Is God an Android?
By: Dr. Norman Geisler
Persons have mind, will, and feelings. Androids have only mind and will, but no feelings. Open theists and others sometimes object to the classical view of God by claiming that if God is impassible then He cannot experience feelings like love and joy. In short, it makes God into an android, or more properly, the android. However, classical theists, including Thomas Aquinas, do not believe that God is without feeling but only that He has no changing passions (feelings). God is a simple and unchanging Being and, as such, He experiences no changing passions. Hence, in his comments on Ephesians 4:30 (”Grieve not the Holy Spirit…”) Aquinas says, this phrase could be called a “metaphorical expression” because “The Holy Spirit is God in whom there can be no emotion or sorrow” (Commentary on Ephesians, 191). For God cannot be “provoked to wrath” (ibid.).
However, this is not to say that God cannot have unchanging feelings. This is clear from Aquinas’ comments on whether God has love. He rejects the objection that because love is a passion that God cannot have love by affirming that “We must need assert that in God there is love” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I.90). He adds, “There must be love in God according to the act of his will” (SCG, I.90.1). God has no passive capacities (being Pure Actuality) that can be acted upon and activated by an external force. However, God has an “intellective appetite.” Hence, “From this it is manifest that joy or delight is properly in God” (SCG, I.90.3). The same is true of anger. Nothing outside of God can make Him (cause Him to be) angry. That is, He cannot be provoked to anger (by something else), but He has anger at sin – and always has and always will because it is contrary to His holy nature. However, by His very nature as absolutely good, God is (and always was and always will be) angry at sin. In Aquinas’ own words, “Because the sinner, by sinning, cannot do God any actual harm,” nonetheless, God is angry “in so far as he [i.e., the sinner] harms himself or another; which injury redounds to God, inasmuch as the person injured is an object of God’s providence and protection” (ST, I-II.47 ad 1).
In brief, God has no passive and changing feelings (brought about by an external cause acting on Him). However, God has active, changeless, and eternal feelings of joy toward good and sadness toward evil. Hence, when a sinner repents, he does not move God to change His feelings. Rather, the sinner moves from under God’s unchanging and eternal anger toward sin to being under His eternal and unchanging joy toward good. In short, God is impassible (having no capacity to be made to feel good or bad by any external force), but He is not without feelings, namely, an eternal active ability to experience joy, anger, and other righteous feelings.
Written by Dr. Norman Geisler for The John Ankerberg Show, ©2011.