Toward a Theology of Emotion -- By: Sam Williams

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:4 (Winter 2003)
Article: Toward a Theology of Emotion
Author: Sam Williams

Toward a Theology of Emotion

Sam Williams

Sam Williams is Associate Professor of Pastoral Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Dr. Williams has spent ten years in private practice as a licensed clinical psychologist and received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego.


Scripture is replete with emotion, both God’s and man’s. The Bible is a collection of books, addressed to persons by a Person. It is the revelation of a personal God to human persons made in his image. Since emotions are an important component of personhood, the Bible deals with the subject of emotions. The Bible frequently reveals God’s emotions so that our lives, including our emotions, might fully honor and glorify him. For example, Scripture speaks frequently of the wrath of God. In no uncertain terms, God wants us to understand not just what he thinks about sin but also how he feels about it. Why is this? Clearly, it is so that we might know the Lord better and in particular improve our understanding of his holiness and his love. The Bible speaks of God’s wrath so that we might apprehend, rationally and emotionally, our moral dilemma before his holy justice and so that we might experience the depth of his love for us when he poured his righteous wrath out upon his Son instead of us. “Scripture not only speaks about emotions, it also speaks to and through our emotions. The Bible itself is emotional literature, filled with emotional expression and designed not just to communicate with our rationality but also to stir us emotionally, thus affirming our emotionality.”1

Although some theologians, in order to preserve God’s immutability, have understood the plethora of references to God’s emotions as anthropomorphic, this paper will contend that it is more accurate to view man’s emotions as theomorphic. Good theology should lead us not only to think God’s thoughts after him but also to feel God’s feelings after him. If Christ-likeness is our goal as his followers, that would include not only Christ-like behavior and thoughts, but also Christ-like emotions as well. Compassion, the emotion most frequently attributed to Christ in the Gospels,2 facilitates the fulfillment of the “one another’s” of the New Testament. Jesus invites us into his joy in the Gospels and promises us (in the Psalms) that at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore (16:11). The fruit of the Holy Spirit is characterized by attributes—love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness—which are riddled with emotion.

Unfortunately, contempo...

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