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Christian Emotionalism


There is a whole spectrum of emotions that humans are capable of. many are very pleasant and may be thought of as those that might be stimulated by a visit to an amusement park. Interestingly the word amusement is from the Greek and means “without thinking”.The physical sensation of the rides and the possibility of winning a prize at an arcade can all evoke pleasant emotions that can be savored and consumed leaving pleasant memories and a future desire to repeat the experience. The pleasure one has with a good book or movie is also similar.

Christians can also experience similar sensations in their churches. A particularly gifted speaker can touch emotions as well as activities that, even if not frenzied, are engaging enough to draw out emotional responses. Even the solemnity of a Cathedral can be imposing enough to evoke an emotional response.However, these might all be seen as consumptive in that the experience and associated emotions are repeatedly sought after. This can be similar to those who seek after other sensations (Jam 4:3).

There are other emotions that result from ambitions and desires. These are less for consumption but rather the result of intent. In the movie An Officer and a Gentleman there is a scene where a drill instructor is try to get an officer candidate to drop out of the program. His exhortation to drop out is intensely rejected with the cry that it is the only thing he can have hope in. The emotional intensity is compelling. However it was mitigated for me that as a former enlisted man seeing someone so horrified by the prospect was a little insulting. However, it did demonstrate that which fills the heart is that which is spoken (Mat 12:34).

For Christians, an inventory of what words were spoken on a particular day can reveal what is foremost in our hearts. Daniel set himself on a particular course by “purposing in his heart” (Dan 1:8). This gives a little insight as to how Christians can make use of their emotions to help them avoid the seductions of the world. Emotions left undirected tend to cause us problems (Jer 17:9). If one considers the verbs of entreaty in Provers 2:1-11 (receive, hide, incline, apply, criest, seekest, and searchest) one can feel the passion to strive. Some today with great sincerity strive to follow such exhortations, but often flag over time as it is difficult to find the strength to consistently support such noble intentions.

The Christian today has more resources upon which to draw than did those of the Old Testament. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6) and the opportunity to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5), to put on the “new man” (Eph 4:24), to have a renewed mind free from worldliness (Rom 12:2-3), and to be free from the compulsions of the flesh (Rom 13:14).

One can perhaps best see the difference between emotions run amok and emotions that result from a purposeful life by considering the word “love”. For many this is something that is fallen into and out of. This reflects emotions that are free ranging. The bible defines love (1 Cor 13:4-7) as essentially a result of conscious decisions to forgo selfish interests. The bible tells husbands to love their wives (Eph 5:25). While romantic and emotional sensations abound and can ebb and flow, the decision to give selfless love is a result of what one “purposes in their heart”.

There is a risk of pursuing emotional sensations, misjudging truth because of feelings, and a failure to develop critical thinking. However, when emotions are kept as a “cart after a horse”, they can be a blessing and can contribute to the richness of life.


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