As a certified biblical counselor (ACBC) I am often confronted with the power of emotion and the havoc that emotion can play in a person’s life.
In the past week I’ve seen this played out numerous times. The case of Eliot Rodgers and the massacre he perpetrated comes to mind first.
We live in a highly therapeutic culture that takes an evolutionary, non-cognitive view of emotions especially at the popular level. This explanation of the non-cognitive view is found in Pastor Brian Borgman’s Faith and Feelings book.
The non-cognitive view is generally an evolutionary perspective that sees emotions as a physiological change in feeling ( e.g. sweaty palms, racing heart, euphoria), which is claimed by the person experiencing the change (fear, happiness, etc.) In other words we are subject to our emotions and not ultimately responsible for them. They are something that happens to us, physically and chemically. We cry and feel sadness. We feel anxiety because our hearts race.
The non-cognitive view is the prevailing view in our therapeutic culture and frankly, it’s the prevailing view in many evangelical churches. It means, among things that emotions are sovereign and that humans are nothing more than a “bag of chemicals” to use counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick’s phrase.
The other view of emotions is the cognitive view. Again, here is Borgman with an explanation:
The cognitive view of the emotions sees the emotions as based on beliefs, standards, judgments, evaluations, concerns and thoughts. The emotions and reason are interdependent. The emotions are not simply impulses; they are indicators of what we value and what we believe…The emotions reflect and express the inner man, the heart, the soul, the mind.
Borgman’s explanation of what emotions are is the biblical explanation. The contrast between the non-cognitive view and the cognitive view could not be sharper especially when we realize we are responsible for our emotions! The old “I can’t help how I feel” simply does not line up with Scriptural teaching.
It should be quite clear that if emotions influence motives and conduct then we had better be able to do something about controlling them. And Christians should look to the Scriptures as to how to do that.
Borgman concludes, “the emotions are more than feelings; they tell us what we value and what we believe, producing desires and inclinations that affect our behavior.”
If this was not true then the apostle Paul’s words below would not make any sense at all:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)
For more on the cognitive view of emotions follow the link to an op ed by David Brooks in the NYT. His comments on human nature are helpful.