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Human Emotions are of Supreme Importance to the Imago Dei

If the brightest colors in the biblical picture of God are painted with the brush strokes of emotional language, we might expect human emotions to be central in the biblical picture of mankind since humans are the most God-like of all creatures. Furthermore, if God’s perfect holiness, raging wrath, and passionate love are to be understood in terms of his emotions, we might expect that the holiness, virtue, and love of those made in the imago Dei are also to be understood primarily in terms of emotions—and this is exactly what we find. Not only are fear, contrition, joy, gratitude and love commanded, they are central to biblical ethics and receive an unparalleled place in glorifying God. If this is true, central to redemption is the redemption of human affection from centering on sin to centering on God, and central to the restoration of the image of God in people is the restoration of God-centered emotions. 

Ways to Distort the Biblical Teaching about Emotions – The numbers of angles through which this truth can be supported are so overwhelming that a denial of it can only be respectively achieved by running the emotive language in the Bible through a foreign philosophical grid. Such philosophical intrusion takes place on at least three accounts. First, as we have already seen, Thomistic theism creates unnecessary stumbling blocks to the importance of emotion by denying their existence—and therefore importance—within God himself. Second, non-cognitive views of emotion in philosophers such as Plato (who contrasts emotion with the intellect), René Descartes and Schleiermacher (who equate emotion with the physical effects of emotion), David Hume (who understands emotions as animal like), Immanuel Kant (who argues that emotions have no role in ethics), in evolutionary scientists who follow the non-cognitive theories of Charles Darwin (who argues that emotion developed before cognition as an adaptive survival behavior independent of the will), and especially the James-Lange theory of emotion in psychology (which reduces emotions down to changes in physiology) have made great headway in confusing the masses about the nature of emotion itself. This confusion has resulted in an unnecessary dichotomy between ethics and emotion, and has greatly influenced New Testament interpretation.

Third, certain popular philosophical notions of culpability make adherents uncomfortable with the idea that God would command an emotion. Such conceptions of culpability rely on the premise that God can only command that which the subject of that command is actually able to do. By extension, it is assumed that God would not make demands of humans with respect to realms over which they have no immediate control. Attempts to come to terms with culpability paradigms have caused many interpreters to exclude the possibility that emotions are commanded in the New Testament since humans are unable to have direct control over them. According to this culpability model, then, love, which is the central virtue and fountainhead of all ethics, cannot be an emotion since God commands it repeatedly. There are many other reasons why interpreters have a vested interest in de-emotionalizing the biblical language of human emotion. Although by no means do these three philosophical trespasses exhaust the complexities of anti-emotion bias in handling the biblical text on human emotion, I have offered a brief critique of the first of these three philosophical disorientations and will also offer a brief critique of the second and third.

Non-Cognitive Theories of Emotion Don’t Cut It – Several cases could be made which would be sufficient in themselves to doubt whether non-cognitive theories of emotion do justice to either the human experience or the biblical texts. These cases could be grouped into at least three categories: cases made from philosophy, the sciences and the biblical text. Arguments from philosophy and science might be summed up with this brief affirmation: cognitive theories of emotion excel in philosophical explanation and scientific research where non-cognitive theories are woefully deficient. Elliot points out further that 1) “there has been no definitive success in differentiating the emotions on the basis of physiology,” 2) “even if each emotion were linked to different physical reactions it would not prove that the non-cognitive approach was correct. This would only show that different cognitions have different physiological reactions,” and 3) “from our knowledge of neuroscience, the brain structures used for emotion and cognition cannot be readily separated.”

Let Philosophy Bow Down to God’s Utterance – There at least three ways of handling the objection that emotions cannot be commanded if the subject has no immediate control over them. The first is authoritarian. If the Scriptures are the ultimate authority and they everywhere command emotion, we must bow down to the mouth of God and conform our petty philosophical construals to fit more comfortably with God’s flawless utterance. The second rebuttal is both philosophical and theological in the sense of being a philosophical argument that fits comfortably within a Calvinistic theological framework. If faith and repentance are emotional in nature (and they are), then God’s holding people responsible for coming to Christ in faith and repentance—even though they are not able without the effectual drawing of the Holy Spirit—demonstrates that capability is not a necessary condition of culpability. The third refutation is more philosophical and is based on a cognitive view of emotion. Simply put, the argument is this: “If emotion is cognitive, love is about something, can be commanded and is emotional.” In other words, if emotions are cognitive, they reflect our belief system. Consequently, our emotions are indicators of our value system—what we believe to be most valuable. Inasmuch as we are responsible for our belief system and our value system, we can likewise be responsible for our emotional dispositions that necessarily result from them. These are only a few of the arguments that demonstrate that emotions can happily fit within the category of imperatives without biblical, theological, or philosophical strain.

Let Words Mean What They Mean: A Call Back to Sober Linguistics – Arguments from the biblical text are less complicated, yet more authoritative. Since the stumbling block has consisted mainly in the error of reading philosophical ideas onto the biblical language, one might push the burden of proof on those who interpret passages in such a way by challenging them to demonstrate whether or not their philosophical ideas about emotion are either explicitly in the text or likely to be inherent in the meaning of the emotive language of the Bible. An evenhanded search for such foreign concepts, however, will inevitably leave the seeker disappointed. In New Testament studies, for example, there were both cognitive and non-cognitive views in the Greco-Roman world, the latter “stresses the unreliable nature of emotion and the need for it to be controlled by reason,” while the former “underscores the need to change harmful emotions by correcting false beliefs.” While non-cognitive Greek ideas about emotion can be seen alongside Jewish ideas about emotion in the writings of Second Temple Judaism, even the most Hellenistic of these writers still rejected the stoic idea of emotional extirpation. Furthermore, some of these same writers found Old Testament views of emotion in tension with Greek Philosophy. The writings of the New Testament are in sharp contrast with more developed ideas about the “passions” from Greek writings that explicitly stress the use of reason and use emotional language pejoratively. Simply put, neither a study of the original languages, contemporary backgrounds, or the context in which emotive terms are used provide sufficient warrant for depleting the emotional words in the original text of their controversially emotive content. On the contrary, they afford merit to do just the opposite.


Conclusion: We Should Not Be Surprised

Although starting as far back as the church fathers, the emotions of God have been seen as metaphorical by many, such erroneous ideas about divine emotions ultimately have their roots in Platonic philosophy, not the sacred Scriptures. “We have been told that God’s emotions were ‘anthropomorphisms’, described like those of humans. In reality, human emotions are in the image of God himself.” From the prophets of the Old Testament whose prophetic lifeblood resided in provocative metaphors to get emotional responses from the people through “shock value,” to the emotional letters of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament—even down to the pervasive emotive language about God and from the lips of God himself—the Bible is unabashedly emotional. Even more important, if one desires to take the humble path to discerning what most glorifies God and most impressively reflects his image, one cannot find a more sure route than the commandments of God himself. When Jesus boils the whole law down to love for God and love for people, he virtually places all worship, all obedience, all attempts to glorify God, and all social ethics in an all-encompassing God-like emotion (Mt 22:36-40, cf. Mk 12:28-31, Rom 13:8-10; 1 Cor 13:1-3, 13; 16:14; 1 Pt 1:8; 4:8; Js 2:8; Heb 13:1; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:10-24; 4:7-5:4). Since God is in nature a spirit, one should not be surprised that emotions—which are attributed to the spiritual realm—are the most customary characteristics of God and take center stage in the biblical cinematics of redemptive history. Since mankind is in the image of God, it should not be surprising, then, that the most important of the God-like features of creatures in his image should be their participation in those vigorous exercises of the heart that everywhere define their obedience, holiness, and relationship to God—namely, their emotions.

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Footnotes

As far as making a case for the centrality of human emotions to the biblical picture of godliness and spirituality, Jonathan Edwards’ treatise, The Religious Affections, has not been significantly improved. Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001 Edition). The only exception to this might be the developments made by John Piper in the ethical nature of pleasure and its relation to obedience. Piper, Desiring God. It would be laborious to rehash the multitudes of texts and arguments for this position in this brief paper. Sam Storms has attempted to make Edwards’ work of the affections more accessible to modern readers in Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007).

Edwards concludes “they who would deny that much of true religion lies in the affections, and maintain the contrary, must throw away what we have been wont to own for our Bible, and get some other rule by which to judge of the nature of religion.” Edwards, Religious Affections, 35.

Non-cognitive theories either define emotion exclusively in terms of the following three elements or put greater emphasis on one of the following three elements: 1) conscious experience, 2) emotional behavior, 3) physiological events. Non-cognitive theories create sharp dichotomies between cognition and emotion. Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 20.

Here I follow the summary given by Matthew A. Elliott in his chapter “What is Emotion?” where he gives an overview of the history of theories on emotion with specific attention to the inadequacies of non-cognitive views of emotion in ethics and psychology. Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 16-55.

The noncognitivist metaphysical view is philosophically responsible for denying that moral judgments had any meaningful reference to actual properties of actions, persons, policies and other objects of moral assessment and at best only expressed one’s personal attitudes toward something. Decognizers understand moral judgments to be incapable of being either true or false. David O. Brink, “Emotivism,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, gen. ed. Robert Audi (New York, New York: Cambridge Press, 2006 Printing), 260.

Elliot’s book to a large extent is a cataloging of these errors and the beginning of a new explicitly cognitive approach to interpreting emotions in the New Testament. Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 124-235.

From ancient times the so-called “passions,” have been understood as passive from the perspective of the one who experiences them—that is, that emotions happen to a person. They are not something a person consciously chooses. The emotional pain, for example, that may result from an insult, might be compared to the nose bleed that may result from a punch in the nose. People do not make a conscious decision about whether to have a nose bleed when punched, it is demanded by the nature of physical chemistry. Likewise, our emotional responses are like necessary effects of our spiritual chemistry. In either case, emotions are, in a significant sense, out of the subject’s control. Robert M. Gordon, “Emotion,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 260.

“Many others have agreed by defining love in non-emotional terms. This has often been in response to trying to answer the question of how love can be commanded. … This is also a prevalent misconception on Old Testament studies.” Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 138. Elliot’s work goes a long way in exposing the prevalence of these errors.

Elliot lists the following philosophical problems with the James-Lange theory: 1) The problem of naming specific emotion without reference to cognition: “Whereas the James-Lange theory implied that each emotion must have a unique physical manifestation, experimental evidence points to the fact that there are identical physical responses for different emotions,” 2) the James-Lange theory is woefully deficient in providing a framework in which motivational theory makes sense, 3) the same physical sensations can be interpreted as different emotions in different circumstances, leaving the means for differentiating different emotions in the James-Lange theory inadequate, 4) the failure of the non-cognitive framework to provide evaluation of emotion, that is, to provide a framework for judging whether an emotion is appropriate or inappropriate, right or wrong. Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 23, 27-28.

This would include argument like these: Aristotle, who understood human emotion as the result of intellectual realization, had a better understanding of emotion than Plato, 2) Descartes created a false dichotomy by holding that emotion was not caused by cognition but was first felt and then interpreted (or labeled) in cognitive categories, since both are quite capable of coexisting as different stages of the emotional experience, 3) Darwin’s theory of macro-evolution from which he posits a theory of the development of human emotion is vulnerable to critical scientific cross-examination and should not be taken as “pure” and authoritative science, 4) William James’ comment that “we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble,” flies in the face human experience of emotive causality, 5) the James-Lange theory of emotion is laden with anomaly where cognitive views of emotion excel in providing coherent explanation, 6) although the James-Lange theory of emotion held sway in the beginning of the 20th century, more recent work done by Cannon, Schachter and Singer have proven many of the details of the James-Lange theory false and represent a shift toward a more cognitive view of emotions in recent psychology. A close look at philosophy and the sciences actually demands for a cognitive theory of emotions and thereby takes the rug from underneath all philosophical theories relying on non-cognitive views of emotion (William James’ comment is quoted by Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 22).

Arguments against non-cognitive theories of emotion abound also in physiological evidence as set forth by Antonio Damasio:

1. Even when logical facilities are completely intact (as measured in numerous tests) an unfeeling person is unable to function normally or make good practical decisions. People who function as almost a logical computer, having a pronounced lack of emotion in normally emotional circumstances, are unable to function rationally;
2. It is beyond doubt that many different parts of the brain, both higher and lower brain sections, play an indispensable role in emotion;
3. It is probable, based on empirical evidence, that specific emotional responses are learned and not innate [Ibid, 29-30].

Ibid., 29.

As Elliot puts it: “The fact that these things are commanded is not disputed. What is at issue is: (1) are emotions actually commanded in these passages, and; (2) what do these commands mean in practice? The burden of proof is upon those who would argue that these are not commands of emotion. The meaning seems very straightforward. Whether or not we believe it is logical to command emotion, the simplest interpretation of these passages is that the biblical writers do, in fact, command emotion. … There is no evidence from the texts themselves that these terms have been redefined by the writers as theological concepts that do not contain an emotional core. On the contrary, the evidence points to these words retaining their usual meanings of simple emotions. The arguments of those who deny that emotion can be commanded seem to come from a desire to be consistent with their own philosophical understanding of emotion and, at the same time, maintain the integrity of the writers of the New Testament. We must challenge the tenability of this position.” Ibid., 141.

See Piper, “Conversion,” in Desiring God, 53-74. Beyond Piper’s demonstration, it might be added that repentance must be defined in terms of the changing of one’s heart with respect to the law of God, which law might be summarized by the most important commandments to “love” God and people (Mt 22:36-40). Repentance might be seen, then, as primarily an emotional change in the heart of the individual who goes from loving sin (idolatry) to loving God and people in his image (reconciliation). This understanding is impressively confirmed, among other texts, by Ezekiel’s description of New Covenant conversion (Ezek 11:19-21, 38:24-27).

Ibid., 141.

Roberts, being influenced by Solomon’s proposal to redefine emotions as judgments, uses similar language define emotions as “concerned-based construals … they are states in which the subject grasps, with a kind of perceptual immediacy, a significance of his or her situation.” Roberts, “Emotions and Christian Teaching,” Spiritual Emotions, 11. For his argument on how this helps understand why emotions can be commanded see his chapter entitled, “Emotions and Christian Character,” Ibid., 22-31. Defining an emotion as a “judgment” or “construal,” however, seems to take the cognitive position too far. Rather, it seems more helpful to understand emotions as intense internal experiences based on one’s judgments/construals. With this sort of definition, one has the ability to maintain the distinction between the judgment itself and the emotion which results. Appreciation of this causality is lost when an emotion is understood as cognition (judgment or construal) rather than an experience based on cognition.

Eric L. Johnson teases out this thought briefly when he writes about emotions as “signs,” which “signify people’s deepest drives, understandings and values, often with greater accuracy than their thoughts about such things,” in his groundbreaking work Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 300-303. 

Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 79.

I have in mind Philo, Josephus, and the author of 4 Maccabees. Ibid., 117-121.

Ibid., 111.

Sandy believes that shock value was the prophetic strategy of metaphorical language because “metaphors speak with more emotion.” D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 70-73. The emotive and translucent nature of Old Testament judgment and blessing language leads Sandy to conclude that prophetic utterance was not mainly to inform the people concerning the future, but to provoke an emotional response that would arouse their hardened hearts.

The different positions typically discussed under the imago dei such as the substantive views (the image of God resides in a quality of combination of qualities), the relational views (the image of God is primarily having to do with mans experience of a relationship with God and fellow human beings), and the functional views (the image of God primarily consists in something someone does) easily overlap in fundamental ways and none of them do justice to all the ways in which we are like God if considered to the exclusion of the others. It seems better to accept each as a different angle on the imago dei rather than pitting them against one another. After all, Christians largely agree that our relationship with God is what is most important and that this relationship works itself out both through human capacities and human action. No matter how one slices the anthropological cake, growing in our heart-felt love for God and our sincere love for others is the surest way to the restoration of the image of God in us. However, since any action of the body is void of moral virtue unless it is attended by love (1 Cor 13:1-3), we must admit that moral action derives its ethical value from God-centered emotions. Not only is emotion the ultimate ethical priority, but also that which gives any and all action its ethical dimension. In this sense, while it is harder to see any of the imago dei views as the most God-like characteristic in degree, we can certainly affirm that emotions are the most prominent of the God-like characteristics in importance. Since all people are in relation to God whether they like it or not (either good relations or bad ones), reciprocating love between God and man is more basic to the image of God than mere relation. For a concise summary of the three major views see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006 Printing), 520-529. For a lengthier treatment of the doctrine see Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapdis, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994 Printing).

Although Elliot’s work may anticipate a resurgence of the Edwardsian paradigm for the importance of emotions to true spirituality, it is long overdue. Elliot’s work demonstrates that much work and thought is desperately needed in the study of emotions. He understands his work as only the beginning of a basic outline. Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 237. This work includes further untangling kinks in biblical exegesis, biblical and systematic theology, Christian philosophy, church history, historical theology, and most importantly, practical theology. For example, although writers in the Biblical Counseling Movement (BCM) have progressed in the amount of importance they place on emotion, I am convinced that their writings are still plagued with misunderstandings and false dichotomies with respect to the role of emotion in obedience in the Christian life. For example, the false dichotomy which is reflected in the approach which asks the question, “Are one’s sinful habits a result of one’s past or sin nature?” fails to grapple with the role of our past in shaping our emotional dispositions (including our sinful dispositions). The most prolific writer for BCM, David Powlison, however, still operates with this false dichotomy. Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes, 155. In spite of such errors, however, Powlison cannot avoid basing his whole motivational theory on the emotion of desire. His chapters entitled, “I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire,” and “What Do You Feel?” show how central emotion is in a practical approach to Christian counseling. Ibid., 145-62, 211-23. It is also my perception that much of the tension between secular psychology and biblical teaching that creates strong dichotomies in the counseling wars could be smoothed out with a mature development of emotion theory from a biblical perspective.

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A Biblical Picture of God: A Passionate Deity

I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after idols.” – Yahweh (Ezek 6:9)

Because God’s Nature Never Changes, His Emotions Change

 

Although this Thomistic view of God might at first seem to find biblical support in passages that tell us God does not change (Num 23:19; Ps 33:11; 102:26; 103:17; Prov 19:21; Is 14:24; Heb 1:11-12; 6:17-18), other passages directly teach specific ways in which God does change (Ex 32:10-14; Jg 2:18; Ps 18:26-27; 106:45; Jer 26:19; Amos 7:3, 6; Jon 3:10; Prov 11:20; 12:22). In fact, sometimes these two realities are confirmed within the same passage (1 Sam 15:10-11, cf. 28-29). Christian theologians and philosophers seeking to be aligned closest with the text of the Christian Scriptures are calling for an abandonment of classical notions of divine impassibility. Such a hermeneutical move is not hard to make. These texts do not make it necessary to affirm that God never changes in any way but only that God’s basic nature and moral character never changes. In fact, it is precisely because his basic nature never changes that his emotions toward sinners always change when they repent. Passages affirming God’s immutable nature in no way force the interpreter to conclude that God’s emotional state is somehow static towards his creation, much less that his emotions are unreal.

 

 
Nothing to Warrent a Metaphorical Understanding of Divine Emotions

 

While the passages that teach God is a spirit (Jn 4:24) warrant a metaphorical understanding of depictions of God’s body parts, there are no comparable passages which force a metaphorical understanding of the portrayals of God’s emotions. Not having a body prevents God from using body parts, but we would have to conclude that God does not have a spirit in order to preclude him from emotional experience, for such experience is fundamental to spiritual existence. Since activities of the human heart—including human emotions—are attributed to the spirit (Num 5:14; Dan 2:1, 7:15; Ps 78:8; Mk 8:12; Lk 1:47, 80; Acts 17:16; Rom 2:29; 8:15; 2 Tim 1:7), we have no reason to believe that our human experience does not profoundly correspond to God’s, since God not only has a spirit but is a spirit. As we might expect, language about the emotions of God are also attributed to his spirit (Deut 2:30). Language about the heart of God is virtually interchangeable, therefore, with language about his spirit. Therefore, we have every reason to believe that divine emotive language is no more anthropomorphic than language about the very nature of God himself (i.e. that he is a spirit). We might rather conclude that God’s emotions (as his thoughts) are more real, complex, frequent, and intense than human emotions. Just as God is more knowledgeable than humans (in fact omniscient), so we should think of God as far more emotional than humans (in a sense, omnipassient).
Descriptions of divine emotion cannot be reduced to divine actions without doing violence to the biblical language. Reducing the point of analogous correspondence of divine emotion to a similarity with human actions associated with those emotions does not best suit the biblical picture of the nature of God’s emotions and their relation to his actions. For example, not long after the fall of man God was so grieved over human sin that he wiped out the human race through a universal flood, sparing no one but Noah and his family—not even infants (Gen 6:4-8). The burning wrath of God cannot be reduced to his action, however, for Gen 6:4-8 is a pronouncement of present grief with a promise of future judgment. The grief existed apart from and previous to the act of judgment. We best understand the biblical text concerning this universal flood when we see it as directly motivated by God’s grief and anger. The laments of God are his “inward feelings” (Is 16:11). Changes take place with respect to God’s feelings. His wrath and jealousy are said to be “spent” and “satisfied” in God’s acts of judgment (Ezek 5:13; 21:17; 16:42; cf. 6:12; 7:8). God’s wrath is not the same as his acts of judgment; rather, God’s wrath is demonstrated through his acts of judgment (Rom 9:22). God’s zeal is “aroused” like the zeal of a man of war and is the stirring of his heart (Is 42:13; 63:15). Divine acts of deliverance are not the same thing as his compassion; rather they are “in accordance with” (or a result of) his compassionate nature (Neh 9:17, 19, 27, 28). The analogy of choice in the Scriptures for God’s emotion is not human action, but human emotion—and divine emotion is said to be “just as” human emotion (Ps 103:13, cf. Num 25:11).

 

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Emotional Language Saturates the Biblical Picture of God

 

What is more, the emotional aspects of the divine nature dominate the biblical mosaic of God. The God of the Bible is no stoic deity. From beginning to end, the Bible paints a picture of God as being driven by his intense emotions. God weeps bitterly and drenches nations with his tears (Is 16:9). The reason why God tells Israel not to worship any other god is because he is very jealous, and he will “wipe [them] off the face of the earth” if their hearts go after other gods (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, Josh 24:19, 1 Kgs 14:22; Ps 78:58; Ezek 39:25, Nah 1:2, Zech 1:14; 8:2; Zeph 1:18; 1 Cor 10:22). As we might anticipate, God is “hurt” by the adulterous hearts of his people when they are “turned away” from Him (Ezek 6:9), yet because nothing thwarts God’s sovereign plans, he is also richly happy (1 Tim 6:15; 1 Tim 1:11). His tender compassion is described as a fruit of his loving kindness (Is 54:8; Lam 3:22-23, 32). Furthermore, the ubiquitous “zeal” of the Lord accomplishes everything from acts of mercy to acts of slaughter: his gracious acts of keeping a remnant in Israel (2 Kgs 19:31; Is 37:32), establishing justice and righteousness through the throne of David (Is 9:7; 59:17), protecting his people (Is 26:11), restoring his people (Joel 2:18), and judging his people (Ezek 5:13; 38:19; Zeph 3:8).
The entire redemptive history of the Bible centers on God’s love for fallen humanity that moves him to aggressively initiate all of redemptive history. Perhaps the following is the most often repeated list of God’s attributes in the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex 34:6, cf. Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 145:8; Is 54:10; Jer 16:5; 31:3; 33:11; Lam 3:22; Dan 9:4; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). As one might expect then, God’s love also finds a central place in the writings of the New Testament (Mt 5:44-45, Jn 3:16; 15:10; 16:27; 17:24, 26; Rom 5:8; 8:35, 39; 2 Cor 9:7; Heb 12:6; 1 Jn 3:1). Not only is love “of God,” but “God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-12, 16-19; 5:2, Jd 2, 21; Rev 3:19). One cannot understand the holiness, justice, judgment, redemption, or history of God and his people without understanding how these themes are tied in the biblical texts on the emotions of God.
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In my next post, I will argue that emotions are of supreme importance to the Image of God in man.
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Footnotes

 

This seems to have come about (at least in great part) through the Open Theism controversy. Most of the recent works on the doctrine of God have been forced to deal extensively with the Open Theist controversy and consequentially the multitudes of biblical passages that lead Open Theist’s to criticize the Thomistic picture of God. When the Open Theists swung the pendulum in the right direction, they swung it too far, however, and deny the classical doctrine of divine omniscience. Conservative theologians in reaction to this pendulum effect were jealous to provide a more biblical alternative to both the Thomistic view and the Open view. In spite of many errors that have spawned from Open Theism, recent theological dialogue with Open Theists has at least yielded this healthy corrective to the classic understanding of God: many now reject the classical doctrine of divine impassibility.
“This [Thomistic] concept of God, I believe, does have serious problems and requires modification. My own study has indicated those points where alterations could be made. Pure actuality, impassibility, and simplicity could be eliminated, …” Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 114. “In light of the nuanced understanding of divine immutability, it is necessary to reject divine impassibility. The king who cares experiences real emotions; he sympathizes with our pains and can rejoice over our joys.” John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001), 277. 

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993), 29.

For example, there are no passages that say, “God’s heart is not moved,” or “For I am the Lord, and nothing can harm me or excite my heart to pain,” or any such passages that would force us to question whether God experiences true emotions in the way an affirmation that God is a spirit forces us to conclude that God does not have body parts.

This analogy between the way we think of God’s thoughts and the way we think of his emotions came to me when I realized that just as one’s search for truth is an attempt to attain God’s thoughts (or think God’s thoughts after him), so our desire should be to feel the way God feels about everything we perceive. “So, we learn to pursue God’s pursuits after him, to act God’s acts, feel God’s feelings, love God’s loves, hate God’s hates, desire God’s desires. … No, we will never be all-knowing, or all-powerful, or all-present. But yes, we will be wise and loving, true and joyous. We will weep with those who weep.” David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2003), 10.

Just as human wrath burns from “within” the human heart (Est 1:12, cf. Ex 32:19, Jd 9:30, 14:19, 1 Sam 20:30, 2 Sam 12:5, Job 32:3), so God’s “anger burned” against Israel and those who sinned (Num 32:10, 13). Just as humans are said to have fierce wrath (Gen 49:7), the same language is used to describe God’s wrath (Dt 29:28; 1 Sam 28:18; 2 Kgs 23:26). Even rage is found in God (Ezek 5:15). Human jealousy so closely corresponds with God’s, it is said to be the same as God’s jealousy (Num 25:11). His rejoicing over his people is compared to a bridegroom rejoicing over the bride (Is 62:5, cf. Zeph 3:17). This compassion is surely to be thought of as an emotion, for his compassion is described as being “just as” the humanly compassion of a father for his son (Ps 103:13, cf. Jonah 4:10-11) and they are described as the stirrings of his heart (Is 63:15). Matthew Elliot appropriately affirms, “God’s love is like a parent’s love for their child,” and asks: “Is there any stronger emotion?” Matthew A. Elliot, Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2006), 106.

For a discussion on how God’s sovereignty is the foundation of his unshakable happiness, see “The Happiness of God” in John Piper’s Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 31-50.

“Set in the context of eschatological salvation, the NT macarisms have great emotional force. Often there is a contrast with false happiness.” F. Hauck, “makarios” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged Version, eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003 Reprint), 549. Although makarios can have a broader meaning than just “happiness,” and may convey something more like “favored,” the emotive term “happy” is still inherent in the meaning, and thus translating makarios as “happy” is a good way to convey the cash value of the idea of “favor.” The concept of being favored or fortunate fundamentally depends on the concept of being happy. Who would want to be blessed if it amounted to pure misery? Being blessed only has its ultimate attraction in the happiness that necessarily coexists with it. Language of favor and blessing plays to our God-given desires for happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

Although I will argue later in this post series that there is no legitimate reason to deny that love (or any other emotional term in the Bible) is an emotion, for a detailed examination of the various words translated “love” and the common anti-emotion bias which seeks to suppress the emotive content these words, see Elliot, Faithful Feelings, 135-164.

Emotions, Starting with God’s

Exploring Some Stumbling Blocks

It is often said that Christianity is not about emotions. Even if one is willing to admit that emotions should not be altogether ignored (for such advice would seem impossible to human nature), we are warned by pastors and Christian teachers that they are not to become our main concern. We are told: “We must avoid the mistake of concentrating overmuch upon feelings. Above all, avoid the terrible error of making them central.” “When we describe someone as ‘an emotional type,’ we do not intend to give a compliment.” It would seem that our emotions lead us into all sorts of trouble, and in lieu of such trouble it might seem like the best plan of action is to suppress them altogether and seek rather to be guided by our reason, or some other virtuous aspect of our nature. After all, does not the Bible itself teach that being “enslaved by all kinds of passions” is characteristic of the pagan lifestyle at odds with the new creation (Tit 3:3)?

This post series will seek to answer the above questions from a biblical perspective, not merely by looking at what the Bible teaches about human emotion, but rather, our study will begin by looking at the emotions of God himself. Several important conclusions will be reached from a study of the biblical text. Humans are “emotional” because God is emotional. Not only are our emotions valid or legitimate since they are simply a reflection of the nature of God, but they are a necessary component of all true virtue, holiness and righteousness. By the same token, human emotions are the most important among the God-like qualities of humanity. In the end, it seems unavoidable that an intimate and reciprocal experience of heart-felt love between God and humanity is precisely how God is most glorified, and therefore, there is no greater end for which people in the image of God exist than to experience deep emotions—namely, love and joy in God himself.
Emotional Language and Divine Immutability 

That human beings are emotional would seem to need no strained argument. On the other hand, there are at least two immediate stumbling blocks to a proper understanding of the relation of our emotions to God’s emotions: 1) the analogical nature of language about God as conceived by Thomistic Theism and 2) the logic of divine impassibility. We must keep both of these stumbling blocks from obstructing our path to the truth about emotions in the imago Dei.

Although all language about God is analogical, it became commonplace in classical theism to stress that God does not actually experience emotions any more than he actually has a human body based on the nature of anthropomorphic language. Just as we are not to conclude from passages that speak of God’s eyes, ears, and mouth that God actually has human eyes, ears and a mouth, so we are not to conclude from passages which speak of God’s anger, jealousy and joy that God actually experiences anger, jealousy and joy. This latter analogy is not between human emotion and divine emotion but rather between human emotion and divine action. Such passages are therefore thought only to mean “he acts toward us as a man would when agitated by such passions.” God’s emotions, then, according to Thomistic theism, only have correlation by virtue of his actions. 

The analogical nature of the biblical language about God, however, is not the only motivation for believing that God does not experience emotions. The doctrine of divine impassibility—which understands God to be incapable of suffering—is usually the motivating factor for a classical, Thomistic understanding of emotive language about God. A strong and strained emphasis on the immutability of God in classical theism—which understands God to be incapable of changing—has perhaps been an even greater impetus, therefore, for a widespread adherence to the doctrine of impassibility. Such emphasis has caused a long history of philosophical attraction in the church and theology. Here the argument does not lie merely in Scripture, but in philosophical extrapolation from passages on divine immutability. If God does not change (as the Scriptures affirm), then it would seem that his emotional state is also immutable. Besides, if God actually feels differing emotions toward human beings depending on what those human beings do, we make God’s experience dependent upon human experience, and God becomes vulnerable, as it were, to suffering emotional turmoil and injury. Can God actually be dependent on his creatures in any way—especially in a vulnerable way? Both the nature of analogical language and the doctrine of immutability have caused many to conclude that God does not actually experience emotion.
In my next post, we will see that this conclusion has been reached with a flawed logic and at the expense of the meaning of the biblical langauge about the emotions of God.

Footnotes

Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965, 1990), 114-16.
Robert C. Roberts, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 14. 

These problems are the most immediate because they relate to God himself.

A.A. Hodge quoted by Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 26. Italics are added by Culver.

Perhaps the popularity of the writings of Anselm is just as much to blame for the popularity of this pesky doctrine as the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Anselm wrote:

But how are You at once both merciful and impassible? For if You are impassible You do not have any compassion; and if You have no compassion Your heart is not sorrowful from compassion with the sorrowful, which is what being merciful is. But if You are not merciful whence comes so much consolation for the sorrowful? How, then, are You merciful and not merciful, O Lord, unless it be that You are merciful in relation to us and not in relation to Yourself? In fact, You are [merciful] according to our way of looking at things and not according to Your way. For when You look upon us in our misery it is we who feel the effect of Your mercy, but You do not experience the feeling [emphasis mine]. Therefore You are both merciful because You save the sorrowful and pardon sinners against You; and You are not merciful because You do not experience any feeling of compassion for misery.

Anselm of Canterbury, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 91.

Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm

Jay Adams and The Biblical Counseling Movement

The so-called “Biblical Counseling” model has replaced the “old” model of integrative counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I am currently working on my masters degree. This replacement is representative on a large scale of the most conservative (some would say “fundamental”) agenda in the evangelical church. As the story goes, because the church in general was highly influenced by secular models, the seminary eventually embodied a compromised approach. Secular psychology tended to undermine responsibility, replace biblical doctrine with Freudian nonsense, and replace instruction with alternative “therapy,” practices which never dealt with sin seriously. Eventually, some rugged evangelicals in the church stepped forward to call for a holy war against much of the so-called “Christian Counseling” that had virtually surrendered the biblical worldview by embracing secular counseling models, and had become an unhealthy alternative to real discipleship.The chief on the front lines in this reform was Jay Adams. His book Competent to Counsel (1970) was intended to be somewhat of a bombshell on the playground of the so-called “Christian” Counseling scene. Below, I have cut and pasted excerpts from my review of his book. It includes only a summary of his introduction, and then a brief critique of the books key idea(s).
Adams, Jay E. Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970. 287pp. $13.99.
Note: “Nouthetic” comes from the Greek word noutheo mostly translated “admonish.”
Several principles are defended hot and heavy in Adams’ attempt to introduce us to nouthetic counseling. Our author makes it easy on us to see where he is coming from by showing all his cards up front (i.e. in the introduction). Nouthetic counseling demands the counselor to recognize that the counselee’s ultimate and all-pervading problem is not mental illness but sin (xi). To say that Adams is suspicious about “the common practice” of referral (or “bifurcation,” of duties) in poimenics (the art of pastoral ministry) is an understatement (12, xii). He believes that the secular methods of counselors, psychiatrists and mental institutions are in fierce competition with a biblical approach to counseling. They seek to remove guilt from the counselee by “misclassifying” sin problems (xiv). Freud goes beyond science to teach “the art of living,” and secular modes have long become an alternative religion for a world that finds itself “in a mess” (xxii, 1). Adams seems to have been inspired by O. Hobard Mowrer’s Moral Model of responsibility to stand against the anti-responsibility models (xvi-xvii). Psychotherapy has become little more than a search through one’s past for someone else to blame (xvii).
Though Adams has been inspired by Mowrer, he is not satisfied with Mowrer’s Model, for Mowrer cannot ground morality objectively (xix). It is presuppositionally deficient (xviii). Our author is burdened by “the same old eclecticism with a Christian coating,” which, for Adams, amounts to nothing more than “accommodation” (xx). Perhaps the most revealing statement in the whole book, which typifies the nouthetic approach, is in the following unabashed confession: “The conclusions in this book are not based upon scientific findings. My method is presuppositional” (xxi). Although Adams does not wish to “disregard” science, he demands that scientific input only be accepted inasmuch as it illustrates and clarifies the biblical teaching (xxi). Even when science is used to illustrate or clarify the scriptures, it must not be thought of as somehow confirming or verifying the biblical teaching (xxi). “God’s Word does not need human support” (xxi).
A Brief, Suggestive Critique
Adams’ dogmatic presuppositional approach is both his greatest asset as well as his greatest limitation. On the one hand, his VanTillian approach brings a heightened awareness of holistic comparisons between different counseling philosophies and this in turn brings a greater discerning ability of what “fits” with the biblical teaching and what does not (and why). On the other hand, Eric L. Johnson points out that the VanTillian approach tends to undermine science as a knowledge-constructive practice (see footnote 1). Although Adams would agree that truth can be found in non-biblical systems (see footnote 2), his statements do not seem to allow for it. For example, he says: “Because non-biblical systems rest upon non-biblical presuppositions, it is impossible to reject the presuppositions and adopt the techniques which grow out of and are appropriate to those presuppositions” (102, emphasis mine). This statement not only oversimplifies the situation (many atheistic scientists have discovered marvelous aspects of God’s creation fully in accord with scripture), but it also breeds an overly pessimistic approach to science (and thus perfectly fits the fundamentalist stereotype). A biblical coherence theory of truth—defining truth in terms of worldview coherence—is different from a correspondence theory of truth—defining truth in terms of what corresponds to reality, regardless of what presuppositional context the truth is discovered in. Just because non-Christian worldviews abuse and misinterpret much of the scientific data does not mean the data in its purest form cannot be accepted just because it is not presented within a coherent Christian worldview. Only if Christians take the responsibility of empirical investigation seriously will the Christian counseling community be “increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated.”
In addition to Adams’ overly pessemistic attitude towards science and the reductionism of his theory of truth, Adams is also guilty of a methodological reductionism. By this, I do not mean that Adams does not have many methods. Rather, Adams unfortunately reduces all methods for counseling down to nouthetics. Biblical Counseling = Nouthetic Counseling. In fact, he oversimplifies the nature of real-life counseling by reducing it down to “problem solving,” and then speaking of the “problem” only in terms of sin. However, to be faithful to the biblical sources, one must include a variety of problems as well as a variety of methods. We must “admonish [noutheteite] the unruly,” but we also must “encourage [parameutheisthe] the fainthearted” (1 Thess 5:14). Adams could have just as easily reduced all counseling down to paramouthetics and walked us through a thousand methods for paramouthetic engagement. With Adams’ reductionistic approach, it does not surprise the reader that he never mentions the biblically revealed methods of admonishing with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs sung in thankfulness to God (Col 3:16). Such a method seems out of place with Adams’ narrow, cognitively-oriented categories of problem solving.
His failure to redeem much of the secular methodology and put it in its proper place seems also to be a result of this impractical, unbiblical, and oversimplified reductionism. For example, Adams appears to associate ventilation of one’s pent-up feelings with Freudian ideology of resocialization (11), but “venting” one’s feelings—so long as it does not involve hostile transfer of sinful feelings—is sometimes just what one needs to do, and in fact, should do. We like to say it this way—”I just needed someone to talk to about it.” Sometimes, we just need to talk to someone about our frustrations in life or our disappointments. In those times, we need someone to simply “be there” for us and sympathize with our situation (which may or may not be a sin-rooted problem).  Weep with those who weep.
Furthermore, since not all troubles are sin problems, not all methods include nouthetics. Most counseling relationships might inevitably involve a need for varying degrees of nouthetic confrontation (as do most real friendships). However, sometimes I have the “problem” of indecisiveness in an important decision. I get counsel from my mentor all the time because he is older than me and sometimes provides a different, more informed perspective on life which enables me to make a better decision. When I go to him for counsel on life’s big decisions, he does not probe my life looking to confront me for some sin (although if he did, he might surely find I am a sinner). Rather, he simply offers his advice, encouragement, prayer, and support. This is right and biblical.
Although Biblical Counseling would have a friendly place for nouthetic confrontation, to be true to the biblical text and to real life situations, we must admit that counseling is more than identifying and confronting sin. Adam’s narrow approach simply does not do justice to the full range of human “problems” and situations the way scripture does. Unfortunately, his book sparked a reform which has used his teaching as the basic approach to counseling to this day (the “Biblical Counseling” movement). Of course, I would rather have a narrow approach of nouthetics than a compromised approach which undermines a biblical worldview—if you forced me to choose. But with people who seem to have done a great job in integrating the best of the sciences with the rock-solid biblical worldview (e.g. Johnson), why should we choose Adams’ overly narrow approach which pontificates so many false antithesis and ranks of an unhelpful “psychology is the devil” sort of mentality? While Adams’ work is a breath of fresh air to many evangelicals who have been burdened by the influence of secular models which undermine biblical truth, and although he has swung the pendulum in the right direction, I (and several other evangelicals) am afraid that he has swung the pendulum a bit too far.

______________________________

Footnote # 1: Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 614. This seems to be the reason why Adams is always trying to ground everything he says—even when he is giving extra-biblical wisdom—in some verse or biblical doctrine (even when it is not in the text).

Footnote # 2: Ibid., 615.

Footnote #3: “This approach to secular and other non-Christian thought is best explained by his adherence to a biblical coherence theory of truth [as opposed to a correspondence theory of truth], just like VanTil’s.” Ibid.

Footnote #4: Ibid, 616.

Providence: Affirmations and Denials…

1. I affirm that a biblical under- standing of divine providence is sufficiently accounted for in the following propositions: 1) All creation is absolutely dependant for its existence at every moment on the existence of God (Neh 9.6, 2 Pt 3.7, Heb 1.3, Col 1.17, Acts 17.28, Job 34.14-15; cf. Ps 104.29). 2) God’s eternal decree extends to all things (Eph 1:11) and has been [since creation], is [now], and will be [evermore] continually executed in the created order through a) natural laws (causes and effects set in motion at the creation of the universe) and b) supernatural creation of and intervention in the created order.

2. I deny that anything which has come to pass concerning the universe and its origin or that will come to pass concerning the universe and its future falls outside of the scope of God’s providence. This includes the heavens, the earth, and all its past, present, and future inhabitants, as well as the eternal destiny of the human race and all created contingencies contained therein (such as the new heavens and new earth)—nature (Ps 148.8, Job 37.6-13, cf. 38.22-30, Ps 104.4, 135.7, Ps 104:14, Mt 5.45), animals (Ps 104.27-29, cf. Job 38.39-41, Mt 6:26), seemingly random chance events (Prov 16.33), all the nations of the earth (Ps 22.28, Acts 17.26, cf. 14.16, Job 12.23, Lk 1.52, Prov 21.1 [cf. Ezr 1.1], 6.22, Dan 4:34-35), the daily needs and obedience of Christians (Mt 6.11, Phil 4.19, Phil 2.13, cf. Ps 33.14-15), the course of every life down to the very detail (Ps 139.16, Job 14.5, Gal 1.15, Jer 1.15, Ps 33.14-15, Acts 17.28, Ps 75.6-7), and all good things (Ps 139.16, Job 14.5, Gal 1.15, Jer 1.15, Ps 33.14-15, Acts 17.28, Ps 75.6-7).
3. I deny the adequacy of notions of divine providence which fail to distinguish between God’s direct and indirect causation in the execution of his divine decree. Such a failure would enable the theologian to conceive of God’s causing human beings to sin in the same way he causes Christians to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

4. I deny that responsible interpreters need not postulate some supernatural intervention or especial power which God continually exercises at every moment a blade of grass is growing or every time it rains on the grounds that the biblical authors attribute such phenomenon to him. Rather, we ought to think of all natural events as caused by God through the continuation of the natural order set in motion from the creation of the universe (secondary causation). Since the Bible speaks of God’s secondary/indirect causation in the same terms as his direct causation (God causes the grass to grow, and he causes the Red Sea to part) we cannot assume that the language of causation everywhere necessitates that supernatural/direct causation is involved in the nature of such causation. Rather, unless we have some reason from the text to believe a supernatural intervention must be involved for God to bring something about (such as the parting of the Red Sea), the hermeneutical default for interpreting the language of causation ought to be one which understands the nature of that causation as secondary/indirect.
5. I deny the adequacy of notions of divine providence which fail to attribute all events of history—including all moral and natural evil—to God’s causation in some way. Examples of moral evil’s caused by God are abundant (Ex 4:21, 7:3 [cf. Rom 9:17], Josh 11:20 [cf. Judg 3:12, 9:23, Judg 14:4], I Sam 2:25, 1 Sam 16:14, 2 Sam 12:11-12 [cf. 16:22], 2 Sam 12:15-18, 2 Sam 16:11, 2 Sam 24:1 [cf.24:1, 10-17, 1 Chr 21:1, 1 Kgs 11:14, 23]). The scriptural affirmation of God’s control of nature is coupled with biblical affirmations of his causation in natural calamities (Amos 3:6, 4:6-12, Job 1:21-22).
6. I deny the adequacy of notions of divine providence which falsely dichotomize human responsibility and free will against such causation, for the scriptural interpretation of historical events allows for God to draw straight with crooked lines and determine the outcome of history through the acts of unconstrained creatures (e.g. the story of Joseph and his culpable brothers [Gen 37:4, 5, 8, 11, 20, 24, 28, cf. 45:5, 50:20], the story of Jesus and the culprits of his violent death [Acts 2:23, cf. various translations of dieceirivsasqe in Acts 5:30]).

7. I deny that we live in a closed universe in which God does not directly and passionately intervene in the affairs of the human race or that the universe could exist one millisecond apart from God.
8. I affirm that the most important aspect to the unfolding of history is a divine intervention—God’s redemptive work of reconciling fallen creatures to himself through the divine incarnation, substitutionary death, burial, bodily resurrection, and eternal reign of his Son and appointed Judge and King of the universe, Jesus Christ.

9. I affirm that the reconciling of man’s sinful heart toward God is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit who directly intervenes against the natural course of the sinner’s heart so that all conversions are the execution of God’s eternal decree through direct/supernatural intervention.

10. I deny the legitimacy of categorizing as “Christian” any person, group, church, ministry, institution, or organization that would fail to affirm God’s direct and supernatural intervention on behalf of the human race as articulated in affirmation eight.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Picture Captions: The first picture is from the Switchfoot concert. The last one is where I got upset a few months ago and kicked down a huge tree. I almost got sued by the owners (jk). All those in between should be obvious to those chill in The Ville.

"I Wish I Were Dead" : How to Love the Depressed

Recalling Job – After God makes a deal with the devil concerning Job’s family and wealth, and God takes everything from Job, Job’s now classic response was this: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed by the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). And the scripture adds, “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22).

But round two saw to it that Job’s health was taken from him so that he had a miserable physical existence. Job’s three friends came “to sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). They stayed quiet for seven days, “for they saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13).

Job was the first to open his mouth and speak after seven days of silence. We know he was silent because just after the mention of the seven days of silence, the text tells us “Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” (Job 3:1). Job asks many questions:

Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? … Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, as infants that never saw light. … Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice greatly, and exult when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in? For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, and my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.” (Job 3:11, 16, 20-26).

Job Had a Suicidal Mentality, And His Friends Were in Hush Mode – Clearly, Job would rather be dead than experience such emotional and physical pain. This is the suicidal mentality that inevitably flows from a miserable existence. When you are in so much pain that you cannot rejoice, cannot find hope, cannot see things getting better, and cannot live a normal life due to the pain, why even live? Especially for Christians—why not be at home with the Lord where all our pain is gone? This makes suicide especially attractive to believers—they know where they will go if they kill themselves. Yet, it is precisely the Christian who desires to be with Christ that also desires to please Christ and therefore not commit such a grave sin as suicide. This makes the struggle all the more complicated for a believer.

Two things I desire to point out about the book of Job so far. 1) Job wanted to die. Although God testified of Job that “there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil,” when suffering of such great magnitude came upon him, though he still loved and had God to hope in, he nevertheless wanted to die. He cursed the day of his birth and was utterly depressed. 2) Job’s friends were silent when they saw Job’s calamity was great. Even these men—who assumed that Job must have sinned for God to allow such great calamity to fall upon him—even they held their tongue at the sight of Job’s suffering.

Both Love and Answers Help, but Love Before Giving an Answer – Just one application from this: When people are suffering greatly, what they need most is for someone to listen, try to understand their pain, and grieve with them. “Weep with hose who weep” is not a suggestion, but part of how we “let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom 12:15, 9). If your only reaction to someone who shares their grief with you is to start intellectually analyzing a person’s situation in light of biblical truths that you think apply to their situation, your heart is cold. Counseling one who suffers from depression is not like solving a math problem. It’s not as easy as 1) “What is your problem?,” 2) “What does the Bible say?,” 3) “Here’s your answer.” If we fail to weep with the suffering, we fail to love them. Someone who is hurting greatly needs your compassion more than they need your biblical analysis of their situation. That’s not to say people don’t need to be counseled with biblical truth—such counsel is essential to their recovery, especially if the sufferer is deficient in biblical understanding and Christian worldview. It is, however, to say that love must express itself first and foremost in compassion, not in analysis and biblical solution. The old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is proverbial genius.

Love and Pleasure – Love for God & people is what makes the Christian Hedonist’s heart tick. If you understand better how to love, and what love looks like when you want to help someone who suffers with depression, your capacity to love, and therefore to expereince pleasure, grows.

More than a Trial

It’s funny how one minute you can feel on top of the world; full of hope; favored of God; full of life and love, and the next, like your sufficating from fear, depression, anger, unforgiveness, feelings of betrayal, feelings of lonliness, weakness, pain, and despair. It can happen. At the blink of an eye, it can overtake you. When you least expect it. Just when you thought life was getting better; just when you were getting ready to take the next step on the ladder of fulfillment, the next step can crack and send you back to the bottom of the ladder; back to the rock bottom of the sea of despair where the sharks of temptation swim around your head and snap at your flesh.

The word “trial” doesn’t even do it justice. Your faith isn’t just “tested,” it is weakened to the point of doubt and despair. No light at the end of the tunnel. No releif from the emotional suffication; the soul does not stop it’s heaving; it comes in waves; it comes with crushing power; it comes relentlessly; ripping up your insides like internal poison ivy; like a soul-quake; a heart attack; a mack truck of pain rolling over the finest parts of your soul, steeling your joy, sucking your hope up like a death vacuum, cracking your most inner shell like it was made out of plastic, shattering your peace like a brick shatters a car windom, leaving bullet holes in your gut like a roothless drive-by of angry gangbanger retaliatation, leaving you in a puddle of blood, on the torture rack, chopped to peaces, melted in the microwave of affliction.
When it comes, you can have a million friends who run to your rescue, and yet none of them will be able to comfort. They bring you water you cannot drink, they bring you medicine you cannot take, they bring you gifts you cannot accept, they bring you food you cannot eat, they bring you advice you cannot take, soap that does not make clean, lights that do not shine, songs that cannot be sung, glasses that fail to focus the eyes, clothes that do not take away the nakedness, coats that do not warm, lotion that does not stop the flesh from cracking, scissors that cannot cut off the pain, cars that do not start the engine of faith, and words without meaning. They surround you like media surrounds a press conference, yet you are all alone in a black hole of darkness. They pray over you, yet you feel far from God. They look upon you with compassion, yet you feel unloved. No one hears you crying; no one understands the pain. Like a man who watches the sun set, they see you falling and can do nothing. They throw you life lines you cannot grab, send you supplies you cannot use. They are helpless; you are helpless; all you can do is grit the teeth of your soul and wait.

Wetting Your Hedonistic Appetite

If you want to experience new levels of pleasure in Christ, you must be willing to let go of all inferior pleasures. This is repentance. Repentance is letting go of the pleasure of sin in order to have the pleasure of God. It requires faith, for in it we must “believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hb 11:6).

In one sense it is a giant step of intellectual faith, because it asks that you trust that something completely invisible to you will be able to satisfy and make happy your soul more than those things which are tangible, visible, immediately gratifying, culturally preferred, and are very much capable of entertaining the soul for a lifetime of intense pleasure.

On the other hand, it does not require so much intellectual faith, so long as we believe that there is a God who created us, for then we might think it obvious that the one who created pleasure itself (the one, who, for example, created sex), and created our souls, would Himself know best how to maximize the potentiality of pleasure in our souls. That is to say, if anyone knows what will make us most happy, surely it would be the one who created us with body and soul, and therefore has the secrete to our pleasure tucked away in His infinite knowledge of our make-up as human beings. Therefore, when He tells us that we should do this or that (such as repent), unless we think that God is a demoniac who wishes to make us miserable, we can safely conclude that God has our highest pleasure in mind.

Besides this, everyone knows the consequences of sin—wrecked marriages and relationships (this includes all broken hearts), sexual perversion (which leads some to become pedophiles or entertained by shameful sexual practices such as bestiality), all DUI related accidents which have claimed a sea of souls in our culture, the disfunctionality which comes from alcoholism and drug-addiction, the unpleasantries which result from jail time and/or the restraints and punishments related to drug charges (such as probation, difficulty in getting hired due to criminal records, etc.), all sorts of depression, early death (from drug overdose or drug abuse over time), murder (how many people have been murdered because of something sinful they were caught up in?)—just to mention a few.

Jesus’ first sermon was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:2). His departing words were this: “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witness of these things.” (Lk 24.46-48, cf. Acts 1:8). Repentance is the most fundamental step toward true happiness and superior pleasure—a foundational grace (Heb 6:1). Since faith and repentance are inseparable experiences of grace, it is the necessary hinge on which the door of eternal blessings turns.

Thomas Watson, a Puritan minister of the seventeenth century, has a book entitled, “The Doctrine of Repentance.” This book is freshly published by Banner of Truth Trust. It has stood the test of time, first published in 1668, and having been republished ever since, Banner of Truth Trust has reprinted it several times in the recent past (1987, 1994, 1999, 2002). It is full of vintage Puritan expression, terse exactitude of definition, and logical amplification. A must read for a true Christian Hedonist who desires to rid himself of all pleasures which get in the way of the ultimate and supreme pleasure of knowing God.

Watson understood his own intention in calling people to repent as his wishing for their happiness. He was a true Christian Hedonist. He closes his introduction like this: “I will not launch forth any further in a prefatory discourse, but that God would add a blessing to this work and so direct this arrow, that though shot at rovers, it may hit the mark, and that some sin may be shot to death, shall be the ardent prayer of him who is The Well-wisher of your soul’s happiness. – Thomas Watson” (9).

Logical Impasse in Generational Judgment: Embracing the Mystery

Reading: Exodus 20.

God’s jealousy is made explicit to the people of Israel, and he explains as one of the consequences of his jealousy what I call generational judgment. God extends judgment for a man’s sins to that man’s children, and their children, and even their children – “on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.” Honestly, this seems unjust. It seems unfair for God to punish anyone for a sin that they themselves did not personally commit. As I thought about this, I realized that this is exactly what God has done in the case of Adam, against the entire human race. We are all born sinful (not due to our own choices) because of the choice that Adam made. Because we are born sinful, we are born in a helpless state. That is, though we cannot help but being sinful people (since we are born that way it is our nature), we are still held guilty for our sinfulness.
This all seems unfair and unjust to me. But this is just the point. I have learned that though it may seem unrighteous for God to do such a thing, and though the scripture never really explains explicitly how God can do such a thing and still be righteous, I must believe by faith that there is an answer that would satisfy my troubled soul—only God has chosen not to defend himself against man’s logical scrutiny (Romans 9:18-23). God’s only response to such an accusation (which accusation still seems to me to be the fruit of sound logic) is something like, “Who are you to accuse almighty God of unrighteousness? Did I not create the reasoning ability within you? Have you become more reasonable and righteous in your judgment than the Holy One?!” And so, it is at this point that I put my hand over my mouth and pull out my “mystery” card. That is, I simply consider it a mystery how God can do such a thing and still be righteous.
The best explanation I have heard came from a lecture by R.C. Sproul in which he said something to the effect of this: Adam, since he was our headship, was our representative, and he represented us fairly. If he represented us fairly, then God’s imputing his guilt to us is fair. This is biblical and helpful, but it does not explain away the mystery. The only reason I could agree that Adam has represented us fairly is this: we are all born in sin and have a sin nature inherited from Adam, thus, his sin is surely an accurate representative of our own. But this is a circular argument (if you can see that).
In spite of such logical impasse, my soul is not–and need not be–vexed over this. I don’t hold this objection in the back of my mind as a chip on my shoulder against God. I actually believe that since God is God, he can do what He wants, and I trust that in all He does, He is righteous and just. I don’t just say that, but even in the face of God’s generational judgment (even as it applies to me), I zealously am ready to defend that God is still righteous and just; even merciful and gracious to all who breathe air and have life.
Prayer: Lord, I pray you would give me a humility that accepts Your Word and trust in Your judgment over and against the judgment of men. I pray you would strike me with a fear of You that would so overwhelm me, that I would experience a new level of sanctification in my life (Exodus 20:20). Put a fear of You deep within me, that I might not sin against you. Amen.
Picture Captions – The picture in my last blog (the one below) is not me. It’s my friend Daniel and his girlfriend Sarah. The above pictures were taken at the 2007 Walnut Street Inner-City Sports Banquet. The first is a picture of my friend Sam (Samkon Gado) and the second is Sarah Odom.

Christian Hedonism

Well … since I have designed my blog after the theme of Christian Hedonism, I should probably remind the reader of it’s basic contours and introduce these convictions to those who are yet to become conscious of their own Christian Hedonism. I am convinced that a Christian becoming a Christian Hedonist is only a conscious acceptance of what one is by nature already.

1. We can’t escape longings for happiness: “The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.”

2. This longing is God-given: “We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.”

3. Only God can ultimately best satisfy this longing: “The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.”

4. Joy in God is cultivated in many ways: “The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.”

5. God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him: “To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue. That is, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever.’”

Note: I would rather say that God is most glorified in us when we are most in love with Him, but since we will only love Him to the degree that we enjoy Him and are satisfied by Him, it is a mere matter of emphasis. Piper’s teaching is not in conflict with this idea, rather, his expression of it is more nuanced. It is true that we love God no further than we delight in Him, and thus Piper’s popular maxim, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” is certainly true. In fact, I don’t know of a better way to describe what it is like to love someone better than to say, “My soul most deeply delight in her with vigerous satisfaction.”

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