Feelings & Decision Making

What is an emotion? Emotion is usually considered to be a feeling about or reaction to certain important events or thoughts. Feelings can be either pleasant or unpleasant.

Many of us are familiar with the train diagram (in the "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet) to illustrate the principle "Do not depend on feelings."

Engine-Fuel Car-Passenger Car

The engine is fact (God and His Word) and the fuel car is our faith. We should place our trust (the fuel) in God and His Word (the engine). The passenger car is feeling. It would be foolish to place our trust (fuel) in our feelings (the passenger car) ... the train will not run! In the same way, we should not depend on feelings or emotions.

Moreover, feelings are undependable. The same event may generate different feelings in different people; how then should we interpret the event and the feelings that follow? Even the same feelings can mean different things to different people.

Some have misunderstood "do not depend on feelings" to mean "deny your feelings." There is nothing wrong with feelings per se. Emotions filled the Psalms. Jesus wept (John 11:35-36). Eph. 4:26 acknowledges anger as a valid emotion; it doesn't say, "Don't be angry because anger is a sin." The issue is what you do when you are angry. When an argument between my boys gets heated up, I told them, "I understand that you are angry but you cannot show your anger by hitting or name-calling." We can be human and Christian at the same time.

I'm a Christian, I'm a man, a man with feelings,
Yet sometimes I'm afraid to own my feelings.

Then God said to me:
I've made man so be free to be human
be free to own your feelings
but do not deny me.

The above is an excerpt of "My Pilgrimage" which I wrote in 1978.

In Matt. 26:38-39, Jesus gave us an excellent example of acknowledging His feelings when He said, "Remove this cup from Me." This was Jesus' honest request not to go through with the crucifixion. Jesus knew that He was facing not only the agony of crucifixion but also the trauma of taking on the sins of the world (upon His sinless self) and being separated from the Father. At the same time, Jesus did not deny the Father. He said, "Thy will be done ..." (Matt. 26:42).

John R.W. Stott wrote on page 120 of The Contemporary Christian,

"I learned to my astonishment that God, whose 'impassibility' I thought meant that he was incapable of emotion, speaks (though in human terms) of his burning anger and vulnerable love.

I discovered too that Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect human being, was no tight-lipped, unemotional ascetic. On the contrary, I read that he turned on hypocrites with anger, looked on a rich young ruler and loved him, could both rejoice in spirit and sweat drops of blood in spiritual agony, was constantly moved with compassion, and even burst into tears twice in public.

From all this evidence it is plain that our emotions are not to be suppressed, since they have an essential place in our humanness and therefore in our Christian discipleship."

In decision making, we must be able to distinguish between what is really good for us and what seems good for us. Making this distinction is a matter of clear, rational and biblical thinking that is able to weigh the alternatives. It is at this point that emotions may dominate and rational thoughts go out the window! Therefore, it is important to establish principles beforehand as to what to do when caught in that situation.

© 2003, Alan S.L. Wong