Redeeming Emotions…

Posted by on Sep 9, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Most studies of  emotion suggest that there are seven basic human emotions, and that in one way or another, all emotions fit within the categories of anger, anxiety, surprise, trust, grief, fear and love – well that’s Diane Raymond’s list. Humintell suggests they are anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise – so there is some overlap, although they are hardly identical lists. Apparently a combination of basic emotions leads to secondary emotions. Thus another site (which suggests there are six not seven basic emotions – happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise) postulates that if you combine love, fear and anger, you will probably land up with jealousy; or link surprise and sadness, and you will usually come up with disappointment.

Keen observers can quickly spot the relevant emotion by paying attention to facial clues. Eyebrows lowered and lips tightened often indicates anger; fear is shown when our eyebrows and upper eyelids are pulled up and our mouth is stretched, while contempt is shown by neutral eyes and a mouth pulled up and back on one side only (apparently contempt is the only emotion that impacts just one side of the face). See if practicing those postures leads you to feeling a little angry or fearful or contemptuous… and if that is the case, quickly switch to tightened eye muscles (leading to crows feet around the eyes), raised cheeks and the corner of your lips raised diagonally on each side. If it works, you should now be feeling joyous.

Regardless of if psychologists can agree on exactly what the basic emotions are, given the amount of work going into this area, I thought it worth reflecting on what redeemed emotions might look like. After all, if secondary emotions are built by combining basic emotions, what happens to our emotional life when everything is filtered through the grid of a transforming encounter with Christ? We often quote passages like Rom 12:1-2 which affirms that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds – but conversion doesn’t just impact the mind. It impacts every part of us. In what way are our emotions transformed, healed and revolutionised by encountering Jesus?

Let’s look at some of the basic emotions – and for no particular reason I will opt for Diane Raymond’s list. So how do anger, anxiety, surprise, trust, grief, fear and love look when combined with a Christ encounter?

When it comes to anger and Jesus, we know that he was no stranger to anger. Jesus’ clearing of the temple was not conducted with jovial good humour, but a sense of outrage, sadness and disgust that a sacred place should be violated, and that the desires of ordinary folk to connect with God could be thwarted by the hypocritical and self serving practices of the religious leaders. In listing the causes of his anger, we find the clue to the Jesus difference. His was an anger on behalf of others. It wasn’t as though the need for money changing and purchasing local sacrifices was a significant obstacle to Jesus’ devotional life. But it was to vast numbers of poor people – people who genuinely wanted to connect with God. Jesus was outraged on their behalf. Anger modified by a Jesus encounter will therefore be a little less about me, myself and I (how could you do that to me?) and a little more aware of what it happening to others. It shifts from an inward focus, to an outer awareness that notices injustice and unfairness.

Anxiety needs to listen to the Jesus prescription found in Matt 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Don’t worry into the future, is Jesus’ counsel. Simply put one foot in front of the next as you face whatever trials today is bringing.

Surprise is one of those emotions often in play in our walk with Jesus. Have you noticed how hopeless the disciples were at predicting what Jesus’ response was likely to be? People brought their children to Jesus to be blessed. The disciples assumed Jesus wouldn’t want to be troubled by them. They were wrong… The 5000 are hungry and want to be fed. The disciples assumed Jesus would dismiss them to fend for themselves. Wrong again – Jesus decided it was miracle time. The disciples counselled Jesus that his final trip to Jerusalem would end in disaster, and that he shouldn’t go. Jesus pushed the over ride button, and kept striding. And the disciples were right about the disaster that followed – but my, they didn’t anticipate the surprise that would come on that Easter Sunday… And I guess that is the difference Jesus makes. Even when we look glumly towards the future, we know that as Christ followers, a significant surprise might be just around the corner.

Trust is one of the emotions most often violated. Babies and children are deeply trusting. And then life happens. Parents disappoint, friends let you down, love turns out to be something else – trust evaporates. It is one of the emotions that we often have to relearn when we start to follow Jesus. Previous bad experiences see us set a firm default of suspicion and scepticism. We often apply it to Jesus as well. Part of our journey of discipleship is allowing Jesus to gently wean us off bitterness and doubt, and to fully and trustingly embrace the purposes he has for us.

Grief is most often about loss… loss of people we love, loss of access to places we love, loss of the health and strength we love, loss of the dreams which once inspired. As each disappears, a sweeping sadness can settle over us. The difference Jesus makes? Perhaps you remember the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, Jesus wept. In many ways it’s a strange verse. Jesus wept even though he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus wept, even though he knew that he would shortly defeat death forever. Jesus wept, even though he knew a party was soon to begin. So why did Jesus weep? He wept because they were weeping. He wept because he deeply understands our now moment. He wept, because he didn’t want anyone to weep alone… And that is as true today, as it was then. When grief overwhelms, those open to Jesus discover that their tears are mixed with his…

Fear is a raw human emotion. Our first act in life is to wail – it leads to our first breath, but constructive though that first cry is, it betrays our sense of shock at entering a world that seems overwhelmingly threatening. With the safety of the womb left behind, the umbilical cord cut, we sense the fearfulness of being alone. It never really goes, until we discover that we are never alone. That’s the essence of the Jesus experience… never alone, never alone, never alone. And when I am not alone, courage is a far easier act

Love is the human emotion we all most desire. Both to love and be loved. Here’s the thing… study after study shows that unless we are loved, we find it near impossible to reach beyond our own self and to love another. It is at this point that we hear the good news of the gospel… we love, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)…

Well, I don’t know your emotional state today. But regardless of if today is one of laughter or wailing, allowing the rawness of each human emotion to be challenged and impacted by the God who loves us and accompanies us on the journey, seems to me to be the first step on the road to redeeming emotions…

As always, nice chatting…


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