As anyone who’s ever been cut off in traffic knows, our emotions aren’t the best guide for our behavior. Whether we’re doubting God’s goodness or struggling to turn the other cheek or fighting the urge to check out the girl in the bikini, the gut-level pull is often in the wrong direction. However, even though feelings shouldn’t point the way when we make our decisions, they can’t be ignored either. Holiness is much easier if it goes with the grain of our emotions rather than against it.
When I’m browsing the web and stumble on a pornographic popup ad, I can choose to close it regardless of what I’m feeling. It’s certainly an easier choice, though, if Christian anger and pity over violated innocence are there to counter the baser emotions the ad is meant to arouse. When my church goes to minister at a local nursing home, I can and should make myself go along even if I struggle to feel anything but revulsion for the unfortunates wasting away, but I’ll do more good if the choice grows out of genuine affection and sympathy.
Which raises an interesting dilemma, because there’s really nothing I can do to directly change my emotions. A good argument can change my mind and a teeth-gritting choice can shift my will, but, at any particular moment, the best that can be done with my emotions is to overrule them. That’s not to say our emotional composition cannot be changed–it’s just a longer process, more like shaping a bonsai than like turning a steering wheel. And since our emotions are so closely tied up with our moral decision-making, it’s worth thinking about how our feelings can be included in the process of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” There are a few things that we can do.