Emotions in the Bible

The interplay between emotions and faith is incredibly important to me. I feel a bit embarrassed to bring it up yet again – it is definitely possible to tell a story too many times! – but the main reason for this is my own journey with emotional ill health. I know from experience just how important it is to relate well to our emotions.

A couple of weeks ago, after wrestling with some teaching I heard on emotions which I couldn’t quite pin down as either helpful or unhelpful, I found myself sitting down with an excitable plan to read the whole Bible to try to glimpse God’s big-picture on emotions.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I haven’t finished the ‘read and reflect on the whole Bible’ project just yet! I’ve only read Genesis so far, but I thought, ‘Why not blog as I go?’ Which has so far proved more difficult than I thought it would be. Forgive me if its not my best work!

So, here are some thoughts buzzing round my head following reading Genesis.

  • Eve delights in and desires for something (the fruit) that will mean death for her. Should we be more aware that delighting in and desiring something does not mean that that thing is necessarily good for us? That blindly following our hearts can be terrible advice? 
  • The Fall ushers into the world a whole list of negative emotions – shame, fear, pain, anger, the inability to bear something, contempt, displeasure, despising, hate, bitterness, fury, envy, terror, dismay and distress. Does being a Christian mean we experience these less as we grow, because we are new creations? What about the fact that we continue to live in a broken messed-up world? Does this mean that we should look forward with greater expectancy to a new creation where these emotions will be no more? 
  • God asks Cain why he’s feeling angry – ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?’. Should we make it a habit to engage with our emotions, and ask ourselves why we’re feeling them?
  • God applies truth to Cain’s emotions. Should we make a habit of asking others / God to speak truth into our view on the world?
  • “Sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain’s anger provides the context for his sin. Eve’s delight in and desire for the fruit provides the context for her sin. Should we be more aware that both positive and negative emotions can make it easier for us to sin? 
  • When Cain tells God that he cannot bear it, God lifts part of a burden from Cain which he very much deserved for killing his brother. Should God’s mercy in regard to Cain’s emotions encourage us to be merciful to ourselves when we feel we cannot bear something, and to expect mercy from God when we ask him for it too?
  • God tells Abraham, Hagar and Isaac to ‘fear not’ and gives them reasons not to – “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” “God has heard the voice of the boy… I will make him into a great nation.” “I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring.” Since these are long-term reasons not to fear, how do I allow God to speak into my fears for the long-term, rather than trying to always do emotional first-aid in the moment?
  • Abraham is commended for fearing God. Is our perspective on God too small and too domesticated? – “Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
  • In Genesis, emotions are often not spelled-out, but we often try to get inside the head of the character in order to relate to them. Should we be more cautious about ascribing emotions to a character where it’s not spelled-out? Can assuming a particular emotion vs. another alternative emotion fundamentally change the way we read a passage?
  • Should we be asking the question, if God doesn’t tell us the emotion being felt, does that mean that he wants us to focus on something else in the story?

Just some thoughts… unstructured and unconcluded as they are. Now onto Exodus!

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2 thoughts on “Emotions in the Bible

  1. Ooh interesting series!! I look forward to hearing more! Have you read/heard Ellis Potter much? He doesn’t talk about emotions, so this might seem tangential, but your posing-questions style post made me think of his writing. I think you’d enjoy his stuff – it’s very thinky and deep and foundational and good!

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