Music with Meaning

singing-in-the-carWhen do we utter words least true about our convictions, beliefs and attitudes if not during song? Often our words declared to melody lack scrutiny and we are not held accountable to them. In song the most unfaithful partner is permitted to declare themselves the most devoted lover; the timid observer morphs into an outraged blasphemer; for a few moments we become the very company we would never keep and others pledge allegiance to a belief they would never truly hold.

 

But of course we can say that the inverse is also true. It is when the music plays that our most private thoughts and intimate emotions are released, often revealing a fuller explanation to not only the hearer but ourselves. What we could never put into words suddenly flows freely off the tongue and takes on new and fresh meaning.

I doubt I need to persuade anyone about the power of music, especially in the church context. For it is under many steeples that our leaders have carefully structured the presentation and selection of music, knowing that it has often be used as a tool, a manipulator, to bring about superficial following and devotion. But how should we incorporate music? While we are all aware of its power I think most of us are also aware of its necessity; that we should not, simply out of fear, go without it.

An older person commented on a song we sang in church just the other day, talking about how difficult it is to sing these ‘new’ songs. ‘On the contrary’ I said, ‘many of the modern songs are repetitive and easy to sing in comparison to the range and melody line of some of the hymns.’ As with all our senses, we have preferences to certain tastes, smells and sounds. But these preferences do not come from no-where. They have been molded and influenced by experience.

Music Old vs NewTo quote a favorite writer of mine, F.W Boreham, “And thus music revives, as nothing else can do, the tender grace of a day that is dead…There is a sublime virtue in anything that brings us into vital touch with the glorious past.” When we are transported back into a time that was wonderful we cannot help but sing the song with gladness and joy. Even when we are reminded of times of sadness it allows us to sing with deeper meaning and reflection. It is our ability to feel and be driven by unexplainable emotion that connects us to music, for it is the music that pulls on these strings that are so seldom awakened throughout our tedious routine of life.

When we read the songs in Scripture indeed we are meant to reflect back on some past event and remember with emotion filled praise. Think of Moses & Mariam’s song in Exodus 15 “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea”; David’s Psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts”; the song of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1, praising God for what he has done for his people. We are to remember and be moved to praise. But not only to look back and praise, longing for a past experience to be repeated, but to look forward in great expectation of what is to come. This is what sets songs of worship apart from ordinary music.

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” C.S Lewis

St Augustine rightly treated music with caution. Aware of its power he wrestled with the balance of the moving melody and lyrical content, determined to always uphold the latter. He described himself as having ‘grievously sinned’ when being ‘more moved by the singing rather than the thing that is sung’.  But is it not also true that some words are sung with inappropriate melody? Moving music is not something we should altogether avoid but rather use appropriately. I have often read the words of the Psalms and hymns and been so moved by them, only to hear them sung and feel indifferent and removed. The mood should match the message and when it does I don’t think we should be afraid.

The fact that we are called to sing and not simply to recite tells me that there is an appropriate emotion expected from us as worshippers which we seldom experience or express without song. So while we are to be careful of extravagant emotions we should likewise be warned not to suppress those that are necessary – for we should not only sing as the expression of our minds’ understanding for then we could simply speak, but in song our souls should praise and our spirits rejoice!

The Limits of Emotional Intimacy between Christians

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22, ESV)

It is the goal of this essay to explore the ethical limitations of emotional intimacy between Christians. For this to be done, we must, of course, understand what emotional intimacy is – this calls for us to forge a definition of emotional intimacy. We shall then mine the biblical data for its positive and negative statements concerning the ethics of emotional intimacy. Due to the complexity of the issue, the purpose of this essay is not to go far beyond this point. The essay does not aim to suggest practical implementation strategies of the conclusions we reach; we shall not go beyond the ethical boundary lines we draw into the life-situations they impact 1.

The basic argument of this essay will be that emotional intimacy is never suggested as sinful – in fact, it is only encouraged. Thus, emotional intimacy is ethically acceptable until it is perverted. We shall, of course, explore a number of these perversions.

1. Locating Emotional Intimacy: the home of friendship.

We reach our first hurdle when we attempt to define emotional intimacy. Smidt (2010) argues that intimacy is basically trust, and so emotional intimacy is concerned with trusting another person with your emotions. L (2011) extends this beyond emotions, and suggests that it is a sharing of your “innermost selves”; it is “unbridled mutual self disclosure”. This in turn leads Anon (2008) to speak of the deep knowledge of another person which is associated with emotional intimacy. The associated Wikipedia article (Emotional Intimacy, 2011) speaks of emotional intimacy involving “disclosing thoughts, feelings and emotions in order to reach an understanding, offer mutual support or build a sense of community”. These are provided as an example that although most definitions bear much in common, there is no widely accepted definition that is specific enough for us to work with.

Yet, because these definitions have much in common, it is fair to say that there is a broad definition that is accepted. This causes us to look for the concepts which are most common to definitions of emotional intimacy. When we do this concepts like closeness, vulnerability and love are in the ascendancy. We shall, therefore, operate on the understanding that emotional intimacy is a spectrum with three determining components: closeness, vulnerability and love.

With this in place we should notice that the biblical imagery of friendship consists of the same three components. According to the DBI (2000), one of the images used to represent friendship is the knitting of souls (see Deut 13:6). This kind of friend, states the DBI (2000), is “a companion of one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, resulting in an intense emotional attachment”. Here the companion’s intense emotional attachment results from the sharing of thoughts and feelings and portrays the idea of closeness, while their familiarity with their friend’s innermost thoughts and feelings portray an idea of vulnerability. The idea of love is also associated with the knitting of souls, and we see an example of this between David and Jonathan (Haykin, 2007): “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1, ESV). Other examples of such friendship can be seen in John 11:5, 11, 35-36 (Haykin, 2007).

‘Love’ is particularly important. This is because ‘love’ is used, in the Bible, to speak of “the deepest possible expression of the personality and of the closeness of personal relations” (Palmer, 1996). Thus while ‘love’ can be used as one item in a subset of our above description of ‘friendship’, it can also be used as a synonym for this same friendship.

At this point a comparative word study, of φιλεω and αγαπη, suggests itself as fruitful. This would, however, be inappropriate, for it is highly unlikely that there is any clear distinction between these Greek words, which are translated as ‘love’ (Palmer, 1996). Furthermore, the Old Testament word אהב is “in every way as broad in its usage as the English word” (Palmer, 1996). Accordingly, we shall not make progress by pursuing such word studies, and so we should not proceed down such a line.

We shall use emotional intimacy to refer to the close, vulnerable and loving nature of friendships.

2. The Call for Relationship: mutual love in the church.

One of the important effects of Christ’s death is the establishment of the church (1 Peter 2:9). The language used to describe the church and its relationships carries with it the ideas of closeness, vulnerability and love. We shall consider each of these in turn.

Firstly, it is not insignificant that the language used to describe the church carries with it connotations of relational closeness (Ephesians 2:19-22). John Calvin (quoted by Morris, 2000), in his comments on Hebrews 13:1, goes so far as to say that “We can only be Christians if we are brethren”. For Christians to call each other ‘brethren’ draws them close as family, and familial closeness does not necessarily equate to relational closeness. Yet, passages like John 17:20-26 show us that this family closeness is marked by the same mutual love shared by the Father and the Son, which includes mutual self-giving, but it also has an aspect of ‘oneness’ or relational closeness.

Secondly, relational closeness implies a measure of vulnerability with each other. It is, however, still important that we highlight the specific biblical statements which call for this kind of vulnerability between Christians. Some of these include: mutual confession of sin (James 5:16); mutual edification (Hebrews 10:24-25); refusal to gossip (Proverbs 17:9); mutual comforting in affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-7); mutual bearing of one another’s burden’s (Galatians 6:2); and sharing of counsel and mutual growth (Proverbs 27:9, 17). Each of these verses calls for Christians to share sensitive information about themselves with other Christians, thereby exposing themselves to potential injury. Consequently, it can be said that Christians are called to be vulnerable with one another.

Lastly, Christians are called to love one another. John 13:35 tells us that the perceivable mark of discipleship is reciprocal love amongst Christians. Thus Hebrews 13:1 calls Christians to “Let brotherly love continue”. The obvious implication of this is that when “people come to believe in Jesus and to become members of the church they are to love all the other members” (Morris, 2000). Yet this love is not static, for Morris (2000) goes on to suggest that one implication of 1 Peter 4:8 is that “believers are to work at making their love for others in the household of faith stronger day by day”.

Therefore it can be shown that Christians are to love, be close to and vulnerable with the church2. This leads to Christians adopting the title “Friends” (3 John 14).

3. The restrictions of mutual relationships.

3.1. These restrictions won’t be found in emotional intimacy itself.

We should, at this point, pre-empt a number of counter points by highlighting that there are no life-status limitations placed on friendships and that the biblical remedy for loneliness is friendship, and not marriage.

Firstly, there are no limitations, with regards to life status, placed upon friendships within the church. No sooner is this point noted than one considers passages such as 1 Timothy 5:1-2. However, what is called for in these verses is appropriate respect and honour for older men and women, and what is denied is condescension and sexual impropriety towards younger men and women (Stott, 1996: 125-126). These categories are not mutually exclusive with friendship. While we should not argue too strongly from the silence on this point, we should bear in mind the lack of restriction with regards to cross-gender friendships. This also applies to friendships between Christians of different ethnic, social, educational and marital status. If we wish to make distinctions at this point we may have to relegate them to the category of wisdom and not godliness. Furthermore, James 2 speaks against excluding Christians, based on their economic class, from the benefits of the new community.

Secondly, the biblical remedy for loneliness is friendship and not marriage. Ash (2003: 117) points out that the “Bible has a great deal to say about the longings of the human heart. This is more pronounced in some places than in others, but there is much about love, friendship and fellowship. It is very striking, however, that almost never are these longings and their satisfaction placed in the context of sexual relationship”. Ash (2003: 118) goes on to argue that this is seen clearly in Psalm 68:6, where God’s remedy for the specifically stated problem of loneliness is not sexual, but familial relationships – “the cure is belonging, security, trustworthy relationships, but not necessarily the marriage bed”. Clark (2009) wishes to locate this cure for loneliness within the church, for the gospel restores the relational ‘nakedness’ and mutual acceptance by making our union with one another a result of our union with Christ.

Thus we have our basis for exploring the limits of emotional intimacy. These limits will not be found in emotional intimacy itself, but will rather be found in perversions and distortions of emotional intimacy. We could perhaps group these as being rebellion against Peter’s call, in 1 Peter 1:22, for our mutual love to be sincere and pure.

We would do well to note the ambivalence of friendship circles; they can lead one toward or away from godliness. The reason for this is that emotional intimacy breeds trust, which in turn leads to one valuing a friend’s suggestions and opinions above any other critical assessment or input (cf. Lewis, 2002:97). Therefore, a high responsibility is placed on those who bear the trust of those close to them: to avoid causing their friends to stumble (Matthew 18:4-6), and to rather build them up in love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). The catalogue below is really an attempt to flesh out the major ways in which this could happen.

3.2. Privitism: emotional absorption.

There is the danger that emotional intimacy becomes exclusively private. It must be acknowledged that we are unable to reach deep emotional intimacy with an unlimited number of people, for each friendship demands time, and we are finite creatures. There will naturally then be groupings of those who are more emotionally intimate. However, these friendship circles cannot become insular or they begin to work against Jesus’ missiological intent for our ‘oneness’, as seen in John 17:20-21. It is in light of this that we should heed Lewis’ (2002: 73) wisdom that Friends are those who stand, “not face to face, absorbed in each other, but side to side, absorbed in a common interest”: the extension and edification of the church.

3.3. Idolatry: the fear of man.

The fear of man is otherwise known as peer pressure, or co-dependency. Welch (1997: 40) says that a person knows they are a co-dependent when they “are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than [they] are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord)”. Thus we can say that this fear is reverence, which leads to submission to the explicit or perceived desires of individuals. It is appropriate to refer to this kind of reverence as idolatry. Further, this type of idolatry can be expressed in one particular relationship, a group of relationships (i.e. family relationships) or all relationships. Welch (1997: 24-40) argues that the reasons for one fearing people include fear of being exposed, humiliated or rejected.

Jesus presents a cutting response to this perversion of emotional intimacy. To the person who has higher reverence for people than God, Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, ESV). Consequently we must trample under foot any emotional intimacy to which we give idolatrous reverence.

3.4. Sexuality: sexual intimacy.

One of the major issues to be concerned about when developing any deep level of emotional intimacy is the inclusion of sexual intimacy. Grenz (1998: 98-103) argues that the only proper context for sexual intimacy is “the permanent, monogamous relationship called marriage”3. However, sexual intimacy extends far beyond the physical act of coitus. Collins (2007: 340) asserts, “Sexuality pervades all of life and ranges from mild feelings of pleasure about human relationships to sensual lovemaking and stimulating orgasms”. Thus inclusion of sexual intimacy into any friendship outside of a marriage relationship must be said to be ethically inappropriate.

Let us be clear on the implications of the above. It is not to say that the potential for sexual intimacy between two people necessarily causes their emotional intimacy to be unethical. This would be to confuse what is distinguished. For “to say that something can be mistaken for, or turn into, something else is not to deny the difference between them” (Lewis, 2002: 88). It is when the intimacy becomes sexual that it becomes unethical.

Neither is it to say that all physical expressions of emotional intimacy are inappropriate. Ryken (2000) states that “Characteristic expressions of this union of hearts are an affectionate embrace or kiss, weeping, gift-giving and vows of loyalty”. Acts 20:37 provides an example of such physical expression to emotional intimacy. Further, Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter 5:14 are all exhortations towards physically expressing emotional intimacy. Again we must say that it is when these expressions become sexual that they become unethical.

3.5. Selfishness: Indifference & Apathy:

In John 15:12-13 Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends”. If we take nothing else from this, we must see that Christians are called to love fellow believers. There is a mutual exchange of love between Christians. Indeed, the DBI (2000) correctly points out that, “The proverb that “a friend loves at all times” (Prov 17:17) expresses both an obligation and a benefit. … In the Bible friendship is a mutual improvement activity, honing one for godly use”. This forces Christians to face indifference and pride.

Firstly, Christians cannot be indifferent towards the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers4. The letter to the Hebrews, addressing Christians, says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). Additionally, Matthew 18:15 calls Christians to confront any other believer who sins against them, and call them to repentance. Therefore, each individual disciple of Christ must have their emotional intimacy marked by attempts to edify and rebuke their fellow disciples. Where emotional intimacy is based on, or formed around, the constant inactivity of one party, whether it is due to indifference or co-dependency (as outlined above), it must be seen as unethical.

Secondly, Christians cannot be proud, and so refuse the encouragement or rebuke of their fellow believers. The exhortations above always have concrete recipients – and where one Christian is called to stir another up to love and good works, there is always another Christian who is being stirred up. This is simply to restate the point which the DBI (2000) made about biblical friendship always being a mutual improvement activity. Thus, when one finds themselves to be recipient of either rebuke or edification, one should be humble and receive this as an essential part of emotional intimacy.

Fowler (2009) helpfully summarises the picture which emerges when he states that we should be balanced in our giving and receiving of edification. Proverbs uses the imagery of two pieces of iron sharpening each other to describe the manner of growth above; a manner of growth which is integral to emotional intimacy. We are called to build one another up, through mutual edification. Therefore, where emotional intimacy is not marked by humility and other-person centredness, it has been perverted and is not sincere brotherly love (1 Peter 1:22).

We are called to build one another up and to sharpen one another. We cannot, then, be self-centred, nor can we be apathetic about a friend’s sin.

4. Conclusion:

In this essay we have seen that emotional intimacy is a spectrum with three determining components: closeness, vulnerability and love. We have also seen that the biblical imagery of friendship comprises the same three components. Further, Christians are called to love, be close to and vulnerable with the church. Thus the church is the home of friendship, and therefore emotional intimacy. It was then argued that the ethical limits of emotional intimacy are not found in some intrinsic aspect but are rather found in perversions and distortions of the purity of friendship. We then proceeded to explore a number of these perversions. Throughout this essay the ethical call has become clear, and it is well expressed through the quotation at the beginning of this essay: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22, ESV). This is the goal towards which we should strive, together.

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Endnotes

1 There is, however, an additional attachment (in the email you received) with a number of suggestions of practical areas worth applying these conclusions to. Unfortunately, there was not the time to work through these points in detail. Return to post
2 Bear in mind that emotional intimacy is a spectrum and this does not call for absolute emotional intimacy with every other Christian, yet some measure of emotional intimacy should be present. Fowler (2009) provides a helpful example of this in the life of Jesus: “While Christ was on earth physically, He was not equally intimate with all His disciples. Out of the vast crowds who followed Him, there were seventy whom He trusted sufficiently to send out proclaiming the Kingdom. Of the seventy, He spent the majority of the time teaching only twelve men whom He had personally selected. There was only one family mentioned in Scripture with whom He frequently had fellowship. Only three of the twelve disciples were permitted with Him in His most revealing moments, such as on the Mount of Transfiguration and in Gethsemane. Finally, only one disciple was given the title “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” only one reclined on His breast at the Last Supper: John the Beloved. While on the cross Jesus charged John with the responsibility and privilege of caring for Mary and she was the only person for whom He made special provision after His departure”. Return to post
3 Ash (2003: 211) defines marriage as “the voluntary sexual and public social union of one man and one woman from different families. This union is patterned upon the union of God with his people his bride, the Christ with his church. Intrinsic to this union is God’s calling to lifelong exclusive sexual faithfulness”. Return to post
4 It is worth bearing in mind that these points here can equally apply for reasons such as co-dependency. Return to post

Bibliography:

  • ANON. 2008. Intimacy. [web:] http://bit.ly/nuBnVc. Date of access: 14 May 2011.
  • ASH, C. 2003. Marriage: sex in the service of God. Leicester : Inter-Varsity Press.
  • CLARK, J.V. 2009. Single and Lonely: Finding the Intimacy You Desire [web:] http://bit.ly/qyirtk. Date of Access: 9 May 2011.
  • COLLINS, G. 2007. Christian Counseling: A comprehensive guide. 3rd ed. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson.
  • CROFT, S. 2007. Biblical dating: from “hi” to “I do” in a year. [web:] http://bit.ly/pZor9k. Date of Access: 9 May 2011.
  • DBI (The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery). 2000. “Friendship” Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press. Available: Libronix.
  • Emotional Affair. 2011, April 17. In Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from http://bit.ly/qqrdLd.
  • Emotional Intimacy. 2011, May 6. In Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from http://bit.ly/qcv6TQ.
  • FOWLER, R. 2009. The Intimacy Trap. [Web:] http://bit.ly/nu6Lkq. Date of Access: 12 May 2011.
  • GRENZ, S.J. 1998. Sexual ethics: a biblical perspective. Carlisle: Paternoster Press.
  • HADLEY, S. 2008. Object of my affection. [web:] http://bit.ly/pLKijf. Date of Access: 9 May 2011.
  • HAYKIN, M. 2007. With a little help from my friends. [web:] http://bit.ly/nqM3S6. Date of Access: 9 May 2011.
  • L, C. 2011. Emotional intimacy. [web:] http://bit.ly/nzb0yc. Date of Access: 10 May 2011.
  • LEWIS, C.S. 2002. The four loves. London: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • MORRIS, L.L. 2000. Love. (In MARTIN, R.P., DAVIDS, P.H. Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press. Available: Libronix.
  • PALMER, F.H. 1996. Love, Beloved. (In Wood, D.R.W. New Bible Dictionary. InterVarsity Press).
  • SMALLEY, G. 2003. Men and emotional intimacy. [web:] http://bit.ly/mYYVxl. Date of Access: 10 May 2011.
  • SMIDT, J. 2010. Reclaim biblical intimacy. [web:] http://bit.ly/pSjzZC. Date of Access: 9 May 2011.
  • STOTT, J.R.W. 1996. Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. (The Bible Speaks Today).
  • THORNBURG, S. 2009. On becoming a safe male. [Web:] http://bit.ly/q8olju. Date of Access: 12 May 2011.
  • WELCH, E.T. 1997. When people are big and God is small: overcoming peer pressure, codependency, and the fear of man. Phillipsburg, NJ : P&R Publishing.
  • WELCH, E.T. 2011. Intimacy step 1: enjoying. [web:] http://bit.ly/is4avW. Date of Access: 10 May 2011.

Emotional Reflection #1: Greek Philosophy & Our Emotions

So, off the back of Feel, I’ve been thinking about how Greek Philosophy has crept into our thinking and negatively influenced us. For those of you who are sold out on Greek philosophy, I don’t hate Greek philosophy, and I do think it has lots to offer us. I’m just here wanting to think about one point that appears to me to clash with a biblical worldview.

The element I’m thinking of in my white, middle-class, Western-influenced-African culture which has been influenced by Greek philosophy is obviously our emotions. We seem to believe that emotions are to be suppressed and controlled, rather than understood and dealt with (if they are seen as bad) or cultivated (if they are seen as good). It is, perhaps, more accurate to say that only a portion of the population has taken on this understanding. There is another section of the population who are suspicious of reason, and believe we should follow our feelings or desires. In the post on Feel, Grace helpfully points out that Elliott is close to swinging the pendulum in that direction. Although we shall not directly deal with this other part of the population, the points below will be framed in such a way that my line of response to this group shall be evident.

The way this Stoic element has entered my culture is that we have allowed our being to be split dualistically into an emotional sector and a rational sector. The rational element is then elevated to a position of superiority, and so the emotional element is made subordinate to reason. This is to be equated with a form of dualism because our emotions are seen to be the result of a biochemical reactions, whereas our thoughts are seen as fundamentally superior.

Although, within my culture, this is attributed less to fatalism – as the early Stoics did – and more to what Marcus Aurelius called chaos, the result is the same. If one wishes to find true happiness they should not seek to change that which they cannot, but should pursue peace within themselves. Thus, the most self-evident way within our culture to grasp happiness is to follow the conclusions of our highest faculty (reason) and dismiss any lower dissenter, which in this case is decidedly emotional.

One way we see this entering the Christian conception of the world, within this culture, is that the emotional words in the Bible (love, joy, peace, hatred) are re-defined into rational or intellectual concepts. Further, importance is placed on one affirming the intellectual concept, regardless of whether the corresponding emotion is felt or not.

The point to make in response to this is that both our thoughts and feelings are the result of biochemical reactions, and so we cannot dismiss our emotions on this count, while at the same time allowing our rational thought to remain unaffected.

A more significant point is that both our reason and our emotions are affected by the fall. We may wish to discuss the different ways in which they are corrupted, yet the basic point stands. Thus, since our whole being is corrupt, we cannot look to something within ourselves and submit all other aspects to it.

The Word of God comes to our entire being from outside of us, and our entire being (in its rational, emotional and actionable aspects) is called to submit to that Word. Thus, we need to treat our emotions more like we treat our reason. They are fallen, and should come under the truth revealed in Scripture. Yet, because of our corruption, our emotions – indeed our whole being – rebels against that truth. This is because we have an emotional and intellectual attachment to falsehood, both of which need to be eradicated.

The truth is that, for the most part, our emotions and intellect work together. We feel angry because something is endangered which we value. We feel scared because something we value is threatened. Thus we need to discover what we are loving more than we love God, in our minds and hearts. We should then evaluate our whole being against the revealed Word. Once that has been done, we need to begin the process of repentance by working through why we are thinking what we are thinking and why we are feeling what we are feeling.

In an attempt to develop the manner in which our emotions and intellect work together, perhaps we could say that our emotional reactions give us insight into the truths that we intellectually affirm, yet have not absorbed within our being? If this is correct, then we need to look at the object of our emotions. The object of our ungodly emotions will be the idol which we are still worshipping. Thus, we might know the truth about a specific idol, or the arguments against some specific expression of sin, but we haven’t attached such value to any given truth such that it generates the appropriate emotional response. We still love the idol more than we love God. This is why being concerned about intellectual obedience, without any concern for emotional obedience, will never suffice over the long term. We need both for complete repentance.

We cannot then subdue or manipulate our emotions. Nor can we let them run wild. We should not elevate emotion above reason and so swing into emotionalism. We need to understand and process that which our emotions point to, and then cultivate godly feelings. We need to accept that God is reforming our entire being – which includes both our emotions and our thoughts.

For the above reasons, we cannot accept this Stoic aspect of our culture, which is based on a dualistic view of humanity. On the path to happiness, this is not an adequate response to God’s providence, or to any kind of chaotic understanding of the world. We must see that if we view our emotions as inferior impulses which need to be subdued, then we will damage an aspect of our being which God uses to reform us into Christ’s likeness – in a manner similar to the way he uses our minds. We need to view our being with balanced eyes: we are wholly depraved, and we are being wholly renewed!

What is the place of ’emotion’ in the Christian life?

pulpit

I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression. So I’ve been pretty man down lately. I have started on a dose of anti-depressants, and they’re slowly kicking into my system. As I was on my way up I was hit by a solid bout of flu. As much as flu sucks, I honestly quite enjoy the time in bed to sleep, read and think.

During this time I started reading a book called ‘Feel‘. In it Matthew Elliott argues that if we downplay emotions in the Christian life, we distance an important, God-given part of ourselves.

Here’s the description from the Amazon page:

“In Feel, Matthew Elliott takes a critical look at what our culture and many churches have taught about controlling and ignoring our emotions. He contends that some of the great thinkers of the modern era got it all wrong, and that the Bible teaches that God intends for us to live in and through our emotions. Emotions are good things that God created us to feel. Matthew helps us to understand our emotions and equips us to nurture healthy feelings and reject destructive ones. So refresh yourself, drink deeply, and learn to live with a new, passionate heart”.

pulpit I’ll be honest, after reading the subtitle (“The power of listening to your heart”) my sensors were tingling a little. But, surprisingly, it was brilliant! It gripped my heart and sent my mind all over the place as I thought about whether it clashes with anything in my theology. I think the best part was that it got me to read the Bible and pray with a new air of excitement.

Has anyone who checks in here read it? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. I’m convinced by his argument, and think he highlights something important which is downplayed or, at least, overlooked in most reformed circles. It has given me something to chew on as I think about how to approach my pretty significant emotional. So I’m looking for an opportunity to chat about some of the ideas he raises.

I realise that most of you won’t have read it though. Obviously I recommend you give it a read. But most of you won’t have the time for that. So, because I would still like you to get involved, I have made a plan for you. I have made something of a summary. Give that a read, and then let me know your thoughts below.

P.S. I’ve also been thinking about posting something longer on godliness, friendship and intimacy. So keep an eye out for that too.