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A Brief Theology of Emotions

We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?

Emotions are part of God’s good design

First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.”[1] Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design.[2] Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).

So, Jay Adams says:

“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”[3]

You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.

Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most dominant.[4] It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations.[5] We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.

But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…

Emotions are broken by sin

A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.”[6] After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says:

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Jesus on Anxiety

We all worry. We all struggle with anxious hearts. 

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 are helpful. Listen to what Jesus says: 

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:25-34).

Jesus is talking to poor people. Some of them are subsistence farmers. They hope each day to have enough food to make it to the next day. The people Jesus is talking to have no running water in their homes and no toilets. They have no refrigerators and no supermarkets. They have no health care. Their welfare and even their lives depend on whether or not they get the right amount of rain. 

We have many “cares of the world” (Matt. 13:22) and we have to build bigger houses for our “abundance of possesions” (Lk. 12:15). We have many things to think and fret about.[1] So, sometimes it’s hard to see how what Jesus says applies to us. Yet, the truth is, if the first recipients of Jesus’ words were called not to be anxious, how much more does it apply to us?! 

This passage applies to us. The problem is we often fail to understand Jesus’ first point and so it’s downhill from there for us. 

1. First Jesus makes a point by asking a question: isn’t life more than ______________? (v. 25)

The way we answer this question tells us a lot about where our hearts are and how much help we will get from this passage. If our life is all about stuff then we have to fret and be anxious. Because we have to protect our stuff! It is of absolute importance. 

2. Jesus tells us to look at the ravens (Lk. 12:24).

Why?

Well, do you know what a raven is? They are rather nasty. Ravens were listed as unclean animals in the Old Testament (Lev. 11:15; Deut. 14:14). Ravens are trash birds. And they’re like the only bad animal in “Winnie the Pooh.” So, what’s Jesus’ point? He is saying God takes care of ravens. Ravens! He’s going to take care of you! Don’t be anxious. God will provide.

3. Jesus tells us about the benefits of anxiety: Nothing. Anxiety adds… nothing. It doesn’t help at all. (v. 27)

4. Jesus tells us to look around to see the lilies and wildflowers. Who takes care of the wildflowers? No one. Well, that’s kinda right but kinda really wrong. No human takes care of the wildflowers. God does! God beautifully dresses wildflowers. They don’t worry. God takes care of them. We should trust God, He is capable.

5. Jesus tells us that we should be different from those who don’t know God. We shouldn’t worry and ask: “Will I have what I need to wear?” Why? Because we have a Father in heaven. We have a very capable Father. Through Jesus, God is our Dad.

Wow.

So, we should trust that our heavenly Father will provide for all our needs (v. 32). And He will know what our needs truly are. 

Of course, if we read this and we don’t trust our heavenly Father then it comes down to us. We must fret and fear and plan. We have every reason to be anxious. If we think we are lord of the universe and king of the domain then we must be always on patrol. We must protect our stuff, even if it means no sleep. 

6. Jesus tells us there is something better to seek.[2] Something that can’t make us fearful because nothing can touch it. Jesus’ Kingdom cannot be shaken. And it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Lk. 12:32). That is good news for the weary. 

7. Jesus tells us to be where we’re at. Today’s troubles are sufficient. Let’s be where we are today and do what God has called us to today. And let’s trust Him for tomorrow. 

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 34). 

Verses to Instill Faith and Fight Fear

As we wrestle to fight against anxiety let’s fight our fear with faith. Here are some verses that have helped fuel my faith: 
 
“We can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:6).
 
“My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:2).
 
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
 
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22).
 
“Even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Is. 46:4).
 
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen
a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him” (Is. 64:4).

 

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[1] “A worrier is storing ‘treasure’ in the wrong place. If what you most value can be taken away or destroyed, then you set yourself up for anxiety” (David Powlison, “’Don’t Worry,’” 58).

[2] Edward T. Welch says, “Whatever is most important is the thing that rules us” (Edward T. Welch, Running Scared, 198). He goes on to say, “Do the opinions of other people control you? What you love and value is showing. You love reputation, love, respect, adoration” (Ibid., 199). 

Is Homosexuality Part of God’s Good Design?

“Why does a person’s sexual preference matter? If a guy loves another guy why can’t they hook up? Why would God have a problem with that? God created everything, right? So, did He create homosexuality?”

I appreciate those questions. They are important because sex and sexual identity are deeply personal as well as powerful.[1] So, the main question seems to be: Did God create homosexuality, is it part of God’s good design? In order to answer this question, I need to ask you a question. Do you consider yourself a tolerant person?[2] Will you hear me out and listen to my perspective?

If you answered that you are a tolerant person, that’s great. That will be helpful as we look at this controversial subject. So, I ask you to kindly consider my perspective on this question.

I want to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches because through it God shows His love and grace. So, as we consider this question, I deeply want the love and compassion of Christ to come through. He loves us all and wants us to have abundant life here and now and forever. Yet, life holds many struggles and temptations.[3]

As we consider this question, we are all caught up in God’s story, a story that can be summed up as creation, fall, redemption and new creation. What does the Bible have to say about this issue? The Bible provides directions to protect us and help us thrive. This is part of God’s good design. The directions include prohibitions against certain types of sexual activity. Those that violate the directions God has given often suffer for it. Individuals that struggle with homosexuality need to realize that natural disposition does not justify it any more than any other sin. And the fact that society elevates sexual fulfillment to the point of communicating that it is the purpose of life does not exempt it from God’s prohibition any more than any other sin. If you are struggling with this issue, then join the rest of us sinners and turn to Christ, who is good. God has given us the means to live within His good design.

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My atheistic anxiety

I have a father.

There is something profound about that.

And really it should be spelled Father.

I’ve been anxious. Anxious about all sorts of things.

My anxiety is really a sort of fear.[1]

That’s where understanding I have a Father is so helpful. And understanding who my Father is…

When I’m anxious, when I fear, I am faithless. And Fatherless. A practical atheist.

I tell myself all sorts of lies: No one can rescue me. No one is looking out for me. I am alone, an orphan in a vast indifferent world.[2]

I often think and act as though I have no Father and I determine my own destiny. I act as though the buck stops with me—that if I don’t make it happen, then it won’t happen. I sometimes think and act like I’m my own little lord.

Sometimes my anxiety is atheistic. It takes no account of God. It takes no account of the fact that I have a good and able Father.

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Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 8)

Many decide not to follow the Bible because it is in their opinion morally restrictive. However, we as humans need a definitive source of morality. We need a moral guide and the Bible is… 

Moral

As we have said, many people struggle with the morality that the Bible presents. D.A. Carson has said, “Many Christians slide away from full confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture for reasons that are not so much intellectual as broadly cultural.”[1] Many people, for example, do not agree with the Bible’s opposition towards homosexual practice.

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***Porn*** (pt 4)

[This post contains explicit descriptions and is not suitable for all audiences]
Sex in Marriage and Porn

Good marriages and good sex are good for individuals and society.[i] I am not against good sex and God is certainly not against good sex either (see e.g. Prov. 5:18-19 and Song of Solomon). It’s just that God knows how sex can be most free and beautiful, and it is within a loving marital relationship.[ii] Sex flourishes within the protective “garden” of marriage (see Song of Solomon). And sex within marriage helps families and thus societies flourish.

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***Porn*** (pt 3)

[This post contains explicit descriptions and is not suitable for all audiences]

The Supernatural Perspective 

So, we have looked at the natural perspective but what does the supernatural or Biblical perspective have to say? The Bible has been saying what we just saw—that porn is bad—for over a millennia. But let’s look at a few specifics.

The Bible and Porn (porneia)

Pornography degrades and derogates the good design of sex and can also ruin relationships. We are wired for intimacy but pornography hijacks the brain[i] and leads to malfunction of God’s intended design. So, with that in mind, let’s look at a few Bible verses that speak to the issue of porn.

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