GOD CARES ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL by Brian Borgman for Core Christianity
When I was a new believer in the early 1980s, it seemed I was in a constant tug-of-war. I read and heard that emotions are just the caboose; the engine is fact. The coal car is faith, and the caboose is feelings. The train will run fine on fact and faith; feelings are optional. But feelings never felt optional. On the other side of the rope, emotions were a requirement. If you were “touched by God,” you would feel it. And you should want to feel it. You were supposed to feel God’s presence and power. After all, we would sing, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place; I can feel his mighty power and grace.” Even more amazing: “I hear the brush of angel’s wings; I see glory on each face”! Doctrine and the mind were on one side; emotions and experience were on the other.
To say I was confused is an understatement. If my emotions could not be trusted, if they were optional, nonessential to faith, and yet God’s presence could be, indeed should be felt, then what was I to do? Faith needed to be felt. After all, wasn’t assurance simply feeling saved? Most certainly, a feeling-driven faith proves unstable, and “feeling saved” is no foundation for full assurance. But then again, a Joe Friday intellectualism that focuses only on “the facts, ma’am, just the facts” falls short of a robust Christianity filled with gratitude, fear, joy, peace, and love. The ultimate answer to the role of emotions in the Christian life needs to be searched out in God’s word. If the Bible addresses the whole person, then the Bible can at least give us a framework for understanding the emotions.
Feelings, Emotions, Affections
There are a few words in the Bible that can convey the concept of “feelings.” For instance, in the Song of Solomon: “My beloved extended his hand through the opening, and my feelings were aroused for him” (5:4 NASB).
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The New Testament also has words that convey similar ideas. Feelings or emotions are sometimes expressed in visceral terms. Jesus “felt compassion [Greek, splanchnizomai]” on the crowds (Matt. 9:36), and Paul longed for the Philippians with “the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). Although these are helpful, the Bible does not give us a clinical definition of emotions. The Bible does, however, frequently describe emotions. Some might argue and even make distinctions between emotions and affections. For this article, I will not be maintaining these finer distinctions and will basically use the terms “emotions” and “affections” interchangeably.