“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, ESV)
When Terry and I studied at the Swiss L’Abri in the 80s, Prof. Donald Drew would tell us: “Speak to your soul; don’t let your soul speak to you.” This thought is related to the example of the Psalmist in texts like the one above and also to the desire to not merely drift along with whatever chatter is happening in our heads, but to order our emotions to reflect what we believe, to Reality, to Truth.
In our culture, at least since the 19th century Romantic Movement, it seems natural to place a priority on emotions. I believe that, though we might not express it this way, we assume that we must obey our emotions and feelings. Otherwise, we are not ‘authentic’ or we are denying our ‘true selves’ or we are ‘phony’. I believe that what seems so obvious to us is really a largely unexamined assumption of our culture. I remember Woody Allen trying to justify his sexual relationship with his adopted step-daughter. He said, “The heart wants what it wants.” I remember a Christian television celebrity entitling her book, “I Gotta Be Me”.
Now emotions and feelings are not bad. They are part of our response to reality; they are an avenue of knowledge. They are also essential for motivation to act. C.S. Lewis found that a feeling of longing was part of what drew him to God, as he discovered repeatedly that what he thought he wanted did not satisfy his desire. God has made us so that we can appreciate beauty, order and truth. He has made us for delight and joy. I do not want to suggest that we should deny what we feel or repress our emotions. I just want to suggest that our assumption that we must obey our emotions is a particular cultural attitude that is relatively recent in human history and is in tension with our call to live in the light of God’s revelation of himself and of our world.
It follows then that we should feed our emotional life with that which helps to bring our emotions into harmony with what we believe. Daily Bible reading is important. The Psalmist’s “delight is in the law (torah, instruction) of the LORD and on his word he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1 from memory). We are promised the mind of Christ. This is where my saying, “The devil gets no space on my hard drive” comes in. For you IT nerds, I might have said “no space on my CPU”. I have a God-given mind with particular abilities. I will not use my mind for cynicism or lies. I will not engage in obsessive doubt. There is a place, of course, for asking honest questions where we really seek answers. But for a long time in our culture, since Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), there has been an assumption that we must find an indubitable starting point for our thought, and then must engage in systematic doubt, so that we may believe only what cannot be doubted. Post-modernism has at least undermined this program and we should have understood earlier that this is an impossible program. I remember being caught in this mental hamster wheel. But now I seek to allow God to use my mind for his purposes. I am a ‘think tank’, if you will, for God’s people and I seek to understand my culture so that I can enter into the cultural stream and plant seeds that will change minds and maybe slightly move that culture toward openness to God’s love and reign.
What goes into our minds at the end of the day has great power to affect our emotions, especially if we have not taken the time to reflect on how our thoughts and feelings of this day fit into God’s story with us. Here is my theory of dreams. Dreams are mostly the mind processing the experiences of the day, coding them with emotion, making connections and starting memories on the way to storage in long-term memory. Sometimes God speaks to us or begins to heal us in our dreams. God has spoken to me in dreams. We all dream or have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, but only some of us remember our dreams. Dreaming is very important to our spiritual and emotional health. This can be seen in studies where people were given adequate time to sleep but were repeatedly awakened before they could enter REM sleep. Eventually, as soon as they were allowed to sleep, they would enter into REM sleep. People deprived long enough of REM sleep begin to hallucinate.
Many of us work or play hard all day long. At the end of the day we are exhausted. So we do something mindless or watch television (but I repeat myself) until we collapse, and then wonder the next morning where our feelings are coming from and why we are in a funk. Our unexamined experiences and emotions have gone into our subconscious. How much better would we feel if we followed the Hebrew pattern of beginning the day in the evening? We might reflect on our day and how it fits into God’s story and then think about our opportunities of the next day. We could begin our day in the evening by committing our night and day into God’s hands through prayer. God gives his people peace in their sleep.
Think also about how we might see films. Let me suggest that rather than just view them as entertainment, we see them with other Christians, and then go out for coffee together and discuss what we have seen from the perspective of what we believe about God, humans, creation, salvation and all that God has revealed to us through the Bible. If the film is important for our cultural engagement, I am not very concerned about what it is rated. What is important is that we place the film in relationship with our Christian worldview.
Let us speak to our souls:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, ESV)
This post was powered by “Hollow Songs” (2008), “Mercy Songs” (2010), “The Vault 1: Live in Kansas City, December 2006”, all by Michael Pritzl, and “The Story of Our Lives, Pt.1 – The Fantastic Machine” (2012) by The Violet Burning.