In a series of recent messages on spiritual formation, I developed the thesis that our feelings must be transformed. Feelings are not neutral; they can be sinful or godly, bad or good, and they can lead us toward sin or righteousness. If we are serious about spiritual formation, we must seek the ongoing transformation of our feelings.
An astute listener, however, has countered my thesis. He writes: “Emotions, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. They are amoral… emotions are not sinful. The manner in which we deal with them and express them is what might or might not be sinful.” His proof texts are Ephesians 4:26 (Be angry, yet do not sin) and Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, where Jesus was obviously angry.
I appreciate when a wise brother is willing to disagree with me and to say so. And it seems that this matter is worth some debate and dialogue. That’s what the blog is for, after all!
My take on things: I agree with my friend that anger is not always sinful. But I don’t agree (yet) that emotions are amoral. My thinking on this matter depends heavily upon Jonathan Edwards (The Religious Affections) and John Piper (The Dangerous Duty of Delight). Edwards wrote, “Without holy affection there is no true religion; and no light in the understanding is good, which does not produce holy affection in the heart.” And Piper says, “We must think biblical thoughts about God, and must feel biblical emotions for God.” Proof texts for this point of view include Philippians 4:4 (Rejoice in the Lord always) and Psalm 100:1-2 (Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness). If God command us to feel certain things (such as joy and gladness), then not feeling those things is sinful, because it is a violation of God’s commands. I submit that part of the reason our emotional lives are so un-transformed is because we do not take seriously the fact that God commands us to feel rightly.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Are feelings amoral? I’m interested to see where we end up. This is what communal learning is all about.