Emotions are so fickle. Is it possible there’s a concrete, biblical reason we feel the way we feel? Join AMBrewster as he discusses the Doctrine of Emotion and what that means for us today.
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Click "Read More" for today’s Episode Notes and Transcript.
Long-time listeners of Truth.Love.Parent. aren’t novices when it comes to emotions. We talked about them in much detail on episodes 32-34.
But I believe there’s more to learn, and I believe today will be a necessary part of filling out our Doctrine of Emotions.On the last episode we talked about the fruit of what we say and what we do. And we learned that our fruit grows from our desires. And we finished the show asking, “why do we want what we want?”
But before we can answer that, we need to talk about the third kind of fruit that grows from our desires.
But we’ll start that conversation in a moment.
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Okay, now back to the topic of the day.
We’ve talked in some detail about how “Follow your heart” has become a resounding and deafening anthem of epic proportions. It’s defined a generation and is quickly consuming another. But do we really do what we do because we feel what we feel? What does the Bible say about our emotions, and why did God give us feelings in the first place?
Let’s answer those questions today using God’s perfect Word and liberating Truth.
First, let me start by telling you about my favorite workshop from the ACBC conference last week. To be honest, I was hesitant to attend this particular class because of the title. It was called “Emotions and Counseling.” I’ve researched and studied this topic in great detail from the Scriptures, but — to be fair — I’ve encountered very little biblically-sound information on the topic. And most of what I had heard and read wasn’t very good.
But knowing that it was the ACBC and deeply desiring to have my own conceptions biblically challenged, I entered the class with an open mind and heart.
And, let me tell you, it was fantastic. The speaker was Rebekah Hannah. She’s on the counseling staff at First Baptist of Jacksonville where Dr. Heath Lambert is co-pastor.
Truly, the content was so good, that I plan to have Rebekah as a special guest on the show. Her workshop presented the most biblical, theologically accurate doctrine of emotion that I had ever heard from anyone — pastors and professors included.
Now, most of what I’m going to share with you today comes from my own study. But I’m happy to say that my conclusions were very much mirrored in Mrs. Hannah’s lecture, and — in addition — my notes have been wonderfully expanded by her presentation.
It’s very nice when another child of God who is well-educated, proficient, and diligent comes to the same conclusions you have. I suppose it’s nice just to know you’re not crazy. Or at least that you’re not alone in your insanity.
Seriously, though, I look forward to discussing this topic in even greater depth with Rebekah in the future.
But — for now — let’s continue with the question, “Why do my children feel what they feel?”
Well, as my buddy Voltaire once said, “If you want to converse with me, first define your terms.”
1. The Dictionary Definition
So, let’s start there. Dictionary.com defines emotions as “An affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.” Basically, they’re saying that emotions are not the result of a mental decision. Instead, they’re a conscious state where things like joy, sorrow, and the like are experienced. I don’t know about you, but I find that definition lacking on so many levels, but it’s not a medical textbook, so I guess I can’t complain.
However, the Medical dictionary for Health Professions and Nursing is only slightly more helpful when they say, emotion is “A strong feeling, aroused mental state, or intense state of drive or unrest directed toward a definite object and evidenced in both behavior and in psychologic changes, with accompanying autonomic nervous system manifestations.”
I find that last part to be enlightening for our study. Emotion is accompanied by an autonomic nervous system manifestation. This is key, because unlike certain functions of the soul, emotions are decidedly biological in nature, though not in interpretation. We’ll talk a little more about that later.
But for now, let’s move past the dictionary definitions and see what pop-culture says about emotions.
In our episode notes you’ll notice that this point is called The Disney Definition. We will talk about Disney, but here I’m using it as a catch-all for the modern cultural understanding.
2. The Disney Definition
Steve Jobs – “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other peoples thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Nickleback – “This time I wonder what it feels like to find the one in this life – the one we all dream of – but dreams just aren’t enough. So I’ll be waiting for the real thing. I’ll know it by the feeling. The moment when we’re meeting will play out like a scene straight off the silver screen.”
“Follow Your Heart” (written for Disney’s Cinderella 2) – "Who's to say the rules must stay the same forevermore. Whoever made them had to change the rules that came before. So make your own way; show the beauty within when you follow your heart there’s no heart you can't win. So reach for the sky. It’s not as high as it seems. Just follow your heart go as far as your dreams. Dare if you want to, don't fear the fall, take a chance, it's better than to never chance at all. There's a world full of changing and you've just begun; don't let them tell you it's simply not done. When you follow your heart you'll shine bright as the sun."
Before we move on, I just have to editorialize. If it’s true that we should follow our hearts regardless of “the rules,” then people who derive joy from lying, cheating, stealing, driving drunk, taking drugs, fornicating, committing violence, and murdering are perfectly fine because they are simply “following their hearts.” This is a perfect example of a Failure Philosophy that is destroying lives all over the world at this very moment.
If you’d like to know more about what I mean when I say Failure Philosophies, and if you’re interested to see if there are any in your home, I suggest you listen to episode 61, “Are There Failure Philosophies in Your Home?”
3. The Divine Definition
Now, we also need to do a little review from episode 32 and see how God understands emotions.
Of course, we need to be reminded that the biblical understanding of the emotions and the mind are occasionally combined in one idea. And — to be perfectly honest — God knows exactly what He’s talking about. Though emotions may primarily be physical reactions to a stimulus, the interpretation of those feelings occurs in our minds. So, some of the verses will talk about the heart; some the mind.
Let’s look at some verses:
Jeremiah 17:9 famously proclaims that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Proverbs 28:26 tells us that “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” In the KJV the word translated mind is heart.
I absolutely love the Ecclesiastes 11:9. Solomon says, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”
Okay, so it’s pretty easy to see that the heart is definitely not something we should be following. It deceives us. It’s desperately wicked. And we’ll be judged for the times we walked in the way of our hearts.
But before we continue, I want to point out God’s response to the whole “follow your heart” foolishness. In Proverbs 3:21-24 He says, “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
Instead of following your heart, you need to follow wisdom and discretion. Then we will truly be successful. We’ll have life, adornments, we’ll be secure, and we’ll sleep sweetly with no need to fear. Wisdom and discernment actually overcome our emotions.
Okay, so we’ve seen some definitions and understandings about emotion, let’s cap this part of the discussion off with a review of The Doctrine of Emotion.
Emotions have three God-ordained purposes in our lives:
1. Emotions are a gift.
A. Emotions are a gift to the individual. They were created to give humans a dynamic, passionate experience in this life and the life to come. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there is a time to laugh and a time to weep. Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Both “positive” and “negative” emotions were created by God for a purpose. Christ-honoring emotions are to be enjoyed and we can revel in emotions like happiness, but also in God-pleasing grief.
B. Emotions are also a gift to the body of Christ. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Romans 12:15 commands that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We see Jesus doing this exact thing with Mary and Martha.
C. And emotions are also a gift to the spouses/parents/pastors/counselors and other spiritual authorities. Let me focus in on familial relationships. In the same way our children’s emotional responses can help us determine the best way to parent them, a spouse’s emotional response can help the other spouse know how best to minister to them. We’ll look at an example shortly that should illustrate this.
2. So, the first reason we have emotions is that they’re a gift to us, the body of Christ, and our spiritual authorities. Second, our emotions are a tool.
Just like everything else in our lives, God wants us to glorify Him with our emotions. I Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatsoever you do [I could say “or feel”], do all to the glory of God.”
Do your feelings cause other people to think more highly about your God? Well, they should.
3. Lastly, I’ve called emotions our Feelings Alarm. Rebekah Hannah says that emotions are a “gauge, not a guide.”
In the same way that a smoke detector in your house is there to warn you of a problem, your emotions can help you see when there’s a spiritual problem in your life.
If you are experiencing strong emotion in line with God’s will . . . all is well. Do you enjoy what God says is good? Are you angry about sin? Are you jealous for God’s glory? But if you’re experiencing strong emotion out of sync with God’s will . . . there is a problem. Do you enjoy your sin? Are you angry about what God has brought into your life? Are you jealous for your own way?
I’m hoping that all the observations we’ve made can help us see that emotions are — in fact — the third fruit on our trees.
In much the same way that we do what we do and say what we say because we want what we want, we also feel what we feel because we want what we want.
Let’s illustrate this.
Two people get on a roller coaster. The first person doesn’t want to be there, the second does. Both of them have adrenaline coursing through their bodies during the whole ride. The first person is going to act and speak and feel like they’re scared. The second person is going to act and speak and feel like they’re exhilarated.
It’s the same experience, the same physiological affect, but the outcome is very different. Why is that? Unlike our actions and words that are simply motivated by our desires, our emotions are motivated in part by our desires, but also our interpretation of the physiological changes in our bodies. I’ve helped my son move through the same maturation process that I had to move through. He’s gone from utter terror of roller coasters to absolutely loving them in a short two years. Part of that process involved me teaching him that the tingly feelings and butterflies are not fear, dread, or anxiety. It’s just adrenaline. It’s a chemical tool God’s given us that helps us work through high pressure situations.
Interestingly enough, the same process that leads us to want what we want affects our emotions.
But it’s also important to acknowledge that our fruit is cyclical. This is what I mean. If you had an apple tree and you never picked the apples and no animals ever got to it, the leaves and the fruit would fall to the ground each year. After falling to the ground they’d spend the entire autumn, winter, and spring being transformed into fertilizer for the tree. Much of the nutrients the tree will use next summer will come from its own fruit. In the same way, though our fruit is not the same as our root, repeatedly growing the same fruit every year makes it easier to grow more of the same fruit.
If the fruit I grow is diseased, and that disease is passed back into the tree’s root system, then there’s not hope for my tree to be healthy next year.
So, yes, our repeated actions and words make it easier to continue making the same choices. In the same way, our sinful emotions can feed our negative deeds and speech and even perpetuate more negative emotions.
But as we continue our study, I believe you’ll come to see that it’s not true our emotions cause us to do what we do. We do what we do and say what we say and feel what we feel because we want what we want.
Let’s finish off our time together looking back at Proverbs 3:21-24. “My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
According to this verse, how can we avoid fear? How do we change from feeling fear to feeling peace? Well, we need wisdom and discretion. Basically, we need to think right.
What’s really interesting is the relationship between what we think about and what we want. Just as Eve allowed her thoughts to imagine how wonderful the forbidden fruit would be, the more we think about something the more we want it. Depending on whether or not you’re just eaten, if I started talking about the glories of my favorite pizza, I bet I could have you seriously desiring a slice. It’s just like me at the ACBC conference. The more I dwelt on the magnificence of God, the more I wanted to live for Him.
How do we change how we feel? We activate our minds, think right, and that will guide our desires and bring forth actions, words, and feelings in line with what we want.
I could give more examples, but I’d like you to give this some more thought. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at counselor@TruthLoveParent.com. It’s imperative that we work through this material and strive to understand it.
Your children are emotional. And there’s a reason they’re emotional. You need to understand why they feel what they feel. And of course, you need to understand that you’re not a slave to your emotions. They’re a gauge of your spiritual state, they’re not a guide.
Listen, emotions are a wonderful gift given to us to enjoy, to glorify God, and to warn us when we are walking in darkness. God wants us to do what we do and say what we say based off of our wisdom and discernment; not our feelings. Because we want to obey Him, we act and talk and feel in ways that glorify God.
Again, please enjoy our episode notes which I’ve linked in the description.
And join us next time. Our next episode will answer the question from episode 96 — “Why do we want what we want?”
I’d also like to invite you to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for daily encouragement and equipping.
Listen, I know that many of the things we’ve been mining from Scripture lately have been uncomfortable. The world wants us to think that we’re victims that are controlled by forces we have no control over. But the reality is that we bear bad fruit because we’re bad trees. However, remember Matthew 12:33. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” You can make your fruit good by the power of the Holy Spirit. And by the time we’re done with this study, you’ll be equipped to bear Christ-honoring fruit and help your kids do the same.
Have a great week.
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