Recently I was preaching at a men’s retreat and one of the pastors, a guy with a great sense of humor, presented me with a clever, life-sized mockup of my book Feelings and Faith. The obvious difference? His was entitled Tickling and Truth, Cultivating Giddy Emotions in a Men’s Retreat Setting. I laughed hysterically. I get the joke. Feelings are not taken too seriously. After all, they are “just” feelings.
I frequently see and hear statements that go something like this, “Faith, not feelings, is what matters to God.” I understand where that comes from. Our feelings have led us astray so many times. They frequently are the arena for some pretty ugly sins. So the natural thing for us to do is to quarantine the emotions. If we can dismiss or minimize them, then we think we have made progress.
However, I would suggest that the Bible does not allow us to think about the emotions this way. First, a reality check: virtually everything we do is emotional. Matthew Elliott does not overstate the case when he says, “Everything we do, say, and think, is, in some sense, emotional. We enjoy it, we dislike it, or we just don’t care. We describe our experiences and ourselves by describing how we feel. Life without emotions would be in black and white” (Faithful Feelings, 13). We really cannot escape it. Second, God created us with emotions. I would argue that they are a part of the image of God in us. We can no more rid ourselves of our emotions than we can rid ourselves of thinking or choosing. Third, Jesus had emotions. He is not only God, He is perfect humanity and emotions were a part of that humanity. Just read the gospels for proof.
Now clearly our fallen natures include our emotions. This no doubt causes problems. But instead of putting the emotions in the penalty box, we need to learn what the Scriptures teach us about our emotions. We need to see that just as God desires us to grow in the areas of our will and mind, so he also wants us to grow in the realm of our emotions. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed it up well:
I regard it as a great part of my calling in the ministry to emphasize the priority of the mind and the intellect in connection with the faith; but though I maintain that, I am equally ready to assert that the feelings, the emotions, the sensibilities obviously are of very vital importance. We have been made in such a way that they play a dominant part of our make-up. Indeed, I suppose that one of the greatest problems in our life in this world, not only for Christians, but for all people, is the right handling of our feelings and emotions (Spiritual Depression, 109).
God’s Word gives us hope that we can learn to control our emotions through the Holy Spirit, put a strangle hold on toxic emotions and cultivate godly emotions. God created us as whole persons and the whole person, including the emotions, must grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We certainly live by faith, but the emotions are not irrelevant. What matters to God is both our faith and feelings.
Read a sample chapter of Feelings and Faith.