Christians have rightly stressed that the state of the soul (the heart) affects the mind and the emotions, which then influences behavior. One important motivation behind this stress is to assert human responsibility and avoid always blaming external factors for our problems.However, we must be careful not to avoid one extreme (it’s all physical and external) by running to another extreme (it’s all spiritual and internal). In a recent interview, the best-selling author A. J. Jacobs explained in popular language, how much our physical state impacts our emotions.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I’m continually surprised at how much my physical state affects my emotions. I used to think the ghost and the machine were separate. But they’re so intertwined. Lack of sleep can really darken your worldview. Even being cold puts me in a worse mood. Did you read that study about how people are more positive when they’re holding a warm cup of coffee? We can’t escape our bodies.
I wish more pastors would recognize this (body/soul) dynamic, both for themselves and for those they counsel. Take, for example, the recent book Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman. Although the book starts and finishes with a defense of an ancient error – that God the Father suffers pain and sorrow – the book is one of the best Christian treatments of emotion that I have read. There are many valuable insights into the bible and human nature – especially the connections between the mind and the emotions. It is Christ-centered and practical. I especially welcomed Borgman’s balanced and careful discussion of depression.In the introduction, however, Borgman sets up a false antithesis:
Historically there are two views on the emotions: one sees the emotions as unrelated to the mind or thinking. The other sees the emotions directly related to the mind or thinking (page 25).
Borgman says the first view is the evolutionary perspective; it teaches that we are subject to our emotions, and so absolves us of responsibility; and as such, it is “biblically unacceptable.”He then contrasts this with the biblical view (as he sees it):
The emotions are not simply impulses; they are the indicators of what we value and what we believe….The emotions reflect and express the inner man, the heart, the soul, the mind (page 26).
Borgman’s concludes with a theological definition of emotion:
These last two quotations are true, but they are not the whole truth.