Formation

Faith Without Emotion is Dead: Avoiding False Choices When Leaders Fall

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“Love alone is credible.” -Hans Urs von Balthasar

Every time we hear of a Christian leader walking away from faith, we want to diagnose the cause: it was because of sin, poor theology, the culture.

I’m hesitant to diagnose because this often keeps us from the better work of lament and confession. But I am troubled by one common conclusion, especially since it actually contributes to the problem it tries to diagnose.

Every time we hear of a Christian leader walking away from faith, we want to diagnose the cause: it was because of sin, poor theology, the culture. Click To Tweet

I’ve seen it in various forms, but it’s best summed up in the recent Facebook post of Skillet band member John Cooper. In response to what he calls the falling away of influential Christian leaders, he writes:

“It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion.”

My response: that is a false choice!

When I read the Word, I see deep calling to deep. Over and over again.
I see the depth of mortal anguish, longing, desire, crying out, and immortal anguish, longing, desire, crying right back.

I see Psalmists parched with their thirst for God.

I see Paul, expressing deep emotion toward God and his followers, praying that according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant them strength in their inner being with power through His Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, as they are being rooted and grounded in love. He longs for them to fathom the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. Nothing about his engagement with God or his brothers and sisters is distanced or objective, safe or impersonal.

I see Jesus doggedly stepping into suffering, shame, and rejection over and over again out of a crazy joy that it will lead to more connection with us and with the Father.

I see a wedding feast where we at last are one with our Beloved.
And through it all I see a God who will not give up on his precious creation.

This IS Truth.
Truth is not a statement but a Person, and that Person IS Love.

Perhaps this is not a time to put more pressure on humans to compartmentalize these vital parts of ourselves. This only causes more harm and perpetuates the problem we’re trying to solve.

Instead, it’s time to create a little nuance in our thinking about emotions and faith.

Without God’s deep emotion, the Good News is just a transaction. Without an appreciation for God’s heart, the Gospel is a theological formula. Click To Tweet

Our faith is entirely based on emotion—the emotion of an Eternal Being who created this world even though He knew we would reject him. It makes no sense apart from love. And we cannot even imagine the depth of pain it caused him when we did reject Him. He could have directed all that pain towards our destruction, but instead He set about a new plan to recreate it all. That makes no sense apart from love. The story of his patient engagement with disobedient people over the course of centuries makes no sense apart from love. And the story of his choice to become one of us and die a shameful death makes no sense apart from love.

Without God’s deep emotion, the Good News is just a transaction.
Without an appreciation for God’s heart, the Gospel is a theological formula.

This love of God’s is not a rational, removed general concern for us but a deep, abiding, passionate, consuming love.

Do we think our deep connection with our parents, our yearning for our spouses, or the crazed love we have for our children is the highest love? As powerful as this human love is that drives us to persevere through pain and suffering in human relationships, are we so self-absorbed to think that we are the only ones with such deep emotion? That our small hearts can compare to the heart of the eternal God?

What if…?

What if our emotions are a God-given way for us to grasp His emotion for us?

What if we can’t understand Him, can’t fathom His Truth, until we are honest about our own emotion?

So here are two disciplines required for this kind of vibrant faith:

1. Name and Express Emotion

In order to trust the unchanging heart of God, day in and day out, we have to be in touch with our own changing heart. This doesn’t mean shaming the human reality of our changeability. It means having a healthy outlet for whatever pain, joy, darkness, delight, confusion, or longing is there. It means having a healthy way to express our confession to God or to one safe human, perhaps through artistic expression or journaling, but an outlet nonetheless.

We have a model for this in the Psalms—there is room for despair and doubt, brokenness and joy, love and anger, sometimes in the same breath. And in most cases this expression of what is changeable in us leads us back to the unchanging goodness and love of God.

And as we step into this unchanging goodness, we can press into the  second discipline.

2. Choose to Trust the Good Feelings

Every day the Lord is wooing us. Every breeze that brushes your cheek, every kind word, every delicious burst of flavor is a sign of God’s love. Every, every way your body works, every beautiful thing is a sign of God’s love. Our very existence is His love at work. In Him we live and move and have our being.

Our very existence is His love at work. In Him we live and move and have our being. Click To Tweet

To live in this Truth means we’ll at times feel a little delusional. We’ll always be working (and it is work) to receive the fullness of every good emotion and, at the same time combat every temptation to despair, to doubt, to question. And we don’t combat those temptations by letting them fester in the dark but by naming them, bringing them to the light and (in healthy, wise ways) sharing them so that others can speak the truth of God’s love over the enemy’s accusations and lies.

At a time like this, when our leaders are walking away, our institutions are in decline, and our young adults are questioning, will we place more demands on ourselves and one another? Will we say, “Put aside your emotions! Just buckle down and don’t expect anything to feel anything!” Human self-discipline is an exhaustible resource. Our determination and understanding can only push us so far. In what other relationship would we expect ourselves to press on with no emotional engagement? In what other situation would we expect a relationship to continue based only on obedience to disembodied concepts? Thankfully, even when we push ourselves beyond our emotional limit in this way, relying on our own understanding and will, when it finally crushes us we will have no other choice but to fall into His arms. And to finally rest in His love.

Our faith is based on the unchanging emotion of an eternal, expansive heart. Our work is to tune our own changeable hearts to receive and respond this heart of His, which is always True.

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