Pained by Our Pleasures (Or: What Our Joys Reveal)

Joy isn’t quite as simple an emotion as we might first think. In fact, there’s what we could call “perverse joy,” a delight when someone else gets hurt. But then there’s also joy that is delight when something good happens to a loved one. And, of course, there’s joy as Scripture speaks about it. On this topic I appreciate Robert Roberts’ discussion in his very helpful book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues:

…We not only take joy in the healthy birth of our child, but sometimes our hearts leap with a quick twinge of pleasure at the sight of a gory highway accident. We may enjoy hearing the latest dirt about our next-door neighbors. We relish the troubles of people we don’t like. We are vulnerable to a kind of joy that the Germans call ‘Schadenfreude,’ which is taking pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune. We experience this kind of joy when someone we envy suffers a setback….

But most of us are not so corrupt as to endorse these foul joys when we think about them. We may enjoy them in an unreflective moment, but we know, intuitively, that they are shameful and show shameful things about our character, and we don’t want to live shamefully. We know that a person’s joys reveal his heart by showing what he cares about. And so our souls are divided. We enjoy our wicked joys, but the more we reflect about them in a moral and spiritual mood, the more pain they cause us. We are pained by our pleasures. If the pleasure is bad, then the pain we feel about it is good – if our reason for feeling pain is that the pleasure is wicked. …And if the pain is good, we must pursue it.

Among us human beings, pain is unpopular to the same extent that pleasure is popular. We naturally avoid it. So we do not automatically welcome the kind of reflection I have just described. It takes seriousness of spiritual purpose and courage to engage in the kind of reflection about our joys that could lead, ever so gradually, to their transformation. But that is a goal of the Christian life: to become the kind of person who takes joy in what is genuinely good, and is pained by what is genuinely bad. And for this process to move forward, pain is required.

These paragraphs are super helpful to me; these are excellent points that I’ve read over a few times! I especially got stuck thinking about this sentence: “We know that a person’s joys reveal his heart by showing what he cares about.” Think about that, and take time today to reflect on your joy and what gives you joy. If there’s any perversity to it, bring it to God in repentance, and ask him to help you grow in godly joy, even if there’s pain involved!

The above quote is found in Spiritual Emotions, p. 118-119.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Emotions, Depression, and Body/Soul (Borgman)

One major part of being human is having emotions and feelings. We all have emotions. From joy to anger to terror to elation, we experience a range of emotions each day. Although the words “emotion” or “emotions” aren’t found in biblical Hebrew or Greek, there are plenty of biblical words that convey emotion (e.g. despair, gloom, happy, hesitation, etc.).

It’s important to note that since we are “body and soul” creatures, emotions have to do with both. For example, biologically, when a person is super tired he might be more prone to anger than when he’s fully awake. Or when a person’s diet consists of way too much sugar and caffiene, it might lead to emotional highs and emotional crashes. At the same time, spiritually speaking, if a person refuses to admit sin and fault, it might cause him to be very grouchy. We also know from Scripture that refusal to submit to God can lead to emotional and mental unstability, as we see from the story of King Saul. Here are a few other examples by Brian Borgman of the “body and soul” relationship to emotions in the area of depression:

“The Bible distinguishes between the body and the soul (Matt. 10:28). It also affirms the interpenetration and interdependence between the body and the soul (e.g., Ps. 38:3). It should not surprise us that physical problems can lead to both depression and spiritual problems. Some physical sources of depression might include prolonged illness, childbirth, surgery, hormonal changes, changes in diet, and fatigue. Many other physical factors may also contribute to depression. The important point to remember as we proceed is that we are body-soul creatures.

There are also spiritual sources of depression. The most common spiritual source is the guilt caused by sin. …[In Psalm 32] the root cause of the psalmist’s depression is unconfessed sin. The results were physical depletion, guilt, and emotional heaviness.

…Depression can also occur because of the grief of losing a loved one, losing a job, or some major life change. Stress over children, marriage, and finances can also spin us out of control emotionally, landing us in depression. Behind much of this activity is the enemy of our souls, the Devil….

Borgman says more, of course, and even goes on to give help through depression with some good physical and spiritual advice. If you want to read more about depression and emotions in general from a biblical perspective, do check out Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman. (The above quotes are found in chapter 12.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hope As A Character Trait (Roberts)

This is one of those books that I’ve underlined or highlighted parts of almost every page: Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues. It’s a discussion of how Christian ethics and emotions overlap and relate. I’ll come back to the book again, no doubt. For now, here’s a nice note on Christian hope – it’s a good topic for us to think about today! Think about this for awhile:

Real spiritual hope is not a matter of feeling hopeful now and then, when circumstances are looking up, even if the thought that goes with that hope is that we are due to share the glory of God. It is not real, spiritual hope if, for example, you feel it only in church, with the help of the vaulted ceiling, the unctuous preaching of Easter, and the resounding chords of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” The hope needs to be a character trait, and a character trait has to be characterized by “endurance” [Rom. 5:1-5] – by the ability to feel the emotion even in situations that don’t seem very propitious for it. This feature of the apostles’ spirituality was evident in their ability to rejoice even when, by worldly standards, things were going rather badly for them; they were not easily discouraged. And Paul suggests that Christians are (or should be) reflective enough about spiritual development to know that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and thus to rejoice in their sufferings on that account as well.

Robert C. Roberts, Spiritual Emotions, p. 17.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Corruption of the Affections (Boston)

One of Thomas Boston’s most well-known works is “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” In this book he explained from Scripture these four states: “The State of Innocence,” “The State of Nature,” “The State of Grace,” and “The Eternal State”. The second part (“The State of Nature”) is a summary from Scripture on the fallen condition of humanity. In this part, Boston describes the corruption of the understanding, will, affections, conscience, memory, and the corruption of the body. This morning I read and highlighted the section on the corruption of the affections. This is a penetrating description of an unregenerate person’s affections and emotions:

The unrenewed man’s affections are wholly disordered and distempered: they are as the unruly horse, that either will not receive, or violently runs away with, the rider. So man’s heart naturally is a mother of abominations (Mark 7:21, 22): “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness,” etc. The natural man’s affections are wretchedly misplaced; he is a spiritual monster. His heart is, where his feet should be, fixed on the earth; his heels are lifted up against heaven, which his heart should be set on (Acts 9:5). His face is towards hell, his back towards heaven; and therefore God calls to him to turn. He loves what he should hate, and hates what he should love; joys in what he ought to mourn for, and mourns for what he should rejoice in; glories in his shame, and is ashamed of his glory; abhors what he should desire, and desires what he should abhor (Prov. 2:13–15).

They hit the point indeed, as Caiaphas did in another case, who cried out against the apostles, as men that turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6), for that is the work which the gospel has to do in the world, where sin has put all things so out of order, that heaven lies under, and earth on top. If the unrenewed man’s affections be set on lawful objects, then they are either excessive or defective. Lawful enjoyments of the world have sometimes too little, but mostly too much of them….

Now, here is a threefold cord against heaven and holiness, not easily to be broken; a blind mind, a perverse will, and disorderly distempered affections. The mind, swelled with self-conceit, says, the man should not stoop; the will, opposite to the will of God, says, he will not; and the corrupt affections, rising against the Lord, in defence of the corrupt will, say, he shall not. Thus the poor creature stands out against God and goodness, till a day of power comes, in which he is made a new creature.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Human Nature in Its Fourfold State and a View of the Covenant of Grace, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 8 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 80–81.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

What To Do With Our Emotions? (Groves & Smith)

Untangling Emotions When it comes to emotions in the Christian life there are extremes to avoid.  For one thing, we don’t want to totally ignore our emotions or always suppress them.  Emotions aren’t necessarily sinful.  On the other hand, we don’t want to make too much of our emotions.  How we “feel” about the gospel is certainly not the gospel.  Just because I “feel” a certain way about a verse in the Bible doesn’t mean you have to “feel” the same way about it.  And sometimes our emotions are misleading for various reasons.   The topic of emotions is a complex topic!

If you want a good resource on emotions in the Christian life, you should check out Untangling Emotions by Groves and Smith.  This book is a teaching tool written by two Christian counselors who have thought about this topic and studied it in some detail.  There are three main parts: 1) Understanding Emotions, 2) Engaging Emotions, and 3) Engaging the Hardest Emotions (anger, fear, grief, and shame).  Basically, this book is a Christian answer to these questions: “What are emotions, and what should I do with mine?”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The problem is not that your body has emotions.  The problem is that your body, like your mind, soul, and strength, has been affected by sin and has a skewing effect on your emotions” (p. 55).

“…Emotions make a terrible central priority for your life” (p. 88).

“Emotions become demanding taskmasters when you believe they are the core of who you are” (p. 141).

Some of the material in this book overlaps material in other counseling books I’ve read, so it’s not an “all new” resource on the emotions.  And although Scripture is used quite often, I would’ve liked to see more exegetical work explaining what Scripture teaches about our emotions.  However, despite these two caveats, this book is a very good resource for thinking about our emotions from a balanced Christian perspective.

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015