The Place of Emotions
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV)
Our emotions are a gift of God. We are to govern our emotions as good stewards (managers) for the glory of God and the good of our fellow man. But regrettably, due to the sin nature we inherit from Adam, our emotions (like every other part of us) have been severely impacted by our fallen condition. Sin takes even the good gifts of God — like our emotions — and twists, perverts and distorts them into a chaotic and often poisonous brew. This is why in our fallen condition, and apart from Christ’s redeeming work, we cannot trust our emotions.
Why do I bring up this whole matter of emotions? Well, in my previous post I quoted extensively from Lutheran Pastor Jonathan Fisk’s book Broken in which he criticizes the false spirituality of “Mysticism.” Fisk defines mysticism as, at bottom, trying to find God in our emotions, and thus as the idolatrous worship of our emotions. I fear that some readers may have gotten the wrong impression from that post that I am against emotions. I want to make it abundantly clear that I am all for emotions as good gifts of God and as God originally intended for our emotional life to function. There is a significant place for emotions in the Christian life and in Divine worship. But I remain opposed to the warped and fallen misuse of emotions which twists and distorts God-given emotions into the false spirituality of Mysticism.
Are Orthodox Presbyterian Christians against emotions in the worship of God? I certainly hope not! After all, Holy Scripture (which we confess to be God’s infallible Word) calls upon us to rejoice in the Lord, to worship God with our entire being (including our emotions), to mourn and lament over our sins, and to find comfort and a peace which passes all understanding in the gospel promises of forgiveness and grace in Christ. Worship which does not engage mind, heart, and (yes, even) emotions, is a blasphemous, formalistic, “going-through-the-motions” type of religious externalism, not the “Spirit and truth” worship Christ summons us to. But it is one thing to recognize a legitimate place for emotions in our worship and in our Christian lives. It is another thing to imagine that we find God (or “feel” God) in the realm of our emotions.
Knowing that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sins and has fully and freely forgiven me is a source of great joy, a joy “inexpressible and full of glory” (to quote from Scripture). Hearing Him in His Word and “tasting” His gracious Word of forgiveness in the Supper compels me to rejoice in Him in the assembly of His saints at church, and deeply impacts my own emotional life for good. At the same time I have given up on the Mystical path of trying to find God in the ever-changing, subjective, often unreliable chaos of my own emotional state. Instead, I thank God that He speaks clearly to us in the Word, and He confirms that Word of grace to us in the Sacraments. The amazing thing is that He does this no matter how we may happen to feel. How is this possible? Because the gospel is true – objectively, absolutely, unchangeably true – no matter what our emotional state might happen to be. If we believe it, we will receive it’s benefits, no matter how we feel.
Emotions certainly have their place, and the gospel “redeems” our emotions by stabilizing them and centering them upon the objective, outside-of-us Person and work of the historical Jesus Christ. But the objective gospel Word and Sacraments are the only things that can bring spiritual stability and peace to the conscience and the emotions in a fallen world of emotional chaos. How do they do this? By directing our faith and our affections to the Lord Jesus, Messiah and Son of God Incarnate, the One who was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification! “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3, KJV) Receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation (John 1:12-13) as He is offered to you in the gospel, and you too will know that peace which passes all understanding and that joy inexpressible and full of glory. But understand that this peace and joy are the fruits and results of believing in Christ as He comes to you in the Gospel Word and Sacraments. You find Christ in the Word, not in your emotions; though the Word will certainly impact your emotions. Emotions have their place, but when it comes to finding God (or, to be more precise, God finding us), the Word of God has central, exclusive place. Believe the Word, for God cannot lie; and you will find rest for your soul.