Does God "feel" blessedness?

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
God is blessed forever. That means that He is perfectly satisfied and forever in enjoyment of Himself--"profoundly happy", as it were--correct? Does God feel happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and enjoyment, or is this a figurative accommodation for us to understand Him by? If it is an accommodation, is there another way to understand His eternal blessedness, e.g., we can understand emotions predicated of God in the Scriptures as volitions?

To clarify my questions further, it seems some will affirm divine impassibility but do so by saying God is eternally blessed and "feels" happy and satisfied, and so feelings of sadness or anger or discomfort would contradict that fact. I'm trying to understand whether such is the case or not: whether God has no "feelings" whatsoever, or one eternal "feeling" of happiness, enjoyment, satisfaction. (I think those who affirm the latter tend to say God is "impassible" but not "impassive"?)


I guess related to this would be: Does God have dispositions? That is, has He decreed to voluntarily "emote" or "feel" in a certain way with respect to His creatures actions as they take place according to His decree?
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Yes, I read it through a while ago, though I don't currently have time to read through it carefully now. In my cursory review reading of it before posting the thread, I ran across this in John Owen, in which on the one hand...

"(1.) Where no cause of stirring up affections or passions can have place or be admitted, there no affections are to be admitted; for to what end should we suppose that whereof there can be no use to eternity? If it be impossible any affection in God should be stirred up or acted, is it not impossible any such should be in him? The causes stirring up all affections are the access of some good desired, whence joy, hope, desire, etc., have their spring; or the approach of some evil to be avoided, which occasions fear, sorrow, anger, repentance, and the like. Now, if no good can be added to God, whence should joy and desire be stirred up in him? if no evil can befall him, in himself or any of his concernments, whence should he have fear, sorrow, or repentance? Our goodness extends not to him; he hath no need of us or our sacrifices, Psalm 16:2, 50:8-10; Job 35:6-8. “Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?” chap. 22:2, 3."

But on the other...


"(2.) The apostle tells us that God is “blessed for ever,” Romans 9:5; “He is the blessed and only Potentate,” 1 Timothy 6:15; “God all- sufficient,” Genesis 17:1. That which is inconsistent with absolute blessedness and all-sufficiency is not to be ascribed to God; to do so casts him down from his excellency. But can he be blessed, is he all-sufficient, who is tossed up and down with hope, joy, fear, sorrow, repentance, anger, and the like? Doth not fear take off from absolute blessedness? Grant that God’s fear cloth not long abide, yet whilst it doth so, he is less blessed than he was before and than he is after his fear ceaseth. When he hopes, is he not short in happiness of that condition which he attains in the enjoyment of what he hoped for? and is he not lower when he is disappointed and falls short of his expectation? Did ever the heathens speak with more contempt of what they worshipped? Formerly the pride of some men heightened them to fancy themselves to be like God, without passions or affections, Psalm 50:21; being not able to abide in their attempt against their own sense and experience, it is now endeavored to make God like to us, in having such passions and affections. My aim is brevity, having many heads to speak unto. Those who have written on the attributes of God, — his self-sufficiency and blessedness, simplicity, immutability, etc., — are ready to tender farther satisfaction to them who shall desire it."

There is no distinction between impassivity and impassibility though, and I'm not sure I understand what is meant by "blessedness" if it is not a "feeling" sort of state. Perhaps it is simply having all that one needs? Cause that sure doesn't imply a feeling or emotion.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Raymond, strictly speaking, "feeling" is the wrong category to apply to God. If you have access to Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, v.3, pp.381ff has a useful discussion of divine beautitude.

In short compass, blessedness relates to intellect and will. In God there is perfect knowledge that leaves no room for doubts or questions, including of course a knowledge of his own blessedness; and there is perfect complacency of the will in that. God knows the object of greatest delight - Himself - and he knows it perfectly; God loves the object of greatest delight - Himself - and possesses it perfectly. What room is there for imperfection of joy in that? Naturally this exceeds our grasp, and is truly inconceivable: not simply that it is on a scale that beggars our comprehension, but that manner of knowledge and delight in God is, strictly, inconceivable: we cannot picture it, we cannot state it, we cannot analyse it.

In heaven our blessedness consists in sight, love, and joy. I'll let Turretin take over:

But in order to understand more fully that most blissful state, we think the three things are to be united here which inseparably cohere with each other in happiness: sight, love, joy. From these effloresces that ineffable glory with which the blessed will shine for ever on account of their fruition of the supreme good. For as that happiness is the full and ultimate perfection of the soul and all its faculties, so it requires the operation of all the powers, every imperfection having been removed (i.e., perfect vision, and from it supreme joy and consolation). Sight contemplates God as the supreme good; love is carried out towards him, and is most closely united with him; and joy enjoys and acquiesces in him. Sight perfects the intellect, love the will, joy the conscience. Sight answers to faith, which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, which will then be changed into sight because we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight, beholding God face to face. Love consummated, by which we will be united with God, will answer to love begun, which sanctifies the heart. Joy answers to hope, which accompanies the fruition of the thing hoped for. Vision begets love. God cannot be seen without being loved; love draws joy after it because he cannot be possessed without filling with joy. Vision is opposed to the banishing of the damned from his face and to the most dense darkness of ignorance in which they lie; love the most furious hatred which they cherish toward him; joy to the dreadful despair and wailing which will arise from the multiplicity and continuity of the torments they will feel.
(Institutes, XX.8,6)

Stammering, because when we speak of God we say these things meaning to remove all imperfection and to say it all in infinite measure, this tells us that the best idea we can form of God's blessedness is likewise to think of it in terms of knowledge (sight) and complacency (love and joy). God possesses in knowing, and knows in possession. He knows himself, necessarily and absolutely; he wills himself, necessarily and absolutely. That is blessedness. It is our blessedness to know and love God. It is a blessing to desire God - how much more to possess? And of course God already possesses himself, he always has: he is blessed for ever.

In his commentary on 2 Peter 2:9, Thomas Adams also addresses himself to this point. You can read that here (it's number 7, at the bottom of the 2nd column).
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you! It certainly is quite difficult to contemplate. While I can momentarily think of blessedness in terms of intellect and will, I'm having difficulty in the long term abstracting the "emotional" and "feeling" element from "love," "delight," "joy," "enjoyment," "satisfaction," "happiness," etc. Perhaps though, that really is the best way we can get some sort of understanding of it? But I guess this is no different from any other "emotional" or "feeling" terms being applied to God. Such words are given for our understanding while we acknowledge that they are only improperly applied to God; so here, "blessedness" as a "feeling" or "emotion" is only improperly applied to God too?

Or are there simply "levels" of accommodation? That is, God accommodates Himself for our understanding; some of that accommodated revelation explains what God is in Himself and so such language is properly applied to Him, and other parts of that accommodation either explains what God is in a figurative manner or explains something God does within history, and so such language is only improperly applied to God Himself. Would such a view of accommodation be acceptable? If so, would blessedness fall in the first category (properly applied to God) or the last? On the one hand, the Scripture language concerning God's blessedness seems to suggest the first category--for only a transcendent and self-sufficient Being could ever be eternally happy without disturbance from the creature; but on the other, it would seem we still need to abstract away the "feeling" and "emotional" element from the blessedness, which would place it in the second category? Maybe there's a third category?
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Thank you! It certainly is quite difficult to contemplate. While I can momentarily think of blessedness in terms of intellect and will, I'm having difficulty in the long term abstracting the "emotional" and "feeling" element from "love," "delight," "joy," "enjoyment," "satisfaction," "happiness," etc. Perhaps though, that really is the best way we can get some sort of understanding of it? But I guess this is no different from any other "emotional" or "feeling" terms being applied to God. Such words are given for our understanding while we acknowledge that they are only improperly applied to God; so here, "blessedness" as a "feeling" or "emotion" is only improperly applied to God too?

Or are there simply "levels" of accommodation? That is, God accommodates Himself for our understanding; some of that accommodated revelation explains what God is in Himself and so such language is properly applied to Him, and other parts of that accommodation either explains what God is in a figurative manner or explains something God does within history, and so such language is only improperly applied to God Himself. Would such a view of accommodation be acceptable? If so, would blessedness fall in the first category (properly applied to God) or the last? On the one hand, the Scripture language concerning God's blessedness seems to suggest the first category--for only a transcendent and self-sufficient Being could ever be eternally happy without disturbance from the creature; but on the other, it would seem we still need to abstract away the "feeling" and "emotional" element from the blessedness, which would place it in the second category? Maybe there's a third category? I suppose this paragraph could constitute its own separate question from the final question asked in the preceding paragraph.

The reason the Bible uses anthropopathic language so extensively and unhesitatingly is because it undoubtedly does give us a better idea than we would get by any other approach - as long as we remember its limitations and don't let the analogy press us too far. We are limited; we are bound by time and space; we are changeable; we are easily influenced and acted upon; we are in a body susceptible of many sensations. All these things must be removed from God's experience: there is no change, no distraction, no interruption. But that does not make his joy less than ours; on the contrary, his joy is infinite, and infinitely pure, unalloyed with anything else, as ours inevitably is. Even our intellectual and spiritual pleasures are not only very different in degree from God's, but are also rooted in our creaturely and physical reality. While great music might help us to grasp that there is a sort of intellectual and volitional pleasure that is rather different from what we normally experience, and give us a sense that we have a feeling of eternity, it is quite obvious that music is rooted in time, succession, and the physical reality of sound. So that strictly speaking, God's blessedness will be unimaginable: we can say that it is like our blessedness with all imperfections removed, but we've never experienced anything with all imperfections removed: thus there is still no experiential point of contact. In this regard also we cannot picture God. What we can say is that he has made us with a capacity for delight, and therefore his own capacity for delight is greater than ours. Though much of what we experience in delight is inapplicable to God - perhaps even aspects that we are accustomed to thinking of as fundamental - yet the real good of delight is much more in God than in us.

Consider God's intellect or knowledge. We think discursively, and successively. While God has graciously granted us some knowledge of his works, and even of himself, it is patent that not only with regard to the extent of his knowledge, but also in connection with the manner of his knowledge, God's knowledge and intellect are very far removed from ours. To know all things simultaneously through your own essence - we can't really imagine that. Our only experience of thinking is of that progress, whether plodding or fleet, from point to point: the feeling of discovery, of coming onto new vistas, is one of the characteristic marks of intellectual activity in us. God never has that: there is nothing for him to learn, no new vistas for him to come upon, no exhilaration in the energetic running of thought, as one bounds from fact to implication until one fairly seems to be flying. This is not because God's intellect is less than our own, but because it is greater. The flip side of those occasional airy flights through shifting rays of sun, is the confused and indecisive slithering in dense undergrowth that is very often our portion of thought, where we only grow more entangled and bewildered. For God to share our processes of thought at their best would be a descent far greater than any contrast between the lucid reasonings of great genius and the stressful and incoherent ramblings of delirium.

The one who made man physical is not therefore to be thought to have a body; but the one who made the eye is to be recognized as all-seeing. The one who made man emotional is not to be considered as changeable, with moods and feelings; but the one who made man capable of felicity is properly held to be eternally and infinitely blessed.

We have trouble conceiving of it. Without the agitation of excitement and exuberance we don't know what to make of joy and delight. Even "peace" and "contentment" almost sound to us like merely negative virtues - the absence of conflict and frustration, rather than anything more vivid. But this is due to our limitations, rather than to any shortcoming in God. After all, he is happy enough to make all rational creatures happy to the fullest extent of their capacity for happiness, merely by showing to them his own ineffable happiness.

About accommodation, I don't think that when we speak of "blessedness" that the feeling should be uppermost in our mind. Even in our case, we expect the feeling to follow the reality, rather than vice versa (e.g., the person who stands in need of nothing he does not have ought to be happy). All revelation, whether anthropopathic or not, is accommodated. That's true when God says very positive things in merely negative terms. For instance, we have experience of mortality; but we have so little grasp of life, that we have to be taught by the word "immortality" to think of the opposite of our experience. God uses the stencil of what we know to teach us about what we do not, as we learn that what he's talking about goes into the shapes, so to speak, of what we haven't experienced.

It's true again when God uses metaphors, whether obvious or implicit, extended or compressed. So I wouldn't think that it's really a question of different layers or degrees of accommodation - just that God uses a variety of techniques to make things as clear as they can be to us. The very variety guards against one mistake - that of thinking that one of the accommodated ways of speech is actually the proper language of God. The most clearly didactic statement from Paul is no less accommodated than the most vivid metaphor or the most compelling narrative.
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you again. I was wondering then, since it is the natural question a person might ask next: Would we be able to say that God has one, unchanging "feeling," namely, that associated with blessedness? Obviously, such a "feeling" would be almost (since without some similarity or correspondence, there's no point in calling it a "feeling") entirely different from our own, but perhaps deeper or more profound and without limitation or sin (and perhaps also in a different manner)? And if not, then why not? Usually, the only way to show that even in divine blessedness "feeling" isn't properly attributed to God, is to appeal to God's unchangeableness, but having one, constant, unchanging "feeling" means God doesn't change, so such an argument can no longer be used to show that God doesn't have one, unchanging "feeling" and so "feeling" is only improperly applied to God.

Such a question seems to pervade a bunch of other things. Some would say that though God doesn't think like we do, His "thoughts" are more deep or profound, without limitation or sin (and perhaps in a different manner of "thinking")--almost completely unlike our own. And some would say God has a "logic." And I suppose some people also used to argue that God had a "body."


And as a separate question, though we cannot speak of different degrees of accommodation, some ways of accommodation seem to be seen as more directly applicable to God than others? Like for example, "God is love" is seen to be quite literally and properly applied to God despite being accommodated language, while "the hand of the Lord" is seen as improperly applied to God. But maybe I've answered my own question: the difference is simply that one sort of accommodated language is literal (hence, properly applied) and the other figurative (hence, improperly applied)?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
You can say that God is conscious of his own blessedness; you can say that God approves his own blessedness. But if we call it a feeling we have to add so many modifiers and qualifications that the idea of a feeling is completely buried. You've already pointed that out with regard to immutability, but think about the very nature of a feeling: it is not only temporary, but it is something that attaches to me, that requires a feeling subject. In other words, it is an accident. But in God there are no accidents. With him it is not one thing to be, and another to be blessed, but blessedness is his very being and his essence. If you like, it is his nature to be blessed. A word like feeling is obviously applicable to limited, composite, changeable subjects; but even crisper words like 'state' and 'condition' seem inept here. We have states and conditions and feelings; but they are not what we are. But God doesn't have anything he is not. And since he is essentially blessed, speaking of blessedness as a feeling, even if qualified as constant and unchanging is simply too weak. The simplicity of God is an even stronger point against attributing feelings to him than his immutability (strong though that is). Again, not because what can be attributed to God is less than feeling. When I am blessed, that's what's happening to me; when God is said to be forever blessed, that is what he essentially is.

As for the other, I think in general what you say is true. Certainly we can, for example, make negative statements about God that are technically less susceptible of correction and qualification than many similes and metaphors might be. When we say that God is immutable this is truly and properly (not figuratively) said. But you can see how it's still accommodated: why is this great idea of constancy set out in negative terms? It is a lisping to the weakness of those who have to remove imperfection from their conceptions. If that is hard to see in the case of "God is love" consider the formally identical sentence, "God is light." Of course the distinction between literal and metaphorical descriptions can't be pressed down to any ultimate bedrock, but within the confines of describing different styles of common speech it is a useful way of distinguishing ways in which something is predicated of God.
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you again! I can certainly see what you mean: it even sounds intuitively weak to say God is essentially a "feeling" even as God is essentially good or powerful. I'm not entirely sure why it sounds weak, but intuitively, it certainly does. Of course, a feeling being an accident would certainly keep it from being applied to any being's essence, and if we did try to apply it to God's essence, the word would certainly have changed meaning too much, even as when arguing from God's immutability. The point about God's blessedness not being less than feeling also seems to resolve other related questions, e.g., God's knowing through His own essence at once is certainly not less than thought or discursive processes and tools.

And I see your point about accommodation.
 
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