inside my brain

In Defense of Emotion

I vividly remember a high school chapel service in which Scary Mark read a verse about Christ’s power over death and was upset that a rousing cry did not ring out among the students. After a chastizing sermon about being passionate for Jesus, he read the verse again, receiving his shouts from a few students who hoped he would then leave us alone. I believed in Christ’s resurrection and thanked God for it, but I would not fake such emotion.

Emotion is a tricky thing when it comes to our faith, and it is often ridiculed because it is so easily mistaken, misled, and misused. Many times we look at those who break into tears at every special service or abandon themselves in worship and condescendingly think, “I just don’t worship God like that. I don’t feel all that emotion which will be gone tomorrow or the next week. My faith may be quieter, but it is not so superficial.”

Because it often receives so much focus (especially in my charistmatic-ish neck of the Christian woods), emotion is often feared and avoided when it comes to our God.

Yet I feel this is a terrible mistake.

Do lovers, resting quietly in a park on a sunny day, gaze at each other and proclaim, “No. We shall not touch. That is all emotion. It is not real.”

Of course not!

Yes, it can be dangerous. It is easy and convenient to focus only on those emotional satisfactions, and a relationship that relies on such experiences may falter without them. But when the relationship has been built on a solid foundation, those emotions are the pure expression of complete joy!

I do not always feel ravishing emotion towards my God. Some days I read the Word and feel like I’ve received nothing; sometimes I pray only crying out for help. Sometimes I believe all the truths about God but feel nothing stirring inside me.

But when God reveals some facet of his unfathomable mercy and grace and power, some direct answer to prayer or some direct speaking through a verse, some hidden insight into his glorious, unconditional love that covers us completely and eternally ~ O my soul, Rejoice! How can we not be overcome! When that lyric plays across my iPod or verse plays across my mind and that emotion fills my being,

I cannot hold it in and remain composed
Love’s taken over me
So I propose
The letting myself go, I am letting myself go

You are my joy
You are my joy
You are my joy
YOU ARE MY JOY!

In that moment, I don’t care whether I’m getting caught up in an emotion or stop to ponder the theological significance of my feelings ~ I just want to smile and laugh and sing and shout and dance because of the consuming joy!

Does this mean I believed any less in God’s love and power on that emotionless chapel day than I do on this day when the simplest lyric cannot keep a smile from my face? Of course not. Religious emotion is a curious thing, nearly as fleeting and unreliable as its romantic counterpart. Perhaps tomorrow, or next week, there will be no smile.

But that does not make today’s emotion, or the emotion of any genuine “mountain-top experience,” any less real than that of the lovers in each other’s arms. In fact, it is probably part of something infinitely more real than anything in this world.

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