Mother and Child in Basler Münster

The Experience of God

Jim West posted this response to an AP tweet:

From the twitter-

@AP: Rick Warren gives 1st sermon since son’s suicide, saying “God knows what it’s like to lose a son”: -SS

But does he? Does God, in infinite knowledge, experience reality just like we do? Such a god seems to be crushed down to little more than a man. Such a god is made in the image of man.

The sentiment of the statement is understandable but its truthfulness, its accuracy, needs to be called into question.

God the Father is not man, no matter how much we might wish to limit him to such a status.

The AP story is quite short and provides little substance of Warren’s sermon. ( has more detail and from what I read there, it seems a reasonable and appropriate sermon. His wife Kay also spoke.) Jim’s reply is more interesting than the story and brings up an interesting question. Jim acknowledges that God has “infinite knowledge” but then suggests that God does not experience “reality just like we do.” A quibble, but if his knowledge (including knowledge of experience and emotion) is “infinite” then surely it encompasses our experiences, it simply isn’t bound to the our finite experience.

Mother and Child in Basler Münster
Mother and Child in Basler Münster

But I am actually not going to argue that point. Rather I want to explore this question of what we can say about what God experiences. We have to begin by saying simply, “we don’t know.” And we can’t. We are not God and assuming his experience is more full, more complete than our own, we cannot know his experience and as such do not have the language, the frame of reference to communicate what God experiences.

God, in orthodox Christianity, is of course not simply or only Father, but he is also the Son and the Holy Spirit. To try and separate and distinguish neatly between the persons of the godhead inevitably leads to heresy. Jesus became man and experienced life as we did. He suffered hunger, sorrow, loss, joy, the full range of emotions that we do. How, how could he do that and still be fully divine? I don’t know, it is a mystery in the truest sense. Nevertheless, this is what the Gospels state. In this sense then I think we can say that God, in his fullness, has experienced the kind of loss and sorrow that we know. Jesus wept, after all.

Even before he sent his son, however, God grieves over his people. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, are replete with descriptions of God’s sorrow at seeing his people walk away from him, often just when he has offered them some particular grace. (Example? Start in Genesis 2 and work from there. Exodus and Leviticus have some good examples. Jeremiah, the Psalms…you get the idea.) Is this anthropopathism, depicting God with human emotions, a clear depiction of what God “feels”? I don’t know and I don’t believe we can really know that. See my first point. But what it does tells us is that God is invested in us. He cares about whether we love and obey him. He cares about our well-being and that concern and care, in the Bible, is often expressed in emotional terms.

Does God know what it is like to lose a son? Yes, I believe he does, not just because he sent his son to suffer and die (talk about parent guilt, I don’t pretend to understand that either), but because we are all, from Adam and Eve to the billions today, his children and again and again we effectively and sometimes literally commit suicide. God “feels” the loss of every one.

Finally, of course I am a father who has lost his son. You might think that would give me some privileged or unique perspective on Warren’s suffering or God’s offering of his son. It doesn’t. One of the things we learned very quickly (aside from the fact that I am not God) is that everyone’s grief is unique. Our son did not have a long lingering illness, mental or otherwise. We did not know what was about to happen, but it wasn’t some sort of accident like Jerry Sittser or Nicholas Wolterstorff.

It doesn’t matter how your child is taken from you, it is a tremendous and grievous loss. What matters, as so many including E have said, is how we respond to that loss. We certainly read certain passages of Scripture differently now than we did before. I do take comfort in knowing that God does not desire or enjoy our suffering. Quite the opposite he wants to remove all mourning and grief from us, so much so that he gave up his son for us. How did that make him feel? I don’t know, but I bet it wasn’t good.

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