You’ve heard it somewhere. A decision has to be made. It’s complicated and there are different opinions and disagreement. At one point someone speaks up, “We just need to make a rational decision. We can’t let emotions cloud our judgement.”
Our parents, our churches, our culture have all trained us deeply with the idea that reason is trustworthy and emotions are not.
Think of the very words. Say this phrase: “You seem reasonable.” Then say this one: “You seem emotional.” How do those feel?
The first seems like a compliment, right. Like you’re an intelligent, thoughtful person who took the time to objectively think things through. The second feels a bit like a put down. You’re a little out of control, a little immature, you’re not in charge of yourself the way a good grown up would be.
Yep. That’s the world we live in. Reason is king and emotions are at best second-rate, and at worst a destructive distraction. Our parents, our social circles, our schools and churches all have reinforced this.
To be fair, there’s an important perspective here. Emotions have an almost predictable ability to lead us away from being our best selves. We’ve all experienced moments when we reacted, or made emotional decisions that resulted in painful consequences. Many of us have felt the profound pain of seeing a friend or loved on making what seem to be emotional decisions to their detriment. Maybe mom was right?
But what if she’s not? What if our emotions are an essential part of our decision making process? What if God gave us our emotions for good purpose? What if – and I know this will be tough for some people to get their heads around – our emotions always tell us truth?
As a pastor I have seen more people than I can count who don’t know what to do with their emotions. Some have twisted and destructive emotions. But many have closed down their emotions, even shut them off, trying instead to do the right thing because it is the right thing. Without access to passion, they are left with a faith that is rooted in duty and experienced as an intellectual project. For them a “relationship with God” is simply code for believing the right doctrinal ideas, and trying hard to make moral choices. But there is no vibrancy, no real sense of God’s presence.
Over the past two years, in hours of study in the Bible, and across the range of thinkers about emotions, I have come to believe that ignoring our emotions is one of the most destructive things we can do, not only to our emotional lives, but even more, to our spiritual lives.
God didn’t create us as beings of reason, burdened down by the glandular effects of irrational emotions. God created us as whole beings, made – the Bible says – in His image. Our reason was made in the image of God, but so was our emotion. God uses both of these avenues, tied together in some very interesting ways – to communicate, guide and shape us.
Emotions are powerful. They are often messy. They can confuse us and other people. And so it make sense that we might be uncomfortable with them. But that’s no reason to avoid or bury them.
I’ve discovered that all of our emotions tell us the truth. It might not be the truth we expect.
We might not be very good at understanding what truth is being revealed. And it’s quite possible that through brokenness and trauma our emotional compass isn’t quite pointing true north. And yet, the there is truth there that God wants us to understand, if we’re willing to seek it.