In my last letter I mentioned, toward the end, that the best way to understand the emotions and their effect upon us is to discuss the various kinds of emotions. Perhaps if we have some understanding of this matter we will have a deeper appreciation also of the role that emotions play in our life.
Before we discuss the different kinds of emotions however, we must bear in mind that there is basically only one kind of emotion or feeling in us—although that one emotion of feeling has two sides to it. Our entire emotional life can be reduced to feelings of like or dislike, attraction or revulsion. Our emotions are basically a matter of liking or disliking whatever comes to our attention and whatever is part of experience. Whatever happens to us, whatever is part of our life is either liked by us or disliked by us, and that fact is basically what emotions are all about.
God made us that, way. Man was originally created that way in Paradise. It is clear that this is unique to the life of man, for animals and lower creatures do not have this at all, or, if they do, they have this in a very low and unintelligible way. There is, among some animals, obviously a feeling of like or dislike also. An animal likes to be fed, has certain preferences in food, dislikes being beaten, etc. But these are part of the instinctual life of the animal and are present in the animal only because the animal was created by God in the image of man.
But God made man to have these definite feelings of like or dislike. When Adam was in a state of perfection in Paradise, these feelings of like and dislike were all morally and ethically related to Adam’s calling to serve God. That is, what he liked was what was pleasing to God and what he disliked was that which was contrary to God’s commandments. His whole life revolved around his calling to love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. This was pleasing to Adam and in this he found his delight. Nevertheless, we must remember that Adam was created as a part of the whole earthly creation. He was related to every single creature which God had formed. And as related to every creature, he was a part of all that happened in this earthly creation. These relationships were infinitely varied and of every conceivable source. To all these relationships and in all these experiences Adam reacted, also emotionally. There were, so far as we can tell, no reactions of dislike in God’s world. How could that be in a perfect world? All the creation and all Adam’s experience in it were sources of pleasure and delight. Whatever Adam saw and whatever Adam ate; whatever he heard and whatever he touched; whatever happened in the garden and whatever happened to him, all was pure delight and happiness. There was nothing to be disliked, nothing to repulse Adam, nothing to be displeasing to him. There was nothing which could bring a frown to his brow and a look of horror or revulsion to his face. There was nothing from which he shrank back in disgust and nothing loathsome to him. There was nothing which made him weep and nothing which filled him with anger.
Nothing? Well, there was one thing. That was sin. Adam did not know experientially what sin was, but God explained to him what disobedience was. There was the tree of life, but there was also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And, while even with respect to this tree it was a delight to Adam to obey his God by refusing to eat of that tree, nevertheless a certain horror must have been at least part of Adam’s emotional life when he saw the possibility of disobedience to his God. Nevertheless, for the most part, feeling and emotions of dislike have come after the fall of Adam and the human race into sin. We too stand in the middle of God’s world related to all the different parts of the creation and to our fellow men in an infinite variety of relationships. We are created in such a way that we respond emotionally to all about us. We are always filled with like or dislike in relation to everything. We can never be neutral in these things. We sometimes think that we are neutral. But it is really not the case. We certainly have stronger feelings about some things than about others. One who cares not a whit for sports has no strong feelings about whether the New York Yankees or the Baltimore Orioles win the world series. But such a man may be a rather skilled musician and he may react very strongly to the playing of a piano that is badly out of tune. Nevertheless, we are never completely emotionally neutral about anything which comes within the scope of our experience. We react with feelings of like or dislike.
Because sin has come into the world, there is a great deal in this world to which we react with dislike. It cannot be any different. Into this world has come a tidal wave of sin, and with this sin has come trouble and suffering, sickness and death, war and hatred, distress of every kind. All of these things are of such a kind that we react to them with strong dislike. It cannot be any different, for these things are not “normal.” They are not the way God created all things, and they are not as things ought to be. But we are sinful too; and the result is that our entire emotional life is influenced also by sin. We like the things we ought not to be liking and our whole depraved nature is so corrupted and polluted by sin that every inclination is to have feelings of like for what is contrary to the law of God. And all that belongs to God, to things spiritual, to that which is heavenly and eternal, these are the things we dislike and to these we react with disfavor. This remains the case as long as we are in this present evil world. Even though we are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ, the fact is that our natural reaction to sin is and remains one of like and our natural reaction to holiness is one of dislike. We do not really like to go to Church on the Lord’s Day. We do not really like to read Scripture and to pray. We do these things because we know they are our calling before God, and when we do them God blesses us in a great mercy so that we enjoy all these things. But our natural and first reaction to things spiritual is always one of dislike.
So these are the basic reactions of an emotional type. And all the different kinds of emotions which there are belong to these basic ones.
What are these emotions then?
To start with the very lowest, there are certain lower forms of the activity of the will which are the lowest forms of emotions. We could probably call themdesires. It is particularly characteristic of them that they are things we want. They involve a specific activity of the will because they are what we will to have, what wewant to have, what we desire. They are of different kinds depending on their strength. Perhaps the weakest of all is what we may call inclinations. Now it is characteristic of inclinations that they are vague and indefinite, somewhat ill-defined and without very clear-cut objects. They are both innate and acquired. There are certain such inclinations with which babies are born. Babies come into the world with an inclination to be fed. They need nourishment and, without being taught, suck on the nipple of a bottle as a way to quiet the need for food. We are told, and there is no reason to doubt that, that babies are also born with a need for love. They have this from the moment of birth, and if they are denied this, even their growth will be stunted and retarded. They have not acquired this nor have they been taught this. They are created by God as creatures who have need of these things, and the need is there from the moment of birth. It expresses itself in the inclination to have the need satisfied. These inclinations change as the person himself develops. There are new inclinations added. They change as a person goes from infancy to childhood and adulthood. But they always remain vague and ill-defined. They are very closely related to habits and, indeed, habits may very well be a part of these inclinations. If we are in the habit of driving a car with a stick shift, we are very uncomfortable in a car with an automatic transmission, and the inclination is always there to reach for the shift lever. If we are used to eating breakfast at 8:00, if 8:00 comes and goes without breakfast being served, we have vague feelings of discomfort and sometimes more powerful inclinations to eat than if we had eaten at the usual time.
Somewhat stronger than these inclinations are what we may call wants. They are closely related to inclinations and differ not too much from them. But they are somewhat different because they are stronger and more clearly defined. They are more clearly defined because they involve more specifically activity of our minds. They are more clearly defined also because the object of them is more exactly defined. If the usual time for our meals comes and goes, we first of all have vague and ill-defined feelings of discomfort, but these change to definite wants when we begin to realize that the reason we are uncomfortable is that we are hungry, it is time to eat, there is no food on the table, and we get up from our chair to go to the kitchen to find out what is happening that is delaying our meal. The Bible often uses the word desire in the bad sense, and that becomes particularly apparent when we consider the moral implications of this. But before we do that, we must consider one more kind of desire. This kind of desire we could call longing. It is not essentially different from an inclination or a want, but it is characterized especially by its great strength. We have inclinations towards certain things; we also have certain wants; but these wants can become longings. They become longings when there is difficulty in obtaining that which we want. An inclination turns to a want when we realize that it is time to eat and there is nothing ready as yet. But that want turns to a longing when it is not only time to eat and nothing is ready for mealtime, but when, in fact, there is not food in the house at all and no means to obtain it. The difficulty of obtaining the object of our inclination and want makes that inclination and want a longing. Everyone needs to be loved. That does not change through life. That inclination becomes a ‘want when it becomes clearly defined in our consciousness. But it becomes a longing when we are, because of the circumstances of our life, denied that love. A child can have a longing for love when that child has no love in his home because his parents are too self-centered, too preoccupied with acquiring material things, too “busy” with a social life to give to the child the love which it needs.
These are the more basic emotions. We must discuss yet their ethical and moral implications and we must say a few things about their importance in our life. But we shall have to wait with this till our next letter.
Fraternally in Christ,