Knowing and Loving God: Part 5a

by Jonathan Hamilton

Click here for an explanation of this series

Friday, June 20, continued (previous post here)

Emotions ought to have a place in Christianity. However, emotions is a poor term. It’s a blunt force instrument. There are different kinds of emotions and not all are appropriate for Christian worship. Using the term “emotions” in this conversation (regarding the inner life, or life of feeling) is like the hunter who Dr. Bauder once encountered who was cleaning his deer with his car keys. It is not the right tool. So let’s begin drawing distinctions.

The ancient Greeks (specifically Plato) had categories of emotions, and they located them within various parts of the body. These ideas will be helpful to the discussion.

Plato's Emotions


HEAD (kephalē): pure thinking (think of Data from Star Trek)

UPPER CHEST  (stēthos): courage, patriotism, reverence, wonder; folks like warriors and explorers would be governed by this

LOWER CHEST (splangchna): altruism, gratitude, kindness, mercy, compassion, hope, delight, humor; friends and philanthropists

Both categories of the chest were later combined into one. These feelings can be governed by the understanding, and with the understanding govern other feelings. Chest = affection

BELLY (koilia): bestial/animal emotions, appetites of the body, jealousy, envy, rage, grief, terror, vanity, lust, pity, resentment, avarice, ambition, self-promotion, shame, contempt, disgust, bitterness, remorse, hilarity, vindictiveness; gluttons, drunkards, tyrants, conceited, libidinous; Belly = Passion or appetite

According to Plato, you ought to be governed by your head, never by your belly. Problem: the belly makes a lot of racket. (And by the way, Plato is speaking in metaphors. He didn’t actually believe these locations were literally where these things were located.)

Next important figure: Philo

Philo was a Jewish biblical historian/interpreter who mediated Platonic thought into Jewish life. By Philo’s time, Plato’s four-part distinction had become three by combining the chests. According to Philo, the head can never overrule appetite on its own. Given a struggle between the head and the belly, the belly always wins (this is bad). However, the chest can overcome the belly.

The modern interpreter of this thought is C.S. Lewis (see: ‘The Abolition of Man‘). As he sees it, we’ve raised a whole generation of men without chests, unable to resist their appetites having furnished only their heads (and this was nearly a century ago).

So where is the sin nature in all of this?

Total Depravity: every part of us has been affected by sin; we are prone to using every part of us in rebellion against God; so we are not saying that vice is only in the belly and the splangchna is truly virtuous

How does the N.T. treat these terms?

(I implore you to look at these verses so you can see how these terms come to bear on the conversation, and what the N.T. writers had in mind when they were using them.)

Splangchna: Luke 1:78 | 1 John 3:17 | James 5:11 | Phil. 1:8, 2:1 | Col. 3:12 | usually regarded commendably in the N.T.

Koilia: Rom. 16:17-18 | Phil. 3:18-19 | the term was used a little more flexibly, sometimes just as a metaphor for the innermost self; when used in the sense of moral capacity, it is always used in a negative light

The church fathers borrowed these categories and developed the idea of a higher and lower soul. The problem is not that all of these inner desires are inherently sinful, it is that they are so powerful that if left to unregulated gratification, one will be led into sin.

These are the distinctions you still find when you get 1700 years down the line to Jonathan Edwards. Knowing what is right is not of itself enough of a defense to keep from doing wrong. We often know we are sinning and we do it anyways. Only when reinforced by the chest can we overcome the passions that would rule us.

Improper affections cannot be ruled by the head alone. They must be ruled by right affections. The problem is we’ve lost the distinctions and no longer think in terms of appetites and affections, only “emotions.” And hence we employ improper appetites (especially in regard to worship) thinking they are actually affections.

What Dr. Bauder is getting at in all of this is that not all emotions are appropriate for the worship of God. It’s not just a matter of loving God more, or worshipping Him more, it also has to be loving Him with the right kind of love, and worshipping Him with the right kind of worship. It’s more than a mere quantity issue, it’s a quality issue. We can be loving God with the wrong kind of love, so offering Him more of it is not the fix. We can be offering God inappropriate worship, so increasing it only increases our error. We can do both while thinking (incorrectly) that we are loving Him and worshipping Him rightly.

Take the categories of Fear, Joy, and Love

Are all of these fears the same types of fears? Of course not. Joys? Not a chance. Loves? No. If you tell your wife you love her like your hunting dog, you’ll be in big trouble. Disordered loves are wrong. (You can spot them. You can see when a 56-year old man loves his long-lost youth so much that he dresses like a teenager and gets botox. It’s embarrassing for everyone!)

These are not all the same fears, or joys, or loves. To fear God in some of these ways would be sinful! Insulting! They are not all the same.

So what sorts of things are appropriate to feel towards God?

Stay tuned…