Are Emotions the Engine of the Train?

Voices now decry the old Christian metaphor of the train of Christian life, driven by the engine of God’s Word and facts of Jesus’ life, faith representing the carriage, and the caboose representing emotional life, feelings, trailing in importance to facts and faith.

B.B. Warfield, a professor of theology and leader in the Orthodox Presbyterian church at the turn of the 19th Century, documented Jesus’ emotions in his notable paper, The Emotional Life of Our Lord. In it, he documented the importance of Christ’s emotions, that he had all emotions and didn’t sin.

1 Corinthians 13 clearly states, out of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest. 1 John 4:8 documents that God is love. We are created to be in God’s image. If this is true, then perhaps the metaphor of the train is discredited. Faith and truth is clearly important, but if love is the greatest, that means we need to reorient our thoughts, and our feelings. Although love is not defined as only emotional, we need to have emotions to feel and experience love.

It means emotions deserve more attention and more significance when it comes to a relational life in God. Could it mean that emotions and our ability to love becomes the greatest priority for our spiritual growth?

Besides our inner growth and emotional depth, our ability to appreciate the depths and breadth of God’s love for us also needs growth. Can we feel God’s love deeply? How deeply? How does our understanding fall short of the reality of God’s love? Can we FEEL God’s love?

We can’t “think” our way to a full understanding of God’s love. We can cognitively understand, but we also need to experience God’s love through our FEELINGS. Emotions are not simple. They are not “driven” by thoughts alone. Jeremiah 17:9 warns of the complexity of the heart. We need to find higher understanding, as we test and grow our emotional maturity, hopefully with spiritual wisdom from others and the Word.

How then do we find help to grow and understand our emotions? We already have professionally trained Christians who do counseling, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and psychiatry who have tried to integrate faith with emotional growth. This is not an exclusive vocation. Good mentors, pastoral counselors, spiritual directors, teachers, sponsors and friends also focus not just on truth of scripture and the Word, but also on emotions, personal relationship, and having a right “heart.”

Meditate on God’s love. The ability to love is crucial as we understand and mature in God. Our emotional life in God deserves a better metaphor than a caboose.

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