The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART II)

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Last week I made the case that the idea of so-called “feelings” is actually illusory, but rather the experience that we call negative “feelings” is our pride/ego being compromised, which leads to negative emotions. Our pride is compromised whenever we build our identity on something vulnerable, something other than Christ. According to the gospel, this is only remedied by drawing our entire sense of identity from being a redeemed child of God, understanding that we are perfect in God’s sight by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Since emotions are so powerful and can be so misguided and misleading, they are sometimes unfairly condemned by well-intentioned Christians. This week, I’m trying to offer some direction for the proper, and necessary, role of emotions in our lives.

The Danger of Emotion

Since the western world has largely lost the concept of divine authority, a vacuum has been created  in our lives for authority, something that, deep down, we all know we need/crave. Upon losing a sense of the divine, the first societal impulse was to turn to “experts.” Soon, however, we learned that this doesn’t work because so many experts fundamentally disagree – they disagree on dietary habits, education theory, historical facts, religious truths, and so on – not to mention that even expert consensus tends to change every generation. The search for authority continued. As a result, people turned to what they know, something closer to home – their instincts/feelings – as chief arbiters of what is good or bad in their lives.

The problem that arises here is that the thing which we call “feelings” can change quite easily as well. I used to despise diet pop, now I drink it constantly and don’t think I could stomach a regular Coke. I used to like roller coasters, now I feel like I’m going to die on one. I used to like wearing turtlenecks. My point is that personal preferences and our accompanying emotions, our feelings, are fickle.

Even more important, faith that is based primarily on “feelings” is inevitably going to be misguided at some point. How could you ever possibly be certain that what you’re feeling is from the Lord, and not from Satan, or merely the product of your own flesh? You can’t.

I believe this is one of the reasons why Jesus so often describes spiritual development in terms of organic growth. By their fruit you will recognize them… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt. 7:16-20; see also Matt. 12:33; Luke 6:43-44; Luke 13:6-7) Many people measure the quality of their spiritual life by what they are currently feeling, i.e. what emotions are conjured up when considering the Bible, or church, or God. But according to Jesus’s own words here, spiritual growth is organic. Organic growth is measurable over time but generally imperceptible in the moment. Without time elapse photography, you can’t witness a plant growing. Spiritually then, you probably shouldn’t expect to feel drastically different after prayer, Communion, Bible Study, or public worship, any more than you would feel significantly healthier after a good meal or a productive workout. Such things often feel somewhat good, but not life altering, because such progress is organic. 

Anyone who is putting a high premium on the emotions experienced upon the exercise of spiritual disciplines is not understanding what the Bible says about the way faith generally matures.

I’m not suggesting there will never be clear and distinct “aha!” moments from time to time in spiritual development, but that shouldn’t be the general expectation.

Emotions aren’t EVERYTHING.

The Need for Emotion

Many men, especially conservative evangelical ones, are probably with me thus far. “Yes, emotion is evil!” Not really what I’m driving at, which is the need for this second point.

Many traditional, conservative churchgoers, like many older white men, strongly dislike their emotions or any encouragement towards emotional expressiveness. For traditional churchgoers, this is likely because of some of the potential dangers of emotion cited in the previous section. For older white men, this is perhaps because they were raised hearing sentiments like “boys don’t cry.” Going back to the issue of pride, when someone challenges our manhood, especially at a young age, we are likely to accept the challenge. If the societal gauntlet thrown down was to not be emotional, we find resourceful ways of stuffing those emotions. Many traditional adult men struggle with high blood pressure, heartburn, and ulcers because they’ve never learned to externalize their emotions in productive ways. Instead, they stuff their emotions and tear themselves apart from the inside out.

Theologically, the problem is that God created us as emotive creatures. Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus got angry (Matt. 21:12) Paul tells us to laugh and cry, rejoice and mourn with others (Rom. 12:15). This is part of our design. Consequently, to suppress emotion is theologically inaccurate and psychologically and physically unhealthy.

Personally, I sometimes struggle when worshipping with groups who seemingly demonstrate zero emotion.

I’ve heard this dismissed as “We all have different ways of expressing our emotion.” Yes and no. It’s true that we’re all unique, individual creatures with personal dispositions. Nonetheless, it’s also true that there is such a thing as a universality of emotions. If you won a $250 million lottery and stated in monotone, “That’s nice,” we’d assume you were emotionally off. If someone was completely unaffected by a close loved one dying, we’d assume there was something emotionally wrong too. Likewise, if someone comes to publicly worship God and is inexpressive, there is something emotionally wrong happening.

I’ve also heard that worship style is cultural. And since the church body I belong to has deep ethnic roots in Germany, perhaps worshippers are simply doing what’s culturally appropriate. I’d probably be more likely to accept that explanation if we were fresh off the boat and looking for the nearest schnitzel and kraut stand. But most of us, if we have any eastern European heritage at all, are 3 or 4 or more generations American. In other words, at this point, a cultural heritage is probably an irrelevant excuse.

Interestingly, the Christian who stifles emotion because “emotions are evil” is ironically just as controlled by their emotions as the Christian who easily gets emotionally manipulated. Neither is a healthy approach.

So while emotions aren’t EVERYTHING, they’re also not NOTHING. They’re necessary and beneficial, but need a proper driver.

The Guide for Emotion

Humans were created to be emotional. And yet human emotion is easily manipulated, which means that it then sends our brains mixed signals about what is or is not good. The solution is not to suppress emotion or to unconditionally embrace emotion. The solution for a Christian is to have genuine emotion, passion that is primarily generated, filtered, and pedagogically maneuvered by God’s inspired Word.

Let me give an overly simplistic illustration of what this might look like, say, in a worship setting:

  • A hymn that is theologically accurate but weighed down by a dismal tune that no one today would categorize as “beautiful” is inappropriate, not because it doesn’t proclaim truth, but because it doesn’t appropriately touch the emotion, counterintuitively dimming the theological truth.
  • A praise song that many today would categorize as a “beautiful” tune but that lacks any theological depth, or, worse yet, promotes something Scripturally untrue, is inappropriate, not because it doesn’t affect the emotions, but because it primarily moves the emotions by a force other than Scriptural truth.
  • A hymn/song that proclaims accurate theological truth AND, through artistic flavor, touches humans in an emotive way IS appropriate.

Worship music is just one easy example. The point is much bigger. Another simple example would be anger. It’s not wrong to get angry, so long as it is righteous anger, i.e. anger over something that God himself would be angry about. If it’s anger over my pride being hurt, then that’s merely going to lead to sinful vindictiveness. The idea is that God encourages us to embrace the emotions we experience insofar as those emotions are biblically supported.

In Summary…

“Feelings” aren’t completely real. Our pride/ego is very sensitive. When it is threatened, we experience strong negative emotions. This is an occasion for humility and a time to remember that our true boast/pride/identity comes from being a child of God.

Emotions themselves aren’t bad, but rather are gifts from God and therefore should not be outright suppressed. They are easily misguided, however, which means that we regularly have to seek the direction of God’s Word to make sure our emotions are properly moved.

Finally, Jesus, our greatest friend, our dearest brother, and the Lover of us, the Church, lived and died for us. That only evokes proper emotion. And to the degree that we realize we have the full acceptance of God himself through this Jesus, nothing in this life can really hurt our feelings anymore.

The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART I)

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Disney’s Pixar Studios cranked out another billion dollar winner this past summer with the release of Inside Out – a story set in the mind of a little girl, where we encounter her 5 personified emotions.

The little known secret about this movie is that they TOTALLY ripped me off, as I’ve had this idea for years now. The only difference was that in my version the story takes place in a child’s heart and the characters were adorable little “feelings bears” ….. and I never actually wrote a script or recorded a movie. Nonetheless, being a man of grace, I haven’t pursued legal action. I simply ask, next time you see the movie and chuckle …. you’re welcome 🙂

The American public was due for an insightful movie breaking down the interaction of our emotions. They are such a powerful aspect of all of our lives, and as I’m going to make the case today, potentially too influential.

This is a topic I frequently try to bring up in my church. For instance: I’ve LOVED every minute of the Mere Christianity class I’ve been leading on Wednesday nights this fall with 100 or so adults. A couple of weeks ago, we arrived at one of the classic chapters of C.S. Lewis’s classic – Book III: Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” (i.e. Pride). As Lewis offers his incredible insights on pride, you get the sense that Mere Christianity is moving from a really good Christian book into arguably one of the top 5 “must reads” in Christian history.

This chapter also presented me the opportunity to share one of my personal favorite, mildly provocative, mini-sermons about human nature – THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS FEELINGS. Typically, this speech is met with some resistance. Sometimes, ironically, feelings get hurt. But that only presents the occasion to explain what those feelings really are.

For instance, I’ll ask someone to, medically speaking, point to where their feelings are located. After processing the question, some will point to their hearts. Now, my wife is a cardiovascular surgical ICU RN at Mayo Clinic. She’s studied a good deal about hearts in recent years. She also has a lot of what are commonly labeled “feelings” – but she knows they don’t reside in her technical heart.

So here’s the point of clarification. When we say things like “My feelings are hurt” or “You hurt my feelings,” what we, more accurately, mean is that our pride has been hurt, and this is causing us emotional turmoil. Our ego is the sense of self that we build upon some aspect of our lives.

Here’s an illustration that might help: if you criticized me by saying, “James, you’re a horrible figure skater,” not only would I not be hurt, I’d probably feel a certain sense of, “Whew.  I don’t even really want to be known as a good figure skater.” On the other hand, if you said, “James, you’re a thoughtless, loveless pastor and a faithless, incompetent interpreter of Scripture,” that is much more likely to “hurt my feelings.” Why? I tend to build more of my identity, my sense of self, on being a pastor than I do as a figure skater. Conversely, if you told Scott Hamilton (yes, that’s how little I pay attention, HE is still my current frame of reference for a male figure skater) that he was a poor pastor, he’s probably going to say, “Okay. Fine. I’m not even a pastor and don’t really want to be.” On the other hand, if you told him what an unimpressive skater he was, he’d probably be a little more hurt. He would naturally be more inclined to build his identity on and draw his pride from something different from me.

So if someone criticizes us, we naturally wouldn’t like it, but if we’re devastated by it, if our “feelings are REALLY hurt,” we have to ask why? Is it because we’re drawing too much of our identity from something other than our status as a redeemed child of God? Is it because our pride, our boast, is misplaced?

In his chapter on Pride, Lewis says:

“if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or show their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”

Our feelings haven’t technically been hurt. Those “feelings” don’t exist per se. The importance of making this distinction is that, unless we realize this truth about illusory “feelings,” we won’t be able to remedy the problem. What hurts is our pride. Our sense of self, the thing on which we sought to build our lives and make a name for ourselves, the thing other than Jesus that we primarily look to for value, meaning, security, and hope for the future has been compromised. Spiritually speaking, this is a healthy, albeit painful, process to go through because it drives us deeper into an unshakeable identity shaped exclusively by the gracious blood of Christ.

If it’s true that what we experience when our “feelings are hurt” is more about our pride being jeopardized and leading to negative emotions, then it’s also probably worth explaining the role that emotions should play in our lives.

The problem I potentially face (and have faced) if I say “feelings aren’t real things” is the accusation of emotional dismissiveness, which could be fair. So, allow me a minute to explain what I believe should be the proper, balanced understanding on these types of emotions?

(please come back next week for PART II when we’ll look at the proper role of emotion)

364 Days of Thanksgiving

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I’m always thankful to have great, gospel-flavored content to share with others. So I want to take the opportunity this week to share with you the recently released project of a ministry friend – Pastor Andrew Schroer. It’s called 364 Days of Thanksgiving, it’s a great idea, and the details of where you can get your hands on a copy are provided below.

An excerpt from 364 Days of Thanksgiving…

Why Write a Book about Being Thankful?

A few years ago, a young mother tried to commit suicide. By God’s grace she was unsuccessful. Because of a connection her family had with our church, the husband called me the next morning asking me to visit her in the hospital.

As I spoke with her, it became obvious that she was deeply depressed about her marriage and family. The doctors ordered she receive medication and professional counseling. She also asked that I visit her once a week.

Feeling overwhelmed by the situation, I asked a psychologist friend for help. He explained to me that depression is often anger turned inward. He suggested that she was so angry about the problems in her life she couldn’t see the good God had given her. Among other things, he advised me to have her keep a notebook by her bed.

Every morning and every evening, the young mother was to write down one good thing in her life – but each time it had to be something different. She couldn’t repeat the same blessing even once.

Over the next few weeks, as her list grew longer her attitude grew brighter. She began to notice all the blessings God had given her, especially God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. She began to see that even the problems were a part of God’s gracious plan for her life. She began to smile again. Soon she was weaned off the antidepressant medication.

That young mother was the inspiration for this book.

Are you depressed? Are you frustrated by the problems and struggles in your life? The secret to happiness isn’t to rid your life of problems. The secret to happiness isn’t getting what you want. The secret to happiness is recognizing what you have in Christ.

This book is about seeing what God has done for you.


Pastor Andrew Schroer has been a Lutheran pastor for over 15 years, serving congregations in Mexico, Florida and Texas. He is a contributing editor of the national Christian magazine “Forward in Christ.” He also writes a syndicated devotional column which appears in a handful of newspapers in Texas. He is also a frequent blogger at His new book “364 Days of Thanksgiving” is now available on and at

Millennial Christian Politics

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If you’re older than a Millennial, this post might not be for you. I’m convinced, at this point, that a generation or two older than me might not get where I’m coming from on this issue, and that’s okay. This is primarily for Millennials – those born in the late 70s to late 90s.

There has been a great deal written on the Millennial recoil from traditional political involvement, e.g. voting. The assessment of Millennial political views from major media outlets tends to include disparaging terms like “apathy,” “entitlement,” or “incoherence.”

I suppose those assessments could be accurate, and perhaps part of the issue. But, it’s worth noting that those labels are also often tossed around when people simply don’t understand something. They say it “makes no sense.” Translating what I believe to be the media’s misdiagnosis, what they’re really trying to say is that Millennial political views “don’t fit neatly into one of our two parties.”

Uh huh. Yes. That’s a Millennial.

And all I’m trying to do is tell you Christian Millennials that not only is this is okay, but I also believe that it’s biblically supported.

For instance, I personally don’t feel as though EITHER major political party in our country captures the gospel perfectly. Generally speaking, Conservatives/Republicans seem to value the biblical sexual ethic, traditional family values, and the sanctity of unborn human life. They tend to seem less concerned, however, about social justice issues. Generally speaking, Liberals/Democrats seem to champion a defense of the weak, downtrodden, and marginalized of society. They also appear very concerned about preserving/protecting much of God’s creation. They tend to seem less concerned, however, about any true basis for morality.

I’m sorry, but if that simple assessment reflects reality at all, my personal values don’t line up neatly with either party.

American politicsAdditionally, my perception is that a lot of Christians seem to bandwagon certain causes NOT because the Bible has shaped their thoughts, NOT because they’ve wrestled with these things in prayer, but merely because it’s comfortable to fall in line with a party platform. They’ve been victim to this simplistic EITHER/OR, US/THEM type of thinking.

Just look at the two political candidates currently leading the polls for Republication nomination. At the first Republican debate in August, FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly had to ask Donald Trump, “When did you actually become a Republican?” Like him or not, Trump can’t just be Trump. He’s got to pander. He’s got to change his positions on certain issues in order to be accepted.

Similarly, having just read Dr. Ben Carson’s third political book, I was a little saddened to see that Dr. Carson, whom I think very highly of in many ways, as he’s moved closer to becoming a legitimate potential Republican candidate, has had to change his stance on some issues in order to maintain party approval.

I’m not at all supporting or opposing Trump’s or Carson’s views on certain issues here (although I’d be lying if I didn’t suggest that having a Young Earth Creationist like Carson as president would be kinda cool. And yes, he’s even backed off of some of those beliefs.) What I find troubling, especially for the purposes of this post, is the fact that both candidates have felt the need to change previously held convictions because they were ultimately unpopular, at least within the group that they are now trying to reach out to for - politics 3

Millennials, that doesn’t have to be you. Believe it or not, as a Christian, you can be ethically conservative AND AT THE SAME TIME liberal about social justice. In fact, as just one example, my reading of the Book of Isaiah moves me to feel exactly that way. Just look at the sins God calls his people to repent of. Look at the word pictures he paints of the Israelites. He talks about oppression of the poor (e.g. 10:2), greed of the wealthy class (e.g. 13:17-22), racial prejudice (e.g. 16:6, 14), sexual impurity (e.g. 1:21, 29), marriage (e.g. 50:1), family & traditional values (43:6). Now some of those sound like left-wing talking points and some of those sound like right-wing talking points. In other words, he calls his people to repentance over “conservative sins” AND “liberal sins.” Apparently God has a higher standard than any political party. He’s more complex, more thoughtful, and more holy. And as his child, so are you.

It does not matter if the media doesn’t understand you, the world doesn’t understand you, and your parents, grandparents, or any other generations don’t understand you. Only if Christians grasp what it means that their citizenship is primarily in heaven (Phil. 3:20) will they understand earthly politics the way Christ himself did. Then and only then will we be able to interact with politics in a healthy way.

The failure to establish that balance in evangelical America has cost both the church and modern politics in recent history. Truth be told, it really wasn’t until I listened to a speech by English author and social critic Os Guinness that I started to understand this much either. Guinness pointed out that beginning in the mid 70s with the Moral Majority, we’ve had in America a politicized evangelicalism, the Religious Right. That failed. In the process, what it did accomplish, however, was fuel the vehement repudiation of religion by the so-called New Atheists. Now, in reality, there probably aren’t more atheists today than there were in the 1950s. But in the 50s it was fashionable to call yourself a Christian. In 2015, it’s fashionable to label yourself an atheist. And the thing that’s made Christianity largely unfashionable, the thing that has left a hard-to-identify, yet unmistakable, bad taste about Christianity in the mouth of many Americans is the politicized evangelicalism of the Religious Right. This is one of the main causes of the exodus of the younger generation from BOTH organized religion AND politics. This alienation of young adults is explained nowhere better than in David Kinnaman’s research from unChristian. Os Guinness said he personally felt that the 2008 election was the official death of the Religious Right, and that what is seen in the Tea Party movement in recent years was simply the “scattered embers” of the Religious Right’s flame going out.

Now, while it’s certainly true that a “Christian America” offered many great things, the thing that could not be lost or confused, which seemingly has, the thing that should be obvious, is that, for a Christian, your allegiance is primarily to Christ, not to a nation. Your citizenship is primarily in heaven, not on earth. Consequently, in the same way that Augustine said that the Church was the City of God within the City of Man, so also, the Church today needs to break with Christian America. That does NOT mean to become anti-American. It means to reprioritize Christ as first. That means that our boast, our security, our hope for the future is all drawn primarily from the promises of Christ, not from political candidates, parties, or policies.

So, my Millennial friends, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:33) If the relationship of your faith to your nation has been entangled or imbalanced in the past, remember that Jesus died unjustly at the hands of his nation to pay for all of our mistakes. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. But move forward with the knowledge that you don’t have to fit neatly into a media-driven category. You’re different. Study your Bible, and, fueled by the grace of Jesus, be driven by the policies of the City of God.

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