The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is traditionally a thinking church. We have very clear doctrine, while still valuing the freedom given to us in Christ. Martin Luther and his colleagues in the Reformation read, debated, considered, challenged and studied to earnestly seek truth from the Word of God in the contexts where God had put them. And we do the same in our time and place.
This history impacts us greatly. As a denomination, we highly value the role of education in the faith at home, in our churches and in our schools. We have several universities in the Concordia University System and many chapters of LCMS U student ministries at colleges and universities across the nation.
We also value many other things — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; salvation by grace alone, through faith alone; God’s Word as inerrant — I could keep going. I encourage you to dive into Luther’s Catechism and the Book of Concord and find out more about what we believe, teach and confess.
One thing that happens because we are a church body that highly values thinking and learning is that we talk less about our emotions. This is not universal. You may travel in circles which talk about emotions and your experience of those emotions a lot. But as a generalization, I find that in the LCMS, in our churches and maybe even in our homes, we shy away from talking about our emotions. There are good reasons for this:
- Emotions are unreliable and ever-changing.
- Our culture often overemphasizes emotions and encourages people to follow them without pause, to much harm and detriment.
- When we use our emotions as a barometer for our relationship with God, rather than His promises, His actions and His never-changing commitment to us, we actually make idols of the things that were meant to point us to God.
Emotions do have their place, however. Our triune God created emotions just as much as He did knowledge and all other things in creation:
“I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.”
1 Timothy 4:4
God is the Creator of everything, including emotions. So, where do they fit in our lives?
It is helpful to consider something called emotional intelligence. We, as thinking human beings, with God’s Word in hand, and the Holy Spirit at residence inside of us, can begin to make sense of our emotions and hold them in their rightful place as informants. We intelligently discern our emotional experiences, give them names without fear, but do not let them guide what we do. Emotions are not always sin, and sin is not always connected to our emotional experience.
Our emotions give us information, telling us about all kinds of internal connections God designed our bodies to make at any given moment: sensations, memories, thoughts circulating, response options. This is one reason we so desperately need to live in communion and communication with God continually. And He has given us the gift of His Spirit in order to do that — we need His help with all the sorting!
True emotional intelligence is being honest in our confession, acknowledging what we are experiencing as humans and seeking God first before plunging in and throwing it out there into the world around us. We can name our emotions before Him and ask Him for discernment. We also can learn about what emotions are and what their purpose is by reading about discoveries God has given us in science and especially by reading God’s Word.
The church is a place we want to engage in conversations about our emotions more than anywhere else. It’s where we find answers and support, where we confess our darker parts and are connected to the light of Jesus Christ. We, as a church — thinkers, philosophers, pastors, workers and laypeople — can honor these things that God made, emotions, and find truth about them too, gathering around His Word today.