Article Sep 8, 2017

Sometimes faith requires caring less

When we think of someone with a strong faith, we tend to think of someone with strong emotions and convictions. They are people who have an unflinching look in their eye when they speak, pray like their life depends on it, and sing like nobody else is in the room. In effect, the more someone cares, the stronger we perceive their faith to be; strong emotion is equated with strong faith.

But, then we’ve all seen cases where this is not true; someone has strong emotions, and they lack self-control, wisdom, good judgment, and honor for other people. The marks of a mature faith are absent from their strong emotions. They can be either ruled by their strong emotions (anxiety) or harm others with their strong emotions (anger).

Yet for those individuals, cultures, or faith traditions who equate strong emotion with strong faith maturity can be very perplexing, because for them, faith will be less emotional and, therefore, feel less spiritual to them.

  • People who struggle with anger will likely have to “care less” about their reputation.
  • People who struggle with anxiety will likely have to “care less” about their security.
  • People who struggle with jealousy will likely have to “care less” about their spouse.

The form that faith takes will feel wrong—less fervent, less devoted, less prepared. Their internal emotional compass will register that trust for God feels like indifference. Drawing close to God will take a form that feels foreign and initially may make God feel very far away.

It should be noted that the opposite error can be made by those who value stoicism instead of emotionalism. These individuals can so equate being un-rattled and unmoved with faith that they are uncomfortable revealing the uncertainty that is necessary for faith to be seen.

  • They feel so restrained by God’s sovereignty that they won’t allow themselves to grieve for fear their sadness is a form of questioning God.
  • They feel so restrained by God’s holiness that they feel irreverent if they sympathize with someone who mourns breaking up with an unchristian boyfriend for whom they have genuine affection.
  • They feel so restrained by God’s wisdom that they feel guilty for conceding a well-made point by unbeliever who is defending their world view.

Which is better, emotionalism or stoicism? That’s a bad question. It either leads to pride (my natural inclination is better), insecurity (my natural inclination is weaker), or emotional ping-pong (over-compensating for whichever response most recently disrupted your life).

Don’t confuse emotions with faith

Avoid confusing your emotions (their presence or absence) with your faith.

The better take away is to avoid confusing your emotions (their presence or absence) with your faith. Emotions are good. They are a gift from God and one way we reflect the image and character of God. We desire that our emotions serve as excellent ambassadors for God. We should want people around us to feel like they know God more accurately as they sense what we feel in various situations.

But that doesn’t require a predominantly high or low level of emotional responsiveness. It means that we need to know our tendency (its strengths and weaknesses), acknowledge it authentically to others, and be willing to allow our faith to change our emotional amplitude (higher or lower) as best represents God in a given circumstance.

We should expect there to be times when that feels really natural, because either inclination has times when it is faith’s most natural expression. We should also expect there to be times when it feels really unnatural. Unless we realize the latter, we will often resist some of God’s greatest work in our life because it doesn’t “feel like” what we’re used to faith feeling like.

This post originally appeared here.