Emotions get a bad rap. I remember my dad saying things like “you can’t trust your emotions.” Now, I agree that you can’t trust fallen emotions, but you can’t trust fallen reason or the fallen will either.
But, Christ redeems us whole, not just reason, not just will, but emotions too.
And, Christ is Lord of it all. That means he commands us to think and believe, to will and to act, and to feel and emote.
I didn’t realize this was controversial till I stepped in it [the proverbial ‘it’] last week. Somewhere along the line, we drew a false distinction between joy and happiness, between love as an act and love as an emotion. I believe these are absolutely false distinctions.
Let me make a case briefly, using love as my example. No Christian can seriously question that we are called to love – to love God, to love neighbor, even to love our enemies. Sometimes this gets interpreted to mean that we ought to do loving things for the other, after all, love must be expressed in practical, real ways. It’s not just a warm fuzzy emotion.
With this, I can partially agree. Love isn’t just an emotion. It’s more, but it’s not less. Love must include affection.
Think about worship for a moment. What would worship be like without genuine feeling, without affection for the one we worship? Is God content to have us do loving things for him, like serve him out of duty, obey him, etc? No! We must feel something for God. We must feel love and serve and obey. I think 1 Corinthians 13 makes this pretty clear.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (ESV)
Paul speaks of loving things – worship in tongues of men and angels, giving to the poor, surrendering to martyrdom. But if these aren’t done in love, read ‘with genuine affection/feeling’, they are nothing!
This is true of our earthly relationships too. If my wife does loving things for me – buys me Valentine’s Day candy, cooks dinner, keeps my clothes clean and ironed, even shows all kinds of physical affection – but feels nothing for me, is she a loving wife? No! Emotions are important.
The same is true of joy and happiness. We’ve divided the two concepts when no such division is sustainable biblically (and doesn’t show up in church writings until very recently). Too often we’ve contended that you can be joyful, but not happy – in other words, joy isn’t an emotion. But it is! The Bible uses words that get translated ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’ as synonyms. True, biblical joy/happiness is deep and well rooted because it’s grounded in the gospel and in God, but it’s still an emotion. And it’s true that it’s possible to be joyful/happy and grieve and be sorrowful and mourn. They aren’t mutually exclusive but that doesn’t mean joy isn’t an emotion. Joy is an emotion, call it happiness if you will, and it should touch our faces sometimes (in smiles). You can’t be glumly joyful!
So, I don’t always feel happy or feel love. I”ll admit it (and it comes as no surprise to those who know me). Is that ok? My answer is no. It’s not. Something is wrong in my faith and obedience and I should repent, seek forgiveness. If I don’t feel love for my wife, I should still show love, but pray fervently that God would fix my emotions and allow me to also feel love. If I’m not happy, I ought to ask God to make me happy – not the kind that depends on my circumstances or comfort, but deeply, biblically happy in Him!
Christ commands. He is Lord. The wind and the waves obey…so should my heart!