It is a recurring conversation in the conservative Church, deliberating over what role our “feelings” are to have as we are conformed to the image of Christ Jesus. It is a confusing topic, especially since we have taken Jeremiah 17:9 and have formed a theology around it.
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can know it?” Earlier versions of Scripture use the word “wicked” instead of “sick.” But, the Hebrew word here, anash, is primarily used to mean sick, desperate, and incurable.
So, our self-imposed theology states that we cannot trust our feelings because they are wicked, or in this case, desperately sick; they are untrustworthy. As a result, we have learned to suppress, in the name of holiness and maturity, our emotions. We have taught ourselves to “not feel,” if that is even possible, so we can let logic dictate our existence. And, as reinforcement of our decision, we can always name a person who is driven by their whims and lacks the sure-footedness that a logical person, like you and I, possess.
The flaw in our logic, however, is that we are starting from an errant position. If our logic launches from a platform that is slightly askew, then the path of our logic will also be slightly off-target, or worse yet, substantially off-target.
When we feel emotion, even when we claim we don’t, it is a measure of what is occurring within our core. Happiness, anger, depression, frustration, calm, etc, are the indicators of our current condition. THESE ARE NOT THE PROBLEM!
Contrast what we feel, now, with what we feel “like.” “I feel like going to Church, or, I don’t feel like going to Church. I feel like looking at…or, I don’t feel like looking. You see where I am going with this. This is being driven by our whims, and it is different from feeling emotion. Let’s look at an example:
You have had a hard day at work. It is almost time to head home. You are frustrated over the events of the day.This is how you feel: Frustrated. There is no problem here. In fact, if you are aware of God’s prompting, you may even know how to take that emotion, that frustration, to Him, and tell Him all about it. He wants to connect with you, He wants to hear you be authentic with Him. Remember Cain? “Cain, why are you angry?” God asked. He knows how we feel and He wants to meet with us in it.
However, let’s say that you don’t go to the Father. Instead, you think about what would alleviate the emotion of frustration. What whim could you pursue that would replace the frustration with something that feels better? Alcohol? Pornography? Spending money? Eating? Working out? Achieving? There are so many ways we can try to replace emotion (authenticity), with the pursuit of whims (falsehood).
This, my friends, is what is desperately sick about our flesh. It is not what we feel that is the problem, it is our responseto it that can lead us into a life of folly. King Solomon himself experienced all of these whims, and he makes no pretenses about it.
“I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’ I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself…I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces…and the pleasures of men-many concubines…ALL THAT MY EYES DESIRED I DID NOT REFUSE THEM. I DID NOT WITHHOLD MY HEART FROM ANY PLEASURE, FOR MY HEART WAS PLEASED BECAUSE OF ALL MY LABOR AND THIS WAS MY REWARD FOR ALL MY LABOR. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”
If you want an authentic life, an empowered life, it begins with honesty. Not just intellectual honesty, but emotional honesty with ourselves and with God. Why? Because to live counter to our emotions is to miss out on intimacy with God-to miss out on His invitations to us THROUGH our emotions, just like He did throughout Scripture.
Here is some homework: look up the following examples from Scripture where God engaged with people through their emotions, and then decide for yourself whether they matter to Him, and what importance God places on our emotional honesty with Him.
Cain-Anger (Gen 4:6)
Abraham-Doubt (Gen 17:17)
Moses-Reluctance (Ex 4:1)
Jonah-Anger (Jonah 4:9)
Job-Bitterness (all of Job)
David-Terror (Psalm 55:4,5)
Elijah-Fear (1 Kings 19:8-11)
Zacharias-Fear (Luke 1:12,13)
Zacharias-Joy (Luke 1:13,-15)
Here are some additional passages where God displays emotion:
Joy (Zeph 3:17)
Anger (Num 11:1)
Jealousy (James 4:5)
Compassion (Ex 34:6)
Sorrow (John 11:32-38)