Saturday, June 3, 2017

When Emotions are Untamed Horses


There was a time in my life when believing the truths of the Bible caused an earthquake in my life.  Did God really exist?  Was the Bible true?  Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  My search for truth in these questions dominated my life for several years.  And at the end of a rather obsessed season of study, I was convinced:  I could trust the Bible.

People often equate faith with blind faith--mindlessly chucking all rational thought into the wind for the sake of belief.  But when I talk about faith in God, and the Bible, and the resurrection, I don't know if I could even call it faith by that definition--because it's 100% rational for me.  And as a result, I rarely have intellectual doubts in Christianity anymore.

No, where faith comes in for me is in the area of emotion.

I must admit that I don't have a lot of patience for emotion.  I prefer rational, clear thinking based on facts.  But my emotions don't often cooperate, bucking around like untamed horses, refusing to be domesticated.

Sometimes I think that the entire Christian life consists of believing God over believing my emotions.

Anxiety tells me, You must control your life or everything will fall apart and the world will end.  But God tells me, I am in control.  Nothing can separate you from me, and that is the One Important Thing.

Resentment tells me, You deserve to be treated better.  You deserve more appreciation.  You have a right to demand it.  God tells me, This life is not about you.  You can forgive because I forgave you.  Wash their feet.

Despair tells me, The world is dark.  Things fall apart.  There's no point in fighting.  God tells me, I am the Light of the World, and there is always hope.

So who will I believe?  My emotions, or God?  Believing God--right there--that is faith.

The problem is--everyone knows--that emotions are powerful.  So powerful that they cloud the way we see the world.  When anxiety or resentment or despair or lust or anger or grief or happiness have taken over our souls--then that is reality for us.  The emotion, quite literally, defines our universe.

It doesn't help, of course, that we live in a society that glorifies emotion.  From the time we are small children, we are told to Follow our hearts and Get in touch with ourselves and Validate her feelings, which really are just other ways of saying that we should let our emotions rule us.  And, of course, I'm not suggesting that we become a society of stoics who stuff and deny and shut up everything we feel--because that's not the right path either.

But as those who have been transformed by the gospel, who are being controlled by the Holy Spirit, there's got to be a better way.  There's got to be a way where we feel deeply, and yet at the same time, learn to take those emotions by the scruff of the neck and wrangle them into submission to God's Truth.

And that's why faith is so important.  Because when I'm seeing the universe through an emotion, I must have faith that what that emotion is telling me is wrong.  I must step back and look at myself from the outside, and analyze what I am feeling from the rock-solid words of Scripture, and then preach to myself instead of listening to myself.*  

That means, sometimes, that I must loudly rebuke my despair or shame or self-pity, or, the most aggressive in my case--anxiety.  It means I must hold on by my fingertips to the things I know that are true.

And it also means that in those times when I am thinking rationally, that I do the hard mental work of knowing what God's Word says and why I know it is true.  Because if I am not absolutely convinced, then there is no way I will be able to fight that fear or resentment or frustration when they take over my brain.

Faith isn't blind--except when I am blinded by emotion.  Then, faith is believing what I already know to be true.



*from John Piper

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