The Danger and Design of Emotions

Updated: Feb 6


There are many facets to living out Christianity:

  • Beliefs

  • Desires

  • Emotions

  • Experiences

  • Behaviors

  • Relationships

  • Community

  • Among others

The last article compared these components to the settings on a computer screen because these have many settings, and if they’re too high or too low it’ll distort the image.


If the settings of our Christianity are too high or low, it’ll distort our experience of Christianity and how we live it out. It’ll be like an image on a screen that’s twisted, colorless, and indiscernible.


It won’t look right. Or work right.


How devastating would it be to always have a Christianity like this?


We need balance in all the settings.


Last time we looked at the BELIEFS and DESIRES settings, where we saw that if either one of these is overemphasized or underemphasized, it results in a corrupt version of Christianity.


Now, let’s see how emotions fit in the picture.


The Design of Emotions


Could you use a vacuum cleaner to mow the lawn?


Or a lawnmower to give haircuts?


It might work, but it would also be counterproductive, even dangerous—not to mention stupid. Design is important.


We need to follow God’s design by having a balance of all our humanness, including desires and emotions. If we go against God’s design, it can be counterproductive and dangerous.


Like desires, emotions are:

  • God’s plan

  • Very human

  • Very good

  • And very important

The EMOTIONS setting works together with DESIRES and BELIEFS.


Here’s how.


Emotions are a physical reaction to our beliefs. Specifically, we experience emotions by the chemicals (hormones and neurotransmitters) in our bodies interacting with our nervous system.


For example, if you see a bear running towards you your desire for self-preservation combined with the belief that you’re in danger will make your body produce the emotion of fear.


The body does this by releasing cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline into the bloodstream. These chemicals connect to receptor sites in the nervous system to increase our heart rate, blood sugar, awareness, energy, and urgency.


We experience fear. This marvelous process is how God designed the interaction between our bodies and minds.


And it's good.


“The wise see danger and hide themselves, but fools go on and suffer for it.” (Prov. 22:3).


Without fear, we wouldn’t care about danger. We’d be apathetic. We wouldn’t hide. And we would die.


There’s nothing wise or spiritual about that.


Emotions are good.


All emotions work this way. If you believed that bear was a long-lost loved one, you’d be happy. If you thought it was a person who hurt you, you’d be angry. Each with a unique release of chemicals.


When the EMOTIONS Setting is Too Low or High


When emotions are centralized, it can result in:

  • Seeking emotional highs

  • Avoiding uncomfortable emotions

  • Making decisions based on emotions

Emotionalism.


When any setting of this process is too high it becomes like a black hole: it pulls and warps the other nearby settings. When emotional pursuits are our highest value it bends our BELIEFS and RELATIONSHIPS setting to accommodate the pursuit of emotions.


Our faith and relationships suffer for the sake of emotions.


Emotionalism can keep us from loving others when it doesn’t bring emotional pleasure, or it can result in avoiding difficult people altogether because they bring negative emotions.


It can also pervert our view of God by blinding us to his traits that make us uncomfortable—such as his intense displeasure with idolatry and violence, as well as his eventual destruction of those who persist in them.


Emotionalism makes us junkies for emotional highs but intolerant of emotional lows. And this deforms our Christianity because if we can't tolerate discomfort, we won't be able to follow Jesus in carrying our cross for the love of others.


But EMOTIONS can’t be turned too low either.


Consider this: Do you think God has emotions?


Since Platonism created Gnosticism, which early-on infiltrated Christianity, many in the church have treated emotions like a disease. Some have gone so far as to say that God is emotionless because emotions are bad or inferior.


Most wouldn’t overtly say this (though many have), but they act like it.


This is like the flattening effect Platonism has on desires: it tries to cut them out from the human experience. It turns the DESIRES setting too low.


The sticky tentacles of Platonism are still attached to Christians today, many who turn the EMOTIONS setting too low by:

  • Ignoring feelings

  • Not discussing feelings

  • Pretending they don’t have feelings

  • Thinking emotions are inferior

  • Thinking expressing emotions is weak

  • Avoiding listening about other’s emotions

This is like ignoring our thirst for water: it's won't work, and it's harmful.


We’re not robots. We’re human, and humans bleed and cry.


If we tamper with God's design for emotions, our faith can be as harmful as using a lawnmower to give haircuts.


Balancing our Emotions


What happens when someone makes you angry?


Or if you’re worried about something?


If you simply wish it away or ignore it, the feeling will fade, but the root will hide in the folds of your brain. And that root will continually grow and bear poisonous fruit. Until your beliefs are confronted.


This is where faith comes in.


If our emotions are the product of our beliefs, then we must deal with our beliefs. If I’m living in fear of another bear attack, I can’t make that go away by pretending it’s not there.


I must:

  • Detect the belief underneath the emotion

  • Analyze the belief to expose lies

  • Confront the lies with a corresponding truth

Here’s how.


I might believe another bear will attack me. I might even be afraid to leave the house. Is this rational or true?


Probably not. Now how can I combat this with the truth?


I can do this in two ways. One, from common sense, such as, “It’s not likely that I’ll encounter another bear.”


Or.


By the plethora of God’s promises, such as, “I can’t control whether I’m attacked by a bear, but God can. And he promises to use all things in my life for my good, so if he allows a bear attack, he will somehow make it worth my while. Either way, I’ll be okay.”


If I believe this truth, my fear will dissolve into thin air.

That’s how faith operates with poisonous emotions.


But our hearts are like a garden, and a good garden doesn’t just need to be weeded. It also needs to be filled with good flowers and sweet fruits.


Here are some of the emotions God wants in the garden of our hearts:

  • Inexpressible joy in Jesus and his promises (1 Pt. 1:3-8; Gal. 5:22)

  • Sadness over wrongs (James 5:1; Jn. 11:35)

  • Anger at injustices (Psalm 4:4, 7:11)

  • Fear at real danger (Lk. 12:5)

To be apathetic about any of these would be repulsive.


To have flat emotions at Jesus’ love, or violence against the innocent, or the pain of another person, or the danger of someone dying without Jesus—would be inhuman, and lead to inhumane apathy.


It would be scandalous.


Emotions and Our Purpose


God constructed emotions not only for our pleasure and guidance, but to play a key role in our relationships.


As our joy in Jesus leads us to follow and obey him, so our joy in one another is meant to lead us to love one another, as John said, “I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn. 12).


Or as Paul waited in excitement as he watched people strive towards unity and love: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love” (Phil. 2:2).


Happiness in others is healthy. And necessary.


Note: in Greek, “happiness” and “joy” are the same word. Joy isn’t any more spiritual than happiness because they’re the same emotion.


But Paul also feared for the spiritual condition of his people: “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:3).


He loved them, even with all his emotions.


He even told others to, “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). We’re commanded to abolish apathy and embrace empathy.

In fact, we should feel the full spectrum of emotions about God and people. This is holy, righteous, and true.

To gut emotions out of the human experiences short-curcuits how we function, and makes us less like God, and less like how God designed us. And therefore, less able to follow Jesus in loving people.


Emotions are very good, and very much a part of living out Christianity.


According to God’s glorious design, may our desires, reframed around our faith in the Messiah, produce healthy emotions that:

  • Lead us to a lifestyle of worship

  • Lead us to bold obedience and love

  • Lead us to protect the vulnerable

  • Lead us to fight for the helpless

  • Bind us together

May we squash poisonous emotions by killing their roots with the truth. May we be filled with the rainbow of emotions God designed us for so we can be human more completely, praise God more fully, and love each other more wholly.


To be continued.


Please email me with any prayer requests or questions about Christianity.


Be bless beloved.