Sanctifying Emotion

In academic circles broadly, and theological circles specifically, emotion has a bad reputation. There are efforts to shut down feelings so that pure, logical thought can prevail. Today I am saying, “Enough!”

People who study theology of the Christian faith base their foundational beliefs in the writings of faith bound together in the Bible. Scripture is full of feeling, both human and divine, and in no corner of the Holy text are we instructed to stop having emotion in order to be in right relationship with God.

From the first chapter of the first book in our scriptures we find God expressing great emotion as creation leaps to order at the Word of God. At every stage, God pronounces creation “good.” When God finishes on the sixth day, creation is pronounced “Very good!” This is not a mathematical statement. It is not a cold, reasoned proposition. It is the enthusiastic, joy-filled, emotional proclamation of our God who delights in what has been made!

Throughout the first testament, the Jewish scriptures declare God’s delight, anger, sadness, frustration, eagerness, disgust, and hope. These are statements of deeply felt, and unapologetically expressed emotion.

If we zero-in on the life of Jesus, we see the very same emotions experienced by God-made-flesh. Jesus is puzzled, joyous, compassionate, angry, frustrated, sorrowful, and apprehensive. He weeps. He smiles. I can almost hear him laugh as he calls out to his disciples in the boat in John 21, “Hey guys, did you catch anything yet?”

All of this emotion from a God who created us, made us in the Divine image, and longs for connection with us enough to dwell among us. And what is irksome to me today is the denial of these same emotions expressed by humans as we explore and puzzle out who this God is, and how to join Heaven’s work on earth.

Logic is useful. It is necessary. It is a wonderful tool and gift from God to be able to think with a measure of objectivity. Cold logic, used while denying our humanity and the humanity of others, is deadly. (This is why so many are afraid of artificial intelligence.)

I can hear the arguments building, “But so is unbridled emotion. It kills, too!” Emotion can be threatening. It feels wild and uncontrollable sometimes. We can learn to engage both our emotions and our logic, to be curious about what we are feeling and make decisions that honor those feelings while recognizing the value of others. A person who is fully-engaged with their emotions, enough to feel both anger and compassion for the person in front of them, is someone I would trust with my life.

I’m not arguing for an end to logic. What I long to see is the full-inclusion of our humanity as we approach divinity. Humanity, after all, is part of God’s creation. It is how God made us. It is how we reflect God’s image into the world. To cut off part of ourselves in order to better honor God is like a child disfiguring their family resemblance in order to better honor their parents.

God is not afraid of emotion. Bible writers were not afraid to talk about God’s emotions and their own. We are even commanded to express emotion even as we are directed to find our peace in God. Let’s recognize our emotions as a gift and an inheritance. Let’s learn to notice and be curious about what we are experiencing as we walk through life, and as we study the scriptures and theology. Let’s integrate ourselves and be fully human as we approach God who made us to both think and feel.

I know that you fear God.
Genesis 22:12

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.
John 15:11

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
Romans 9:2

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:26

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Philippians 4:4-8

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