Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View: Part I
Bad Feelings: A Scourge of God’s Curse on Adam’s First Sin
Feelings and emotions are common subjects in conversations and various writings. This series: Feelings: and Emotions: A Biblical View is intended to offer help and hope to all involved. Bad feelings are a universal experience. Everyone has had, is having, or will have bad feelings. How are you to respond to and in such a predicament? Does the Bible offer any help and hope for you? The answer to the questions is a resounding yes. How so? The questions are a good start only if we answer them correctly. What will be our source of reference? Isaiah tells us: to the Law and to the Testimony (Isaiah 8:20). Since God is the Creator, Controller, Originator, and Owner of His world and His creatures, we must begin with God’s Word. It is His powerful, purposeful, self-revelation (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). In it, He defines the essence of life, problems, and solutions. Among other things, the Word demonstrates to the believer what victory is and how to get it.
Convinced that the Bible is what God says it is (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21), we begin there. However, the Bible does not define or address emotions and feelings directly. Rather the Bible addresses man as a whole person. As a whole person man was designed a duplex (a unit) being: outer and inner man. He has an outer man (body) but he is not only body. He has an inner man (heart) but he is not only spiritual (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7).
In terms of function, man as a whole person, thinks, desires, and acts in both his inner and outer man. Pre-fall Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ define a normal person. As part of that normality their inner and outer man was in sync. Their thinking, wanting, and actions were directed to God and for God by truth. Self did not enter into the picture expect as a God-pleaser. They thought God’s thoughts, desired what God desired, and acted accordingly. Jesus did this perfectly and redemptively every minute of His earthly life.
Pre-fall Adam and Eve were able to take God at “face-value” as true and Truth; as a result, they thought, desired, and acted accordingly. Jesus always brought His thoughts, desires, and actions in line with who He was: His origin, identity, purpose, and destiny. Feelings and some would say emotions followed.
There is an affective side (feelings and emotions) of pre-fall Adam and Eve but there are only a few references to it. Adam did joyfully exclaim in a forceful way (wow!) when God presented Eve to him (Genesis 2:23). Prior to that Adam by God’s intention did not find a suitable helper for himself after inspecting and naming the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). We are not told of his response. Further, Adam’s response to the talking serpent such have been concern and even anger. None is reported in Scripture.
Please note that Adam and Eve had sensual experiences. They saw, touched, felt, smelled, and tasted. The senses were not the problem. It was their interpretative grid or lens. Prior to sin, their grid was God Himself and His Word. After sin, their reasoning was divorced from truth. So it continues today and until Christ returns: man interprets via feelings, experience, and or reason devoid of biblical truth via God’s Word. They recreated their own reality and re-interpreted their surrounding based on anti-God mentality.
We do know that after they were unmasked as sinners all types of feeling-related activities were described: their eyes were opened and they interpreted each other in a completely different manner – they were guilty, naked, and fearful of each other and of God (Genesis 3:7; Proverbs 28:1). They heard God and they hid (Genesis 3:8). Their fear of God was not a godly fear; rather, they were guilty and sinfully fearful (Genesis 3:10). They ran from Him assuming that they could escape the all- and ever-present God (Genesis 3:9-10; Proverbs 28:13). Their thinking was dull and darkened. They engaged in lies rather than functioning as the truth-tellers that they had been (Genesis 3:11-13). They no longer ran to God to enjoy His fellowship.
Other than the above references we are not told about feelings. I suspect that they were present because man was created with an affective aspect. Pain entered into the world after God cursed Satan; the activities of Eve in childbirth and as Adam’s helper; and Adam as a worker (Genesis 3:15-17). Adam and Eve now thought, desired, and acted differently but still as whole persons. They knew God and self but they did not know God or themselves as they ought; they did not know good and evil as they had and ought. Satan had lied and they accepted it (Genesis 3:4-6). Desires and actions now flowed from thoughts that were decidedly contrary to their thoughts and desires pre-fall.
Man does have a feeling, affective, or an emotive aspect. However what is so often missed is the creational fact that feelings and emotions are linked to thoughts, desires, and actions. In fact, the four – thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings – form a link and are interrelated. All four separately and as a unit have an origin and content.
1. Give the whole-person of man and activities in each aspect of man.
2. Feelings are commonplace. How do you define feelings and emotions?
3. What biblical principles do you use to help make sense out of both?
4. What are your thoughts on the abundance of information in the secular literature regarding feelings and emotions?
The importance of Definitions: A Biblical View: Part II
We continue our series: Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View. Before we look at God’s Word to gain biblical view of feelings and emotions, we must define our terms. Contrary to popular opinion and common usage, feelings and emotions are not synonymous, anatomically or theologically. In the physiological and psychological worlds, there is no general or scientific consensus in the literature regarding the definition of emotion or what is an emotion. Many theories have been postulated. A working definition has surfaced which is multifactorial. There is a plethora of major theories of emotions that are generally divided into cognitive and non-cognitive camps.
Theories date back to Plato and Aristotle. Plato contrasted emotion (however defined) with rational thought. He took a non-cognitive approach. On the other hand, Aristotle took a cognitive approach. He believed that emotions or at their expression is based on beliefs and intellectual assessment. Others that are considered important in regard to a non-cognitive approach to emotions include Descartes who framed perhaps the first modern non-cognitive theory of emotion. He based his construct on a philosophical framework and thought emotion was an experience; Darwin who based his views on an evolutionary framework as a habit to survive; James and Lange, psychologists who postulated a philosophical framework (each emotion has a unique physical aspect); WB Canon who pinpointed the thalamus in the brain as sender of signals resulting in physical changes such that different “emotions” share the same physical phenomena. Others include Robert Zajoric (he observed that emotions don’t need thinking – people react), Izard (infants have “emotions” before there is cognitive development). The cognitive group seems smaller and includes such names as Schachter and Singer, Antonio Damasio, William Lyons, and M.B. Arnold.
People such as psychiatrist Dr. Kubler-Ross once wrote that there are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. In 1972, psychologist Paul Eckman suggested that there are six basic emotions that are universal throughout human cultures: fear, disgust, anger, surprise, happiness, and sadness. In 1999, he expanded this list to include a number of other basic emotions, including embarrassment, excitement, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction, and amusement. And during the 1980s, Robert Plutchik introduced another emotion classification system known as the “wheel of emotions.” This model demonstrated how different emotions can be combined or mixed together, much the way an artist mixes primary colors to create other colors. Plutchik suggested that there are 8 primary emotional dimensions: happiness vs. sadness, anger vs. fear, trust vs. disgust, and surprise vs. anticipation.
What are we to do with this plethora of data? We need to heed Isaiah’s call: To the Law and to the Testimony. Isaiah as God’s mouthpiece called to and for the people to seek God in His Word (Isaiah 8:20). Sadly they failed! We must be careful not to get bogged down in theories, speculations, and personal experiences.
Let’s begin to define terms – emotion and feelings. People equate them, but this is incorrect. I will get to that point shortly. First, a little anatomy lesson is in order. God created man with a three-component nervous system. It did not evolve:
• The central nervous composed of the brain through the brainstem to the spinal cord terminating on the anterior cell;
• The peripheral nervous consisting of nerve fibers that reach out from the spinal cord to various areas of the body such as muscle and skin; the nerves transmit signals-messages and stimulate nerve receptors in various tissues;
• The autonomic nervous system consists of nerve fibers and circulating chemicals such as epinephrine. These facilitate the control of such functions as heart rate, respiratory rate, sweating, bowel function, and skin temperature. Many of the physical reactions experienced during an emotion, such as sweating palms, racing heartbeat, or rapid breathing are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.
Several facts do stand out in regards to our subject. Feelings and emotions (which we are about to define) have several components or features. Both feelings and emotions (still not defined) have a subjective, a cognitive, and a physiological aspect. They are felt or experienced in the body. Yet, they are not identical.
Feelings, such as pain and itching, have distinct nerve circuits in the body that conduct pain and itch signals. These feelings should not be considered emotions. Pain and itch sensations are part of the peripheral nervous systems. Nerve receptors for pain are present in organs such as the skin and muscle. When the nerve receptors are stimulated, nerve signals speed along nerve fibers to the spinal cord and terminate in the brain at the thalamus.
The thalamus, a part of the midbrain, is connected to other areas of the brain such as the frontal cortex which plays a role in thinking and the limbic system including the amygdala which plays a role in the expression of feelings, pain, and emotions (such as anger). The pain system has sets of chemicals that move up and down the spinal cord to modulate pain signals. These include such chemical as endorphins. God gave man his own pain-modulating system. Apparently, God designed Adam and Eve with these systems. For both, Eve would “experience” pain with childbirth and Adam’s work would now be toil. I assume that Jesus had the same physical components as well. If one interferes with these circuits, the message does not move along the nerve, and the sensation is theoretically abolished.
However, a person may still complain of the sensation of pain and itching. It is also possible to scratch away the sensation of an itch. By the act of scratching a different nerve-fiber system is stimulated and the person does not notice the itch. He may complain of pain from the trauma as a result of the act of scratching. The only way an observer knows if a person hurts or itches is if the person tells him. Only the person knows that he hurts or itches. Often this is called the experience of pain and itching.
1. What do you learn from the secular world regarding emotions?
2. Are feelings and emotions (however defined) the same?
3. Feelings are linked to what?
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience: Part III
More on Definitions
Continuing our discussion of Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View, a person can change how he “feels” when he changes his thinking about himself, his situation, and others. The concept is used in the medical field under such terms as cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback. This approach is used for a bad “feeling” or a troubling “emotion.” Somehow the feeling is attributed to the emotion. This type of approach is a backbone of Eastern religions and the concept picks up tempo in such activities as various mediations, mindfulness therapy, and yoga. People may feel better. The promoters give various reasons for this benefit. But the promoters of this approach fail to acknowledge God and His creational design of man. Further the basis of worse or better is purely subjective – only what the person says.
In the common parlance of our culture is the word feel. People use the term feel in place of thinking. People tell you how they feel. The may tell you what they about how they feel. You have to listen closely but generally they mean thinking and wanting. As believers we must be careful to use terms correctly.
Let’s try to define the term emotion. You might ask: do we go to the Bible first? There is a real issue here. The Bible uses feeling words and terms such as anger and love that in the culture are called emotions. People ask: does God have emotions? If God has them, are man’s emotions like God’s and vice versa? Does the Bible give any direction on such things as how to think, to want, to desire, to act, and to feel? In this series, I am trying to develop a biblical framework and simplify the issue for myself and for you.
As I have said, there is no consensus in terms of a definition of emotion. In the physiological world, it is hard to find a definition of emotion. It is interesting that science uses terms without a clear definition of emotion. The Christian must be careful here. We can bring the culture to the Bible and thus it becomes the interpretive tool of the Bible. Or we move out from the Bible as our interpretative tool. Wisdom and endurance is needed! See my website article: Physical-Spiritual Health and Feeling States.
1. According to Genesis 2, what is man’s origin? Do you agree or not? Why?
2. What significance does the fact of man’s origin have?
3. What is your source for defining feelings and emotions and why?
4. In order to understand man and feelings, do you begin with the Bible or secular literature? Give reasons for your answer.\
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience: Part IV
More Regarding Definitions From the Secular World
Let’s begin in the secular world and its definition. Here is a representative definition. According to the book, Discovering Psychology, “An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response. In addition to understanding exactly what emotions are, researchers have also tried to identify and classify the different types of emotions.” The definition includes a feeling aspect of an emotion but fails to differentiate feeling and emotion. Some would say the feeling is the emotion and others say it is the result of an emotion. Functionally, people equate feelings and emotions.
The article goes on to say: Most people have little problem recognizing and identifying when we are having an emotion. However, emotion is one of the most difficult concepts in Psychology to define. In fact, emotion is such a difficult concept to define adequately that there are at least 90 different definitions of emotions in the scientific literature. A simple definition of emotion is that it is a response by a whole organism, involving (1) physical arousal, (2) expressive behaviors, and (3) conscious experience.
There you have it. I think it is an adequate statement from a physiological and psychological perspective. I would tweak this definition this way so it fits with Scripture. An emotion or more accurately an expression that fits with what the culture calls an emotion is a whole-person response in terms of thoughts, desires, and actions in both the inner and outer man. It has several aspects. Please notice these follow the biblical pattern of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings:
• A cognitive aspect: it involves thinking and wanting – please note the two; both of these have content: thoughts and desires in regard to self, God, and others.
• A physiological component: physical changes are noted in the whole person including the body. The angry or fearful person’s physical heart is said to pound: he has a rapid heart rate which can be measured. There is also activity in the inner man: it is pounding as well. Please don’t miss the inner and outer man connection/link. Jesus told the apostles to cease troubling their hearts (John 14:1-2: the phrase indicates that they were troubled and Jesus commanded them to stop being troubled)! Inner-man activity can’t be measured directly. Outer-man changes can be measured and observed such as a rapid heart rate or flaring nostrils. These physical changes are mediated through the autonomic nervous system. However, emotions have no distinct nerve pathways. For instance, if you consider love, anger, or fear as emotions, you won’t find a love, fear, or anger neural pathway in the body. The autonomic nervous system controls such things as heart rate, respiratory rate, sweating, bowel function, and skin temperature that are considered the emotion itself or part of the emotion. However, biblically-speaking, a person can look and act angry because he is an angry person, from the inside out.
• A behavioral or action aspect: people act and “express their emotion.” Often a person may say that “I was emotional.” Some people believe and are taught that they are their emotions – in this case their feelings – and are a victim to them.
• A subjective component: people feel angry. In fact they are angry.
• A relational aspect: emotions are expressed in the context of God’s providence usually unrecognized or acknowledged. Their expression reflects a person’s relationship to God and others.
• A cognitive aspect: a person’s thinking about a person or circumstances is really a thought about God and His control. It is impossible to provoke an anger response unless the person has thoughts about the other person. In that sense, an angry response is primed.
Here is one last note. People often use the terms emotions and moods interchangeably. I am not sure this is a useful endeavor. But psychologists try to distinguish the two. They say that an emotion, or more accurately its expression, tends to be short-lived, but intense. Emotions are said to have a definite and identifiable cause. For example, they would say that after disagreeing with a friend, you might feel angry. They miss the point. You feel angry because you are angry! The duration of the feeling may vary and return sometimes without known provocation. This response may become a patterned response.
A mood is usually depicted as being much milder than an emotion, but longer-lasting. In many cases, it can be difficult to identify the specific cause of a mood. For example, you might find yourself feeling gloomy for several days without any clear, identifiable reason. Mood may be considered the result of thinking and wanting in response to God’s providence. People often blame “bad moods” on God’s providence – hard times. In reality, the circumstances are the context in which the person responds to God. In any case the Word of God has answers for feelings no matter what you call them. But labels do matter!
1. When you consider man and his responses in life, where do you begin? Give reasons.
2. What is the difference between emotion and feeling?
3. What definition of an emotion derived from Scripture is presented here? What is your response?
Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View: Part V
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience
As we continued the series: Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View, we come face-to-face with biblical truth. Biblically, the believer is not commanded to feel a certain way. A number of people will strongly disagree with that statement. They will mention the number of times that believers are told to feel and to emote: to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40); to be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26), to fear the Lord (Proverbs 1:7), to fear not (Matthew 14:27; John 14:1-2), and to rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 85:6; Philippians 3:1; 4:4).
However, a biblical view of feelings and emotions requires a proper knowledge of God’s design of an for man. God designed man with desires and the capacity to desire. Pre-fall Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ did not live by biological, animal-like instinct of getting for me, by me, to me. After sin, man was steeped in self-pleasing and an animal-like existence which James terms the wisdom from below (James 3:15). It is characterized by self-exaltation and self-grasping (3:13-18). Esau, and for a time Asaph, lived an animal-like existence with self and their feelings and wants being their god (Genesis 25:29-35; Psalm 73:22; Proverbs 12:1; 30:2; Philippians 3:20; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 10).
The emphasis of these passages is summarized in the biblical teaching of the doctrine of two ways and of two different receiving sets. One way describes man without the Holy Spirit who is for and to self, by satanic reasoning and the world’s system of thinking and wanting. The other way describes man indwelt by, motivated by, energized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14, 16; Galatians 5:16-18, 23-24). Only the believer desires to and is able
Correct anthropology is critical for understanding our subject.
Briefly man is real – God exists and therefore man exists as His image and likeness. As such man is:
• A real and rational, thinking being;
• A relational being – to God and others thus following God’s pattern to Himself in the Trinity and to man;
• A revelational being who receives and interprets God’s revelation in nature and the Bible;
• A religious being who worships something and someone;
• A morally responsible being having an internal standard of right and wrong, good and bad;
• A reflector of God as a dependent, covenantal being
• A representative being who is to properly demonstrate the nature and beauty of God in his thoughts, desires, and actions.
• A faith-based and hope-based being. God is not faith and hope based. He is the object of saving faith and true hope. Man was created a chooser. Faith and object have content, an object, and a subject. They are steeped in knowledge, desire, and action.
The above scheme covers man as a duplex being and a unified whole person with thoughts, desires, and actions in both the inner and outer man. You might ask: where do emotions and feelings fit? There is an affective or emotive side to man. God has “an emotive side.” Let me explain. The Triune God is the most passionate Being who has or will exist. The first two commandments focus on God and the exclusive nature of loyalty, allegiance, devotion, and worship that He deserves. Therefore recognition and worship of Him in the context of His Being and relationships are primary (Exodus 20:2-6). These passages are God’s words about Himself and what He deserves and requires. In verse 5 the Triune God describes Himself as the jealous God. The term in the original indicates zeal for Himself as a person.
The central meaning of the word indicates jealousy especially in terms of relationships. The Triune God is depicted as Israel’s husband and Father as such He is zealous and jealous for that relationship. He demands, expects, and deserves exclusive devotion (Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19; Deuteronomy 4:24; 32:16, 21; Psalms 78:58; Jeremiah 3:4, 19; 31:9). The word conveys power of fulfillment.
Some would say the word is an emotion. However, it is more than a feeling word or emotion. It is associated with a whole-person concept of God as a whole person. It moves to His the fullness of His Essence. It refers to thoughts and desires in relation to Him and His people. He expects and deserves to have His people to think and desire Him as He does in regard to Himself and them.
Moreover, the Bible teaches that God is love (1 John 4:7-12). He loved in eternity past when only He as the Triune God existed. He loved Himself as the Triune God. He did so vigorously, continuously, and perfectly. He continues and will continue to love Himself with His whole Being. He expects to be loved in a somewhat similar fashion by His people. God will not share His glory with another and does not bless His competitors (Isaiah 42:8; 48:8-11).
God is the most passionate Being who has ever existed. Our passion – zeal, hunger after, desire for, affection for and to – must be in accord with God’s passion first for Himself which overflows to His people and the universe. Therefore, we need to step out and focus on the content of thoughts and desires and bring them in line with biblical truth. Actions will follow. Feelings will follow as well but they may be slow in coming. We should not get caught in so-called emotions.
As believers, we have the capacity and the tools and provisions (a new relationship, a new heart, and the indwelling Holy Spirit) to love and to be jealous for God with all our hearts. We don’t jettison feelings nor do we elevate them to a higher place than Scripture does. Beginning with the Bible and moving out from it enables us to understand feelings and emotions in a biblical way.
1. We do we know about God as a whole Being?
2. How does He convey those concepts to believers and the Church?
3. Passion refers to what? How is the term used in everyday language?.
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience: Part VI
Man is a Whole Person, Duplex in Nature
We continue the discussion entitled: Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View. Let me offer some thoughts on the issue of man as a whole person, a duplex unit, and feelings-emotions (some of the points are taken in a summarized form from the book by Matthew Elliot: Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotions in the New Testament, especially pages 236-268). Some characterize a tension between thinking and emotions much as some do between faith and reason. Those who do, consider thinking as the intellect, totally material, and in the brain. Further, they consider emotions as feelings felt in the body. The inner man is excluded. This approach is coming close to criticizing the Holy Spirit for not making things clear! The statements have failed to understand man’s duplex nature as a whole person. He thinks, desires, and acts in both the inner and outer man. Thinking and wanting can’t be restricted to the outer man. It misrepresents the linkage of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings.
Some have written that the New Testament writers emphasize the cognitive aspect of emotions. By that they mean that emotions are commanded. They are speaking primarily of love, joy, and anger. They properly acknowledge that these can be and are changed by changed thinking. Feelings may or may not change.
There is an interesting aspect in regard to what one author wrote. The believer is commanded to love God, neighbor, and enemy (Matthew 5:43-48; 2:37-40). Some consider this command to do something with passion and feelings. Perhaps that is so. Some people may actually “love” sin and sinning. Maybe these people do emote or simply enjoy the pleasure of pleasing self (Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 5:21-23; 26:11). Pleasure can come from pleasing God or pleasing self. Some have emphasized the pleasure aspect – the joy and pleasure – of being a Christian. One term for this is Christian hedonism – pleasing God for who He is and for the joy of it. Psalm 16:11 is often used as a text to encourage pleasing God from this perspective. Is this an attempt to improve one’s emotional life? I hope not. If some take it to mean that, then self is center stage not God. The god of that person is himself.
Some have broadened the category of emotions to include love (which some have called the “chief or major” emotion), joy, and hope. They speak of positive emotions such as love and joy and negative ones such as fear and sorrow. I don’t think this is a biblical concept and the terms are not helpful in bringing change in a person’s life. The very essence of God is love. This is not an emotional statement. It is a statement of being and essence. It is a statement of relationships and of commitment. As such God defines love and demonstrates love since eternity past. He began with self – only God was there! He loves Himself. Love, His and His people, terminates on Him. That is the true circle of life (1 John 4:7-12). Loving those who were enemies as given in Romans 5:6-10 is not an emotional statement. It is a reality check. God is who He says He is and does what he has been doing. Loving rebellious sinners is a far cry from loving Himself! There was and is no reason not to love Himself! The cross proves the fact that God is love and the Resurrection confirms it.
One author was referenced who said that the Holy Spirit often attaches reasons and motivations for expressing certain emotions. He pointed to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In 1Thessalonians 4:13, Paul instructed the Thessalonians not to fear death and not to grieve as do unbelievers. Unbelievers have an ungodly, sinful fear of death and they grieve without hope. Is Paul telling them to get their emotional life correct? Or is he probing their heart by asking what is the basis of their fear of death and why are they grieving in an ungodly manner?
Paul is instructing the congregation to think and desire correctly. He is less concerned about emotions and is more concerned about God’s honor and their welfare! If the people have proper knowledge and a desire to please God, they will not fear death and they will grieve with hope
A similar example is given by Jesus as recorded by Matthew in chapter 10 (v.24-35). He told the disciples to fear God –which is godly fear; they were not to fear man which is ungodly and sinful fear. Jesus motivated the people by giving truths about God. He cares about His creation which is not His image bearer. How much more will He take care for men who are His image bearer! Right thinking about God and self breeds proper desires which leads to right actions. In this venue, Jesus taught that man is a being of choices. Choices are to be made based on proper thinking and wanting. Feelings usually follow. Jesus had choices and the Triune God had and has choices which are based on a proper knowledge of Self. This knowledge and its application are motivated by zeal for the Triune God’s honor and glory. It is not an emotional statement.
The command to delight yourself in God is an encouragement for the believer to focus on God (Psalm 37:4-5). Verse 4 (delight yourself) is coupled with verse 5: commit your way to Him and trust him). David the psalmist is instructing the people into godly wisdom during God’s hard providences. He was not telling them to get in touch with their feelings and emote. He was pointing them to their good God and the truth about Him and them. These truths are easily set aside in the midst of hard times because of bad feelings. David and Paul took this to heart and could not get enough of God (Psalm 34:8; Philippians 3:7-11).
Some people move the argument regarding emotions by stating that God has emotions. In part, they base their statement on descriptions of God, such as love and anger. Unfortunately, they move from the culture to the Bible. God’s love is unlike the creature’s love because God is not the creature and His essence is love. I am not speaking simply of love’s object, its quantity, or even its quality. God’s love is the love that springs forth from His very nature – His essence. It is incomprehensible as is His knowledge and actually Himself. Similarly, God’s anger is settled opposition of His holy and just character against evil and evil doers. Frail humanity, believers as well, can’t phantom God is love.
These descriptions of God’s love and anger bring depth, intensity, and vastness to the nature of God. They help us in our quest to develop a biblical view of feelings and emotions. Paul expressed aspects of these truths in his prayer (Ephesians 3:18-19). It takes the indwelling Holy Spirit for the believer to grasp and understand the width, depth, height, and length of God’s love because the creature is designed to know God Himself as He truly is. The same must be true of His anger and His whole Being! Knowledge and wisdom are musts in order to begin to correctly understand God. The statement: God is love is not conveying an emotion – it is conveying the very essence of God.
My plea is this: since man is the image of God and a whole person in duplex unity, the Church and believers must not import secular reasoning and rationale into their interpretation of the Bible. This seems to be especially true in the area of emotions and feelings.
1. Record your thoughts regarding emotions and feelings.
2. Do you begin with the Bible or do you bring in labels and definitions from the culture? Give reasons.
3. Think through the four link chain: thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings: what are your thoughts and how will you implement them?
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience: Part VII
The Primacy of Thoughts and Desires
The Bible’s emphasis is on proper thoughts and desires in both the inner and outer man – man as a whole person. Feelings will follow at some point. It is my conviction that we do God, the Church, and believers a disservice when we encourage feelings over thoughts and desires and separate them. The Bible commands believers to control thinking and desires based on who they are in Christ and the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. A biblical view of feelings and emotions flows from correct anthropology.
God created man a spiritual and a physical being such that thinking and wanting in both aspects of man control actions and feelings. The Bible teaches that every believer has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Did you catch the mixing and matching? God made man a physical being and believers have the mind of Christ. Those statements suggest a dichotomy and not a duplex being! But man does think and desire in both his inner man and outer man. These truths raise several questions: does man feel and emote in the inner man? How will you know? Is the affective side or aspect of man only in his body, his outer man or the whole person?
We do know that feelings as we described them (pain and itch) require a body and the various neural pathways. We do know that a person can complain of pain when no obvious source is found in the body. Many people speak of emotional pain. They are referring to the subjective aspect of man because emotions don’t hurt. People do. Sometimes a person simply says “I hurt.” Doctors then begin to look at the body including the brain and its function. There is no word for brain in the Old or New Testaments. The brain is considered part of the body. It dies and rots unlike the inner man. People do think in their brain as well as their heart.
It seems easy enough to ascribe thinking and wanting to the mind of man (1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5). The word for mind is nous, the thinking capacity of man that is often associated and functionally equated with the heart. Both are terms for the inner man. Some equated with the brain. You can’t have it both ways. Biblically the mind is another term for the inner man – immaterial aspect of man. Man thinks I his inner and we know man thinks and reasons in his brain – the body.
The inner man is also the motivational center of man – it is the site of thoughts and desires. He desires in his inner man as well as the brain – outer man (Proverbs 4:23). We are told that man desires in his brain especially via his limbic system. Whatever we want to call love and anger there certainly are whole-person activities in the whole person both the inner and outer man. There is hope for change because the believer is a changed whole-person, body and soul. There is sinful habituation of thoughts, desires, and actions in both the inner and outer man. However, it does seem that the outer man follows the lead of the inner man as given in Romans 6:6.
Every believer – as a whole person – is to take every thought captive unto the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5). Where does that occur? It occurs in both the outer and inner man. Change must occur in each. Inner-man change does not automatically result in changes in the outer man. God-pleasing outer-man changes motivated by love of God can’t and don’t occur unless there has been an inner-man change that is continuing. The activity is continuous in the whole person until the believer reaches glory. Every believer is to desire what God desires in the whole person (Psalm 40:6-8; 51:16; Jeremiah 9:23-24). He is to bring his desires
in line with biblical truth and biblical view of feelings and emotions, Adam and Eve initially and prefall were in sync with God. They were able to think and desire properly about themselves, God, and His creation. They forfeited that capacity for themselves and all mankind when they sinned. Their thinking and wanting became antigod in motivation and orientation. They became self-pleasers and God-haters as whole persons in thought, desire, and actions.
The Bible encourages and motivates believers to think God’s thoughts and desire what God desires in part to return man to his original creation design and fellowship with God (Ephesians 4;22-24; Colossians 3:8-10). In addition, thoughts, wants, actions, and feelings are linked. They form a chain of four links. Thoughts and desires influence and play a major role in modulating feelings. A proper anthropology is a must in order to develop a biblical view of feelings and thoughts.
There is no direct command for the believer to control his feelings. You might quibble and even violently disagree. You might say such things as: Paul says in your anger do not sin or to rejoice (Ephesians 4:26; Philippians 3:1; 4:4); many times Jesus said fear not – don’t be afraid (Matthew 14:27); Jesus said to love the Lord and neighbor with every ounce of you (Matthew 22:37-40). In those examples anger, joy, fear, and love are the subjects of the commands. Are these examples of a command to feel a certain way? My contention as I have explained throughout the series that it is not. The Bible’s major emphasis is on the whole person and his thoughts and desires. God knows actions and feelings follow.
1. How do you apply the phrase “the primacy of thought and desires” as its to actions and feelings?
2. The four-linked chain consists of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings. How do you respond?
3. In the four-link chain in #2, the Bible’s major emphasis is on what? Give reasons.
Feelings and Emotions: A Biblical View: Part VIII
Bad Feelings: A Universal Experience
Application and Conclusion
Based on the previous section and as an outworking of a biblical view of feelings and emotions let’s apply truth to those who complain of bad feelings. first, please don’t put a label on the person because of their complaints of bad feelings! Second, there are at least two aspects to evaluate: the source of bad feelings and the person’s response to them. Based on a biblical view of feelings and emotions, the two (origin and response) are linked. Sometimes bad feelings just are; they may be due simply to the curse of sin and failing bodies (Romans 5:12-14; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Bad feelings seem to occur spontaneously. At other times, bad feelings are the result of previous patterns of sin that seem to “crop up” (Proverbs 5:21-22; 26:11). However, the feelings are rarely isolated. They are associated with a lifestyle of self-pleasing that may or may not have been recognized and addressed by the person previously. Sometimes, bad feelings result from being sinned against and responding to the person in an unbiblical manner. Sometimes bad feelings occur because a person has sinned and as a result, there is inner-man turmoil.
Third, bad feelings are never neutral. The first consideration when addressing bad feelings is a spiritual inventory regarding their source and the person’s response to them (Hebrews 4:12; James 1:22; 5:14-16). Have the person answer: what is the source of the feelings? Is it possible that there is wrong thinking and wanting that is or has been prevalent in his life? Is there sin that needs to be addressed? There may or may not be. But the purpose of the spiritual inventory is not relief; it is to honor God. Relief may come but as a byproduct.
Bad feelings may be the result of a sinful response to God’s providence in whatever form. They may be a result of actually responding to the bad feelings! Bad feelings may make it easier for a person to respond sinfully. But they don’t cause the person’s response. Many people believe otherwise thinking they are a victim to feelings and God’s providence. Rather, they are the context of the response. Circumstances always must be viewed through the God of circumstances and the believer’s God.
After a spiritual inventory, no specific sin or unbiblical thinking and wanting can be found. Repentance is not required. That being the case, the next consideration is the person’s response to the bad feelings. A person sins when his major desire (and zeal!) to have the feelings gone has outstripped his desire to please God in the midst of them. These are strong words perhaps. For some it is a theological mountain.
In summary and based on our studies of feelings and emotions, a biblical view , when helping a person who complains of bad feelings, we are to consider: first, the source or origin of the bad feelings; and two, the person’s response to them. A third consideration is proper stewardship (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 5:15-18). The believer is called to be a good steward of his whole person both inner and outer man. He is to use the bad feelings as an opportunity to grow in Christlikeness by applying the truth of such passages as Psalm 34:8; Romans 8:28-29 and 12:1-2. This requires wisdom, diligence and trust.
The person’s goal is to get to his thinking and wanting. He has the mind of Christ and he has His grace (1 Corinthians 2:16) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:5). The believer is able to think, desire, and act according to biblical truth. He has a proper view of feelings and emotions. As a result, changed feelings generally follow. If they don’t, the person is to reevaluate himself. I had one lady tell me that her feelings where still there but it is was “OK.” Interesting. She said she had a far greater task – to grow and change in Christlikeness that kept her busy. Armed with a biblical view of feelings and emotions, she was a victor in the problem not necessarily out of it. Her focus was not on good feelings but growth. What is true of thoughts and desires is true of feelings. They are linked. Feelings never just-are. They and their expression have an origin. Biblical truth rightly applied is God’s gift to the believer to get victory. A biblical view of feelings and emotions is tied to a proper view of thinking and wanting. It will come His way motivated by the desire to please Him!
1. Recite and meditate on the ditty: thinking, wanting, doing, and feelings are linked.
2. Keep a journal as you work out the validity of that truth.
3. Record your view of feelings and emotions before the study with biblical view of feelings and emotions. What did you learn?
4. Begin to apply such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5, and Psalm 40:6-8 daily and record the result.