By Pastor Glenn Pease
John Powell, whose books have now sold over 11 million, begins his book The Christian Vision with the request that we run a short home made movie on the screen of our minds. Imagine that you have come home on a dark night and to your horror you see a long snake on your front lawn. Your heart begins to pound wildly and the adrenaline starts pumping into your blood stream. You quickly grab a garden hoe and in your frenzy you hack the wreathing snake into pieces. Satisfied with your heroic deed you go inside and try to settle your nerves with a warm drink. Later, lying in bed you still see the wriggling form on your front lawn.
The next morning you return to the scene of the slaying and discover you have chapped your garden hose into a dozen pieces. It was a garden hose, but now it is green macaroni. Last night it was a snake. It was always a hose, of course, but when you thought it was a snake it aroused your emotion of fear and you attacked it like a foe with deadly force. The point is, our emotions are created by our perceptions. They are caused by what we think, and the way we think. Emotions are only as authentic as our grasp of reality. If we misunderstand or misconstrue reality, we will have motions that are unrealistic. We will all agree that attacking a garden hose with a hoe is an over reaction. The whole man is out of order. The mind is thinking wrong. The emotions are motivating wrong, and the will is choosing wrong behavior. This is assuming that you need one long hose and not a dozen real short ones.
What we need to realize is that though emotions are vitally important in our lives, they are not infallible. Dr. James Dobson has written a book titled Emotions: Can We Trust Them? His answer is no we can't. They are not reliable guides because they can be stimulated by so many variables and, therefore, they lack stability. Not only can drugs affect your emotions, but the internal chemistry in your body can make radical differences in them. The emotions are too subjective. They can be aroused and you can be made to feel very strong about something that has no basis in reality. He gives some illustrations out of his own life.
He tells of the high school where the football team consistently lost to their arch rival in a nearby community. It was getting depressing and embarrassing. Finally a wealthy oil producer decided to change things. He offered each boy on the team and each coach a new Ford if they could defeat their bitter rivals in the next game. The team went wild with excitement, and for the next 7 days they ate, drank, and breathed football. The entire school was caught up in the spirit of ecstasy. Finally, the big night came, and you never saw a more excited team rush to the field. But they were demolished 38 to zero. All the whoop-de-do could not compensate for their lack of discipline and practice.
Dobson points out that the Jesus movement of the 1960's did not last because it was too emotion oriented. These youth were highly emotional, but had little theological and Biblical understanding. The result was many of them were soon caught up in various cults and sects. Emotions are just not enough. Then he tells of his good friend Steve Smith who was with a company of soldiers in Vietnam. Their first night out they were terrified as the sun went down and they sat in their fox holes on a hill. At about midnight guns began to blaze away on one side of the mountain and soon all of the soldiers sere firing frantically and throwing hand grenades into the darkness. The battle raged through the night. Finally the sun came up and they sent out men for a body count. Not one enemy soldier was found. This whole company had fought furiously through the night an enemy who was not even there. The emotions had stirred up this battle and not the enemy.
His final illustration is of his mother and father who lived in Los Angeles in 1967 when the Charles Manson murders took place. Everyone was on edge and one night they heard an intruder in their house. They listened as they breathed shallowly and then another sound caused them to leap out of bed in the dark and head for the door. Each had their own plan of action. His mother's strategy was to put her foot up against the door and throw her weight into keeping the intruder out. His father'' strategy was to throw the door open and confront the intruder head on. When he pulled the door he met the resistance of his mother, and she melt it was the killer trying to force his way in. There they stood in the pitch blackness of midnight struggling with each other, and terrified in the thought that they were in a tug of war for their lives. His mother could feel she was losing the battle and so fled to the window and screamed at the top of her lungs. His father was then able to open the door and pursue the villain, which he never caught, of course, for he was a product of their emotions.
We could all add some stories of our own of how emotions have led us astray. But this is not to say that emotions are not an extremely precious part of what God has made us to be. We are emotional beings and there is no way we can be what God intends for us to be without emotions. You can be a good computer without emotions, but you cannot be a good Christian without them, for a large part of the Word of God is directed toward Christian emotions. That which makes a Christian different from the world is largely a matter of emotions. The passage of Rom. 12 is an excellent illustration of just how emotions are a key element in the Christian life. The Christian life revolves around the expression and control of emotions.
I find in these few verses a host of emotions. You have love, hate, brotherly love, inferiority, zeal, joy, hope, patience, compassion, rejoicing, mourning, pride, humility, revenge, and peace. These are just the main emotions Paul deals with here. Before we begin to focus on specific emotions we want to see from this passage as a whole some important truths about emotions. First we want to focus on-
I. THE VALUE OF EMOTIONS.
Just because they are not always to be trusted does not mean they are not valuable. A diamond watch is not infallible either, and cannot always be trusted to give you the right time, but it is still of great value, and even the cheap watch can serve the purpose of letting you know the approximately accurate time. Things are not valuable only when they are perfect, for if that was the case there is very little a part from God that would have any value.
Defective as they might be, emotions are among our highest values. Would you sell your right to feel love, joy, and peace for any amount of money? There is no wealth that can take the place of positive emotions. We would gladly pay to have the negative ones hauled away, but as we shall see in our studies, even the bad ones have their positive values. The good ones, however, are priceless.
The emphasis of Christian psychology is that emotions are not either good or bad in themselves, but have the potential for both good and evil. Joy in sin can lead one deeper into sin. All that is pleasurable can be used to lure one to evil. This does not make the feeling of joy and pleasure evil, for there is joy in serving Jesus also, and the pleasure of the Christian life motivates the Christian to obey Christ and to serve Him more intensely.
Sadness can lead to depression and despair. It can cause one to surrender to the forces of darkness and evil. But it can also lead to repentance and to victory over the forces of darkness by surrender to God. Hatred can lead to murder, or it can lead to confession and control which produces behavior beneficial to all the parties concerned. The key to all emotions becoming a positive value is Paul's closing verse of this chapter where he writes in verse 21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
No emotion is evil in itself. It is what you do with it, or what you allow it to motivate you to do that becomes either evil or good. The key is in control. Emotional control is the goal, for by it we can overcome evil with good. Emotional health and stability begins by recognizing that all emotions are okay. You cannot feel anything that is evil in itself. Anger, hatred, resentment, and jealousy can all be felt legitimately, and not lead to evil when they are kept under control. God made you with the ability to feel these emotions. They are a part of what it means to be human. Don't get all bent out of shape because you feel feelings that are negative and potentially dangerous. It can be an authentic response to your situation. The real issue is not your feelings, but what you choose to do because of them. This is where you either overcome evil with good, or let evil overcome you.
Jesus felt all the feelings of man. He felt irritation, anger, and hatred, but He never let it lead Him to sin, for His emotions were always under the control of His will. He could be angry and sin not as Paul said we should all do. It was because His emotions were not in control of Him, but He was in control of them. But the point is, it was good for Him to feel the emotions He felt, even the negative ones. He would not have been a real man, and He would not have lived an authentic human life had He not felt these negative emotions.
Have you ever wondered why the Psalms are so full of negative emotions as well as positive ones? It is because the Psalms are a depiction of the human spirit and of all the emotions of man. Many are horrible and depressing. They are awful things to feel, but they are felt by godly people. They are not sinful. They are just human. The more we accept them as legitimate and acknowledge them as real, the more we can gain control of them so that they become assets rather than liabilities.
Paul in verse 9 says that love and hate must share the space in our emotional system. In verse 15 he says that rejoicing and mourning must also share that space. In other words, it is not only the positive emotions but the negative emotions that are a valuable part of the Christian life. This means we must stop thinking that feeling good is the goal of the Christian life. Sometimes feeling bad is the only way to be Christian in your emotions. Jesus wept, and so must we if that is the emotion that is most fitting for the situation. The idea that a Christian should go through life always feeling good is contrary to God's revelation in His Word, in history, and most of all in His Son.
Feeling bad and feeling negative is sometimes the best way to feel. If you do not see this as real, you will be in danger of falling for the cult of good feeling. Dr. William James, the famous psychologist said, "If merely feeling good would decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience." Why not escape all negative feelings by means of alcohol, or get into the drug religion where they use drugs to escape and leave the real world in order to feel good in a realm that has no connection with reality?
Christianity says, and the whole Bible says, all feelings are to be a part of this life. We are to feel the good and the bad to be authentically human, and then we are to choose behavior in the mist of these emotions that is consistent with God's will in order to be authentically Christian. This means that every human emotion provides us with an opportunity to grow. If we can control our emotions so that they provide the energy to move in the direction God wants us to move, then every emotion is an asset. Emotion is just that E for energy and motion. Emotion is energy for motion. It is that which motivates the will to choose good or evil. Control of emotion means the mind is able to evaluate what the emotion is pushing us toward, and then choose to either cooperate because the objective is pleasing to God, or retreat because the objective is contrary to the will of God.
The emotions are the key to success or failure; the good or the bad life. C. B. Eavery in Principles Of Mental Health For Christian Living writes, "Nothing in us so defiles and destroys the beauty and the glory of living as do emotions. Nothing so elevates, purifies, enriches, and strengthens life as does emotion. Through our emotions we can have the worst or the best. We can descend to the lowest depths, or we can rise to the highest heights. Emotions of the right kind, expressed in the proper way, make life beautiful, full and rich, rob it of monotony, and contribute much to the enjoyment and effectiveness of living." Emotions are not infallible, but the whole Bible makes it clear that they are of great value, and Paul makes it clear that they are vital t the fulfilling of God's plan for our lives.
II. THE VARIETY OF EMOTIONS.
In these few verses Paul makes it clear that he expects Christians to express a host of different emotions. We are like zoo keepers with a great variety of creatures to feed and control. Beyond this we are circus trainers who are to train these various creatures to perform for the benefit of God, others, and ourselves. We are like Noah in the Ark, and each of us has within us this zoo of creatures called emotions. They can come in two by two with each positive having its negative counterpart. Along side of love is hate, and along side joy is sorrow, and along side humility is pride.
I have no idea how many emotions we are capable of feeling, but it is a far greater number than we would at first guess. We are oceans of emotions, and have flocks of feelings, and piles of passions. Consider the variety of their general character.
1. First look at the variety of colors. You can have dark emotions of dread and black despair, or bright emotions of love, joy, and peace. In between are the blues. You can have the blue of mild depression. On the other hand, you can feel in pink and be feeling very positive. If you are turning red it could be because of shame or shyness. You may be in danger of letting anger so color your life that you will act as to sustain your life with regret. One might even become purple with rage, or ghastly white with fear. Emotions are like flowers, and they come in a variety of colors.
2. Their variety in temperature. Some are hot like anger, and they can make you boil, and you need to let off steam. Love also can be a flame which generates heat to hot to handle. Others like fear can make you shiver and even freeze up. In between is apathy which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.
3. Their variety of flavors. You have the bitter emotions that nobody likes to taste, like grief and rejection. Or you can have the sweet emotions of love and security, and the bittersweet like empathy which can feel both sweet and bitter as it makes you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
There is no exhausting the variety of emotions because the same emotion can be expressed in opposite ways. Some laugh with joy and others cry. The effects of emotion on the mind and body are endless in their variety, and produce the whole vast world of the psychosomatic. Emotions can make the muscles relax or become rigid. They effect the internal character of the body, and they do so with so many variations. The same ethnic joke will bring laughter and inner healing to some, and to others tension and resentment. Man is like a great cathedral which admits light through many windows each stained by its own color, and so be rich in diversity.
Variety is the spice of life, but we don't like all spices, for some of them are not to the liking of our taste buds, but fact is, God made us with the flexibility to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to mourn with those who mourn, and these peoples are not always miles and months between. They may be only moments apart. Some may have a wedding and a funeral in the same week, or even on the same day. John Lagemann said, "We mistrust moods because they change. Yet changing moods are perhaps the surest indication of a healthy personality. It is when a mood doesn't change that we should be concerned."
This is not to be taken as a stamp of approval on the instability of the manic-depressive who is in the pits today and on the mountaintop tomorrow, and swinging radically from downs to highs and back again. The point is emotions are to be realistic, and so to be always happy and rejoicing is to be out of touch with the reality of life's sorrows. But to be always sad is to be blind to life's joys and glory. To be in touch with reality is to feel the full variety of emotions at their appropriate time. In other words, any emotion is right if it fits the reality of what you are experiencing.
If there is danger fear is appropriate.
If there is death grief is appropriate.
If there is victory joy is appropriate.
If there is peace contentment is appropriate.
If there is aggravation irritation is appropriate.
Eccles. 3 says that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to love and a time to hate. All emotions are appropriate at the right time. There are no wrong emotions, but only wrong timing. There is no emotion you can feel that is not legitimate in the proper circumstance. It was not out of line for David to see Bathsheba taking a bath and feeling erotic. That, like all other emotions, is God given and an appropriate response to erotic stimuli. It is what David chose to do because of that emotion that became his great sin. His emotion was legitimate, but his action was illegitimate. He sin was lack of control.
We have all heard it dozens of times that temptation is not sin. It is yielding that is sin. What is temptation but the stimulating of an emotion. Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin. That is saying that Jesus experienced all of the variety of human emotions, but He never sinned by having any of these feelings because there is no sin in feeling. There is only sin in willing. This means that the goal of the Christian, which is to be Christ-like, can be stated in other words.
The goal of the Christian is to so gain control of his emotions that all of them in their vast variety might become valuable in making him what God wants him to be. Control is the goal. Control begins at the cross, for it was here that Jesus became the perfect man, and the perfect sacrifice for sin, because He gained control over the strongest emotions ever felt. His battle was beyond our comprehension. He sweat drops of blood in the garden so intense was His battle for control.
The fear and agony of becoming sin for us, and the ending of such shame, scorn, hatred, and the shear physical pain was the battle He fought. Jesus kept all of these powerful emotions under control, and He conquered them with another emotion. Heb. 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus gained control of His emotions, and became the example as well as the Savior, for in the next verse the text goes on, "Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Our focus on Jesus and the cross is to help us develop the perspective that gives us the victory over all our emotional battles. Jesus did it, and by His grace so can we. Let us thank Him and seek His help to gain the goal of control.