Monday, May 5, 2014

Kirk or Spock?

I grew up watching Star Trek, and I love the most recent series of Star Trek movies, especially Star Trek Into Darkness. The interaction between Captain Kirk and his Vulcan executive officer Mr. Spock is what makes the show so good. It’s a brilliant portrayal of the conflict between logic and emotion, reason and feeling. Spock is all logic and reason, and if not for his human mother, would make all decisions apart from feelings. It’s not that Spock doesn’t have feelings. On the contrary, Vulcan’s feel more deeply than humans ever could. But like a good Vulcan, he suppresses feelings while approaching everything, including relationships, analytically. He knows the rules and regulations and abides by them at all costs (at least until his human side perks up). Kirk, on the other hand, is driven by instinct. He relies on his heart and trusts his gut feeling, even when it defies logic. Star Trek Into Darkness superbly highlights this dichotomy between logic and emotion. The conflict between reason and emotion is not merely the stuff of science fiction, however. It is a constant battle among Christians as well. In fact, it is a battle we all fight within our own selves.

Over the years I have sat in on numerous Bible studies in which the subject of emotions arises (and sometimes the emotions themselves arise). Invariably the discussion tends to downplay, if not denigrate, feelings as unreliable, untrustworthy, short-lived, and shallow, while reason, logic, and knowledge are lifted up as an objective and trustworthy means of knowing. Reason and emotions are always played against each other. But is this dichotomy Biblical? Is it even reasonable?

First, I think it will help to define our terms. What exactly are feelings, anyway? I suggest that the words “feelings” and “emotions” are too broad to be of much use. Perhaps getting specific will change our perspective. When we say we cannot trust feelings, or that feelings are shallow and short-lived, what feelings do we mean? Joy? Anger? Gratitude? Compassion? What about passion, contentment, peace, wonder, assurance, confidence, intrigue, curiosity, hatred, anxiety, distress, frustration, fear,  grief, agony, sympathy, tenderness, affection, or fondness? These are all feelings.

Are you beginning to see the problem? To simply negate feelings as irrelevant to faith is far too simplistic. For example, isn’t the feeling of gratitude at least a partial basis for our faith response (Lk 17.11-19; 1 Jn 4.19)? While gratitude will not give me faith to begin with, certainly it ought to be a driving force behind my faith, as that which moves me to obey for example—which brings me to the word emotion, and to the real issue.

The root word for emotion is “motion,” or “move.” Emotions are what move us. What moves a person to fight for justice, for example? Is it a purely intellectual belief (reason) that sees injustice as harmful? Or is it a feeling that something is unfair? What caused Jesus to turn the tables over in the temple and chase out the money changers? Was it not the anger he felt over the injustices that were being perpetrated on the poor? Was it logic or compassion that caused Jesus to go to the cross?

We make a false dichotomy when we set emotion against reason. Reason is vital to our faith, and that’s why Paul “reasoned from the scriptures” to persuade Jews that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17.2; 18.19). Not everyone convinced by reason, however, is moved to act. There were those, for example, who had come to intellectually believe that Jesus was the Christ, but who were not moved to obey (Jn 8.30-31; 12.42). Perhaps reason without feeling is like faith without works, being dead (Jas 2.14-26).

Certainly feelings apart from truth and reason can leave us misguided. But that does not negate feelings as essential to our faith. After all, isn’t “the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111.10) and doesn’t it “endure forever” (Ps 19.9)? Aren’t we to grieve over our sin (Mt 5.3), even to hate it like Jesus did (Heb 1.9)?

Jesus, in fact, was often moved by feelings. When he felt compassion for the crowds he was moved to heal them (Mt 14.13). He wept at Lazarus’ tomb (Jn 11.36).  He felt great distress over the pending cross (Lk 12.50) and agonized in the garden to the point of sweating blood (Lk 22.44). Were these feelings shallow and untrustworthy?

On the other hand, is reason more “trustworthy” than emotion? Human reason is intermixed with our human fallenness with all of its pride, selfishness, and mixed motives (cf. Lk 20.5,14). That’s why Paul said “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Cor 8.1).We are not robots. Not even Spock. The truth is that it is impossible for us to separate our reason from our feelings. None of us is perfectly unbiased and objective. And even when we do reason correctly, reason alone will not move us unless it is accompanied with feelings like compassion, gratitude, love, and joy. It was “for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross” (Heb 12.2). So while reason is vitally important, let’s be careful we don’t make an idol out of reason.

Jesus said you must “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Lk 10.27). Love demands that our hearts and minds be equally engaged. Reason and emotion may have different functions, but neither is more important than the other. On the contrary, like Kirk and Spock, they complement and complete each other.

So where does emotional expression come in, especially during worship? I’ll save that for my next blog.