I think emotions have gotten a bum rap in biblical counseling. Of course, we understand the fluid nature of emotions. They ebb and flow and often tempt us to rash or unwise actions. But I think that often we go beyond exercising wisdom and caution as we address emotions and simply relegate them to nuisance status. As biblical counselors we often treat emotions as if, at best, they serve as a sort of flashing light on the dashboard of our lives warning us that something has gone wrong under the hood. There’s no point in focusing much attention on the light; after all, it’s only the symptom of a much deeper problem. If you really want to help, dive into thoughts and beliefs. That’s where the real action is. Emotions are just the caboose on the train. Change the course of the locomotive and the caboose follows.
There’s some truth to that. Emotions certainly aren’t “free agents” operating independently of our beliefs. But relegating them to the category of “symptom” doesn’t quite do justice to the functions the Bible assigns to emotions. Surely God’s anger isn’t a simple byproduct of his holiness, but an essential expression of it. Certainly, we wouldn’t consider Jesus’ joy over rescuing one of his lost sheep a welcome but unnecessary expression of his love. Somehow, his elation at finding the lost is part and parcel of love itself.
Consider, for example, Paul’s teaching on how we are to live with one another in Romans 12. In verse 9 he writes, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” The subject heading, so to speak, is sincere love. What does sincere love look like? In verses 15 and 16, Paul writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” It would seem that part of genuine love means being willing to both express and share in one other’s various experiences. To love someone in their joy means to share in their joy, to feel it. To love someone in their suffering and misery is to share in their misery, to feel it; to stand apart as a clinically informed observer simply isn’t enough.
Doesn’t this understanding naturally follow from understanding the pattern and practice of Jesus’ own love? Jesus certainly knew both our joys and miseries before he united himself to us through the incarnation, but our confidence isn’t just in his divine omniscience, but in being witness to his firsthand experiences of joy and suffering. Somehow knowing that he has both laughed and groaned with us reassures us and deepens our understanding of his love. So we, too, must be willing to live in each others’ experiences—to feel them. I would argue that this is just one way in which emotions aren’t simply a worrisome addition to the human psyche but part of the equipment of involvement and love itself.