(No, you’re not having a flashback to 80s band Wet Wet Wet!)
I was thinking recently about emotions and church. It’s been said that Pentecostals are “so emotional” in their worship services. It was said with a sort of plerplexed sneeriness, lo, these many years ago when I first heard it, and perhaps this whole treatise is moot by now. But, “Emotional?” I thought. “When you contemplate all that God has done for us, why on earth wouldn’t you get emotional?” I get misty looking at the stars, and they just sit there!
Back in my Strikeforce MTI days, we had some good debate about which of the students considered themselves to be “dichotomous” (composed of an outer person and an inner person) and which said they were “trichotomous” (composed of a body, a soul, and a spirit). There are 8 word-shades the Bible uses (3 in Hebrew and 5 in Greek), which complicates things further. Basically, many nail it down like this: the body is blood, tissue & bone, including the hardware of the brain. The soul is the mind (software of the brain), will and emotions. The spirit is intuition, communion (the bit that connects to the spiritual realm) and conscience. All these elements are commanded to love God to the nth degree. We’re a bit like a modem, in other words. We have components, electricity – and the internet! The modem cannot do the job it’s designed for, if any one of those elements is missing. (Ditto for grace, faith and works: if one is missing, we’re not cutting it.)
I find in practice that the mind or the soul is a sort of interface between the body and the spirit. Each of the three (guess I’m trichotomous!) influences the other two. For example, if your body has an illness, it’s really difficult to get your emotions to maintain ebullience, or even equilibrium. If your mind has an illness such as depression, it’s really hard for your spirit to push past that and connect to God in faith. And if you are being leaned on by some spiritual entity, it can drastically affect your health. The three natures are so interwoven, enmeshed, interdependent, that only the living Word can tell where one ends and another begins. Personally, I think this is why we are promised a new body after our current bodies expire. I don’t think we are designed to remain in an “unclothed” state, any more than we are designed to be forever chained to deterioration.
Let’s return to the overheard notion that it’s somehow ungodly to be emotional in church. I believe it comes from the Gnostic idea that the body is bad and the spirit is good. The soul, however, sort of floats between the two. I tend to link it strongly to the spirit, where the Gnostics may have linked it strongly to the body. Keith Green, may he rest in ever-increasing musical creativity, used the term “soulishness”, which no doubt was a buzzword they used in the late ‘70s. I Googled “soulish” and came up with a vague notion of “influenced by the flesh”, though that may not have been what St. Keith meant, for all I know. The blurred lines are a result of uncertainty in exactly transliterating and paralleling the Hebrew and Greek. But the term “soulishness” does evoke a sort of spiritual snobbery, by which there is only One Right Way to worship – Spiritually – and the body and soul had better not interfere with it! I ask this: might it not be possible that “true worshippers, who worship in spirit and in truth” might be talking about both the material and immaterial parts of man, glorifying God together? Or, perhaps, in personal adoration and in practical charity, turn by turn, neither preeminent over the other? Can it be so wrong to come before Him as whole creatures, claiming His redemption and dominion over every created part of us?
I think I have the advantage of my gender on my side: when a man cries in church, people can be a bit antsy about that. But when a woman cries in church, well, it’s only to be expected! Truth be told, I would rather be dismissed as a hysterical female, than go through life pretending and attempting to be cold-blooded. I did that for a while, and it was very ugly on me, to say nothing of inauthentic. Let them dismiss me: if at a socially-informed 42 I can’t respect and be myself “and to blazes with what people think”, then when?
Side note: it’s preposterous, even misogynist, to expect women to “control” (on a scale frommarshaled to benumbed) their emotions to the same degree as men are expected to do, when female biology is routinely leaning all over the emotions. Self-control is in, but denial of reality is out. We are what we are. Masculinising ourselves will not make us more godly.
Can the body and the spirit ever truly dispense with the mind, will and emotions? There are moments when those triplets are bypassed, for sure. Sometimes you just KNOW things in your gut (spirit), even when logic can’t explain them sensibly. Faith is like that: the evidence of things that there’s no evidence for. That’s why we call Christianity “a faith”. Sometimes you’re aware that your current pain is like messy bits of bread floating on a deep, calm duckpond, and that the calm will reassert itself with time. Sometimes you get a bad vibe from something, even when you can find no evidential reason for suspicion.
I was once very confused by the maxim “We shoudn’t live out of our emotions.” All it really meant was that faith is the thermostat of life, but I didn’t know that at the time. My favourite church granny, Billie-Ann Kennedy, explained the human animal for me at McDonalds with three drinking straws. She made a triangle and basically said that God had made us of three parts, and nobody should say one of the sides of the triangle was “wrong” or “lesser” than the others, but the whole belonged to God and pleased Him.
A good practical example is that the Bible encourages us to sing to God. That’s a bodily function. It can’t be wrong, if commanded; and therefore the body itself, though mortal, isn’t inherently evil. Curiously enough, God may have instructed us to sing because singing is one of the fastest bridges traversing the tripartite being. It engages first the body; then the emotions; and then the spirit swims on in. Every pastor knows that in practice, opening a meeting with singing offers the best chance of opening the singers. And occasionally, God’s own response engulfs all three of their elements.
When we come together as a group, a family, a church to sing and to pray and to engage deeply and directly with our Maker, why should it not be an emotional experience for us? Time and time again the Bible, far from disapproving, commends and commands it. “Make a JOYFUL noise … bless the Lord, o my SOUL, and ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME bless His holy name … my SOUL MAGNIFIES the Lord … REJOICE in the Lord always … LOVE the Lord your God with all your HEART, SOUL, MIND, STRENGTH.” This is emotional as well as devotional language, and it is deliberately leveled at our soul.
I am captivated by the concept that opens the Magnificat – Mary’s song lyric, penned in Luke 1. In the King James version that I learned as a child, it’s rendered, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God, my Maker!”
God commands us to engage our emotions – our soul – in worship before Him, because He knows that when we emotionally connect with God and all He’s done for us, He is magnified. Don’t get all traditional on the glossy word “magnified” – read it as a proper English word. To magnify something is to make it bigger – to look closely at its detail, to let it fill your view and to become in your eyes magnificent. This is the function of our emotions in church. As our soul focuses on Him, our spirit rises in the joy of His existence and nature!
Feelings are not to be sat on, as untrustworthy by-products unfortunately secreted by evil, sinful bodies. No. Emotions are not poo. Emotions are to humanity as rainbows are to light. We don’t use light to blind people, and we don’t spew out our feelings to the distraction of those around us. But we don’t pretend they aren’t there, either, by tamping them down until we feel numb. If God wanted numb worshippers, He would have made robots named A7AM and 3V3! So it is naturally spiritual and spiritually natural that when we emotionally connect with God in worship – at the moment when we are doing the mostspiritual thing we do – we are at the apex of our humanity. It’s one of the biggest jokes He’s ever played on us: that at our most spiritual we are most human. His power is made perfect in our weakness. The emotions reach out, the spirit engages, and the body sings, cries, laughs, dances. And He responds. Healing happens. Deliverance happens. Revelation happens. The order we did it in is immaterial; we are online, as we were created to be. We are not required to dissect ourselves, but to blend harmoniously in our adoration of Him and His extravagant love for us. Tied in a threefold cord, our soul and our body and our spirit bring the whole person to kneel gladly before the King.