c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: Quadripartite Nature, the Emotions

Friday, June 15, 2012

Quadripartite Nature, the Emotions

The flesh/body vs. spirit/soul dualism of the New Testament is so profound that once we accept it everything about the radical nature of Christianity falls into place.  Paul says, for instance, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 ESV).  This puts the body in its proper role as serving the cause of God.  If we are called to work, marriage, or ministry, for instance, the body exists for the benefit of others and of spiritual pursuits, not itself alone.  We then care for and use the body only to serve the higher purpose.  That is what Jesus did.  He fulfilled his calling by dying on the cross for our sins, sacrificing his body for us.  The body is the instrument of “doing” so when we pray for God’s will we are asking what God wants us to “do” with our bodies.  The body is the handmaid and servant of the soul as the soul is filled with the word and Spirit of God.  So Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV).

But what is the challenge of bringing the body under this rule?

If there were a clear contrast between body and soul then our task would be easy.  But the body throws up defenses against this program; it hides behind strong allies in our passions and desires, that is, emotions.  In the Bible passions and desires are attached directly to the body:

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. –Romans 13:14

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do … those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. –Galatians 5:16 and 24 ESV

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. -Galatians 6:7-8 ESV

… Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. –Ephesians 2:3 ESV

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. –1Peter 2:11

All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. –1 John  2:16 ESV

This is confirmed by medical science, which attributes feelings to specific substances called hormones.  Thoughts and prayers cannot be contained in a test tube but feelings can in the sense of being identified with isolated and chemically described physical substances that the body produces to materially protect and replicate itself.  The fight or flight hormone, adrenaline, and those associated with sexual attraction, testosterone and estrogen, for instance, are among the most powerful.  Therefore, do not always believe the feelings.  They have a more ethereal nature than the body but are not necessarily more spiritual.

Some attempt through various forms of religion to sanctify or justify any and all emotions, even vile ones, but feelings, like actions of the body, can be judged by content.   Likewise, just as actions can be improved upon so can feelings.  This is done through spiritual disciplines that address them.

The first step is to realize the morality of feelings.  Feelings may be either sinful or righteous.  The Bible says, for instance, that whoever loves God must hate evil.  Love and hate are strong emotions.  Aimed in the right direction, so to speak, with appropriate objects of affection or repulsion they can be used in service of the good.  But what if someone loved evil or hated God?  Yikes!  In fact the Bible speaks of those that call good evil and evil good.  That kind of twisted moral sense can be a sign of disturbed thought or trauma to the body but it can also result from emotions all out of whack.  Therapists are trained specifically to help us with our emotions and a wise minister will pay attention to how we feel.

My point is that in the hierarchy of relative challenges to spiritual formation the body is the most difficult and only a little less difficult are the emotions, that is, because of their close association to the body.  That is why emotions are often best experienced in more-or-less controlled environments, like marriage, family, friendships, and churches.  These small groups and primary relationships are the incubators of the heart.  Emotions are best experienced when subjected to rational categories like social propriety within smaller, interpersonal relationships.  Yelling like a maniac for your team at a ball game is fun, for instance, but it would be inappropriate at a funeral.  “Yay!  Uncle Russ got to go to heaven!”  Such an outburst or leakage of emotion is a sign that work should be done on the emotions.  Our feelings can be trained to conform to expectations.  In fact most human relationships are a matter of managing emotions.  The most popular people (and some of the most evil) are the ones that can master emotional connection with and appeal to others on the basis of their mutually felt needs and desires.  But above all these considerations is the question of whether one has brought body and the soul under the Lordship of Christ.

The goal in spiritual formation for the emotions is to love what God loves and hate what he hates.  It is axiomatic for Christians, for instance, that God loves people and hates what hurts or destroys us.  As John wrote:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. –1 John 4:20-21 ESV

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