THE EMOTIONAL CHRISTIAN

When I was young, church youth groups used to have competitions based on familiarity with the Scriptures. We had ‘Sword Drills’ where a game host would call out a scripture reference, repeat the reference and then say, “Charge!” That meant that the competitors had to quickly flip through their Bible to find the verse. The first one would jump to their feet and begin reading the passage. If they answered correctly, they would score a point for their team.

Another game was called Bible Trivia. The game host would ask questions based on Bible knowledge. The first one to correctly answer scored a point for their team.

These games helped me develop an awareness of how much I had to learn about the Scriptures. They taught me that you could develop a fast mind for accessing and recalling information. The competitions were fun!

One of the trivia questions I remember was this one: What is the shortest verse in the Bible?

The answer? ‘Jesus wept.’

Jon Bloom wrote,
“The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” But for all its grammatical simplicity, it’s packed with unfathomable complexity.”[1]

What I do not remember learning much about in younger years was how to grow in my emotional life. I was taught that feelings were suspect; it was better to have knowledge and trust in the facts. I was taught that God did not want to make me happy, but to give me joy.

As a Pentecostal we were often maligned for being too emotional in our preaching and our worship. As a young musician inspired by the Jesus Movement, the raw emotions of rock music were frowned upon. The refined, sublime and conservative emotions were considered more appropriate for songs of faith.

There seemed to be a narrow bandwidth for emotion in my life.

So, I learned to keep a lid on my emotions. I could be happy, but not excitedly happy. I could be sad, but not depressed. I could be angry if it was about sin, but probably should keep my anger to myself. This distrust of emotion was fuelled by the fear of man. It took me years to recognize and get free of my emotional limitation.

On the other hand, I knew many people who were ruled by emotions that seemed to be about something other than what they were expressing. Sad and despairing people who were happy if you noticed how miserable they were… Party animals who were outrageously funny and loud, but had dark, dead eyes and got into big troubles… Sugary sweet people who could suddenly turn vicious…

--> Many theologians throughout history have argued strongly that God is not moved by emotions. This doctrine of the impassibility of God, developed by early Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr, sought to distinguish the God of the Bible from pagan gods whose passions led them into all kinds of scandalous behaviour. It is not surprising that Christians responded to the myths of Zeus's rapes and arbitrary vengeance with an absolute statement of divine impassibility. What they meant to emphasize was that God does not have mad, shameful passions like the gods of pagan mythology. [2]

Maybe though, our attempts to tame the God of the Bible into a well-behaved, don-t-rock-the-boat, nice deity turn him into a plastic idol. After all, who wants a god that is more alive than we are?

John Stott wrote,

"I learned to my astonishment that God, whose 'impassibility' I thought meant that he was incapable of emotion, speaks (though in human terms) of his burning anger and vulnerable love. I discovered too that Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect human being, was no tight-lipped, unemotional ascetic. On the contrary, I read that he turned on hypocrites with anger, looked on a rich young ruler and loved him, could both rejoice in spirit and sweat drops of blood in spiritual agony, was constantly moved with compassion, and even burst into tears twice in public. From all this evidence it is plain that our emotions are not to be suppressed, since they have an essential place in our humanness and therefore in our Christian discipleship." [3]


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