The Proper Role of Emotions in the Christian Life

Posted: May 3, 2014 in Anxiety & Depression, Christian Living, Doubt, Theology

pentecostal-church-service-smallWe live in a sensation driven culture. We are fascinated and driven by the experiences of our senses. Moral values and religious principles often take a back seat to what feels good or what I enjoy. Due to Enlightenment thinking, we have relegated non-physical claims, especially religious ones, to the realm of personal opinion. The only real facts are those that we can experience with our five senses. Such thinking has not been absent from the church, as Christian are likewise very “sense-driven.”

When Christians speak of God, their understanding of him, his interaction in the world, and their relationship to him, they usually speak in emotive language. “I felt God prompting me.” “I felt God in church this morning.” “I just felt a peace about it.” Additionally, Christians often judge other Christians by their emotions, such as their enthusiasm, tears, or other response to Christian activity. So the question must be asked: what role do emotions and feelings play in the life of the Christian. Is the Christian life best described by how we feel and our emotional state? Do we examine the status of our relationship with God based upon how we feel?

To answer these questions, we must first understand the role and function of emotions, especially as they relate to the rest of the person. As I explained in a previous post, a distinction must be made between body and soul. The soul is a collection of faculties, such as will, emotions, and conscience. The soul uses the body, and the feelings of the body are usually generated by happenings in the soul. For example, you may long to see your spouse, and the thought of meeting brings much excitement. Knowing you will soon see her gives rise to happiness and joy in the mind and is felt by the body. So in this sense your emotions are secondary to your perception of reality, for they rely on that perception. However, emotions are often a good indicator of your current situation, assuming your emotions are working correctly (as opposed to having some form of psychological disorder such as clinical depression) and your understanding of reality is correct.

Christian Application

Many Christians long for an experience with God. However, this is natural since the fullness of God’s glory is currently hidden from us, and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “we see through a mirror dimly.” We are made to know and enjoy God, but we are somewhat deprived of that pleasure in our sinful state. To help you think through the role of your emotions in the journey toward heaven, here are a few points for consideration.

  • Emotions are good. We should never be ashamed or feel guilty about our emotions. God made us as emotional creatures and we are to be emotional about meaningful situations. As in all things, we must submit our emotions to the truth and Lordship of Christ.
  • Don’t chase emotional highs. Christians often yearn for an experience with God, and they begin chasing “emotional highs” through different spiritual practices. However, this can be dangerous since emotional highs become our objective and not knowledge and enjoyment of God. A true experience with the Almighty will certainly give rise to strong emotions, but strong emotions are not an indicator of such an experience. Remember, the heart is deceitful above all things.
  • Emotions should follow truth. Truth should be our objective, not emotional highs. Put another way, our emotions should always be subject to the truth. We should be suspect of our emotions, ensuring they are the result of embracing the truth of God. Emotions void of truth are worthless, and especially dangerous if they give you a false sense of nearness to God.
  • Don’t let your emotions be your spiritual thermometer. Many Christians judge their spiritual health or their nearness to God by how they feel. “I don’t feel close to God; therefore I am not close to him.” “I don’t feel saved, so maybe I am not.” But remember, our emotions don’t always reflect reality. Truth comes first and is the real indicator of reality. Let the Bible be your guide to truth, not your emotions.

 

Jordan

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