In his article “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” B.B. Warfield begins: “It belongs to the truth of our Lord’s humanity, that he was subject to all sinless human emotions.” It is important that we understand that Jesus, while being fully God, is fully human in every sense of the word. That means we must understand him as an emotional being without sin.
Jesus Has Emotions
There is very little reflection upon Christ’s emotional life within the Christian tradition. Warfield focuses on Christ’s compassion, love, sorrow, anger, joy, indignation, and anguish. In referring to the historical account of Jesus, Warfield brings depth and concreteness to these emotions.
By going to the concrete acts and emotions of the real person, Jesus Christ, the full glory of God’s compassion for and identification with humanity is brought out in startling relief. Here we see God weeping over the lost and saddened by the plight of sinful humanity. Here we see God’s heart broken by the stubbornness of a world that has rejected him, and we see God’s compassion for all people in distress.
The affections of Jesus are not disconnected from the acts of Jesus.
What we know about God we get from looking at Jesus. God is who he has revealed himself to be and not who we necessarily expect him to be. The Christian tradition has always affirmed that God is immutable (incapable to change) and impassible (impervious to being acted upon), but this does not mean that God is aloof or capricious. As a matter of fact, God reveals his compassion powerfully in Jesus’ ministry.
Warfield highlights compassion as the emotion “most frequently attributed” to Jesus.
- When seeing the temporary physical hunger and weariness from travel of the multitude, Jesus feeds them (Mark 8:2–3).
- When being approached by an unclean leper concerned about whether Jesus would be willing to heal, he heals him and makes him clean (Mark 1:40–42).
- When faced with the death of his friend Lazarus and the weeping crowd around him—right before he resurrects Lazarus from the dead—Jesus weeps (John 11:30–46).
- When attempting to take time for solitude and a crowd interrupts him, he feels compassion for their sick and heals them (Matthew 14:13–14).
Note that Jesus does not just act in compassion. He experiences feelings of compassion. The affections of Jesus are not disconnected from the acts of Jesus. His emotional life and his practical life are unified.
More Than Example & Empathy
The emotions of Christ are much more than examples to follow and an assurance of his understanding. Warfield’s study testifies to the passion and firm resolve that Christ manifested to perform God’s will in hope that though it might cost dearly, it would not cost indefinitely: “We must bear in mind that our Lord did not come into the world to be broken by the power of sin and death, but to break it.”
The emotions that Jesus feels toward broken humanity find their clearest expression in his dying in the place of sinners, conquering Satan, forgiving sin, and defeating death.
Because of emotions that Jesus feels for the suffering and sinful, he ultimately heals and forgives by his death and resurrection. The emotions that Jesus feels toward broken humanity find their clearest expression in his dying in the place of sinners, conquering Satan, forgiving sin, and defeating death.
Have the Heart & Affection of Jesus
The church is empowered by the Spirit of Christ to be on mission with this kind of empathy; having new hearts that feel these kinds of affections and seeing the blessings of God’s kingdom invade the present. But the truth the church is to proclaim is that Jesus is not simply an empathizer in solidarity with humanity but the Savior who is making all things new through his death and resurrection, which has guaranteed the coming of a new heaven and new earth without pain, disease, sin, suffering, and death.