I enjoy Graham Beynon’s writing. He has an ability to take an issue that is relevant to us and then write balanced biblical sense on it. His book on self-esteem, Mirror Mirror, is excellent and three years ago he wrote on the subject of Emotions. I read the book earlier this year and thought I would review it (if only to put off a blog on the Election for another week…)
The strength of the book is that it considers early on what a healthy emotional life looks like. It runs away both from a rationalist view that suggests emotions are to be suppressed (“Being unmoved and unemotional is not a Christian virtue”) and what might be considered a more contemporary view that would argue that whatever I feel must be right. No- a healthy emotional life is seen in the person of the Lord Jesus. If our emotional life were perfect we would feel joy, sorrow and anger as Jesus does. In many ways, this section was convicting- it was helpful to reflect on the way in which my emotions often display my sin. Calvin was quoted helpfully- “If you compare his passions with ours, they differ not less than pure and clear water…differs from dirty and muddy foam.”
Our emotions come from our hearts. If I find myself disproportionately angry or joyful over the wrong thing it reveals false values in my heart. This can be a useful opportunity for self-reflection. The call is to recalibrate our hearts- to consciously focus on and meditate on the Lord, to pursue loyal love for people so that I will begin to feel rightly. “We can’t command emotion…but we can choose how we direct and focus our thoughts.” However, the aim is not simply that we think rightly- rather that in thinking on helpful things we will find that our emotions catch up. This seems to me right in our experience- it is as I pursue the discipline of calling to mind things for which I can be thankful that I find joy stirring in my heart.
Having considered the dynamic of pursuing godly hearts that lead to Christlike emotions in the first half of the book, the second half looks at emotions in practice. The chapter on praise- with useful comments on music- is very helpful. Graham Beynon regards musical praise as being appointed by God for the stirring up of healthy emotions. He quotes both Calvin’s affirmation of music and his caution- “The greatest value [of music] is in kindling our hearts to a true zeal and eagerness to pray…Yet we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the word.” In other words- we should be positive about emotion when singing provided that this comes from reflecting on the glorious God about whom or to whom we are singing. Likewise, in the final appendix, there is an exhortation to preachers to seek to stir appropriate emotions that emerge from the Scriptures.
The chapter on emotion within the church community ends with a very helpful summary- “We need one another to grow in godly feelings. We are to feel godly feelings for one another. We are to be united despite our different feelings.” Part of having godly feelings together includes emotional honesty- sometimes Psalm 13 and 88 will be appropriate reactions to certain conditions in a fallen world. We are not to give the impression that the only emotion allowed to the Christian is exuberant joy.
Altogether, this book was very helpful. Here are my three personal applications:
1. I need to reflect more on my emotions. When do I have a strong emotional reaction? Where do my emotions differ from the Lord Jesus? Asking these questions may show up idols in my heart.
2. I need to stir up godly emotions by meditating helpfully- perhaps stirring up joy by considering the Lord’s love or compassion by consciously reflecting on the situation of those in need.
3. As a pastor, I want to encourage biblical emotions in us as a church- to be unashamed of deep joy at God’s grace, deep sorrow at sin and the state of the world or deep longing to know God more. In this sense our aim is to be biblical and Christlike rather than English!
Those would be my applications. Perhaps you could read the book and come up with some of your own?