The Emotional Mandate
I’ve been thinking about the importance of emotions in the Cristian life, and especially in worship. Some Christians have emphasized emotional experience to the point that almost no attention is given to right doctrine or right practice. Others, reacting against that trend, are suspicious of or embarrassed by any display of emotion in worship. However, God didn’t just give us heads and hands. He also gave us hearts, and He cares what goes on in our hearts!
Emotions matter, because God has emotions. The God of the Bible speaks of His own delight, wrath, love, or even sorrow and remorse. Of course, God’s emotions are not exactly like ours. They never cloud His unfailing judgment. On the contrary, God’s emotions are always in perfect harmony with His wisdom and His righteousness. Whatever God feels, it is both right and rational for Him to feel it. As His image-bearers, our emotions were designed to work the same way. Emotions are not irrational or morally neutral. There is a right and rational way to feel.
We see this play out in the life of Christ. Christ lived an emotionally charged life. He wept over Lazarus, He was angry with the money changers in the temple, and He was greatly distressed in Gethsemane. He gave His life for His people--not out of some stoic sense of duty, but out of love. Jesus is the perfect divine image-bearer, and Jesus is emotional.
Furthermore, the Bible commands us to experience certain emotions! The greatest commandment is to love God, and the second command is to love your neighbor. Love might be more than an emotion, but it does include emotion. Even in the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy contains at least eight commands to “rejoice.” In the New Testament, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4) We are told to rejoice always, and even to rejoice in suffering. But we are also commanded to weep with those who weep. And as many have pointed out, the most frequently repeated command in the Bible is, “do not fear.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “that’s all well and good, but I can’t control what I feel!” Maybe that’s why we don’t tend to focus on emotions. We seem to be in control of what we think and what we do--we can handle that under our own power, but when it comes to changing our emotions, we’re powerless.
Exactly. We’re powerless to change ourselves. We are totally dependent on God’s grace to change our emotions. We need the Holy Spirit, we need the Word of God, we need prayer, we need daily meditation on the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And if we think we’re any less dependent on God for changing our thinking or behavior, we’re deceiving ourselves!)
As we continue to seek and pray for revitalization, let’s pray that God would revitalize not just the way we think about our church or the way we do things around here, but the way we feel.