Emotion and Truth Based Christian Lives

“Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.  I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.” -Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep pp 85-86).

The daily trivia at my Caribou coffee shop was “Name the character played by Johnathan Taylor Thomas (JTT) in the television show Home Improvement”. If you get it right you save ten cents. I got it wrong.  But a conversation ensued with the baristas about teenage heart throbs and how some people can work themselves into an emotional frenzy just thinking about the latest teen hunk. Mention, or even better, trash talk “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” around some teenage girls and you will immediately see this frenzy of emotions.

Christians can fall into this same kind of emotional frenzy about Jesus.  There is nothing wrong with being a “crazy lover of Jesus” and having a bubbling up of emotions. The Bible is full of expressions of deep emotions and crazy love for God (think about the Psalms or David dancing in front of the Arc of the Covenant).  A completely stoic, Spock-like Christian life is abnormal when compared to the Bible’s description of the Christian experience.

On the other hand, an emotionally driven experience of Jesus can eventually become unhealthy. Over time a person can fall in love with the emotions that they associate with Jesus instead of falling in love with Jesus himself.  It is similar to falling in love with bubbly sensations that come with a relationship with another person rather than falling in love with that person.  There is danger of depression when you don’t have the feelings.  Feelings are also not equal to facts. Emotions that are not based on truth can be deceptive and destructive.  Joshua Harris describes a truth-based emotional response to Jesus quite well in his book Dug Down Deep:

I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling that I believe I should have about Jesus. All I know is that I want a really deep and meaningful feeling. I want something to wash over me. I wouldn’t even mind crying. Actually crying is good. The feeling I’m after definitely needs to be passionate and profound. A touch of melancholy works too. Sad and austere feel very spiritual. I want to feel like Jesus is my closest friend, like we could hang out. I want to feel that he likes me – my tastes, my sensibilities, my music, my food. I want a deep bond – the kind that doesn’t even need words to communicate.

Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.

I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.

The irony of this feeling-driven approach to Jesus is that ultimately it produces the opposite of what we actually want. Deep emotion in response to Jesus isn’t wrong. It can be good. But to find it, we need more than imagination and introspection.

One of the most valuable lessons C.J.[Mahaney] has taught me about the Christian spiritual life is that if you want to feel deeply, you have to think deeply. Too often we separate the two. We assume that if we want to feel deeply, then we need to sit around and, well, feel.

But emotion built on emotion is empty. True emotion – emotion that is reliable and doesn’t lead us astray – is always a response to reality, to truth. It’s only as we study and consider truth about Jesus with our minds that our hearts will be moved by the depth of his greatness and love for us. When we engage our minds with the doctrine of his person and his work, our emotions are given something to stand on, a reason to worship and revel in the very appropriate feelings of awe and gratefulness and adoration.

Knowing Jesus and feeling right emotions about him start with thinking about the truth of who he is and what he’s done. Jesus never asks us how we feel about him. He calls us to believe in him, to trust him. The question he asked his disciples is the same one he confronts us with: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The real questions when it comes to Jesus are, Do you believe he is who he says he is? Do you believe he’s done what he said he came to do? (pp 85-86)

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