The scriptures call God, ‘Father’. To consider Him as such physically, applies human characteristics to Him. This is a difficult teaching and most don’t understand this and in result, sin. Most don’t struggle as much with statements like, ‘I will cover you with my wings’, as most understand God does not have wings. But when it comes to the other types of condescension, it become much more difficult.
I have asked people on a few occasions what they think about as they ponder and pray while the Lord’s Supper elements are handed out. Many think of Christ on the cross, bleeding and beaten. This is another example of breaking the 2nd commandment as no one knows what Christ looks like and He is not on a cross any longer.
anthropomorphism is applying human characteristics to a thing; To do this, in regard to God would be a break in the 2nd commandment. Consider all of the Pixar or Disney animal movies; or Finding Nemo, as examples. It is probably safer to understand that God simple condescends for the creature or figurative language.
Augustine, City of God, Book 17, Chapter 5
But where God says, “Who will do all that is in mine heart and in my soul,” we must not think that God has a soul, for He is the Author of souls; but this is said of God tropically, not properly, just as He is said to have hands and feet, and other corporal members. And, lest it should be supposed from such language that man in the form of this flesh is made in the image of God, wings also are ascribed to Him, which man has not at all; and it is said to God, “Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings,” that men may understand that such things are said of that ineffable nature not in proper but in figurative words.
Augustine, City of God, Book 17, Chapter 7
But that division with which God threatened the kingdom and people in the person of Saul, who represented them, is shown to be eternal and unchangeable by this which is added, “And He will not be changed, neither will He repent: for He is not as a man, that He should repent; who threatens and does not persist,” — that is, a man threatens and does not persist, but not God, who does not repent like man. For when we read that He repents, a change of circumstance is meant, flowing from the divine immutable foreknowledge. Therefore, when God is said not to repent, it is to be understood that He does not change.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I, Q.19, Art. 7, RO 1 (referencing Genesis 6:7)
These words of the Lord are to be understood metaphorically, and according to the likeness of our nature. For when we repent, we destroy what we have made; although we may even do so without change of will; as, when a man wills to make a thing at the same intending to destroy it later. Therefore God is said to have repented, by way of comparison with our mode of acting, in so far as by the deluge He destroyed from the face of the earth man whom He had made.
“So when it is said that God waxed angry, it is not so to be understood as though God were troubled with affects; for that belongeth unto men: but according to the common and received exposition of these places, we understand it that God behaved himself like unto men that be angry. … Wherefore, God, either to repent, or to be angry, is nothing else, but that he doth those things which men repenting or being angry are wont to do. ” (Vermigli, Loci Communes, Part. 1, ch. 12, p.109)
“The interpreters labor earnestly to understand how repentance by happen unto God. For God saith, “I am God, and am not changed.” And in the first of Samuel, “The triumpher of Israel is not changed.” And Balaam in the book of Numbers saith, “God is not as man, that he should be changed: neither as the the sonne of man that he should be a liar.” Yet in Genesis, he saith, “It repenteth me that I have made man.” Forasmuch as these places seem to be repugnant, they must be accorded together..” (Vermigli)
“The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he should, in a certain sense, transfrom himself. That repentance cannot take place is God, easily appears from this single consideration, that nothing happens which is by him unexpected or unforeseen. The same reasoning and remark applies to what follows, that God was affected with grief. Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains forever like himself in his celestial and happy repose; but because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accomodates himself to our capacity.” Calvin
“The doctrine of Scripture concerning the immensity and the spirituality of the essence of God, should have the effect not only of dissipating the wild dreams of the vulgar, but also of refuting the subtleties of a profane philosophy. One of the ancients thought he spake shrewdly when he said that everything we see and everything we do not see is God, (Senec. Praef. lib. 1 Quaest. Nat.) In this way he fancied that the Divinity was transfused into every separate portion of the world. But although God, in order to keep us within the bounds of soberness, treats sparingly of his essence, still, by the two attributes which I have mentioned, he at once suppresses all gross imaginations, and checks the audacity of the human mind. His immensity surely ought to deter us from measuring him by our sense, while his spiritual nature forbids us to indulge in carnal or earthly speculation concerning him. With the same view he frequently represents heaven as his dwelling-place. It is true, indeed, that as he is incomprehensible, he fills the earth also, but knowing that our minds are heavy and grovel on the earth, he raises us above the worlds that he may shake off our sluggishness and inactivity. And here we have a refutation of the error of the Manichees, who, by adopting two first principles, made the devil almost the equal of God. This, assuredly, was both to destroy his unity and restrict his immensity. Their attempt to pervert certain passages of Scripture proved their shameful ignorance, as the very nature of the error did their monstrous infatuation. The Anthropomorphites also, who dreamed of a corporeal God, because mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are often ascribed to him in Scripture, are easily refuted. For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.” Calvin
“The entire creation, all of nature with all its [diverse] kingdoms, but especially the human world, is mined in scripture for the description of the knowledge of God. Almost no limit is set to the use of anthropomorphic language. All creatures, animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, furnish names with which to somewhat bring home to us the greatness of God. Although nameless within Himself, in His revelation God posses many names. “All things can be said of God,” writes Augustine, “but nothing can be said worthily of Him. Nothings is more widespread than this poverty [of expression].” Bavinck
The three difference of time are applied to God when he is called “the one who is, and was and is to come” (Rev. 1:4). This is not formally, but eminently and after the manner of men, to describe (if possible) in this manner the eternity of God. This is not done dividedly as if they might be predicated of him successively, but undividedly because the eternity of God embraces all time at once. Hence the past is affirmed without the negation of the present and the future, and the present is asserted, but without the negation of the past and the future. “Although,” says Augustine, “that immutable and ineffable nature does not admit of he was or will be, but only of he is, yet on account of the mutability of time, with which our mortality and mutability is concerned, we may say without error, he is, was, and will be. He was in the past ages, he is in the present, he will be in the future. He was because he never was not; he will be because he will never cease to be; he is because he always is” (Tractate 99, On the Gospel of John).
III. 11, XI
Repentance is attributed to God after the manner of men but must be understood after the manner of God: not with respect to his counsel, but to the event; not in reference to his will, but to the thing willed; not to affection and internal grief, but to the effect and external work because he does what a penitent man usually does. If repentance concerning the creation of man (which he could not undo) is ascribed to God (Genesis 6:6,7), it must be understood not pathetically, but energetically. Although he could not by a non-creation undo what he had done, yet by a destruction he could produce change.
III. 12, XXVII
Although God testifies that he willed to go down and see whether the cry of Sodom that came to him was true (Gen. 18:21), it does not follow that he was ignorant of the nature and degree of the impiety of that city before. He had already said, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great.” But this is said after the manner of men to intimate that he performs the part of a good and exact Judge, and neither pronounces nor executes anything rashly (as an accurate judge inquires on the spot into the thing itself to avoid precipitate action).
IV. 2, IX
Although God changes his dispensation towards men in time, either for good or for evil, it does not follow that the decree itself is changed or is made only in time because this very change was decreed even from eternity. Rather these things, said in accommodation to men, ought to be understood in a manner becoming God; not with respect to a change in God, but with respect to a change in his works. Thus the following passages are understood: Jer. 18:10; 31:28; Deut. 28:63.
V. 10, V [Speaking of what the image of God in which Adam was created is not]
John Gill writes:
Exposition of the Old and New Testaments – On Judges 10:16
Which is to be understood after the manner of men; for grief properly does not belong to God, there being no passion in him; but it denotes a carriage or behaviour of his, which shows what looks like sympathy in men; a love and affection for Israel, notwithstanding their ill behaviour to him, and a change of his dispensations Providence towards them, according to his unchangeable will; so Maimonides understands it of the good will and pleasure of God, to cease from afflicting the people of Israel….
Exposition of the Old and New Testaments – On 1 Samuel 15:11
Which is not to be understood of any change of mind, counsel, purpose, or decree in God, which is not consistent with his unchangeable nature; but of a change of dispensation, and outward dealings, and is spoken after the manner of men, who, when they repent of anything, change the course of their conduct and behaviour; and so the Lord does without any change of his mind and will, which alters not; and though he changes the outward dispensations of his providence, yet he never changes and alters in the matters and methods of his grace; though he repented he made Saul king, he never repents of his making his saints kings and priests for himself; his outward gifts he sometimes takes away, as an earthly crown and kingdom; but his gifts and calling, which are of special grace, are without repentance.
A Complete Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 1, Chapter 4
A Complete Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 1, Chapter 5
John Owen writes:
Vindiciae Evangelicae, Chapter 3
And the Holy Ghost himself gives a plain interpretation of his own intendment in such expressions: for whereas, Luke 11:20, our Savior says that he “with the finger of God cast out devils;” Matthew 12:28, he affirms that he did it “by the Spirit of God,” intending the same thing. It neither is nor can righteously be required that we should produce any place of Scripture expressly affirming that God hath no shape, nor hands, nor eyes, as we have, no more than it is that he is no lion or eagle. It is enough that there is that delivered of him abundantly which is altogether inconsistent with any such shape as by Mr B. is fancied, and that so eminent a difference as that now mentioned is put between his arms and eyes and ours, as manifests them to agree in some analogy of the thing signified by them, and not in an answerableness in the same kind. Wherefore I say, that the Scripture speaking of God, though it condescends to the nature and capacities of men, and speaks for the most part to the imagination (farther than which few among the sons of men were ever able to raise their cogitations), yet hath it clearly delivered to us such attributes of God as will not consist with that gross notion which this man would put upon the Godhead. The infinity and immutability of God do manifestly overthrow the conceit of a shape and form of God. Were it not a contradiction that a body should be actually infinite, yet such a body could not have a shape, such a one as he imagines. The shape of any thing is the figuration of it; the figuration is the determination of its extension towards several parts, consisting in a determined proportion of them to each other; that determination is a bounding and limiting of them: so that if it have a shape, that will be limited which was supposed to be infinite, which is a manifest contradiction. But the Scripture doth plainly show that God is infinite and immense, not in magnitude (that were a contradiction, as will appear anon) but in essence. Speaking to our fancy, it saith that “he is higher than heaven, deeper than hell,” Job 11:8; that “he fills heaven and earth,” Jeremiah 23:24; that “the heaven of heavens cannot contain him,” I Kings 8:27; and it hath many [such] expressions to shadow out the immensity of God, as was manifest in our consideration of the last query. But not content to have yielded thus to our infirmity, it delivers likewise, in plain and literal terms, the infiniteness of God: “His understanding is infinite,” Psalm 147:5; and therefore his essence is necessarily so. This is a consequence that none can deny who will consider it till he understands the terms of it, as hath Been declared. Yet, lest any should hastily apprehend that the essence of God were not therefore necessarily infinite, the Holy Ghost saith, Psalm 145:3, that “his greatness hath no end,” or is “inconceivable,” which is infinite; for seeing we can carry on our thoughts, by calculation, potentially in infinitum, — that is, whatever measure be assigned, we can continually multiply it by greater and greater numbers, as they say, in infinitum, — it is evident that there is no greatness, either of magnitude or essence, which is unsearchable or inconceivable besides that which is actually infinite. Such, therefore, is the greatness of God, in the strict and literal meaning of the Scripture; and therefore, that he should have a shape implies a contradiction. But of this so much before as I presume we may now take it for granted.
Vindiciae Evangelicae, Chapter 4
First, In general, that God is perfect and perfectly blessed, I suppose will not be denied; it cannot be but by denying that he is God. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 37:16; Romans 1:25, 9:5; 1 Timothy 1:11, 6:16.) He that is not perfect in himself and perfectly blessed is not God. To that which is perfect in any kind nothing is wanting in that kind. To that which is absolutely perfect nothing is wanting at all. He who is blessed is perfectly satisfied and filled, and hath no farther desire for supply. He who is blessed in himself is all-sufficient for himself. If God want or desire any thing for himself, he is neither perfect nor blessed. To ascribe, then, affections to God properly (such as before mentioned), is to deprive him of his perfection and blessedness. The consideration of the nature of these and the like affections will make this evident.
1. Affections, considered in themselves, have always an incomplete, imperfect act of the will or volition joined with them. They are something that lies between the firm purpose of the soul and the execution of that purpose. The proper actings of affections lie between these two; that is, in an incomplete, tumultuary volition. That God is not obnoxious to such volitions and incomplete actings of the will, besides the general consideration of his perfections and blessedness premised, is evident from that manner of procedure which is ascribed to him. His purposes and his works comprise all his actings. As the Lord hath purposed, so hath he done. “He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” “Who hath known his mind? or who hath been his counsellor? Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.” (Isaiah 14:24; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 40:18, 14.)
2. They have their dependence on that wherewith he in whom they are is affected; that is, they owe their rise and continuance to something without him in whom they are. A man’s fear ariseth from that or them of whom he is afraid; by them it is occasioned, on them it depends Whatever affects any man (that is, the stirring of a suitable affection), in all that frame of mind and soul, in all the volitions and commotions of will which so arise from thence, he depends on something without him. Yea, our being affected with something without lies at the bottom of most of our purposes and resolves Is it thus with God, with him who is I AM? Exodus 3:14. Is he in dependence upon any thing without him? Is it not a most eminent contradiction to speak of God in dependence on any other thing? Must not that thing either be God or be reduced to some other without and besides him, who is God, as the causes of all our affections are? “God is in one mind, and who can turn him? what his soul desireth, that he doeth,” Job 23:13.
3. Affections are necessarily accompanied with change and mutability; yea, he who is affected properly is really changed; yea, there is no more unworthy change or alteration than that which is accompanied with passion, as is the change that is wrought by the affections ascribed to God. A sedate, quiet, considerate alteration is far less inglorious and unworthy than that which is done in and with passion. Hitherto we have taken God upon his testimony, that he is the “LORD , and he changeth not,” Malachi 3:6; that “with him there is neither change nor shadow of turning;” — it seems, like the worms of the earth, he varieth every day.
4. Many of the affections here ascribed to God do eminently denote impotence; which, indeed, on this account, both by Socinians and Arminians, is directly ascribed to the Almighty. They make him affectionately and with commotion of will to desire many things in their own nature not impossible, which yet he cannot accomplish or bring about (of which I have elsewhere spoken); yea, it will appear that the most of the affections ascribed to God by Mr B., taken in a proper sense, are such as are actually ineffectual, or commotions through disappointments, upon the account of impotency or defect of power.Corol. To ascribe affections properly to God is to make him weak, imperfect, dependent, changeable, and impotent.Secondly, Let a short view be taken of the particulars, some or all of them, that Mr B. chooseth to instance in. “Anger, fury, wrath, zeal” (the same in kind, only differing in degree and circumstances), are the first he instances in; and the places produced to make good this attribution to God are, Numbers 25:3, 4; Ezekiel 5:18; Exodus 32:11, 12; Romans 1:18.
1. That mention is made of the anger, wrath, and fury of God in the Scripture is not questioned. Numbers 25:4, Deuteronomy 13:17, Joshua 7:26, Psalm 78:81, Isaiah 13:9, Deuteronomy 29:24, Judges 2:14, Psalm 74:1, 69:24, Isaiah 30:30, Lamentations 2:6, Ezekiel 5:15, Psalm 78:49, Isaiah 34:2, 2 Chronicles 28:11, Ezra 10:14, Habakkuk 3:8, 12, are farther testimonies thereof. The words also in the original, in all the places mentioned, express or intimate perturbation of mind, commotion of spirit, corporeal mutation of the parts of the body, and the like distempers of men acting under the power of that passion. The whole difference is about the intendment of the Holy Ghost in these attributions, and whether they are properly spoken of God, asserting this passion to be in him in the proper significancy of the words, or whether these things be not taken anthropopathos, and to be understood theoprepon, in such a sense as may answer the meaning of the figurative expression, assigning them their truth to the utmost, and yet to be interpreted in a suitableness to divine perfection and blessedness .
2. The anger, then, which in the Scripture is assigned to God, we say denotes two things: —
(1.) His vindictive justice, or constant and immutable will of rendering vengeance for sin. So God’s purpose of the demonstration of his justice is called his being “willing to show his wrath” or anger, Romans 9:22; so God’s anger and his judgments are placed together, Psalm 7:6; and in that anger he judgeth, verse 8, And in this sense is the “wrath of God” said to be “revealed from heaven,” Romans 1:18; that is, the vindictive justice of God against sin to be manifested in the effects of it, or the judgments sent and punishments inflicted on and throughout the world.
(2.) By anger, wrath, zeal, fury, the effects of anger are denoted: Romans 3:5, “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?” The words are, ho epipheron ten orgen, — “who inflicteth or bringeth anger on man;” that is, sore punishments, such as proceed from anger; that God’s vindictive justice. And Ephesians 5:6, “For these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Is it the passion or affection of anger in God that Mr B. talks of, that comes upon the children of disobedience? or is it indeed the effect of his justice for this sin? Thus the day of judgment is called the “day of wrath” and of “anger,” because it is the day of the “revelation of the righteous judgment of God:” Romans 2:5, “After thy hardness,” etc. In the place of Ezekiel (chap. 5:13) mentioned by Mr B., the Lord tells them he will,” cause his fury to rest upon them,” and “accomplish it upon them. I ask whether he intends this of any passion in him (and if so, how a passion in God can rest upon a man), or the judgments which for their iniquities he did inflict? We say, then, anger is not properly ascribed to God, but metaphorically, denoting partly his vindictive justice, whence all punishments flow, partly the effects of it in the punishments themselves, either threatened or inflicted, in their terror and bitterness, upon the account of what is analogous therein to our proceeding under the power of that passion; and so is to be taken in all the places mentioned by Mr B. For, —
3. Properly, in the sense by him pointed to, anger, wrath, etc, are not in God. Anger is defined by the philosopher to be, orexis meta lupes timorias phainomenes dia phainomenen oligorian, — “ desire joined with grief of that which appears to be revenge, for an appearing neglect or contempt.” To this grief, he tells you, there is a kind of pleasure annexed, arising from the vehement fancy which an angry person hath of the revenge he apprehends as future, — which, saith he, “is like the fancy of them that dream,” — and he ascribes this passion mostly to weak, impotent persona Ascribe this to God, and you leave him nothing else. There is not one property of his nature wherewith it is consistent. If he be properly and literally angry, and furious, and wrathful, he is moved, troubled, perplexed, desires revenge, and is neither blessed nor perfect. But of these things in our general reasons against the propriety of these attributions afterward.
4. Mr. B. hath given us a rule in his preface, that when any thing is ascribed to God in one place which is denied of him in another, then it is not properly ascribed to him. Now, God says expressly that “fury” or anger “is not in him,” Isaiah 27:4; and therefore it is not properly ascribed to him.
5. Of all the places where mention is made of God’s repentings, or his repentance, there is the same reason. Exodus 32:14, Genesis 6:6, 7, Judges 10:16, Deuteronomy 30:9, are produced by Mr. B. That one place of 1 Samuel 15:29, where God affirms that he “knoweth no repentance,” casts all the rest under a necessity of an interpretation suitable unto it. Of all the affections or passions which we are obnoxious to, there is none that more eminently proclaims imperfection, weakness, and want in sundry kinds, than this of repentance. If not sins, mistakes, and miscarriages (as for the most part they are), yet disappointment, grief, and trouble, are always included in it. So is it in that expression, Genesis 6:6, “It repented the L ORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” What but his mistake and great disappointment, by a failing of wisdom, foresight, and power, can give propriety to these attributions unto God? The change God was going then to work in his providence on the earth was such or like that which men do when they repent of a thing, being “grieved at the heart” for what they had formerly done. So are these things spoken of God to denote the kind of the things which he doth, not the nature of God himself; otherwise such expressions as these would suit him, whose frame of spirit and heart is so described: “Had I seen what would have been the issue of making man, I would never have done it. Would I had never been so overseen as to have engaged in such a business! What have I now got by my rashness? nothing but sorrow and grief of heart redounds to me.” And do these become the infinitely blessed God
6. Fear is added, from Deuteronomy 32:26, 27. “Fear,” saith the wise man, “is a betraying of those succours which reason offereth;” — nature’s avoidance of an impendent evil; its contrivance to flee and prevent what it abhors, being in a probability of coming upon it; a turbulent weakness. This God forbids in us, upon the account of his being our God, Isaiah 35:4; “Fear not, O worm Jacob,” etc, chap. 41:14. Everywhere he asserts fear to be unfit for them who depend on him and his help, who is able in a moment to dissipate, scatter, and reduce to nothing, all the causes of their fear. And if there ought to be no fear where such succor is ready at hand, sure there is none in Him who gives it. Doubtless, it were much better to exclude the providence of God out of the world than to assert him afraid properly and directly of future events. The schools say truly, “Quod res sunt futurae, a voluntate Dei est (effectiva vel permissiva).” How, then, can God be afraid of what he knows will, and purposeth shall, come to pass? He doth, he will do, things in some likeness to what we do for the prevention of what we are afraid of. He will not scatter his people, that their adversaries may not have advantage to trample over them. When we so act as to prevent any thing that, unless we did so act, would befall us, it is because we are afraid of the coming of that thing upon us: hence is the reason of that attribution unto God. That properly He should be afraid of what comes to pass who knows from eternity what will so do, who can with the breath of his mouth destroy all the objects of his dislike, who is infinitely wise, blessed, all-sufficient, and the sovereign disposer of the lives, breath, and ways of all the sons of men, is fit for Mr. B. and no man else to affirm. “All the nations are before him as the drop of the bucket, and the dust of the balance, as vanity, as nothing; he upholdeth them by the word of his power; in him all men live, and move, and have their being,” and can neither live, nor act, nor be without him; their life, and breath, and all their ways, are in his hands; he brings them to destruction, and says, “Return, ye children of men;” (Acts 15:18; 2 Samuel 22:16; Job 4:9; Psalm 18:15; Job Romans 1:25; Genesis 17:1; Romans 9:16-18, etc., 11:34-86; Isaiah 40:15; Hebrews 1:8; Psalm 33:9; Acts 17:24-28; Psalm 1. 8; Daniel 5:23; Psalm 90:8; Job 34:19.) and must he needs be properly afraid of what they will do to him and against him
7. Of God’s jealousy and hatred, mentioned from Psalm 5:4, 5, Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 32:21, there is the same reason. Such effects as these things in us produce shall they meet withal who provoke him by their blasphemies and abominations. Of love, mercy, and grace, the condition is something otherwise: principally they denote God’s essential goodness and kindness, which is eminent amongst his infinite perfections; and secondarily the effects thereof, in and through Jesus Christ, are denoted by these expressions. To manifest that neither they nor any thing else, as they properly intend any affections or passions of the mind, any commotions of will, are properly attributed to God, unto what hath been spoken already these ensuing considerations may be subjoined: —
(1.) Where no cause of stirring up affections or passions can have place or be admitted, there no affections are to be admitted; for to what end should we suppose that whereof there can be no use to eternity? If it be impossible any affection in God should be stirred up or acted, is it not impossible any such should be in him? The causes stirring up all affections are the access of some good desired, whence joy, hope, desire, etc., have their spring; or the approach of some evil to be avoided, which occasions fear, sorrow, anger, repentance, and the like. Now, if no good can be added to God, whence should joy and desire be stirred up in him? if no evil can befall him, in himself or any of his concernments, whence should he have fear, sorrow, or repentance? Our goodness extends not to him; he hath no need of us or our sacrifices, Psalm 16:2, 50:8-10; Job 35:6-8. “Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?” chap. 22:2, 3.
(2.) The apostle tells us that God is “blessed for ever,” Romans 9:5; “He is the blessed and only Potentate,” 1 Timothy 6:15; “God all- sufficient,” Genesis 17:1. That which is inconsistent with absolute blessedness and all-sufficiency is not to be ascribed to God; to do so casts him down from his excellency. But can he be blessed, is he all-sufficient, who is tossed up and down with hope, joy, fear, sorrow, repentance, anger, and the like? Doth not fear take off from absolute blessedness? Grant that God’s fear cloth not long abide, yet whilst it doth so, he is less blessed than he was before and than he is after his fear ceaseth. When he hopes, is he not short in happiness of that condition which he attains in the enjoyment of what he hoped for? and is he not lower when he is disappointed and falls short of his expectation? Did ever the heathens speak with more contempt of what they worshipped? Formerly the pride of some men heightened them to fancy themselves to be like God, without passions or affections, Psalm 50:21; being not able to abide in their attempt against their own sense and experience, it is now endeavored to make God like to us, in having such passions and affections. My aim is brevity, having many heads to speak unto. Those who have written on the attributes of God, — his self-sufficiency and blessedness, simplicity, immutability, etc., — are ready to tender farther satisfaction to them who shall desire it.
John Brown of Haddington, in his exposition of the Shorter Catechism writes:
“Q. If God be a spirit, how are eyes, ears, arms, feet, face, fingers, mouth, lips, &c., ascribed to him in scripture? —A. God, in condescension to our weakness, doth by these bodily members point out some property in himself, the work of which in some way resembleth the use of such members in man, Hos. xii.13, and xi. 8.”
German, Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig thinks through this effectively and in my opinion, is on to something when we consider the idea that God’s word is without sin and error; one may wonder, ‘If the second commandment is staunchly against idolatry, why would God place a stumbling block in His word for the people of God that would cause most to break the second commandment?’ This calls into question terms; are these descriptions really anthropomorphic?
Patrick Fairbairn writes:
Opening Scripture: A Hermeneutical Manual Introducing the Exegetical Study of the New Testament
We must, nevertheless, think of Him, and conduct ourselves towards Him, as if the human form of conceptions respecting Him conveyed the exact truth;—He will act toward impenitent sinners precisely as if He were moved to anger by their sins—His appearance for judgment against them will be as if He were encompassed with devouring fire—He will give effect to earnest and believing prayer, as if He could be changed by the entreaties of His people.
p.140 [speaking of the leading principles which can help us determine whether a text is literal or tropical]
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Part One, VI, B.
“The immutability of God is a necessary concomitant of His aseity. It is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. In virtue of this attribute He is exalted above all becoming, and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections. His knowledge and plans, His moral principles and volitions remain forever the same. Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. But in God, as the absolute Perfection, improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible. This immutability of God is clearly taught in such passages of Scripture as Ex. 3:14; Ps. 102:26-28; Isa. 41:4; 48:12; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 1:11,12; Jas. 1:17. At the same time there are many passages of Scripture which seem to ascribe change to God. Did not He who dwells in eternity pass on to the creation of the world, become incarnate in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit take up His abode in the Church? Is He not represented as revealing and hiding Himself, as coming and going, as repenting and changing His intention, and as dealing with man differently before and after conversion? Cf. Ex. 32:10-14; Jonah 3:10; Prov. 11:20; 12:22; Ps. 18:26,27. The objection implied here is based to a certain extent on misunderstanding. The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God. It is even customary in theology to speak of God as actus purus, a God who is always in action. The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises. The purpose to create was eternal with Him, and there was no change in Him when this purpose was realized by a single eternal act of His will. The incarnation brought no change in the Being or perfections of God, nor in His purpose, for it was His eternal good pleasure to send the Son of His love into the world. And if Scripture speaks of His repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent, we should remember that this is only an anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God. It is important to maintain the immutability of God over against the Pelagian and Arminian doctrine that God is subject to change, not indeed in His being, but in His knowledge and will, so that His decisions are to a great extent dependent on the actions of man; over against the pantheistic notion that God is an eternal becoming rather than an absolute Being, and that the unconscious Absolute is gradually developing into conscious personality in man; and over against the present tendency of some to speak of a finite, struggling, and gradually growing God.”
‘Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort like God, it must nowise be admitted that God is like creatures; because, as Dionysius says, (Div. Nom. ix): A mutual likeness may be found between things of the same order, but not between a cause and that which is caused. For, we say that a statue is like a man, but not conversely; so also a creature can be spoken of as in some sort like God; but not that God is like a creature. ‘ (ST, P1 Q4 A3 RO4)
From De Trinitate, ch. V
John of Damascus, Dogmatic Chapters, Book I, Chapter 11.
CONCERNING WHAT IS AFFIRMED ABOUT GOD AS THOUGH HE HAD BODY
“Since we find many terms used symbolically in the Scriptures concerning God which are more applicable to that which has body, we should recognize that it is quite impossible for us men clothed about with this dense covering of flesh to understand or speak of the divine and lofty and immaterial energies of the Godhead, except by the use of images and types and symbols derived from our own life. So then all the statements concerning God, that imply body, are symbols, but have a higher meaning: for the Deity is simple and formless. Hence by God’s eyes and eyelids and sight we are to understand His power of overseeing all things and His knowledge, that nothing can escape: for in the case of us this sense makes our knowledge more complete and more full of certainty. By God’s ears and hearing is meant His readiness to be propitiated and to receive our petitions: for it is this sense that renders us also kind to suppliants, inclining our ear to them more graciously. God’s mouth and speech are His means of indicating His will; for it is by the mouth and speech that we make clear the thoughts that are in the heart: God’s food and drink are our concurrence to His will, for we, too, satisfy the necessities of our natural appetite through the sense of taste. And God’s sense of smell is His appreciation of our thoughts of and good will towards Him, for it is through this sense that we appreciate sweet fragrance. And God’s countenance is the demonstration and manifestation of Himself through His works, for our manifestation is through the countenance. And God’s hands mean the effectual nature of His energy, for it is with our own hands that we accomplish our most useful and valuable work. And His right hand is His aid in prosperity, for it is the right hand that we also use when making anything of beautiful shape or of great value, or where much strength is required. His handling is His power of accurate discrimination and exaction, even in the minutest and most secret details, for those whom we have handled cannot conceal from us aught within themselves. His feet and walk are His advent and presence, either for the purpose of bringing succor to the needy, or vengeance against enemies, or to perform any other action, for it is by using our feet that we come to arrive at any place. His oath is the unchangeableness of His counsel, for it is by oath that we confirm our compacts with one another. His anger and fury are His hatred of and aversion to all wickedness, for we, too, hate that which is contrary to our mind and become enraged thereat. His forgetfulness and sleep and slumbering are His delay in taking vengeance on His enemies and the postponement of the accustomed help to His own. And to put it shortly, all the statements made about God that imply body have some hidden meaning and teach us what is above us by means of something familiar to ourselves, with the exception of any statement concerning the bodily sojourn of the God-Word. For He for our safety took upon Himself the whole nature of man, the thinking spirit, the body, and all the properties of human nature, even the natural and blameless passions.”
Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, III
p.555 [quoting from Vermigli, Commonplaces, I.xii.21 on the attribution of repentance and anger to God]
In his Fifth Theological Oration: On the Holy Spirit, Gregory of Nazianzus gives an elegant description of how anthropomorphisms function.