Part of the fun of hosting a blog is that it opens up a worldwide dialogue. We can invite thoughtful Christians around the globe into the conversation that God is stirring at Coram Deo. And we all learn more when that happens.
Madeline is a thoughtful chick from Austin who was reading our recent blog dialogue about feelings and their role in spiritual formation (more here). Instead of posting a response, she wrote me a lengthy email with some good insights into the topic. Below are some of her thoughts. (Her only request is that if you disagree, you do so gently.)
At first glance, I agreed that “Emotions, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad.” It makes sense to me that sorrow, for example, is just sorrow; it is what I choose to do with this feeling that will evidence whether I am glorifying God or sin.
But I see something else at work too. Feelings are my heart’s responses to life situations, and as such they will most often be charged, not neutral. These responses can reveal whether or not my heart is right with God in a given situation. That is to say, sorrow (or anger or joy) may not be categorically good or bad in every situation, but rather the thing that my heart is mourning over (or rejoicing in) is what carries the charge and indicates whether I am moving toward righteousness or toward sin.
If I am inordinately sad about something, it may indicate a misplaced hope or trust. That is to say, it is likely that I was hoping in this certain thing to fulfill me as only the Lord truly can. This feeling of sorrow would, of course, not glorify God. If, however, I am convicted of sin in my life, it is right that I should feel sorrow because I have grieved the Holy Spirit and as a result my spirit will feel grief. (I would further say that if I do not feel sorrow in this instance it would indicate that my heart has been hardened by sin.) This response of sorrow leads me to repent, to change my mind and my actions in light of God’s holiness, and God is glorified in this. Paul talks about this godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow, and tells me that yes, one leads to salvation and the other to death (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
I think [Jonathan] Edwards speaks to what you are saying about transformation of the emotions. As we are conformed more and more to the image of Christ, our heart reactions, our feelings, will be transformed in accordance with the heart of God – our anger more apt to be righteous, our sorrow godly, and each always with a pervasive joy in the Lord in our hearts. What good is any of my thinking about God, if at the end of the day I am not becoming a more loving person, ready and willing to die to my own desires and actively love another, even another for whom I do not feel a natural affinity? Or if I am sad much of the time, does that rightly characterize someone who has much hope in God for eternal life and love?
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I agree with Mads here – our feelings are more of an indicator or a symptom that reveal what is going on in our hearts rather than the true substance. I may perhaps feel the wrong way about something, but that is because I likely don’t understand it’s proper value , role, or God’s thoughts on the matter. That seems to be awfully close to an operational definition of sin: valuing something more highly that it merits.
Anyway, I think that I respond wrongly (or feel something that isn’t fitting) in situations where I improperly value the variables in play.
Bob, you are right here when you assert that the power of the cross must revolutionize every inch of who we are, including our feelings. It is implicit in the transformation and rebirth guaranteed in this kaynos creation that we are, and that we are becoming. That tension of unfolding who God has made us to be in His Son while still carrying some relics of being born into and embracing a fallen creation is part of what makes this discussion a challenge. Our emotions/thoughts/actions are both indicators of this process of change as well as enablers along the way.
Sometimes I will find that my feelings empower me to respond passionately to the unfolding work of the gospel in my life, and other times I will find that the efficacy of the shed blood of Jesus uproots the things that motivate feelings or thoughts that are unworthy of my calling.
The target (and promise of scripture) seems to lie in the fact that we are being conformed to the image of Christ, and out of that will come responses (thoughts, feelings, actions) that look like Him. This will take shape in a myriad of ways. How we share it with others, how we feel about it, these are the indicators of its true weight and value.
At least, that’s what I’ve got so far.