Back to Mormonism Researched Page
The Anthropomorphic, Passionate God
Research By Kerry A. Shirts
The Christian Creeds have declared through the centuries that God is without body, parts, or passions. So how does Christian scholarship hold up to this type of creedal thinking? Not very well. Christian scholars have concluded the exact opposite aspects of God and have recently declared with a rather refreshing boldness that the God of the Bible is clearly a person, an anthropomorphic Deity who has serious passions, both good and bad. Lets see how it all starts adding up.
My methodology is very simple. Since as a Mormon if I use Mormon scholars and leaders, I am accused of bias representation, I will use only non-Mormon scholars. At least, for this one purpose I cannot be accused of simply regurgitating bias Mormon views. I will let the Christian scholars speak for themselves on many matters concerning God as He is found in the Bible, as well as in History. What kind of being is God to the serious Christian scholars? He is a passionate, caring, yet at times, quite wrathful, and embodied Deity. It is a most interesting situation that we Mormons find we are accused of being anything but Christian as we have the wrong God, to find that other Christian scholars describe God in exactly the same terms that we Mormons are entirely comfortable with.
Jean Danielou notes that in the covenant relationship between man and God, "the living God reveals those attributes described in the Bible as his truth, his righteousness, and his love...the truth of God...means the faithfulness of the living God, in whom men may safely put all their trust."1 This is clearly described in antrhopomorphic terms, because God exists and lives very anthropomorphically. "God is thus revealed in the Scriptures as an ally, one who has committed himself, one upon whom we can trust..."2 God has committed himself, to what or who? To us in the Covenant relationship he has formed. In other words, is this not God acting in and with History? It surely is! This God of the Bible is hardly beyond the space and time concept of the philosophers. We are assured that "...the transcendence of God is most forcibly demonstrated within the ambit of history."3
Sabatino Moscati claims that because of Israel's conception of the universe and her conception of history itself, "The elements of the idea are extremely simple: Israle has its God; this God has made a pact with Israle; the working out of this pact constitutes history."4 In fact, as we examine the Bible we find in various places where "the very elements of creation are thrown into disarray at his approach, showing the limitless consequences of the Creator's action when he is pleased to intervene in the work of his hands...The occasions of his intervention are various, revealing various aspects of his nature. From his creative activity we may know his power and wisdom; from his covenants we learn his faithfulness and loving-kindness; from his judgments we come to the knowledge of his righteousness and his wrath. In the last case as in the first, the whole universe is involved, whether to be established or abolished...he goes through human history too, like a victorious army overturning empires."5 This shows us that the biblical Deity is heavily and seriously involved not only within history, but within space and time as well, as the universe is in His balance and power.
"Many verses in the New Testament describe his characteristics, e.g., all-seeing and all-knowing, "Lord of heaven and earth," Righteous, holy, merciful, a just judge of the world, and a great king."6 This is clearly an anthropomorphic Deity. In fact, none other than William F. Albright himself acknowledged that Moses' monotheism had to include God the Creator, "who is in human form..."7 He contrasts this God of Moses in the Bible with the later different Gods of Philo Judaeus, Rabbi Aqiba, St. Augustine, Mohammed and Maimonides as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin, saying Moses monotheism was not as these later Christian thinkers views were at all.8 We are informed that Israel did not borrow their conceptions of God from the Canaanites even though the Hebrew poets described Jehovah just as the Canaanite poets described Baal, as a storm god riding in a cloud-enveloped chariot, uttering peals of thunder and sending out darts of lightning. Jehovah was known as the "Cloudrider."9 In other words, as with God in the burning bush, God in the Bible is involved within nature itself and described as such. Yahweh "as the Lord of all cosmic forces, controlling sun, moon, and storm but is in heaven, from which he may come down, either to a lofty mountain like Sinai, to a shrine like the Tabernacle, or to any spot which he may choose.10 This anthropomorphic aspect of the Deity in the Bible is the most important thing to understand according to Albright. "Fundamental to early Israelite religion and profoundly rooted in Mosaic tradition is the anthropomorphic conception of Yahweh... we have only to glance at the mythologies, the iconographies, and the litanies to see that Near-Eastern gods shifted in disconcerting fashion from astral form to zoomorphic, dendromorphic, and composite manifestations. Yahweh, on the other hand, is virtually always referred to in the earlier sources in a way which suggests his human form though his body was usually hidden in a refulgent envelope called his Glory."11
Albright's emphasis cannot be dismissed nor misunderstood: "it cannot be too strongly emphasized that the anthropomorphic conception of Yahweh was absolutely necessary if the God of Israel was to remain a God of the individual Israelites as well as of the people as a whole...for the average worshipper, however, it was essential that his god be a divinity who can sympathize with his human feelings and emotions, a being whom he can love and fear alternately, and to whom he can transfer the holiest emotions connected with memories of father and mother and friend. In other words, it was precisely the anthropomorphism of Yahweh which was essential to the initial success of Israel's religion... all the human characteristics of Israle's deity were exalted."12
As we scan the Bible to see what God does, we find many interesting things. God does not faint, nor is He weary (Isa. 40:28). Sometimes God winks (Acts 17:30), in the past God has preached to the Gentiles (1 Tim. 3:16), In the future God shall wipe away the tears (Rev. 21:4), The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout (1 Thes 4:16), and God is gone up with a shout (Ps 47:5), The Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth (Num. 23:5), The Lord do that which seemeth him good (2 Sam 10:12).13
In fact, one of the aspects of God that really bothers people, that also shows he is intimately involved in history and time, is God's wrath. Christina Buchmann in her examination of Isaiah, for instance, notes that as we read about God's anger in Isaiah, "we can't bear to believe we're in the power of a God who says..." then she quotes Isaiah 13:12-13, where God says he will scatter the people and make them very scarce, and shake the ehavens, etc. "The calamities of the world are God's doing and grounds for praise."14 Notice how God is involved within history, space and time in the Bible. Buchmann further notes that "Isaiah's prophecy connects - or reconnects - God to the world..."15 Isaiah, "on the one hand presents us with a God who cares about the states of our souls and thus to some extent takes our own experiences, even of ourselves, into account... God commands, we listen... God reminds us, we listen..."16 The reason Isaiah is so powerful is that he "forces on us the vision of another reality, where God acts on a far larger scale, more or less oblivious of us, making and unmaking...our human definitions of God also define us.17
Isaiah gives God's power two parallel but distinct names: The wind of judgment and the wind of burning (Isa. 4:4). The wind of burning is the transcendent God who manifests himself by creating and destroying, compared with which the wind of judgment is practically anthropomorphic: the humanized God of laws and morality cares what we do. Even as a thunderous stern judge, this kind of God is prefereable to in impersonal force...With a judge there is the hope of getting around his judgment...modeling God on earthly ideals of justice gives humans a relatively good deal..."18 The God of the Bible is clearly a possessor of passions, even though the later Christian philosophical deity is not. As a test cast, consider this very offensive, difficult, yet obviously Godly passion of wrath.
The Wrath of God, what is it? "A furious passion...God's wrath denotes, (1) His holy indignation at and readiness to punish sin (2) His manifestation of his hatred at sin, in the just punishment thereof in time and eternity."19 The Hebrew "Qasaph" means to be wroth, angry. The noun derived from "qasap" particularly refer's to God's anger."20 This idea of God's wrath was "something of an embarrassment to the Alexandrian Jews, who attempted in discussion with the Greek philosophers, to water it down... yet as Tertuallian pointed out long ago, We have to reckon with, whether we like it or not, with wrath as one of the divine attributes...wrath is the emotional response of a sound personality to anything vile, low and mean."21 Most interestingly, Danielou notes "the wrath of God would be simply a mark of the intensity of his being, and the irresistible force with which his power may be manifested in creation, when he is pleased to give a violent reminder of his existence to a world that steadfastly turns away from him."22 Or as the Rev. Charles Buck noted long ago, "His wrath is sometimes manifested in this life, and that in an awful degree, as we see in the case of the Old World, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Plagues of Egypt, the punishment and captivity of the Jews, and the striking judgments on nations and individuals."23 In fact, a necessary understanding of God for Israle was "The manifestation of God on the mountain, amid clouds, smoke, and fire..."24 Clearly, the God of the Bible is a God involved heavily with history, and passionately with human-kind. "Wrath, a word denoting the active feeling of God against sin, expressed in human categories an important attribute of God...manifesting itself in actual situations such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah(Deut 29:23), the chastizement of Moses for his reluctance to obey (Exo 4:14), and even the death of Uzzah for touching with profane hand the Ark of God (2 Sam 6:7). The wrath of God is thus a divine reaction to human provocation, not an arbitrary passion or animosity."25
Again, as we look in the Bible we see God pictured "now as a weaver, now as needleworker, now as potter, and now as smith"almost everywhere the primordial creation is burdened with the earthly weight of a lowly handicraft, with the toil of physical demiurgy."26 The anthropomorphic aspects of Deity has sometimes caused scholars to try and explain it out of hand, even at the expense of the biblical text. Walter Brueggemann says that the idea of God wrestling with Jacob is just too much. While acknowledging that the text says "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved," Bruggemann notes that since the text also says "a man wrestled with him", this simply means that it was a "human agent, not God. When we consider who 'a man' might be, the best candidate is Esau."27 Such is one attempt at getting rid of the obvious anthropomorphic confrontation of Jacob with God, as a man.
Again, as we look in the Bible we say many things about God. God allows man a choice (2 Chron. 13:12; 15:2; 24:20, Isaiah 1:19-20). God can feel anger, wrath, fury, indignation, all passions (1 Kings 11:9; 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron 28:11; Nahum 1:2, 6; Hab. 3:2; Ezek 5:15; Zech 10:3). God may appear unto man (1 Kings 11:9; 22:19-23; 2 Chron. 18:18-22; Amos 9:1; Isa. 1:1-5; Ezek 1:1, 26-28; 3:23-24; Dan 3:25). God may be astonished (Jer. 8:21). God has beauty (Zech. 9:17). God may give compassion and comfort (2 Kings 13:23; Jer 12:15). God is involved with time, space, and this world, and nature (2 Kings 8:1; Jonah 1:4, 17; Amos 4:7-10; Isa. 23:11; 29:6; Nahum 1:3,4; Hab. 3:6-11; Jer. 3:3). God is good (Ezra 3:11). God is gracious (2 Kings 13:23). God may feel grief (Jer. 10:19). God Guides man (Isa 11:2-3; Jer 14:9; Ezek 2:2; Nehemiah 9:20). God is helpful (2 Chron. 14:11; Isa 41:10, 13, 14). God may be jealous (1 Kings 14:22; Nahum 1:2; Joel 2:18). God is merciful (2 Chron 20:21; Isa 14:1; Ezra 3:12; Zech 1:6; Joel 2:13). God is a revelator (1 Kings 19:12; 2 Kings 17:13; Jonah 1:2; Amos 3:6-8; Hosea 12:10; Isa 6:8; Jer 33:6; Ezek 1:3; Dan 2: 18-19; Nehemiah 9:13f).
All these show an anthropomorphic passionate and deeply interested Deity in space time and history. The biblical Deity is involved in history. "All the human characteristics of Israel's deity were exalted; they were projected against a cosmic screen and they served to interpret the cosmic process as the expression of God's creative word and eternally active will."28 The prophet recognized the wrath of Jehovah in his irresistible progress through nature and history. "Jehovah is indeed 'he that cometh', a God who invades the life of men. The divine irruptions are the "magnalia Dei", the very object of all prophetic vision: and the prophet's unchanging mission is to preach the lesson of conversion because God is coming...the coming of Jehovah is something that concerns the whole creation, heaven and earth..."29 The ancient Greeks were well aware of God's intervention in their lives and in their history. "In the Greek epic, the gods were not merely a divine audience, who looked on like aristocrats from a distant grandstand. They visited their heroes, "standing beside" then as evident helpers...Once in the Illiad, Ajax boasted that there was no difficulty in detecting the gods, for they were easily recognizable."30 The gods were active in history, exactly as God is in the Bible. "The Gospel is no theoretical system of doctrine or philosophy of the universe; it is doctrine only in so far as it proclaims the reality of God the Father."31 The biblical reality is that of God being active and interested in history, creation, etc. This God in the Bible is not the illimitable God of the philosophers. This is not the god who is "wholly other" or "without body, parts, and passions" at all.32
1. Jean Danielou, "Essai sur le Mystere de l' Histoire," trans. by Nigel Ambercombie as "The Lord of History," World Publishing Co., 1968, p. 150.
2. Danielou, p. 151.
3. Danielou, p. 151.
4. Sabatino Moscati, "The Face of the Ancient Orient," Doubleday Anchor Books, 1962, p. 237. Moscati concurs on the idea that God is intimately involved in history, "The God of Israel is a universal God... and therefore he is the God of all the peoples. So he is responsible not for a part only but for the whole of history." p. 237.
5. Danielou, p. 157ff.
6. Robert E. Hume, "The World's Living Religions," Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959, p. 258.
7. William F. Albright, "From the Stone Age to Christianity," Doubleday Anchor Books, 2nd ed., 1957, p. 272.
8. Albright, p. 271.
9. David Noel Freedman, ed., "The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2," Doubleday Anchor Books, 1964, p. 45.
10. Albright, p. 262.
11. Albright, p. 264.
12. Albright, p. 265.
13. Eunice Reidel, ed., "The Book of the Bible," Bantam Books, 1981, p. 274. While done with a spirit of humor, notice the thing about God in the Bible is his very anthropomorphic actions and reactions.
14. Christina Buchmann, "The Wind of Judgment and the Wind of Burning: The Holy One of Isaiah," in Christina Buchmann, ed., "Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible," Fawcett Columbine, 1994, p. 263.
15. Buchmann, p. 264.
16. Buchmann, p. 264.
17. Buchmann, p. 269.
18. Buchmann, p. 271.
19. Rev. William Gurney, "The Diamond Pocket Dictionary of the Holy Bible," J. Hadden Finsbury, 1829, p. 465.
20. W.E. Vine, "Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, p. 298.
21. Danielou, p. 154.
22. Danielou, p. 155.
23. Rev. Charles Buck, "A Theological Dictionary," Joseph J. Woodward, Publisher, 1826, p. 603.
24. Moscati, p. 240.
25. "Harper's Bible Dictionary," 1985, p. 1147.
26. Ernst Robert Curtius, "Europaische Literatur und lateinisches Mittlealter," trans. by Willard Trask as "European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages," Harper Torchbooks, 1953, p. 545f.
27. In Bill Moyers, "Talking About Genesis," Doubleday, 1996, p. 133.
28. Albright, p. 265.
29. Danielou, p. 156f.
30. Robin Lane Fox, "Pagans and Christians," Knopf, 1989, p. 104.
31. Adolf Harnack, "Das Wesens des Christentums," trans. by Thomas Bailey Saunders as "What is Christianity?", Ernest Benn Limited, 5th ed., 1958, p. 110.
32. Norbert Samuelson, "That the God of the Philosophers is Not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," in "Harvard Theological Review," Vol. 65, January 1972, #1, pp. 1-27, showing that the properties, descriptions, and characteristics of the philosophers God does *not* match the God found in the Bible and hence cannot logically nor philosophically be the God of the Bible!