by Dr. John Yates
As far back as I can remember I have been an intensely emotional person. From embarrassed profuse weeping as a child to a systematic attempt to deaden all feelings, I was always trying to bring my sensitive nature under control. All such attempts failed, and the deep depression that followed was a key factor leading to my conversion.
The intensity never went away, and in my early years as a believer I was often overwhelmed by unutterable joy (1 Pet 1:8). Then sadly, when God put his finger on some inner issues I relapsed into a desiring a state of nonexistence where all emotional pain would be erased. Whilst I am well past these vain aspirations, I still sense at times a strong controlling urge to protect my emotions. Whilst such a desire is typical of the fallen ‘ME’ it runs in direct conflict with the ways of God.
I am sensing very clearly a call from God to ‘ME’ and the Church to radically shift in how we understand and express the realm of feeling. When this transformation occurs the result will be a revolution in the presence of God amongst us.
Ruled by Feelings
If ever there was a society ruled by feelings it is ours. Entertainment has reached colossal proportions in Western culture, and the desire for enjoyment through relationships, career, holidays and consumer goods is all-pervading. As a consequence we are obsessed with the alleviation of emotional pain. The breakdown of loyalties, marriages and moralities that saturates our society flows from the conviction that life’s goal is the satisfaction of personal felt need.
Most seriously, much of the Church has embraced the lie that God exists to make us feel better about ourselves. Religion has been corrupted into an industry of providing messages and methods to satisfy a thirst for a more fulfilling lifestyle that includes a spiritual dimension. “God” himself has become a means of grace to satisfy ‘ME’.
At the root of this rebellious social catastrophe is the deception that my emotions belong to me and I possess an unchallengeable right to express them. This is the core attitude of the ‘ME’ who must die and be reborn with Christ; for only Jesus can reveal to us that our feelings first of all exist to serve the purposes of God before they belong to us.
Jesus came not as a therapist but as a King in conquering power of God’s kingdom. His intense inner life, encompassing compassion, joy, grief, anger, sorrow and so on (Matt 9:36; Mark 3:5; Mark 14:34; Luke 10:21) was uniquely and constantly centered on the Father and his ruling purposes in the lives of others. All that Christ inwardly experienced was felt in the context of a great conflict to overcome the powers of darkness. The joy of the Lord in the power of the Spirit (Luke 10:21) was not merely a satisfying sensation, but a witness to the triumph of his Father’s kingdom over demonic forces. Jesus knew peace as an inward ruling power over which the forces of evil were helpless.
The prophetic word, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa 9:7) was revealed in all his acts of deliverance. The command “peace be still” calmed a raging storm whipped up by dark forces, because it contained within itself the wholeness of Almighty God (Mark 4:39). In the “clash of the kingdoms” Jesus was often attacked by wicked men and evil spirits he never lost his the inner rule of God’s kingdom of peace and joy.
What then are we to make of the cross?
The sorrows of Gethsemane and the forsakenness on the cross (Mark 14:34; Mark 15:34) are not to be equated with mere personal feeling. They are utterly agonizing to Christ because in bearing our sin he must experience suffering apart from the ruling presence of his Father. The emotional crisis of the cross is that Christ is stripped of a sense that the Father is conquering evil through his very grief. The emotional victory of the cross is that Jesus continues to obey and please his Father and so rather than himself. This is the place where the self-satisfying ‘ME’ is put to death.
The fruit of the passion is seen in the resurrection of Christ as reigning King. The joy and peace that he now imparts to his disciples are unconquerable because they are a share in his completed victory over sin, Satan and death. The whole realm of feeling has been fully redeemed.1)Luke 24:36, 41; John 14:27; John 15:11; John 20:19, 21, 26. Emotional wholeness is available to us all in Christ, but only in the way it lives in him, as the fruit of the victory of his Father’s kingdom.
Kingdom in Us
Since “the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” the goal of our emotional lives is to manifest the reign of Christ (Romans 14:17). Joy and peace are to be desired as expressions of the indwelling Jesus and a means by which the power of his Spirit is unleashed before a broken world. This is how the reign of God comes, “[L]et the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15 cf. Phil 4:7). We are to actively yield our emotions to the Lord so that evil powers may be subdued in his presence; “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:20).
It is not strength of religious feeling that is an indicator of godliness but a deeply ordered inner life. Mature Christian living involves a death to the ‘ME’ which insatiably demands emotional self-satisfaction and a re-centering on Christ alone. Through the power of the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead my emotional life becomes charged with new meaning (Rom 8:11). In the light of the death-and-resurrection of the Lord a grown-up believer accepts that even grief can be a term of victory rather than one of despair (2 Cor 7:11). In this way no realm of human experience is excluded from the glorious dominion of our Saviour.
For far too long the bulk of the Church has been deeply confused about the place of feelings. Through fear of excess the conservative side often denies the significance of emotions, whilst the Charismatic church frequently elevates feelings to a place of primacy. My long struggles with emotion teach that any attempt to either suppress or perfect emotion is doomed to fail.
We need to turn to Christ to redeem all things. The witness of the life of Jesus steers us away from the self-centered ‘ME’ to the Spirit’s indwelling power for a higher purpose. My emotions are not about my personal self-satisfaction but are an opportunity to manifest the kingdom of God. The gospel of Christ reveals that the true meaning of human emotionality is to be a vehicle demonstrating the victory of Christ over every evil power.
The implications of this understanding for life and ministry are immense and call us to repent of all that is simply therapeutic. This radically new paradigm of submission to Christ as “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36) means a new depth of discipleship that will mean renew the Church and reveal Jesus to broken world whose feelings are out of control. It is time to cease from protecting our emotions and allow God to reign.
|↑ 1.||Luke 24:36, 41; John 14:27; John 15:11; John 20:19, 21, 26.|