Greetings! You’ve found your way here from the 2021 Ministering In An Age of Trauma Conference (2021-06-19). Glad you’re here. This is a page of support resources for my talk called:
Destroyed for Lack of Knowledge: The Desperate Need for a Hermeneutic of Emotions.
The Premise & Definitions
All of us come to ministry with pre-existing assumptions and expectations about emotions. The people you serve in ministry are no exception. Many of them are coming with beliefs about emotions that are just not true. These pre-existing ideas shape how they hear you, interact with your ministry, as well as how they see themselves, others, and God.
As a metaphor, I’ve borrowed from Biblical studies the concept of Hermeneutics. In Biblical studies, a hermeneutic is the set of assumptions one brings to the text that inform the way the text is read and interpreted. One’s hermeneutic shapes the way one reads and applies scripture.
In much the same way, we each have a “hermeneutic of emotions” that shapes how we experience and relate to our emotions and the emotions of others. If we are going to minister well in an age of trauma, we have to understand this, and come prepared to help people develop a more helpful, more accurate hermeneutic of emotions.
The Parade of Myths About Emotions
This is an incomplete list of common misconceptions, misunderstandings, and outright myths that people you work with may hold about emotions, as well as a healthier replacement. I’ll include links to helpful resources for each.
Some of the resources are things I’ve written, but I’ve also tried to give you other original sources for further study.
#1 Emotions Always Lie
- Not true. Emotions are like the check-engine light of your car. That light always provides important information, just not always the info you expect.
- (Blog Post) Emotions Always Tell The Truth – Brief article explaining this principle.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Chapter 3 of my book lays out this myth, and Chapter 9 explains the psychology and neuro-biology behind the idea that our emotions tell us the truth.
- (Book) Let Your Life Speak: Listening For the Voice of Vocation. By Parker Palmer. This great little book encourages you to listen to your intuition as you make decisions about your life’s path, but this isn’t a simple do-what-you-feel message. It’s about looking for the way that God has already spoken in your life.
- (Book) The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions, Johnston and Olson. This is a stunningly good work, a must-read for people who really want to understand in a deep way what is going on under the hood of their emotions.
- (Book) True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us. By Robert Solomon. Solomon is one of the foremost emotional theorists. This is also an academic work, but very readable considering. He covers the full gamut of human emotions, discussing what they mean, from a cultural, biological and developmental standpoint.
#2 Emotions are Transient and Subjective
- Not true. Emotions have real meaning. Ignoring them is just as effective as ignoring the check engine light on your car, with similar outcomes.
- (Blog Post) Ignore Your Emotions & They’ll Just Go Away – Brief article explaining this myth.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Chapter 3 of my book lays out this myth, and Chapters 8, 9 & 10 explains how we know the meanings of our emotions.
- I go much deeper with 5 specific emotions in TWOYH. Chapters 10-15 discuss in depth anger, fear, sadness, happyiness and compassion, looking at both the best current understanding of the psychology and neurobiology of these emotions, as well as scriptural understanding for their role in our lives.
- (Book) Untangle Workbook – This guided journal workbook teaches how to sit with your emotions, recognize them, understand their meaning, and mine them for wisdom.
- Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Dr. Plutchik is one of the theorists who have categorized emotions. Of course this is more art than science, but it is very helpful for some people to give them language to explain what they are feeling.
- (Article) Plutchik’s 3D Wheel. This site offers a simple explanation and visual of the wheel.
- (Blog) An excellent 2-part blog post explaining Plutchik’s 8 basic emotions and how to use them in understanding ourselves.
- (Video) A pretty decent 3rd party explanation of Plutchik’s theory in a 4-minute video.
- (Book) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, By Daniel Goleman. This is a classic in the field, and would be helpful to anyone wanting to grow in this area of life.
- (Book) The Emotions, By Dr. Robert Plutchik. This is the seminal academic work where Plutchik laid out his model of understanding emotions. Definitely not for everyone!
#3 Logic is superior/more mature/more spiritual than emotion.
- Not true. The way your brain works, it is literally impossible for you to experience the world or make a decision without your limbic system being involved, which means, emotions are a part of every decision. Even the ones you think are based on data and logic.
- (Podcast/Sermon) God Wants You Emotional – Podcast episode exploring this idea in scripture.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Chapter 3 of my book addresses this myth, and Chapter 4 talks about the scriptural background for the idea that emotions are no more fallen or flawed than our reason.
- (Articles) Debunking the Left Brain / Right Brain Myth. This common misperception is everywhere. Here are a few credible places you can read about this. Here, here and here.
- (Book) Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart, by Matthew Elliot. This is a book that was recommended to me, when I was in deeply painful places, and it was one of the influences that started me on the journey of learning about emotion in scripture.
- (Book) Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament, by Matthew Elliot. Feel, the book I recommend above, is a popular treatment of the subject that will work for most every reader. Faithful Feelings, on the other hand, is a bit more academic. If you’re wanting to study the topic deeply, I recommend this one too.
#4 Emotions are temptations, the influence of Satan.
- Not true. Emotions are part of how we were made, part of God’s design. That means they have a God-intended purpose, that can serve our flourishing and spiritual growth.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Chapter 4 of my book addresses this myth.
- (Book) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature. By Pete Scazerro. This is a book every Christian ought to read.
- (Book) Feeling Like God: The Emotional Side of Discipleship–and Why You Can’t Fully Follow Jesus Without It, by Chris Tiegreen. This is one of the very first books I read on emotional discipleship, and it opened my heart and mind to a whole new reality. It’s easy to read and short, which makes it a great starting place for nearly anyone.
#5 Following emotions always leads to sin.
- Not true. Because of the way your brain works, emotions are a part of every decision. So, if you choose to do sinful things, your emotions played a part. If you choose to do Godly things, your emotions played a part. There are no saints who followed God well strictly on the basis of propositional truth and unemotional obedience. That’s not a real thing.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – This topic is covered over and over in my book from many angles.
- (Book) The Feeling Brain by Johnston & Olson. Not a Christian text that speaks to the issue of sin, but an accurate and accessible scientific text that explains how feelings work in the body and the brain. Once you understand the limbic system, you have to rethink your theology about emotions.
#6 God Isn’t Emotional.
- Not true. The Bible drips with emotional language when describing God, and if we must interpret all that emotional language anthropomorphically (which I dispute), we cannot escape Jesus’ words that if we’ve seen him, we’ve “seen the Father.” Jesus was incontrovertibly emotional.
- (Blog) God’s Not Emotional? – A brief post laying out this myth.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – I cover this in depth in chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7, reviewing the entire scriptural record and propose a theology of God’s emotions.
- (Book) Jesus’ Emotions in the Gospels, by Stephen Voorwinde. This is an academic treatment of the subject that is thorough. If you’re wanting to really capture the full topic with some deep study, go here.
- (Books) Both Feel and Faithful Feelings, which I linked in Myth #3 above address this topic at length and with ample scripture.
- (Book) God is Impassable and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion. By Rob Lister. This is definitely a book by a theologian, and so not every reader will find it easy reading. But this is a great discussion of the issue I raised about the “impassability of God” and the clear presentation in scripture of God’s emotions.
#7 Becoming More Spiritual Means Becoming Less Emotional
- Not true. Galatians 5:25 tells us the outcome of spiritual growth. The fruit of the Spirit, the outcome of spiritual growth laid out for us in scripture, are all relational and emotive realities. We don’t grow out of emotions. We grow into a more mature understanding and experience of our emotions.
- (Blog) Keeping feelings out of your faith can kill you. Brief post dealing with this myth.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Chapter 8 of my book explains how this myth undermines spiritual growth.
- (Book) The Cry of The Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God. By Dan Allender & Tremper Longman. Raw, honest, Biblical wisdom for facing our hardest emotions.
#8 Emotions are Gendered.
- Not true. All humans have access to all emotions. Emotions are a bodily experience and simultaneous mental interpretation of that experience. Nothing about that belongs to gender.
- (Blog) The Chapter I Forgot to Write. While the limbic system of men and women function in the same way. No emotion is stronger for either gender in general, although specific individuals based on their own wiring and live experiences may feel certain emotions more or less deeply. Our culture has assigned gendered meaning to emotions, at great cost to all of us. This article talks about that distinction.
- (Study) Are women more emotionally expressive than men? This article talks about a study that points out the complexity of this issue. Because of deep enculturation around certain emotions, men and women do express them differently, but this is not a matter of biology. It is a matter of cultural training.
#9 Showing Emotions Is Weak.
- Not true. Showing emotions means you’re paying attention to your inner world and the circumstances around you. The idea that expressing certain emotions is weak, is a cultural idea, and it is deeply damaging to us.
- (Blog) Men, If You Get Defensive Reading This,Then Emotional Growth Is An Issue For You. An article specifically for men who believe this myth.
#10 Talking about past trauma is just a victim-mindset and doesn’t allow us to move on.
- Not true. The only way we heal from past experiences of pain is to understand them. Talking about them is one of the ways we make sense of them, and how we open the door to healing. Ignoring our trauma is how we set ourselves up to inflict similar trauma on others.
- (Book) The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and the Body in the Healing of Trauma, By Bessel A. van der Kolk. This stunning book goes deeply into how the traumas that we experience in life impact our body and physical wellness.
- (Book) Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal, By Donna Nakazawa. Another great work on the connections between our story and our physical health.
#11 Having feelings like anger, sadness, or uncertainty shows a lack of faith.
#12 If I have faith, God is going to heal my emotional pain.
- Neither of these is true. Having those feelings shows that you are human. Faith is how you trust God in the midst of such experiences. Emotional discomfort is part of how we grow. More often than not, God works in and through our pain.
- (Podcast / Interview) Your Suffering Is Sacred. An interview with K.J. Ramsey about the place of suffering in our faith, and how instead of being a lack of faith, it is one of the places where our faith grows.
- (Book) The Wisdom Of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions. – Debunking this specific myth is the entire premise of my book.
Resources to Help you Make Progress.
Here are some additional resources that may be of help.
- Additional Books.
- Everything by Dan Allender is helpful. To be told, is a great starting point.
- Leading with a Limp, (Also Allender) talks about the implications of your story on your leadership. This is one of the best books on leadership ever, and that is specifically the case because it comes from the angle of weakness, and emotional growth.
- The Healing Path (Also Allender) is another of his that is excellent.
- Outgrowing the Pain by Eliana Gil focuses specifically on people dealing with trauma in their early life. For a more conservative Christian friendly angle
- Online Courses.
- The Wisdom of Your Heart, 6 Week Online Course. Cover the essentials of the book in 6 sessions. (Free)
- The Untangled Heart Workshop. Byron Kehler and Marc Schelske. How our stories impact our emotional life, and how we can learn to listen to and understand our emotions. ($49)
- The Forgiveness Workshop (Byron Kehler) What is forgiveness? What is it not? ($19)
- Childhood Trauma Survivors Workshop (Byron Kehler) Learning how childhood trauma effects you, and how to begin the process of recovering from those effects. ($49)