Introduction: You’re reading Part 1 in a blog mini-series on Emotional Intelligence. I’ve developed this series from material in my book Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.
Emotions: God’s Idea
In many Christian circles, emotions are viewed as the “black sheep” of the image bearing family. In other words, we accept that God created us with a soul to relate, with a mind to think, and with a will to choose. But somehow we act as if emotions were not God’s idea.
We often see emotions more as a cursing than a blessing. “More harm than good.” “Suppress them.” “Ignore them.” “Don’t have them.” If emotions are so distressing, then why did God create us with feelings?
Somehow we’ve forgotten that when God paused to ponder His image bearers, he pointed out that they, emotions included, were “very good.”
Feelings were God’s idea. Not only did He give them to us; He experiences them Himself. God is an emotional being. Read that again. Don’t dodge it. God is an emotional being. God the Father gets angry. God the Son weeps. God the Spirit grieves. The Trinity emotes.
If we are to live godly lives—Christ-like lives—then we need God’s perspective on emotions. We need a biblical theology on emotionality. Consider the present blog mini-series to be our Emotional Primer 101—the ABCs of Emotions.
Emotions: Windows to the Soul
It’s so typical that it has become trite, “How do you feel about that?” We even mock it, “I feel your pain.” We are awash in an emotionally shallow society. Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Or do we realize Satan’s counterfeit and choose Christ’s real deal, the genuine article?
The real deal is imago Dei emotionality. The real deal is coram Deo emotionality. Like our Creator, we are emotional beings who experience deeply (imago Dei emotionality) and all of our feelings are in-relationship-to-God feelings (coram Deo emotionality).
Emotions are windows to the soul. All emotions, positive or painful, open doors to the nature of reality. Emotions link our inner and outer world. But we want to escape the reality of both. The Scriptures teach that the suppression of feelings is a refusal to face the sorrow of life and our hunger for heaven. It is not a mark of maturity. Our refusal to embrace our feelings is an attempt to deal with a God who does not relieve our pain.
Our emotions reveal our deepest questions about God. They vocalize the inner working of our souls. Listen to and ponder your emotions in order to discern what your heart is doing with God and others. They are a voice that can tell us how we are dealing with a fallen, hurtful world. Emotions force open the stuck window of our soul, compelling us to face how we are facing life.
Emotions: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Emotions are God-given. They are not satanic. Adam had them before the Fall. God has them. Christ has them. In and of themselves, they are not sinful. They are beneficial, and yes, even beautiful.
The Psalmist understood this. In the classic passage describing God’s utmost care in creating us, Psalm 139, emotionality is the one aspect of our inner personality specifically referenced. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, emphasis added).
“Inmost being” is kidneys. In Psalm 73:21 and Proverbs 23:16 the kidneys are the place of sorrow and rejoicing, respectively. In Old Testament thinking, the kidneys prompt or urge to action by aroused emotions. Hans Wolff notes that the Semitic languages used terms for kidneys, reins, stomach, bowels, and womb to describe the feeling states (Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, pp. 62-63).
As we literally experience and feel an emotion in our physical being, so we feel an emotion in our psychological being. That’s why we say things like, “I have butterflies in my stomach.” God created your inmost being, your kidneys, your emotions. Your emotions are fearfully and wonderfully made—by God.
The Rest of the Story
Knowing that God designed us with emotions is the beginning of the story. The rest of the story teaches us what emotions are. Return for Part 2, Why We Feel What We Feel, as we define emotions and develop a basic formula for understanding emotions.
Join the Conversation
Why do you think Christians fear feelings? How does it change your thoughts about your feelings when you realize that emotions were God’s idea?
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Wow! A very timely mini-series, as my wife (an ex-Pentecostal) is having to deal with being brought up in a church environment where everything was emotion. I believe that’s one of the reasons non-Charismatic churches eschew emotions, over-compensating towards the stoic instead. It’s just too chaotic for many people to stomach. Emotions are hard to deal with. They embarrass, they shut down the analytical part of the human male brain, and they tend to result in being “out of control.” Emotions can be deep-seated psychological issues, or they can be chemical imbalances. (Well, OK, they’re usually a combo package.) Realizing they are God’s idea makes it all the more important to me to discover the balance in there.
I agree wholeheartedly that emotions were given by God. We need to also understand that emotions are often the results of messed up, sinful if you like, thinking. If we “think” that others must meet our needs we will be angry, depressed or panicky when they don’t. If we believe that our worth is tied up in what someone thinks of us we will feel similar emotions when they don’t see us as all we’d hoped. Anyhow, a timely and helpful article Bob. Write on. Gary Sinclair http://safeathomeblog.blogspot.com
Gary, I agree 100% that our emotions can go “bad.” And you are also correct that our emotions are tied, in part, to our thinking about the source of life. Additionally, our thinking, choosing, and relating can also all be misdirected away from a Christ-centered focus. I’ll be posting parts 5-7 this week. Bob
Thanks for the response, Bob. Enjoy your comments that are part of the GriefShare videos as well. Gary Sinclair