It was the 1960’, and the television program, was called “Dragnet,” a police show with a gritty, no-nonsense officer named “Sergeant Friday”. When dealing with an anguished female victim, Sergeant Friday, looking slightly uncomfortable, would cut through the emotional haze, rapping out his terse catchphrase in a low, staccato voice: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
I grew up with a sort of Sergeant Friday Christianity. In the church we emphasized the facts of our faith but weren’t exactly sure what to do with our emotions, especially when they didn’t always match our beliefs. So, for example, one might vigorously assert that God was good while living in unhappy disappointment, or emphasize the importance of forgiveness while trapped in bitterness. Or we might simply settle for a sort of ho-hum spirituality, committed to proper doctrine and practice, but lacking much passion.
Now, on the one hand, I do believe that our faith is founded on facts and that these facts, not our emotions, should have the last word on spiritual issues. God is my Rock and Jesus is my Savior regardless of how I feel on a Monday morning. The adults in my spiritual house are my beliefs, not my emotions. This spiritual balance is essential, otherwise our faith becomes brittle and unstable. Our Lord Jesus never would have gone to the cross if He’d let his extreme emotional pain in the Garden of Gethsemane make the decision.
On the other hand, however, our emotions do matter spiritually. One of the goals of mature spirituality is for our emotions to resonate more consistently with our beliefs. We’re God’s children, surely that’s cause for all sorts of positive emotions like joy, peace, and holy desire. Negative emotions can also be spiritually appropriate and useful – such as sadness over loss and anger over the destruction brought by sin. The better our emotions are integrated with God’s truth the stronger our spiritual state will be. Let’s explore why that’s true.
Why are our emotions spiritually important?
1. Our emotions matter spiritually because they’re part of who God made us to be
God Himself feels emotions (Is. 57:17, Gen. 6:6, Zeph. 3:17) and we’ve been made in His image. The Bible often speaks of emotions. Joy is mentioned 250 times, sorrow 44 times, and anger 279 times. As we’ll see, they serve a useful function.
2. Our emotions matter spiritually because they’re powerful motivators or inhibitors
Although many of us would like to think that we, like Sergeant Friday, are driven by pure logic, it’s not true. Our emotions, both positive and negative have a profound effect on the decisions we make and on our spiritual growth. A Christian lacking emotion about their faith is usually a bored, unmotivated believer at best and a carnal hypocrite at worst. That’s why Paul says, in Romans 12:11,12: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction. . .” On the negative side, in verse 9 he tells us to “hate what is evil.”
3. Our emotions matter spiritually because they often reveal our inner attitudes and motives
I mention this one cautiously because it’s easy to misjudge what our emotions say about our heart. Some people, for example, suffer from depression or anxiety because of chemistry imbalances in the brain or the deep impact of life traumas and not simply because their commitment to God is somehow deficient. Nevertheless, of our emotions often give us clues as to our inner spiritual condition, either positive or negative, and that’s useful to know.
4. Our emotions matter spiritually because they add impact to our ministry to others
Christian speaker Josh McDowell, was antagonistic to Christianity as a college student. What finally caught his attention was the happiness of a group of Christian students and professors. This motivated him to research the facts of Christianity and he later became a believer. When our beliefs are supported by emotions like love, joy, peace and enthusiasm, our ability to attract and motivate others is significantly increased.
So our long-term desire is for our emotions to resonate with our Christian beliefs. There are some challenges to doing this. Let me share them with you.
Why is the relationship of our faith to our emotions sometimes tricky?
· The relationship of our faith to our emotions is tricky because our emotions are the least controllable aspect of our relationship with God
Are your emotions as fickle as mine? I can be singing a beautiful hymn in church and say, “Okay, let’s have a shot of joy here” and my emotions say, “Sorry, Bub, joy’s on vacation.” Or I might say, ‘I’m not getting angry over this silly problem” and anger says, “Why, yes I think you are.”
While we can control our emotions to some extent, it’s often hard to start them or to stop them. This is because they spring from both spiritual and non-spiritual sources (like our bodies) and also because both often function at an unconscious level. We’re not always even sure why we feel the way we do at the moment.
· The relationship of our faith to our emotions is also tricky because our emotions can flow out of good or bad, helpful or unhelpful sources
Our emotions, in themselves are neutral – just the body’s natural response to life’s stimuli. What prompts those emotions, however, isn’t always neutral. Happiness isn’t always a sign that I’m in a good place spiritually. Proverbs 10:23, for instance, tells us that: “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct. . .” On the flip side, sadness doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m in a bad place spiritually. Isaiah 53:3, tells us of Jesus:“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” In fact, surprisingly, a lack of appropriate anger or righteous indignation is sometimes a problem in Scripture. Both Paul (1 Cor. 5) and Jesus (Rev. 2,3) criticized churches for being too tolerant; too laid back about sin in their midst.
So the relationship of faith and feeling can be complicated. One day, inHeaven, the two will be perfectly coordinated. Here on earth they’re often out of sync with each other. Nevertheless, my purpose in this discussion is to get you thinking about how your head and your heart interact when it comes to your walk with Christ. If your faith lacks passion or seldom brings joy or peace, something is missing. If your love for Christ or for others lacks warmth or affection, something is missing. Our emotions are meant to be an important partner in our walk with Christ. Christianity is not created to be just an intellectual or moral exercise. There are beautiful meadows of spiritual maturity to be walked in which require both head and heart. Granted, a lot of this will be experienced only in Heaven. But let’s at least get started here. How can we open the door for our emotions to reinforce our spiritual beliefs? Tune in next time for some suggestions.