Can God be Happy or Sad?

Posted by: Stephen Miller - Oakwood Friends School, Marist College
Designed for: College/University, High School
Topics Covered: Philosophy of Religion, Nature of God, Theology
Estimated Time Necessary: 60 minutes
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
[addtoany]

Learning Objectives

  • Nature of God - This lesson discusses questions of the nature of God and what different suggestions about God's happiness suggest about logical consistency.

Tool Text

One of the central questions in Theology involves the nature of God.  While religious studies employs different standards of proof that other disciplines in philosophy, one longstanding method has involved looking for logical consistency among different traits proposed.  In this lesson, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski calls for us to think about the question of God’s Happiness.  In answering this question, it requires that we both think about the nature of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omni-benevolent entity and to think about the notion of Happiness.

The students should start by answering and sharing their answers to the first two discussion questions first.  After this, they should read the Leszek Kołakowski article http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2012/12/20/is-god-happy/.  The teacher should also be prepared to talk about how happiness is measured in recent empirical studies.  A useful guide to this is found at http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/hap_quer/introtext_measures3.pdf.

After reading the article, the students should answer the remaining discussion questions below.

Can God be Happy or Sad?

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. Write a definition of happiness. What would you look for to tell if someone is happy? How could this be empirically verified?
  2. What makes people happy? Does this term only refer to humans? Why/ why not?
  3. Explain the article "Is God Happy?" by Leszek Kołakowski. What does he suggest in regards to an answer to this question? Why would there potentially be different answers for different gods?
  4. What would it mean for God to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omni-benevolent? How would immutability be related to this? If God is immutable, does that rule out happiness?
  5. One debate in theology involves Personalism versus non-Personalism. Can a word like happiness be used to describe a being with such different psychology?
  6. Apply your definitions of happiness. Can God be happy?
  7. How would measuring happiness be different for God and for humans? What does your answer suggest about the nature of happiness?
  8. Do you agree with Kołakowski? Why/ why not? What are the implications of either answer for religious belief?

Resources for Further Study