Thursday, May 10, 2007

Affections: How Important Are They?

Have you ever noticed that the Bible commands you to feel something? Here are some texts: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11). “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul?” (Deut 10:12). “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4, 5). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).

In addition to commanding affections (an eighteenth century word for emotion), the Bible also expects Christians to have a certain kind of emotion: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8).

The conclusion that Jonathan Edwards drew from these (and many other) verses is “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” Edwards wrote a 377 page book arguing for this conclusion. Well, actually, he spent about 40 pages arguing for this proposition, and then spent 337 pages describing what holy affections are and what they are not. I have spent the last four months immersed in this book and I believe Edwards is right. This book has shattered my paradigms about Christianity, and is causing me to look at my walk and my faith in a new light. Don’t worry, I am not going off the deep end anytime soon, but understanding the role of both the head and the heart in Christianity has become critical in regard to assurance, the fight of faith, and the importance of deep heartfelt worship.

Since I have never been outside the U.S., I can say little about the thinking or mind-set of other cultures, but I am familiar with the culture I am immersed in. Our culture breathes air that says, “men are rational and women are emotional.” Or, worse, that “Christianity is a rational religion only, and we can never trust our feelings. After all, feelings lie, so we must not trust them. We can definitely not trust our feelings when it comes to religion.” Stop for a moment and think about some of the churches you have attended. Have you ever argued or been taught that love is a verb?

Now, love certainly has its verbal aspects; we are to love our neighbor as our self. Nevertheless, when it comes to God, is love only a verb, or is it part verb and part state of being? What about joy? Yes, we are to rejoice, but what do we do when Peter declares we rejoice with joy?

The point of this discussion is that when we examine our faith and our Christian walk, we need to examine the state of our affections. For Christians, affections are not necessarily charismatic outward signs. We don’t have to raise our hands and cry and be overcome during worship. But we must feel something! If we do not feel anything, we are at the best disobedient, and at the worst not even Christian. Peter’s statement is present tense: “though you do not now see him, you [do now presently] love him and you [presently] believe in him and you [presently] rejoice with inexpressible joy.” This is how, in great part, our Christian lives should be.

I beg you to chase this idea down. Summer is a good time to read. Pick up Religious Affections and read it for yourself. Here are some quotes from Edwards: “God has given to mankind affections…. And yet how common is it among mankind, that their affections are much more exercised and engaged in other matters…which concern men’s worldly interest, their outward delights, their honor and reputation, and their natural relations…. How they can sit and hear of the infinite height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of his giving his infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, holy and tender Lamb of God, manifested in his dying agonies, his bloody sweat, his loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory; and yet be cold, and heavy and insensible and regardless! Where are the exercises of our affections proper if not here? …. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!” (Edwards, Religious Affections, Yale, 122-124.)

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