One of the most prevalent and pernicious effects of the decline of traditional masculinity in the West is the rise of emotionalism among men. For most of Christianity’s history, particularly men were expected to be the masters of their own impulses, indeed, the Bible has a great deal to say about the subject. Before diving into the text, however, I’d like to state my position unequivocally: Emotions are not real. That is not to say that they don’t exist, or that you cannot or should not feel them – God created emotions, indeed, He feels them – but rather that they do not necessarily reflect reality, and they certainly do not inform it. As an example of the first concept: A married person does not always feel in love with their spouse, nor do brothers steadfast in lifelong companionship always feel the comradery they share. As to the latter, it is easy to see that no amount of feeling as though one can fly will make it so barring technological intervention. These examples are, of course, extreme, but they illustrate the point that emotions, positive or negative, are not and cannot be a reliable guide to action.
We are feeling creatures, it’s part and parcel with our nature as self-reflective, rational beings. We have feelings about everything, to some degree or another, and to detail every instance of such and an appropriate Biblical response to it is beyond the scope of this blog and, frankly, anyone’s experience except Christ. For now, we’ll focus on three important areas and illustrate a process by which the principles applied can be generalized. These areas are: the self; others; and God.
One of the most glaring issues with feelings is that they are a product of our own limited being, this applies most poignantly to ourselves – we don’t actually know us very well, otherwise we’d be able to understand the how’s and why’s of our sins and faults so that we could eradicate them. Even the most revered of Christians, Paul, couldn’t do that, and he writes about it with such clarity in Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He knows what he should do, desires to do it even, but cannot, and is left frustrated in his ignorance of the cause. If he knew himself well enough to determine the source of his sinfulness, he could work to eliminate it, since he doesn’t, he cannot trust the motivations of his unverifiable impulses. Neither can we trust the impulses and feelings that arise in us outside of conscious thought (which, it must be said, is not a guarantee of trustworthiness, but at least the errors in reasoned thought can be identified, if not always corrected).
Compounding our ignorance of ourselves is others’ ignorance of themselves and our ignorance of them. You can see that this problem increases in its complexity exponentially, and that, as it does so, our ability to trust the compulsions that stem from unexamined emotion diminishes proportionally. We know much less about other people than we do about ourselves, and, therefore, trusting our feelings regarding them becomes a much less certain proposal. The Bible is replete with stories of people’s emotions getting the better of them with other people. Among the most famous is David’s tryst with Bathsheba. He allowed himself to be overcome with his feelings towards her and neglected the truth of the law which he knew forbade his actions. The result of this negligence was the death of another of David’s sons and the usurpation of his throne by the son that was produced by their affair. Of course, the outcome of ignoring objective, revealed truth might not be so dramatic in your life, but it could very well be as damaging.
However little we know about ourselves and other people pales in comparison to out ignorance of God. We know so little about his motivations and nature, despite what is revealed about Him in the scriptures, that it is easier for us to trust our intuition about Him even than it is to do so about other people. The trope of a believer walking away from the Faith as a result of anger towards some supposed action of God is so commonplace I hardly need to provide an example. Our nature as humans is to try and fit patterns to observations – find causes for the effects we see. In our ignorance of God’s character, and in the face of tragedy we draw a seemingly logical conclusion – the only entity capable of action of this scale is God, ignoring the revealed nature of God as described in the Bible in favor of our own limited experience.
We, as men, as in all things, are called to a higher standard of decision-making. We are to be “more than conquerors,” and that can’t happen if we trust our feelings of inadequacy, or, alternatively, put too much faith in our abilities and are overcome, unable or unwilling to look to God for the strength to bear up under the pressure.
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