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

Judge Not the Lord by Feeble Sense (Feelings and Faith)

 The way we react or respond to the gospel is not the gospel.  My feelings and emotions about Christ are not good news.  The empty tomb does not depend upon how much I treasure Jesus.  My delighting in Christ is not at the heart of the apostolic preaching of the cross.  The level of my satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t affect the historical facts that he died and was raised.

Why are these things worth mentioning?  Well, for one thing, they have to do with assurance of salvation.  If a Christian thinks his response to the gospel is part of the gospel, his assurance will be like a roller coaster that rises and falls with his feelings.  If a believer thinks her delighting in Christ or finding satisfaction in Christ is part of the good news, her assurance will ebb and flow with her emotional state.  In other words, if I think my feelings and emotions are part of the gospel, my assurance will quickly decline on days I’m not treasuring Christ above all.

I appreciate how Thomas Brooks discussed this in his book The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.  When talking to Christians about growing in grace, one bit of counsel he gives is this: “Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition.”

Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls, this is dishonorable to God and very disadvantageous to yourselves.  Sense is sometimes opposite to reason, but always to faith.  Therefore do as those worthies did, ‘We walk by faith, and not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5.8-9).

Brooks then lists many emotional worries a Christian may have, like not feeling God’s “enlivening presence” or not being “melted” or “enlarged” as earlier in his Christian life.  A Christian might not feel God’s nearness or perhaps not find prayer as sweet as before.  Brooks writes,

If you will make sense and feeling the judge of your state and condition, you will never have peace or comfort all your days.  Your state, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad.  …The best of Christian men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God that once they have enjoyed.  And verily, he that makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour.

The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason [or feeling] in the place of faith is this: Whatsoever your state and condition is, never makes sense and feeling the judge of it, but only the word of God.  …It will never be well with you as long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more on your five senses than the four evangelists.  Remember Job was famous for his confidence as for his patience: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).

I don’t always feel like a good Christian.  I sometimes don’t think about satisfaction in Christ.  Other times I feel quite close to the Lord and am abundantly thankful for his blessings.  However, no matter how I feel, no matter what emotional state I’m in, I know that the gospel is still true.  The blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross still cleanses me from all my sin.  The tomb is still empty even if at the moment I’m not emotionally moved by that awesome truth.  My assurance stands firm because my faith rests in facts, not feelings.  Feelings come and go, but facts stay put.  As the old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace.”

The above quote by Brooks is found on pages 94-95 of his Works, Volume III.

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

Feeling is not a Fruit (Or: Feelings and the Faith)

Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something by [Hansen, Brant] In evangelical circles, there’s a major emphasis on feelings.  Much popular Christian music is aimed at making us feel good so the lyrics are aimed at the emotions.  Many popular Christian books say so much about experiences and feelings.  Preachers preach with emotion and feeling and they preach to people’s emotions and feelings.  I’ve heard sermons where preachers spend quite a bit of time telling the congregation how a verse makes them feel.  They are very passionate and emotional about their feelings.  This even happens in Reformed and Calvinistic circles.

There’s a negative consequence when feelings are over-emphasized: Christians who don’t feel that way begin to think of themselves as inferior, less spiritual believers.  When a preacher talks about how a verse makes him feel, a Christian in the pew thinks, “I don’t feel that way at all…am I a bad Christian?”  Brant Hansen puts it this way:

“It’s no wonder so many analytical types find themselves estranged from a Christian subculture that traffics in emotional appeals.  We find ourselves wondering what’s wrong with us, perhaps even begging God to make Himself real to us in the way He clearly is to others.  When we’re told we’re not ‘open to the Spirit’ or ‘leaning too much on our intellect,’ we may redouble our efforts to somehow fix what’s wrong with us, before finally drifting away.”

“…The absence of feeling is not the absence of love.  Yes, you may occasionally feel things, maybe even intensely, but when those feelings vacillate, it doesn’t mean you love God less [or that he loves you less – SPL].  He doesn’t seem to prioritize emotion.  He’s looking for obedience.  For faithfulness.  For mercy.  For justice.  For compassion on the poor.”

Hansen later says that “Jesus said if you want to judge a tree, you look at its fruit.”  “Feeling” is not a fruit of the Spirit.

“Someone might immediately, like clockwork, break down in tears of genuine emotion at the first chord of every worship song.  Wonderful.  But that’s not ‘fruit,’ biblically speaking.  A Christianity that’s one-emotional-size-fits-all simply isn’t fair.  You may have Asperger’s, like I do.  You may have gone through trauma as a kid.  You might grapple with depression and just not emote like other people.  You may be wired differently.

When one person insinuates that another must be spiritually lacking because of a dearth of feeling, it’s worthwhile pointing out this is utterly foreign to the biblical concept of bearing fruit.”

Of course, feelings aren’t necessarily bad or sinful.  God created us as humans who laugh, cry, hurt, and have emotions.  The problem with feelings and emotions is that they are not trustworthy since we are sinful.  Proverbs 28:26 says he who trusts in his own heart is a fool (NASB)It follows that we should be very hesitant to trust the emotions that arise from our hearts.  Feelings come and go; they rise and fall.  Feelings depend on how much sleep you’ve had (or not had!) in the past week.  Feelings depend on how much coffee you had today (or didn’t have!).  Sometimes feelings change when the seasons change!  Emotions often change when circumstances change.  So don’t base your Christian faith on your feelings and don’t judge your commitment to Christ on how you feel at the moment.  If your feelings don’t match that of “better” Christians, don’t panic or get down on yourself. It’s okay; it’s no big deal.

The Christian faith is based on fact, not feeling.  Dear Christian, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin even if it doesn’t feel like it.  The tomb is empty even when you’re way down in the dumps and you’re emotionally drained.  God’s love for you is constant and steady, even when you feel like a pile of crap.  You are justified even if that truth doesn’t make you emotional.  You’re being sanctified despite the fact you can’t “feel” sanctification.  Believe the truth of the gospel and rest in it.  Just rest.  Don’t panic.  Feelings about the gospel may come and go, but the fact of it remains.

The above quotes are found in chapters 5-6 of Blessed are the Misfits. (I received this book to review and was not compelled to write positive remarks about it.)

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

Various Ways to Faith

I’ve often heard it said that though there is only one way to the Father – through Jesus – there are many ways to Jesus.  In other words, there are various ways people come to faith in Christ.  Therefore, we should never make our experience of coming to Christ a paradigm for others when they come to Christ.  Nor should we rigidly follow others when they make their experience of coming to Christ a paradigm.  The stories in Scripture prove that conversion experiences are quite different!

Now, it does sometimes happen in Christian circles, when a preacher talks about his feelings and experience of coming to Christ and he makes it sound like you must have the same feelings and experience or you might not be a true Christian.  This kind of emotional preaching can leave Christians depressed since they don’t share the same feelings and experiences as the preacher does.  I’ve even had it myself years ago when listening to a popular preacher share his Christian feelings; mine didn’t match, so I wasn’t sure what to do with that.  Thanks to  John Newton I have a better idea about it now:

“It would be well if both preachers and people would keep more closely to what the Scripture teaches of the nature, marks, and growth of a work of grace instead of following each other in a track (like sheep) confining the Holy Spirit to a system, imposing at first the experience and sentiments of others as a rule to themselves, and afterward dogmatically laying down the path in which they themselves have been led, as absolutely necessary to be trodden by others.”

“There is a vast variety of the methods by which the Lord brings home souls to himself, in which he considers (though system-preachers do not) the different circumstances, situations, temperament, etc. of different persons.  To lay down rules precisely to which all must conform, and to treat all enquiring souls in the same way, is as wrong as it would be in a physician to attempt to cure all his patients who may have the same general disorder (a fever for instance) with one and the same prescription.  A skilful man would probably find so many differences in their cases, that he would not treat any two of them exactly alike.”

These are wise words.  If you don’t have the exact same emotions, feelings, and experiences as others in coming to Christ (and following him), don’t doubt your faith and repentance.  Don’t try to get the same emotions, feelings, and experiences of others, even if they are of a popular preacher.  Here’s Newton’s advice:

“I hope the Lord has made me willing to learn (if I can) from all, but ‘Nullius in verba jurare’ is my motto (take no one’s word as final; examine for yourself).  If you read Scripture and your own heart attentively, you will have greatly the advantage of those who puzzle themselves by too closely copying the rules they find in other books.”

John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 120-121.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Focusing on Feelings?

Christians Get Depressed TooHere are some helpful words from a helpful book:

“One of the most common tendencies for those with depression is to focus on feelings and to base beliefs and conclusions on those feelings.  This is especially true of Christians.  For example, they may feel forsaken and conclude that they are forsaken.  Also, in an effort to restore true feelings, there is the tendency to read Bible passages that address the feelings.  But such a focus on the subjective tends only to make things worse.”

“We should encourage the depressed person to move away from the realm of the subjective and to instead think on the objective truths of Christianity, things that are true regardless of our feelings: justification, adoption, the atonement, the attributes of God, and heaven, for example.”

Well stated.  This is also one more good reason for us to know biblical doctrine (such as justification, adoption, etc.)!  It helps keep us standing on the unchanging promises of God rather than our changing feelings and emotions.

The above quote is found on page 97 of David Murray’s book, Christians Get Depressed Too.

Shane Lems