I value emotions because I believe that they are as much as part of me as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine are a part of my DNA. In general, my emotions are under control and balanced, so I want to establish that I don’t let my emotions run my life but my emotions are a part of my life. Everything I do has some emotion connected to it. When I hear a favorite song, watch my favorite movie, read my favorite book – it makes me happier than I would have been had I listened to a song that I hated, watched a movie I couldn’t stand, or read a terrible book.
To me the difference between a great worship experience and a bad worship experience is the emotions it produces in me. The thing is – that’s pretty subjective when you put a crowd of different people together. Liturgy, traditional, contemporary, and bluegrass are a few different styles. The best fit for me is contemporary. Take somebody from a bluegrass church and have them switch places with me and we’re both liable to walk out of services in a terrible mood.
The conversation I got into the other day, I heard others say things like “Don’t trust your emotions.” “Emotions are fickle.” “Emotions don’t save souls from sin.” “Emotions can be manipulated into false worship and idolatry.” “Emotions are worldly.” “Emotions are easy to mistake for spirituality, but true spirituality has nothing to do with emotions.” “Emotions are good but they are not indicative of successful worship.” “Our emotions do not convict us of wrong-doing, the Holy Spirit does that.” “Worship is reduced to an emotional level.”
I always wondered why there was this mistrust of emotions in Christianity when every story in the Bible has this undercurrent of emotion. When we read the black and white words, we might not always connect to what Job might have been feeling when he got one piece of bad news right after the other. We might not always imagine what Peter was feeling when we wept bitterly about having denounced Jesus. We might not care how Esther or Ruth felt about their situations. Yet the message, “Do not be afraid.” Is clearly a strand that ties all these and other stories together. God’s not saying that he hates fear, he made fear for good reason. God’s saying that when we’re surrounded by the enemy, he surrounds the enemy. When we’re lost in a storm that threatens to sink us, he has the power to calm the storm.
One commenters pointed out that it ought to be exciting to know who God is. And that it is right to want to feel something when we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made to save us. That last comment – ‘Worship is reduced to an emotional level’ bothers me because I don’t think that worship ought to be so high and so holy that it is above emotion. The early church was often instructed to be aware of the emotional needs of others – to mourn with those who mourn, to celebrate with those who celebrate. Yet Modern Christianity is running scared from emotion in a big way.
I think about some concerts I discovered a few weeks ago. The music I heard is beautiful enough to transfix me, sometimes it can summon a tear, or fill me up with energy. When I’m angry, there’s a song for that out there somewhere. I’ve never found separating emotion from music to be considered the highest form of appreciating it, but apparently the separation of emotion from worship is the highest form of appreciating God. I think I’d much rather have ‘reduced worship’ and praise him with all my heart (which was the center of emotions in the ancient world), soul, mind, and strength. I can’t help but want to feel something. If that’s somebody’s definition of idolatry then I will happily be an idolater. Because I would rather feel the tiniest something every now and then than a whole lot of nothing at all for all time.