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The Power of Emotions

If people believe one thing, but feel another, most of them will do what they feel, not what they say they believe.

#4 in The Love Series

I just heard an endorsement for socialist Bernie Sanders for president by a free-market capitalist because he met Sanders and liked him. He liked him!?!?!?  So, a man who is a student of history, who seems rational and reasonable, who knows the benefits of free-market capitalism and the devastation socialism can cause, will vote for a socialist because he likes him! Humph! I don’t like it, but it does illustrate the power of emotion over reason.

Another example of the power of emotion over reason is one of the most common prayers ever prayed, “Lord, I’ll never do that again.” But very often the person who prayed that prayer “does it again” because their emotions changed. None of us like that when it happens, but it does illustrate the power of emotion over reason.

Emotions are a strong motivator in all of us, and love can cause some of our strongest emotions. Most social scientists today agree that there are only six innate and universal emotions, and interestingly, none of which are love. They are:

  1. fear,
  2. anger,
  3. happiness or joy,
  4. sadness,
  5. surprise, and
  6. shame.

Each one of these emotions naturally leads to unique actions and unique facial expressions that are able to be interpreted in every culture accurately. But why is love not on the list? It’s because love is not a single emotion. It does not have a distinct facial expression, and it is much more complex than any one emotion.

Instead, love produces a variety of feelings and emotions depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes it produces a melody of feelings that can knock us off our feet and cause us to throw caution to the wind; other times it makes us feel so violated and betrayed that we want to be hermits the rest of our lives. Love can produce a full spectrum of emotions. When we love, we can be joyful, sad, angry, afraid, surprised, or ashamed – sometimes at the same time. The emotions love produces can swing from passionate lust to murderous anger. This is why some people try to avoid love, and, no doubt, this gives love a bad rap among many.

So, what is love? I believe a simple definition of real love is living for the good of another. For example, we love God, so we live to serve him.  God loves us, he takes care of us. When parents love their children, they live for the good of their children, and when children love their parents, they enjoy making them happy. Some love football, so they adjust their schedules and spending for football. Others love The Church, so they live for the good of their local church. In this process of living for the good of others, we all experience a wide variety of emotions.

The emotions prompted by love powerfully organize and elevate our lives so that we don’t merely exist on this earth, we experience it. They organize our lives by prioritizing our time and influencing how we spend our money. They elevate our lives because when we love, we live for the good of someone or something else. When we’re enjoying healthy, life-giving love, we are not selfish.

Our emotions turn objects into mementos, events into life-long memories, and that one other person into the love of our lives. It’s my emotions that transformed a truck into a loved and cherished machine.

Emotions are more significant to our personal lives and our society than we as rational, reasonable people like to admit. Certainly, the Bible and our faith informs our moral judgments and actions, but I’ve observed that if we believe one thing, but feel another, most of us will often do what we feel, not what we say we believe. Strangely, after doing what we feel, we create a rationale to give the appearance that we had a reason for our actions instead of a simple, “I did it because I wanted to.”

Don’t get me wrong, I know that God is emotional and is sometimes motivated by his emotions as well. A quick read through the Bible reveals that reality. And since we are created in his image and likeness, we too are emotional and are sometimes motivated by our emotions.

But just as God is also reasonable and rational, so we can be reasonable and rational too. How do we mitigate the power of emotion in us so we can also be reasonable and rational? Through healthy, wholesome, long-term life-giving relationships.

Long-term life-giving relationships balance us.

In the biblical creation account, when God formed the universe, the earth, and everything in it, “God saw that it was good” . . .  until he created Adam. And for the first time in biblical history, God expresses displeasure when he says, “It is NOT good for man to be alone” (which is still sooooooo true today). That’s when he created a companion for Adam, a relationship that became a family.

Healthy, long lasting life-giving relationships provide a safe haven for all of us. Both physical and emotional pain are lessened when we are with those we love and those who love us. Marriage, children, churches, civic organizations, and recreational clubs all help civilize us. We are created to function best in groups, corporations, cities, states, and nations. And learning to love and be loved is, in effect, about connecting in a healthy way so that as life happens, good or bad, we are stronger and safer. It’s God’s infinite grace to provide us with the ease and safety that comes from a dependable life partner or a group of faithful friends. It’s what makes life good.

But love relationships aren’t meant only to be joyrides; they produce restorative, balancing emotions that calm and regulate our feelings. We need one another, and in secure relationships, we become the best people we can be.

No doubt, we were created to be together. Our emotions depend on it. 

 


 

This and other blogs by Pastor Ted Haggard are available at http://www.tedhaggardblog.com as a ministry of St. James Church. If you would like to strengthen the ministry of St. James Church and Pastor Ted Haggard by giving, please use the “give” tab at http://www.saintjameschurch.com.

By tedhaggardblog

Ted Haggard is the Sr. Pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, CO and founding pastor of New Life Church and past president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He is the husband of Gayle, and the father of Christy, Marcus, Jonathan, Alex and Elliott.

4 replies on “The Power of Emotions”

Very insightful! Question: what would you say to the idea that our emotions inform us of what we actually believe? Meaning we can say we believe something or even want to believe it strongly yet when the push comes to shove for action to be put toward that belief, or we’re pressed by life, or tested in what we believe our emotional response will actually reveal our true belief. For example, if we say we believe with all our heart that kindness is more effective than anger yet when we’re pressed in a moment that presents itself for that belief to manifest through us, we actually turn to anger, what if that anger coming out is our true expression of what we believe is more effective, because it’s what we trust enough to put action to in a moment? Curious what your thoughts on that perspective would be. Love how you pointed out emotions’ power over reason, wondering about why that is, which led to this question. Thanks for the post!

Excellent question. Of course, some cultures believe that emotion rules, and thus their churches are more emotional, they express themselves with greater emotion, and understand correctly that emotion certainly is us and is powerful in forming the way our brains work. My culture, on the other hand, is a midwestern farm culture that embraces the idea that intelligent people are able to control their emotions by the application of reason.

In the church, we embrace both ideas because the Bible is a book of ideas that is reasonable and rational, and the Holy Spirit reveals the life in the Bible which often leads to emotional experiences and encounters with God. Interestingly, though not popular in Charismatic circles, is the biblical idea that we are all of the above and that all of our various parts influence the other parts and, thus, sometimes our emotions reveal our true selves, as you suggest. I don’t not believe it when people say someone has been living a double life. I think they are just complex and all of the things going on inside them and showing up in their lives is them. Thus, we have a three person God who is One, so we are multi-fasciated people who are, like God, one. Good insight Barb! You are impressive!

Johnathan Haidt, in his book, The Righteous Mind, talks about the rider and the elephant. The elephant is rooted in the subconscious, with many connections to deep-seated emotions. His basic idea is that a significant dynamic of human life – though not the only one – is that the rider often consciously rationalizes where the elephant is already going. The rider has some control (e.g. James Clear, Atomic Habits), but it is all too easy in our modern world to give in to the elephant.

A significant impact of social media is to make our elephants more fearful and angry. Fear and anger are “sticky” and viral in social media. This is why so many studies link excessive social media use to depression, and why authoritarianism – rooted in fear – is on the increase worldwide.

The one positive emotion that is sticky and viral on social media is AWE, a combination of surprise and joy. Posting awe-inspiring stories is a noble use of social media. E.g. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/15/us/son-slain-police-officer-school-escort-trnd/index.html

While emotions are a barometer of our inner state, they cannot, as Dobson said years ago, always be trusted. A significant amount of anger, for example, often masks some other feeling – perhaps as much as 80%. For a person with an anxious attachment style, anger often really is a fear of abandonment – “Don’t reject me!” or “Attend to me!” or “Love me!” .

Nevertheless, emotions are a barometer. Generally, if we are feeling a certain way, it is healthy to take a few minutes and reflect on the immediate source of it.

The healthy relationships you describe, Pastor Ted, can help us work through why we are feeling the way we are feeling. (E.g. Brene Brown on shame.) In a Godly relationship, our trusted loved one can help us tame these emotions with better biblical ideas. (E.g. shame – Romans 8:1).

Here’s another example., Outside of a reverence for God, clearly the Bible teaches – from beginning to end – that God does not want us to live in fear. Hands down, no question about it. God provides the anecdote to fear, which is LOVE (1 John 4:18).

As Christians, we are to live in JOY – Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding celebration! Pastor Ted, you are among a handful of people I have known over many years who exemplify a life lived in JOY. Not always, not perfectly, but usually. And for that I thank you.

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