I am an emotional guy. I can’t believe I can say that so easily. Four years ago I could not have admitted to this. In fact, four years ago, I may not (ahem . . .) have been so in touch with my softer side. Now I realize just how much emotions control me. I can cry at the drop of a hat, music can take me wherever it desires, and I feed off the emotions of others (both good and bad) much more than ever. I wake up each morning and the first thing I do is take an assessment of where I am emotionally (and you thought I was going to say “pray”).
Having come to terms with this, I have had to do a lot of backtracking. Much of this involves a reassessment of my life and who I am, how I process things, and how I believe. Yes, I said “how” I believe, not “what” I believe. The what of my belief is the same. While I am somewhat comfortable saying I have stumbled many times, fallen flat on my face a few, and have a whole new set of spiritual limps and scars to show people, my faith is in-tact. In fact, though I may not look it, these things have only served to strengthen my faith a great deal.
I used to believe that all problems could be solved by reason. I think I prided myself in my intellectual vigor. I don’t think I have ever been that smart, but I loved the vigor, the questions, and the way reason could give me so much confidence in my life and faith.
Dealing with Doubters Before
In the past, when I dealt with those who doubt, I would go straight to the arguments. Reason, intellect, and syllogisms. With these I would (or so I thought) easily dismantle any foe who had the audacity to carry a flag of unbelief. Then, I would pat the sad Christian on the head and say, “See how ridiculous your doubting is? Now go and doubt no more.”
Visiting the School of Doubt Myself
Since then, at some time in the past, without my consent, I was enrolled in the school of doubt myself. I don’t know where it came from or why it was my new instructor, but I thought I knew how to get rid of it. “Ha! Are you kidding? You don’t want me as a student. I am in the business of converting your former pupils.” But, for some reason, my arguments, reason, and intellect proved ineffective in expelling me from this school. At this time, I could not overcome my doubt with reason. It was not as if the arguments were not strong enough, it was that my emotions stood in the way. My “feelings” were in control. As I struggled to get back to my former level of confidence (as that was my goal), I found that this confidence was fueled by something other than my intellect. I discovered that my emotions were so much more powerful than my reason.
The funny thing is that I can go to videos of me teaching this. I already knew the power of emotions. I already knew that they were more appealing than reason. In fact, left to their own, I knew that they could control all other sources that we draw from to fill our soul with belief. Tradition, experience, reason, and even the Scripture are powerless against emotions when we let them run the show.
But here I was, in the school of doubt unable to hear any other source and finding no other guidance but emotion. What was I to do?
Learning to Love Emotions
I am still in the school of doubt. I will be there as an audit student for the rest of my life. I am content with this and I know the part my emotions have to play. Before, I knew in theory, now I know in practice. Emotions are a big part of my life and belief.
I also have learned that doubt is almost without exception emotional. I recognize that while I am disturbed by my doubt, I am not defined by my doubt. It is not who I am. But, more importantly, I have learned the value of emotions. I am a very emotional being. I can be controlled by my emotions and, rightly guided, this is a wonderful thing. God created me this way and he wants me to believe with all my emotions (“love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul. . .). It is when my emotions are engaged in my belief that I have the most peace. However, I can now get through times of immense emotional doubt and reason, of all things, does have a vital role to play. An ugly role, but a roll nonetheless.
Return to Reason
Not long ago I woke up in the middle of the night. It was one of those times when my emotions were so volatile and were not being friendly to my faith. I could not sleep. It was the second most severe bout with doubt I had ever had. I could not believe and there was nothing I could do.
(You see, during these times, it is not that I don’t believe or that I begin to believe something else, it is like the ability to believe is broken. That is where I was.)
So I left my room and went and sat in the garage (the place I go when I am highly disturbed emotionally). I was in an hysteric struggle. The only thing I knew is that if I could wait it out, it would go away. However, as I so often do, I started reasoning with myself: “Get a grip, man. Your beliefs are strong. Think about the historic reality of the resurrection. Think about the absurdity of a universe with no creator. Remember, there is nothing more reasonable. Where else are you going to go?”
As I ran though these arguments, initially, they have the same impotency. After all, without emotions, a faith built only on reason is cold, dark, hard, and ugly. It does not fill my life with joy like when my faith is full of emotional support. When I believe in God and my emotions are supportive, it is beautiful, lovely, nice, tender, and it has a wonderful aroma. Yet, for the first time, I decided to be content with the ugliness of reason. It had to be enough. It may have been hard, but it was strong.
This night, though it was not pretty, I stood alone on the ground of reason. I went to a different class and listened to this teacher. He was dry, boring, ugly, had a whiney voice and what hair he did have was all messed up. But he did know his stuff. I wanted that other teacher, Emotions, so badly. She was pretty, tender, and so artistic. Oh, how I love her class. But, she called in sick and Reason was my only option. I endured it.
That night I realized that I could live off the rations of reason. That night I learned to hold my nose and swallow an unsalted and uncooked egg. I have always said that reason is the foundation for our belief and we must use it, I had just not experienced a foundation without a house built on top of it. Reason may be cold, hard, and ugly to look at, but it is absolutely necessary for our faith. Yes, we grow to love and live by that which is built on top of it. And when this beautiful structure is knocked down, we don’t really care about the foundation any more. But we need to. Why? That night I was sinking in the mud. But I stepped back on that cold foundation and weathered the storm.
Reason alone stabilized my faith that night. And though reason is empty and ugly alone, it is still enough.
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