Intellect versus emotions. An eternal battle, it seems.
Christianity at its core is a reasonable worldview based on historical events. The life, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth either happened or did not happen. If you accept that they happened, you must accept it all: God, the Bible, creation, life after death, etc.
If any person wants to know the truth about God, the world, and themselves, there is a book – the Bible – which makes truth claims, and it contains the story of a man – Jesus – who made the most audacious truth claims in history. Such a person may read the book, meet the man, and investigate the claims of truth for themselves. Thousands of people have written thousands of books precisely on the subject of Christianity’s rationality, the argument for which, if anyone cares to look, is extremely strong.
Christianity engages the mind. God did not leave things primarily up to our feelings, as flighty as they are. Most, perhaps all, other systems of “spirituality,” as well as the reigning system of thought called post-modernism, downplay the mind. “Tune in, turn on, drop out”; “empty your mind”; “trust the prophet and don’t ask questions.” Manipulation is easy when intellect is unimportant, and feeling good is easy when feeling good is all that matters.
Any Christian who tends to cherish “logos” above “pathos” is probably nodding their head in agreement at the above paragraphs. “You tell ‘em,” such a person might be thinking. “Touchy-feely people who let their emotions control them need to get rational already.”
Emotions make a great deal of people in our culture very uncomfortable. Many parents never form real relationships with their kids in a lifetime because the idea of sharing their feelings makes them squirm in their seats. Many other parents damage their relationships with their kids because they pile the mess of their own emotional lives into the laps of their confused children. The point is that striking a balance between unthinking emotionalism and unfeeling intellectualism is difficult, and erring too far on either side is equally destructive.
Unfeeling intellectualism is first of all proud. It speaks harshly, critically, and condescendingly, with such zeal for truth that mercy is ignored. It cannot sympathize with either suffering or joyful people, because it views emotions as weak. People become objects to debate. Scripture becomes something with which to beat people over the head. Input may be accepted from only the tiniest group of people, who must already subscribe to its own rigid system of belief. All others may be ridiculed.
Unthinking emotionalism, meanwhile, is foolish, unstable, and self-absorbed. It picks and chooses what it wants to believe, or what the charismatic leader wants it to believe, setting itself up as the authority over God. Above all else it wants to feel good, seeking spiritual experiences and highs, basing its entire view of God on such experiences. Faith lasts only as long as the feeling lasts. Concern for others is directly proportional to the gratitude and admiration received in return. Love for enemies or ungrateful people is never attempted.
I recognize myself in each of these descriptions. Do you?
Jesus, our Lord and our example, was a stunningly emotional man. He felt compassion (Matthew 9:36, Luke 7:13), indignation (Matthew 23:13-15), anger (John 2:15), joy (Luke 10:21), love (John 15:9), anguish (Luke 22:44). These verses, of course, are only a small sample. Looking at Jesus teaches us how to feel, purely, in a way that magnifies God and does real good for others.
Looking at him teaches us how to think in that way, too. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). He loved truth and hated lies. He engaged the leaders and thinkers of his day on technical issues of the law, not for the sake of debate, but for the sake of representing God accurately. He based his commitment to the Father and to his work of salvation not on a fleeting feeling or for the purpose of personal fulfillment – everyone he loved abandoned him, God the Father himself abandoned him while he hung on the cross – but on his steady, unshakable love for sinful people.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Loving God is not purely a head thing; it’s not purely a heart thing. It is a beautiful combination of both. God asks for nothing less than our whole selves; head, heart, and all.