On Being Emotional

Whoa! Who even blogs here? Who even keeps track of what is happening on this website? Is this the internet wasteland? Is this where blogs go to die? Like, is any of this even real?

So it seems that I’ve gone quite a bit of time without blogging anything. I’ve been very busy lately transitioning to tons of different new opportunities. Since my last post, I’ve graduated college, worked as a youth pastor over the summer, and then ended up in Wilmore, KY at Asbury Theological Seminary to study theology. In the few short months that I’ve been at this awesome seminary, I’ve received so much grace, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit almost everywhere, and have been challenged to grow in holiness. I look forward to how God will continue to stretch me and get me out of my tiny bubble.

In all this, I’ve decided to start blogging again.

Too Short for the Emotional Roller Coaster

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. – Deut 6:5

There exists a subtle dualism in our Christian culture today – this divide in our faith between intellect and emotion, our mind and our spirit. When we disciple others in the faith, we focus on catechesis, regurgitation of doctrinal points, a five step program to experiencing the grace of God, etc. We preach conversion as the recitation of the sinner’s prayer. We emphasize intellectual growth as growing in discipleship. Sure, a Christian should pray and worship, but this too must follow a specific step by step guide. Rational faith is seen as highest priority with emotional faith trailing far behind.

We treat emotions as if they’re unholy in the church today. “It’s not right to lament because God has been so good to you” or “Jesus said don’t be anxious” or “Do not be angry; forgive!” We’re fine when people express pain, but we really just want them to get over it already. After all, pain may last through the night but joy comes in the morning…that’s literal, right? What’s the purpose of Christianity anyway? Doesn’t God exist to make us emotionally happy? Would God really want His children to be upset?

So suppress it. Plaster a smile on your face and keep reading theology to try to overcome this emotion with cold hard doctrinal facts.

The rest of ourselves are not content to just be left behind though. God created an integrated person – mind, body and soul. Just because we ignore these aspects about our personhood doesn’t mean that they cease to have meaning. If we are not caring well for our bodies, they negatively respond. William Kraft, a professor of psychology at Carlow University, writes  “For instance, a person who is a thinkaholic — one who operates cerebrally and sees truth only as emanating from the rational mind, may periodically crave to be whole and embodied. This person may engage in sex as a means of becoming whole and embodied.”

The inconvenient bursts of eros that we feel for another, the desire to gratify ourselves sexually and the strong urge to feel physically loved are all responses from our body to remind us that it is indeed there. While sexual desire is not inherently wrong and is something to be celebrated in the proper circumstances, too often this desire manifests itself in sexual sin.  With Christian evangelicalism focusing so much on the head and not on the heart and body, is it a surprise that 70% of Christian men admit to struggling with pornography in their daily lives and 1 of 2 Christian men and 1 of 5 Christian women admit to an addiction to pornography?

Sexual sin isn’t solely the problem either. Christians are just as likely to suffer from disordered eating or drunkenness. While many might put on a facade of temperance, we exercise little self-control in private. Of course, we may go for periods of time without acknowledging or honoring our bodies while claiming that we have control, but eventually they catch up to us (often in binge indulgences).

For the those of us who focus so much on knowing God intellectually, doubt becomes our stumbling block. We can have all the theological knowledge in the world, but if we are not encountering God in a spiritual and emotional way, doubt creeps in to remind us that doctrinal facts are not enough.

Too often we end up chastising, violently crucifying, white-knuckling, and mortifying these parts about ourselves which often just makes them worse. So what’s a Christian to do? Are we to just suffer silently warring against our passions of the flesh and leading ascetic lives until Judgement day?

The Model of Christ

We have made unclean what God has made clean. We have deemed emotions not from God when God created and called them good!

Looking to the life of Jesus we see how He integrates emotion into his ministry. Jesus shows righteous anger standing up for injustice in the temple. He was grieved and distressed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. He also wept for his friend Lazarus. Jesus showed great self-control by remaining calm in the midst of a storm and refusing to sinfully give into anger as Peter did when Jesus was arrested. Jesus was even physically affectionate with his followers.

Jesus does teach a lot and is not so emotional that others can manipulate him. However, Jesus does openly express emotion frequently in his ministry. Jesus does not represent a cold calculating theologian who only exists to throw doctrine at His children, but He is a whole person who truly models an integration of emotion with rationalism. Jesus’ body, mind and spirit are all working together in harmony.

What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength? If we truly believe that the God who redeems is the God who creates, then God surely cares just as much about our bodies and our minds as He does our souls. If we believe in a bodily resurrection, there must be something to redeem about our body. If God expects us to love Him with all our heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5), God expects us to interact with Him outside our textbooks and systematic theology and to offer up our whole selves as sacrifices to Him.

So does this mean that we must be overwhelmed with emotion? No. That’s not a Biblical picture either. We must not let our emotions lead us astray from God. We should balance our emotions with doctrine and theology because our emotions will lead us astray. However, we shouldn’t be ashamed of them either nor should we hide them behind one emotion – happiness. We must embrace all of our emotions acknowledging that they are indeed gifts from the Lord.

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