The Truth of Emotions

Driving home from work last night in our newfound 6pm darkness, I was listening to my local Christian radio station. Right before I arrived home, one song ended and before the next one played, the radio announcer shared a few thoughts, all leading to this: “Our emotions lie to us.”

My compassion for what it must be like to broadcast one’s thoughts in real time, unfiltered, over the airways (something, for me, I know is a terrible idea) doesn’t change the fact that this statement is fundamentally untrue.

The truth is not that emotions lie but that each emotion can only tell us part of an important truth.

The rage a man feels when he discovers his wife has cheated honors the value he places on fidelity. His sense of betrayal—a testament to the vulnerability of trusting another with your inmost self. His desire for revenge is a (flawed) mirror of God’s love of justice, and his sadness reflects the emptiness of living in a world not originally meant for us, one that fails to deliver the glory a part of us still knows we were created for.

The profound disappointment a woman feels when she is not chosen for a promotion she really worked for honors the sacrifices she made, the instant gratifications she delayed, the hours she may not have invested in her family because she believed this alternative investment would pay off in ways that would bring them life later. Her resentment may in some cases reveal the glass ceiling that still exists and the ways in which our American ideals of hard work still fall short for so many Americans.

Emotions are story-tellers.

The problem with emotions is not in the E, it’s in the motions. It’s in the actions emotions convince us to take. When rallied, emotions can be the impetus behind changed laws, million dollar fundraising campaigns, and the miracle of a tiny human life. But, they can also motivate an unrelenting bully, a hidden manipulation, or a gruesome murder.

Emotions are ball-hogs. They don’t like to get credit for the assist. They want to do a full-court press and take their own shot. When one emotion separates itself far enough, we become vulnerable. When rage disconnects from our feelings of betrayal, vulnerability, sadness, and hurt, it is more likely to convince us it’s a good idea to have our own affair. When our resentment gets the only word, divorced from our disappointment, we might step on another woman’s hard work to ensure our next promotion, and lose empathy and fairness along the way.

Emotions are powerful.

And when the church comes into contact with powerful things, things that might cause good but could also be dangerous, its response if often to suppress, control, regulate, and bring them into submission.

Just in case.

Emotions are not liars. Emotions are truth-tellers. Indiscreet and inconvenient truth-tellers.

They tell the truth-story of our most inner world.

When we are convinced they are liars, conniving manipulators that are a powerful force to resist AND that giving into them shows our weakness, it’s a set-up for failure.

We will have them anyway.

We will act on them anyway.

At least Jesus did.

He told the story of his disappointment, sadness, disillusionment, and anger in the face of exploitation in the form of tables scattered on a temple floor.

This means our emotions are a part of our Imago Dei.

When the church convinces Christians that part of their Imago Dei cannot be trusted, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to one of the most powerful emotions of all: shame.

Pretty soon, we are hiding ourselves and the world doesn’t get to see us anymore.

And then, the Imago Dei has become invisible.

The very ones God chose to display himself to the world, drawing it into his redemption story, have decided they cannot risk the exposure.

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