Why y’all hatin’? (part 2)

6 01 2010

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”  Christians often take this to mean that our emotions are dangerous and untrustworthy, so we have to focus on “the battlefield of the mind”.  By living our lives according to the truth we know in our minds, we can keep our emotions from leading us astray.

head vs. heart // left brain vs. right brain. Maybe both are important?

But this is NOT what the Bible teaches.  In modern America, when we talk about the “heart”, we’re usually referring to our emotions.  But this is not how the Hebrews used the word in ancient times.  The Hebrew word translated “heart” in Jeremiah 17:9 does not mean “emotions”.  It means (according to blueletterbible.org) “inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding”.  Elsewhere it is said to refer to “the place in which the process of self-consciousness is carried out, in which the soul is at home with itself, and is conscious of all its doing”.  In fact, the same word is sometimes translated in the Bible as “mind”!

In other words, Jeremiah does not teach that our emotions are deceitful and beyond cure.  According to Jeremiah (and the entire Bible) your mind is affected by the Fall just as much as the rest of you, including your emotions.  We are just as likely to be led astray by our reason as we are by our emotions!!!

Let me write that in bold and all caps so you read it again:


Read it again.  Please.

So: It is just as accurate to say, “You can’t trust your reason” or “You cannot live life by your reason” as it is to say “You cannot live life by your emotions”.  Both of them are good and helpful.  And both of them are susceptible to being led astray.

Though our culture is on the move towards Post-Modernism, we are still greatly influenced by the Modernistic thinking of the Enlightenment.  What I mean is that we are preconditioned to rely on reason to the exclusion of other ways of knowing and living.  The same dudes who spent the 18th and 19th centuries debunking faith as silly and outdated are the ones responsible for teaching us that our reason is morally superior to our emotions.  Those guys had some really good ideas.  But maybe we shouldn’t trust them entirely.  I’m just sayin’…

I don’t say this to insult anybody who thinks or has thought these things about reason and emotions.  I think those beliefs stem from an honest desire to find a simple and surefire way of living life well.  It would certainly be easier if all we had to do to live life well was develop our powers of reason and acquire knowledge.  If we could just relegate emotions to a secondary role and expect them to fall in line of their own accord as we focus on the facts, that would be really nice.

But God, as he tends to do, calls us to something greater.  We do have to learn how to wield our powers of reason responsibly.  And at the same time, we have to become expert feelers, learning how to wield the mysterious power of our emotions as an equally important part of who we are.  Just as we are rational creatures, we are also emotional creatures.

In fact, this change in thinking has the potential to completely alter your view of yourself, and your approach to living your life.

Exciting, huh?  I’ll show you how, next time.

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2 responses

7 01 2010
Jon Shah

Hey Tim! You had expressed interest in hearing my thoughts on this post, so I’ll throw them out there…. (you don’t have to post this, it was just for you)

What struck me first is that I think you have framed the question/tension differently that I would have. In this post you frame the issue around ‘reason’ and ’emotion’. To me the central concept is truth. The truth will set us free. Truth is greater than our reason and emotion.

All of us…all of our heart, soul, mind and strength needs to come into conformance with the truth. Jesus was emotional, and His emotions flowed from grace and truth….He was rationale, but His intellectual assertions flowed, (not from only what a rationale man can “reason”), but from grace and truth.

you mentioned reason not being “morally superior” to our emotions. I would agree with that, but I think if you insert truth instead of reason I think you get a different answer. Truth (remember the vast majority of our faith has not been attained through rational scientific thought…or would ever be deemed logical) does trump emotion. Just as it trumps reason. The Incarnation will never be considered “reasonable”, though i must admit, many have spent their lives to make it seem so.

Maybe its better to say God trumps us. which brings us to what I think some Christians are pressing us to do when they have us examine our emotions….

Here’s what I think. I think Christians have taught themselves to put on a show. I think they have real doubts, real fears, and there are many things about Christ — His love, His teachings, etc… that Christians struggle to believe. But the church is great at identifying false teachings and giving people the business over them. So Christians learn the lines….the learn the routine of saying the right things, so they fit in. Maybe some are authentic about doubts/questions, and (I agree) often they are met with well-intended people telling them that these beliefs are “rationale” or “well-reasoned”.

But they are still wrestling. And they are perplexed as to why their lives seem stagnant or unfruitful. And what they really believe often comes out in their emotions….primarily because most people don’t know how to exert any control over them other than to kill them. Rather than just ignore or stuff those emotions, i think that looking at them can help us see what do we REALLY believe. beyond the charade. beyond the words.

i think all these teachers are doing is saying…..let those emotions drive you to understand what’s going on in your heart. don’t respond to this situation by just closing your eyes and going through the motions! your trust needs constant attention. your “beliefs” are going to be assailed and you need to see that. THEN the battle is not just in the mind, but the mind plays a vital role. Why? not because reason is key….but the mind is an integral part of processing truth (I see mind/heart/soul/being all as inter-related) I think this is a biblical concept, and also does not devalue emotions.

in conjunction with this, we need to hold up, cultivate and be excited about emotions that are in line with truth, even when they don’t “make sense”. (joy amidst trials etc…)

again. it is not the ONLY concept. but just because some people might over-emphasize it, doesn’t mean it isn’t vital. i would hate to see people throw the baby out with the bath water : )


10 01 2010
Tim Courtois

Hey Shah — Indeed, glad to have your thoughts.

I’m right there with you on what you said here.

What I’m passionate about – and what I’m focusing on in this blog – is delving into the area of emotions to provide a solid (and rational) backing for why emotions are valuable and what to do with them. I find that emotions are often devalued; or, when they are valued highly, it’s often in an unhealthy way (as you’ve referenced – in a “just do whatever you feel” kind of way).

To me, it’s very similar to the way sex is handled in our society: It’s often terribly unhealthy and damaging; the two easiest ways to respond to that are (1) by trying to minimize the role/significance of sex so we don’t focus on it so much, or (2) by just going with the flow without thinking deeply about it (i.e., have sex whenever & with whoever you feel like it). The more difficult third option is to engage deeply with the topic, talking openly about it. If you do this well, you actually end up valuing sex _more_ highly than the rest of society. Sex is dangerous _because_ it is so valuable and powerful. (Like the lizard that becomes a stallion in “The Great Divorce”, for C.S. Lewis fans.)

It’s easy to fall into one of those two camps with regard to emotions as well: devalue & avoid them, or just let them run the show. My hope is to deepen and enhance the Church’s theology of emotions, so we understand more fully the good for which they were intended, becoming a significant and fully integrated part of who we are.

Having said all that… I think that what you’ve said here, Shah, is great. Just as I’m working to articulate why emotions are valuable and how they can be beneficial, you did a great job here of articulating some of why rationality is also _equally_ important. That’s not my current focus, but it is just as valuable. (If it wasn’t, then my whole blog would be worthless, because it is mostly rational & philosophical.)

So, like you said, throwing out the baby with the bathwater would be really awful. History tends to be a series of pendulum swings, but our goal should be to be growing in all of these things, not just one or the other.

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