jubilant. When it’s rainy and cold I feel depressed. When the sun breaks through, my spirits soar again. My mood swings in response to the form and texture of my situation. All this is involved in what it means to have human “passions.”

God’s lack of “passions,” then, is an aspect of His immutability or unchangeableness. He is above being affected or altered by outward circumstances. The Scripture reflects this truth when it says, “They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end” (Psalm 102:26, 27; see also Hebrews 13:8).

The Westminster Confession of Faith, a document associated primarily with the churches of the Reformed tradition, describes the “passionless” nature of God in the following terms: “[He] is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise …” (Chapter II, section 1).

In case this explanation should lead anyone to suppose that Christian theology “contradicts itself”-after all, Jesus was God and Jesus clearly “suffered” on the cross-we’ll simply point out that this difficulty can be easily resolved by referring to the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ. All of the Creeds declare the fundamental biblical truth that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. It was in His humanity that Christ endured the pain of rejection, mistreatment, and physical death at the hands of those who condemned him. Exactly how this was possible and how it relates to His divine Personhood is, of course, something we can’t hope to grasp with the finite human mind. But perhaps that’s a subject for another time.



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