Defending the Faith: The most-moved mover, By
Daniel Peterson , For the Deseret News. Published: Thursday, Jan. 30 2014
5:00 a.m. MST
(“Jesus wept”) is well known as the shortest verse in the King James Bible.
It’s less known, however, as one of the Bible’s most significant passages.
But it is precisely that.
Why? Because it demonstrates the Savior’s
personal care for humanity and shows him, though divine, to be emotionally
involved with us.
But, in that regard,
in the Pearl of Great Price is even more remarkable:
"And it came to pass that the God of heaven
looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of
it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as
the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that
thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all
How is it possible for God to weep? For
centuries, classical Jewish, Christian and Islamic theologians have agreed
that it isn’t. Such behavior would be unworthy of him. God’s emotions seem,
it’s true, to be on display throughout the scriptures, but the passages
describing them have typically been dismissed as metaphorical, as symbolic
of something else.
Recent biblical scholarship, however, is
reconsidering the emotions of God. The sections of the book of Jeremiah that
precede the Babylonian captivity, to choose from among many possible
examples, are absolutely replete with images and divine statements that
depict God as deeply caring, worried even, about the punishment that he
himself has to impose upon his people.
for instance, the Lord is represented as saying, “I have given the dearly
beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies.”
These words remind us of the internal
conflict within the soul of a father who loves his children, but who must
still punish them and to not intervene when consequences occur. The God
speaking here is no distant, uninvolved, unemotional monarch. He loves
But even while biblical scholars increasingly
recognize God’s “passions” as genuinely scriptural, doing so is deeply
problematic in the view of many traditional systematic theologians.
For how is it possible to have emotions
without a body? Emotions are inseparably connected with such things as
tears, rapid heartbeat, “feelings.” Pure mind, if such a thing exists, would
seem incapable of anything remotely recognizable as emotion. If, these
theologians argue, God has emotions, it must follow that he has some sort of
body. But he cannot have a body. Thus, he can have no emotions. Which means
not only that he can’t be angry with us but that he can’t love us in any
human-like sense of the word, or care for us, or feel our pain, or mourn our
Like Enoch, theological commentators have
been astonished at the sheer notion that God might weep. Unlike Enoch,
though, who was an eyewitness, they flatly reject it. Classical theology has
historically tended to depict God as a distant, dispassionate and literally
apathetic being unmoved by emotion. The unmoved mover doesn't weep. He (or,
perhaps better, it) moves, but is not moved. Nothing can have any impact on
If emotional displays such as tears require a
body, classical theism’s solution is to deny all the emotions mentioned for
God in the Bible, just as it denies or reinterprets the many passages that
seem to describe him as having bodily form. (The embodied Jesus of
can be permitted emotions precisely because he assumed flesh and human
nature; it’s far less acceptable to grant such “feelings” to his Heavenly
Father or to God before the Incarnation.)
The question is whether Christians will in
the final analysis opt for their traditional theology, or for the Bible. The
two are difficult if not impossible to reconcile.
The Pearl of Great Price’s account of Enoch
offers a spectacular instance of a suffering and weeping God, far clearer,
even, than anything in the Bible. Fortunately, members of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entirely comfortable with an embodied
For those who accept the scriptures of the
Restoration, Heavenly Father is not only a being with emotions, but a God
who, because he is perfect and perfectly embodied, feels more deeply than we
can even begin to imagine. “God is love,” says
1 John 4:8.
He not only has and enjoys an emotional life, but the most perfect emotional
life possible. His love is richer, deeper, than any love we can imagine.
Therefore, he feels both pain and sorrow for his children, and boundless
love and joy for them.