Arsenal drew against determined Norwegian side Rosenborg last night. They should have won. They wasted many good scoring chances. But they only managed a draw. And I am not feeling too bad. (I have been supporting Arsenal Football Club since 1971.)
I was a bit more cut up when they drew with Bolton a couple of weeks ago. Maybe because I following that game on TV while I was blissfully asleep last night as the Rosenborg game was playing.
I was much more disturbed when I saw the reports of the assault on the school in Beslan, Russia. That depressed me for a long time.
Unfortunately there have also been days when I felt depressed that my favourite soccer team did badly. And felt nothing for the horrors in the world. Nor did I weep for the sins in my heart.
I have been observing my emotions for sometime now. I have long come to suspect that emotions are important, and how we feel, a thermometer of the health of our soul. In the words of Gordon T. Smith: “What is happening to us emotionally is the telling sign of who we are and what is happening to us spiritually.”
I wasn’t always like this. Like many evangelicals I grew up believing that right thinking was all-important and right feeling merely an unreliable dressing at best. Life was built on believing the right facts. There was no place for emotions.
As a popular evangelistic tract reminded us, emotions were just the caboose of the train, playing no part in how the train was propelled.
But human beings are not trains. There is a much more sophisticated relationship between our thoughts, our feelings, and our choices. Even the more intellectual among us may be more driven by our emotions than we realize.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible renders Psalm 42:5 thus:
“Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, My Saviour and my God.”
The Psalmist takes his feelings seriously. He does not say that his depression is illusory or unimportant. Instead he recognizes both his feelings and notes their strength.
He had reasons to be down. He was assailed by many enemies. And God had not given any obvious or immediate answers to his prayers for deliverance.
The Psalmist recognizes that he is depressed. But he does not want to dwell there. Therefore he has an inner dialogue. He recognizes his feelings but he is not imprisoned by them.
The Psalmist is depressed because God appears to be absent, uncaring. But the Psalmist remembers just who God really is.
This is the same God who rescued Israel from Egypt and Pharaoh. This is a faithful God, a compassionate God, a God who acts in history to rescue His people. The Psalmist need not be shaken by his circumstances.
As he remembers who his God is (thinking), the Psalmist re-chooses to trust in Him (choosing) and begins his journey from despair to joy and praise (feeling).
In many ways, Psalm 42:5 is a template for most of us as we struggle with pain, fear, depression and anger in our lives. We do not dismiss our negative emotions in some kind of triumphalistic immunity from pain and despair.
Rather we bring to mind truths like Romans 8:28. As we reclaim the reality of who our God is, as we remember His promises, we begin to re-educate our feelings. We begin to know what it is like to “rejoice in the Lord always”, again (Philippians 4:4).
However if we reject all emotions as illusory or unimportant, we defang both despair and joy. How then can we feel the strength that comes from the joy of the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10)? How can we “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)?
It would appear then that a Christian approach to emotions is not to trivialize them but to re-educate them. Our feelings, like our thoughts and our choosing, have been damaged by sin. Like our thoughts and our volition, we need to reclaim our feelings, in our journey back to true humanity.
Jesus is our model of perfect humanity. Here is a human being feeling the right things at the right times.
Jesus weeps at the death of his friend (John 11:35). And perhaps He is also weeping at the pathos of the human condition.
Jesus is angry when He sees the love of God hawked for lucre (Luke 19:45-46). And does something about it.
Jesus is also moved by deep compassion for a widow who has just lost her only son and her life (Luke 7:11-17).
Jesus rejoices when He acknowledges the ultimate defeat of Satan and the ultimate failure of evil (Luke 10:17-20).
More than that, Jesus desires that His disciples share in His joy (John 17:13).
Yes, joy is more than just emotion. But it isn’t any less. Our affections are God given. They are not to be negated. They are to be healed, reclaimed.
It appears then that part of growing up is learning to feel the right things at the right times at the right intensities.
So something is very wrong when we are more depressed about football scores than we are about the innocents killed in Russia, Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, etc.,
Daniel Goldman is right. We really do need to pay more attention to our EQ. A better EQ should help us be better businessmen, leaders, teachers etc. But finally, we need to have a mature emotional life because we want to be mature human beings.
So who cares if Arsenal drew in Norway? I had a great weekend. I had a good visit with my mum. I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends as I ministered in my home church, Georgetown Baptist Church.
And God is on His throne.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan