Monday, June 02, 2014

Person (7) Emotions

Emotions get a really bad rap from Christians. When I became a Christian, I was told to walk by faith and not feelings, because feelings are tricky and unreliable. This is partly true, but it is also confusing. For a start, faith has the emotion of peace attached to it. If am walking in faith, I will experience feelings of peace.

When I was in theological college, I studied some of the catholic mystics. I read everything written by John of the Cross and some of Teresa of Avila. This proved to be a fairly dry well, but I learnt one really useful thing. These Christians referred to their emotions as their internal senses. That is a really helpful way to understand emotions. Emotions are not problems that we have to deal with. They are internal senses that are just as helpful as our five external senses.

External senses tell us what is happening in the external world. Our emotions tell us what is happening in our internal person. They are like the dashboard on a car. The various gauges tell us what is happening in the engine under the bonnet. In the same way, emotions are gauges or indicators telling us what is happening in our inner person.
  • If I am always at peace, it is probably because my internal life is in good shape.

  • If I am always over the top happy, something in my thinking may be wrong.

  • If I am always feeling fear, something may be wrong internally. I may have a bad memory with fear attached that always pops out. I may be overusing my imagination and seeing a fearful future. My mind may be thinking wrong thoughts that cause me to fear.

Suppressing these emotions does not help. If the temperature gauge on your car dashboard is in the red, it does not help to paint it green. You need to look at the car engine, identify the fault, and put it right. The same is true of emotions. If I am continually sad, it is no use taking a pill to make me happy. That is like painting a temperature gauge green. I need to identify the reason for the sadness, and put it right.

There can be any number of reasons for sadness. It could be a bad memory associated with sadness that keeps popping out. It could be I am reading too many sad novels, and sadness is filling my imagination. It could be because my mother died a month ago, and I miss her. That feeling of sadness is good, and honours my mother, so I should not want to remove it.

Supressing our emotions prevents us from learning about what is happening in our inner person. We should study our emotions and learn to understand what they are telling us, in the same way as we respond to what we perceive with our physical senses. If I see a bear coming down the road, I go into my house. In the same, if we get the messages our internal senses are conveying to us, we can use them to grow in faith.

This skill is really important, but few Christian know how to do it. David cried out,
O my my soul, why are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me (Ps 42:5)?
This is a really great question that the Holy Spirit is glad to answer. When David had an answer from God, he knew what to do next. Often the answer was to focus on the goodness of God and praise him.

Once we get the messages our internal senses are conveying, we must to learn to work with the Holy Spirit, and other Christians, to find the cause of the problem, and if appropriate resolve it. (More on emotions to come).

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