What place do emotions have within the life of faith?

Hello, fellow posters,

I’ve been thinking lately of the value of emotions in
life as a whole, and within the spiritual life in

To me, emotions are a gift of God to us. If emotion
means, literaly, to “get us into motion,” what value
do anger, sadness, happiness and fear have in
relation to the spiritual life?

How do the above emotions get us “into motion” in
a positive sense?
Why are emotions often deprecated or treated with
a dismissive or demeaning attitude?

How about scriptural references : Be angry, and
sin not." Or, “Do not let the sun go down on your

Even a “negative” emotion like jealousy can be
a spur to spiritual growth when recognized for
what it is.

I’d be interested in other thoughts on the subject
in general.


I think that emotions can be both helpful and dangerous in a religious setting. On one hand, Christians are called, more than anything else, to love (although one can debate about whether “christian” love is necessarly the same thing as “emotional” love), and, as you said, emotions can help to spur a person to a higher love for God and a desire to worship him to the fullest extent. Many people, for example, have experienced a revival in their faiths because of the emotions that are produced by Gibson’s *The Passion. *That is a good thing, as long as it lasts and leads them into truth and not sentimentalism. However, I think too much emotionalism leads to complacency (sounds contradictory, but it’s true) and it also leads into error if not handled properly. This is why you see people who look for the church that makes them “feel” good about themselves and God, rather than the church that they believe is the true church of God. I believe that God is one and unchanging. It seems to me that there is one truth about God (who says “I AM” rather than “I WAS” or “I USED TO BE” or “I WILL BE”) and not 20 or so thousand different truths. A danger of emotionalism, then, is that one may end up believing something about God that isn’t true because it “feels” good to believe it (i.e., there is no hell, everyone is saved, homosexual acts aren’t really offensive to God, etc.). I think that the things that are really true are the things that we try to talk ourselves out of believing because they challenge us and force us to sacrifice things that we don’t want to give up.

I love The Passion, and when I watch it I break down and cry in both misery and joy, and I think that this is a healthy thing. After the movie had been out a while, though, I had to realize that crying because of the suffering that Christ went through isn’t worth a whole lot if it doesn’t change me and make me a more loving person and more willing to suffer for the needs of other people.

All that said, I also believe that over-intellectualizing religion and leaving all emotion at the door is dangerous, too. If a person’s faith becomes a contest to see whose God is the most logical, then it becomes a dead faith. We must love God, but I believe that we must also be concerned with what is true about God and what isn’t.

Hi, Absalom!

“If a person’s faith becomes a contest to see whose God is the most logical, then it becomes a dead faith.” quote, Absalom!

Yes, that is the point that I was trying to articulate…poorly, I think.
Thank you for saying it more clearly.

Where does one draw the line between Apologetics and
sounding like two lawyers going at it, leaving the heart
of the viewer reeling?

It seems to me that when a person says “emotion” the
listener “hears” ‘emotionalism’. Surely these are two
different things.

To say: “Love the Lord, thy God, with your whole
heart and mind and soul…” recognizes that it is
emotions that, aligned with will, enable us to love
God with all of our heart. And notice, that "heart"
is listed first.

Thanks for your thoughts, Absalom!


I think it was Peter who said something about always being ready to offer a defense of the faith. Apologetics, I think, if handled the way it is meant to be handled, can be a way of worshiping and praising God. I think that it is wrong to just throw up your hands and say, “I believe what I believe - I don’t have to know all the little details” out of laziness. I think if we love God, we should want to know all about him. Some of the greatest saints have been apologists (the first one to come to mind is Justin Martyr, who I think is considered the first Christian apologist).

I have to admit that my interest in apologetics stems out of the fact that when I was growing up and in high school, people of other faiths really gave me a hard time about being Catholic. Once I started really reading the Bible and seeing that it is a thoroughly Catholic book, I got excited that I finally had a way of answering the accusations of these people.

At any rate, I have to constantly remind myself what’s important, and I pray often that my faith is not a purely intellectual one, but that God will give me the grace to love as Christ loves.

Dear Absalom!,

Yes, I see what you are saying about Apologetics.
It is a necessary part of evangelization, because
a person has to be able to state clearly and also
defend the doctrines/dogmas.

I guess I’m coming from another position…in the
sense that I’ve spent a lifetime “doing” apologetics,
and now I see the true value of the emotive element
in faith. We are saved, mind and heart.

Since we have emotions as humans, the question
still remains: How do we regard the presence of
emotions in human life-with regard to faith?
{Again, not “emotionalism”} Are they of positive
value in our life with God?

Maybe my question is not a “live” issue for many.

Christ wept over Lazarus and again over Jerusalem.
He got angry at the hardness of heart displayed
by some, and at the sellers in the Temple precincts.
He experienced fear in the Garden. He felt amazement
at the faith of the centurion. By implication, I can
assume He felt gladness at the wedding in Cana.

Thanks for your additional response, Abasalom!


marginal. helpful in the beginning of one’s spiritual journey, comparable to the period when babies drink milk, but just as milk is not intended to be the primary food after infancy, emotions are not intended to be the foundation of faith after spiritual maturity begins.

[quote=puzzleannie]marginal. helpful in the beginning of one’s spiritual journey, comparable to the period when babies drink milk, but just as milk is not intended to be the primary food after infancy, emotions are not intended to be the foundation of faith after spiritual maturity begins.

As an alumna of the Ignatian Exercises, I can confirm this. On the other hand, there are times when I reach back into my emotional memory and draw strength, confidence and hope from the extraordinary emotional consolations received during that period of my life.

As a guy who tends not to be very emotional in general, I still think emotions can play a large role, but not too large. I think we need to avoid emotionalism, if that makes sense. We can’t think that we have to get an emotional rush from a religion for it to be true.

That being said, God created us humans with both rational intellect and emotion and I think they complement each other in our religious pursuits. I think if we use both our reason and feelings we can better understand the Truth. I know for me personally, I am joyful because everything is so clear and makes so much sense. I’m joyful to understand. Likewise, certain things like Christ’s suffering bring me great sorrow which motivate me to live better and His resurrection brings me great joy and hope, which in turn help me to improve my life and others’.

The Rosary is a great example of this. Meditating on the mysteries often bring me better rational understanding as well as great emotions.

Thanks to each of you for your replies.

I appreciated Genesis 315 offering the idea of the
complimentary nature of rational intellect/emotions.

As to the babies and milk perspective, adults
eat meat, but we need calcium throughout our
lives as well.

And if emotions are to be de-emphasized in
religous life, I look to Christ as a grown man/God
who wept, rejoiced, got angered. It’s not a good
idea, I think, to “lean” on emotions to the exclusion
of the rational…faith is faith, even when as
C.S. Lewis said: “a man looks around in a
universe in which every trace of God seems to
be missing…and still believes.”

I have an additional thought on this subject which
I’ll post below.
Again, thanks for your observations.

LOVE is one of the most powerful emotions.

LOVE for our Saviour Jesus Christ can only be a good emotion.

OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road:

Why are evangelical/fundamentalists making such
inroads in Latin America? I’ve heard it stated that
the friendly atmosphere invites new members…etc.

What I really think is going on is the following:

A few of us went to a Rescue Mission dinner a few
years ago. Hymns were sung. This one lady, nearby,
was lit from within, as she sang of her love for Jesus.
One of the people with me noted the same thing.
We wanted what she had. Not overly emotive, please
understand, just…love, joy, peace.

She didn’t strike me as hag-ridden about her
salvation. She knew she was saved and loved.
Maybe, from an apologetics point of view, she
doesn’t have the “fullness of faith”…but, boy, I’d
settle for the faith she had, fullness or no.
Many of the others at this gathering evinced a
similar demeanor.

OK, that’s what I’m driving at in this thread.
Any thoughts or observations?


It seems to me that the complimentary answer is the best. Faith consists of believing and commitment. Those two things are affected by emotions and intellect. I know people who love to get excited in church and jump up and down and speak in tongues and fall out in the Spirit who are the crabbiest people in the world outside of church. I don’t mean to say that they are bad Christians, but I do mean to say that their emotions don’t really amount to much since their lives haven’t really been changed by their faith. I think many people turn emotion in religion into a form of entertainment. I know someone, in fact, who is teetering on the edge of seeing the truth of Catholicism, but she hangs on to her pentacostal faith because she “likes the style of worship better” in those churches. The question has to be asked of anyone: are you excited about who you believe God is, or are you excited about the atmosphere of your church. Also, one must consider whether doctrine really is important. If it is, then intellect must be taken into account. If it isn’t, then go to a “spirit-filled” church and jump up and down until you’re blue in the face. I can’t help but believe that neither intellect separated from emotion nor emotion separated from intellect will get you very far.

Hello, Absalom!

That was a really good reply. It never occurred to me
that there might be a dichotomy between what I’m
seeing at one moment and an individual’s actual
behavior outside that setting. Hmmmm.

That’s what I like about the forum. It gives participants
a chance for someone to point out something that
they may be overlooking.

I’ve done the rational intellect side for so long,
that any display of low-key emotion in a religious
setting duly impresses me. Thanks for your


I understand completely. I’ve experienced the same thing in my life, as well. And I don’t think that everyone who gets “on fire for Jesus” is just getting too much into emotionalism. I just know some who are like that. I also know the other kind, and they’re not any better.

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