We continue our look at biblical figures of speech involving comparison. In our previous post, we considered anthropomorphism, which is the attributing of human characteristics to plants, animals, non-human beings, natural phenomena, objects, or God. Today we consider the figure known as anthropopathism.
Anthropopathism: \ ˌan-thrə-pō-ˈpa-ˌthi-zəm \ or \ ˌan-thrə-ˈpä-pə-ˌthi-zəm \
Anthropopathism is the attributing of human emotions or passions to non-human beings, natural phenomena, objects, or God. It belongs to the sub-group of figures involving resemblance. Here, too, the things compared are of unlike nature, but the thing to which the comparison is made is always an aspect of human feeling or emotion. Anthropopathism is a specific type of personification.
Like anthropomorphisms, anthropopathisms would seem to be necessary in expressing truths about God, who, by very nature, cannot be fully known or described by finite creatures in this life. But because human beings are made in God’s image, certain human emotions are able to convey accurate information about the God who is otherwise indescribable.
Indeed, those with a high view of Scripture might be reluctant to call such references “figures of speech” at all. One could argue that God’s love, anger, delight, jealousy, pity, etc., are literal realities—not exactly like their human correspondents, but close enough to be regarded as both accurate and meaningful. The reason that anthropomorphisms are rightly considered figures of speech while anthropopathisms may not be is because God is portrayed in Scripture as personal but not corporeal (i.e., he is spirit). As such, his “right arm of power” may be regarded as figurative while his “unfailing love” may be considered actual.
• “My computer was irritated with me after I spilled coffee on it.”
• “The sky expressed its anger toward the city with lightning, storm clouds, and thunder.”
• “Ashamed of her latest binge, my puppy led me to empty candy wrappers.”
• “The stone collects dust; the mountain is implacable.” (Jason Giannetti)
• “The sun, the great sun, in so far as he is the old sun of a superseded cosmic day, is hateful and malevolent to the new-born, tender thing I am.” (D. H. Lawrence)
• “Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses.” (Exod 4:14a)
• “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut 4:24)
• “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” (1 Kgs 3:10)
• “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Ps 103:8)
• “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Ps 147:11)
• “When the Lord heard them, he was very angry . . . .” (Ps 78:21a)
• “Then the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people.” (Joel 2:18)
• “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (Eph 4:30a)
• The definition at Merriam-Webster.com for anthropopathism.
• An audio pronunciation guide for the word anthropopathism.
• An alternate audio pronunciation guide for the word anthropopathism.