Monday, April 15, 2013

Emotions suck......sort of

I started writing this blog post in May 2012. For some reason I never finished it.

Somehow in my early faith forming years I internalized the idea that emotions were suspect in the Christian life. That they should be discounted whenever they disagree with theology. The image of a train was frequently used:

Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) said it this way,

The promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority. The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience).
The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word.

I may not 'feel' the presence of God at all times, but my theology says God is always present so I must ignore my feelings and trust God and what the bible says....

...this creates some tension in my life. When my theology and my lived experience conflict then I learn to ignore, distrust and suppress my emotions. It's a short step from there to labeling some of my emotions as 'wrong'. My emotions and experiences do not fit into some imaginary list of what I think a good christian should 'feel'. This internal conflict begins to dominate my life and drain energy from it.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite.” Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote in a letter to friends “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.” eight years later she was still expressing “such deep longing for God,” adding that she felt “repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal.”

My feelings are the primary way I experience the world. I touch, taste, breathe, love, see, grieve, smell, laugh etc. They are the means by which I encounter the 'track' that the train of my life runs on. God created us to be emotive beings as a reflection of God's self. In the person of Jesus we see someone who feels deeply and passionately. He is not afraid to express emotions, even one we would label negative. 

When Jesus utters the devastating cry of dereliction 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' I cannot imagine responding with, 

"Well Jesus, don't you know that the promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority? The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. You may feel abandoned but don't surrender to your emotions. God is there. Where is your faith?" 

To respond in such a way is to avoid His doubt and the way it resonates with our own. Maybe that is the fear here. We are so terrified of our own emotions that we find biblical justification to ignore the ones we do not like...or maybe that's just me. Theologians have debated for centuries what 'My God! My God! Why have you forsake me?' means. I may not understand Jesus' statement theologically (is there a rift in the Trinity?) but I understand it emotionally. Jesus' incarnation is on full naked display on the cross, uttering a statement of abandonment that unites the world. In some mystery that I cannot comprehend, it is at this point, where Jesus expresses the fact that he is abandoned by God, that I am assured that God is in the midst of my abandonment because He has experienced it as well. 

I cannot explain that....but I can live into it.

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