Passion, Emotion and Mr. Spock

By Stephanie Ismer

Call me a nerd, if you wish. But I'm going to use a Star Trek analogy now, and I'm going to get really shamelessly into it.

As I was watching Star Trek this week it occurred to me that Mr. Spock is a great picture of how some Christians deal with their emotions in regards to God. I think that some of us view God as a Vulcan (all logic and no emotion) and ourselves as his hybrid creatures. Like Spock, we're half what we want to be and half what we are. The "Vulcan" side of us responds to God properly, logically and theologically. But there's always that troublesome human side, responding with anger or improper desire to the taunts of Satan or our circumstances. Sometimes we even feel ashamed of our positive emotions about God.

Some of you will not relate to this. Many Christians are more like Captain Kirk, filtering everything through emotion and gut instinct, and battling to subdue desire. But for those of you whose spiritual battles occur primarily in the mind, I hope I can offer some comfort.

For the Vulcan Christian, I submit that there are two main hangups: first, we fail to see God as an emotional being. Second, we confuse emotion with passion.

Our logical brains tell us that God, being a spirit (Luke 24:39), cannot have emotions the way we do, because emotions involve chemical reactions, and God does not have a body and therefore does not have chemical reactions.

It's true that God is not a chemical, physical being. But He is an emotional being. The Bible makes this clear over and over again in both the Old Testament (Genesis 5:6-7; Psalm 7:11; Deut. 32:16) and the New. God, as a spirit, feels emotion. He feels grieved, (Psalm 78:40), angry (Deuteronomy 1:37), pleased (1 Kings 3:10), joyful (Zephaniah 3:17), and moved by pity (Judges 2:18).


Emotion vs. Passion

Perhaps the reason many of us have trouble accepting the truth about God's emotions is that we equate emotion with the body and with the flesh. God has no flesh, and no sin nature. Yet He experiences emotions. How can this be? The answer, I think, lies in the difference between emotions and passions. (Passion is a word that can change depending on context. What I am talking about in this article are passions of the flesh as described in the Bible (Romans 6:12 and 2 Timothy 2:22).

Emotion is the body's response to something that is understood by the mind. But passions are desired experiences that drive our behavior (the will).

In an earthquake, buildings fall down. But buildings also fall down when hit with a wrecking ball. In an earthquake, something in the depths of the earth moves and the result is that buildings fall down. But when a wrecking ball is employed, buildings fall down because of someone's decision / will.

Passions are like the wrecking ball. A person given over to passions is someone who values experience above all other considerations. If a gourmet meal or a romantic attachment, a promotion or a fist-fight gives the passion-seeker the experience they desire, they will pursue those situations, sometimes until they literally destroy themselves. Emotions, on the other hand, are like the earthquake. They have a source outside of ourselves. They are sourced in what we believe rather than in what we want to feel. When we feel emotion, it is because something we believe to be true has entered our minds and has caused things to shift.

So what's the difference? Don't passions and emotions really add up to the same thing? Chemically, yes, I believe they do. The real difference is one of motive, or perhaps, of priority. Passions are driven by a desire for the sensual experience that accompanies emotion. Emotions themselves are simply a response to meaning. To prioritize passions means to abuse what the emotions were originally intended for.

God's Voice

Back to Mr. Spock. The Vulcans were once a barbarian race, entirely driven by passions. In order to kill their passions and survive as a people they decided to kill emotions too. But Spock, as a half-human, had emotions, and he constantly struggled to reconcile those emotions with the Vulcan necessity to control passions. It is easy to see how something similar can happen to a Christian. Eager to please God and control our passions, we turn to legalism or asceticism, repressing our feelings. But there's a cost: along with the negative emotions, we destroy the positive, and end up frightened of the natural pull of the Spirit towards beauty, love and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).

The remedy for both Kirk and Spock types is truth. True, real things like the death of a loved one, financial stress, or guilt over our sins can cause the emotions we experience to become disabling. But God's voice is also truth, and it is the antidote, working to counteract guilt with the understanding of forgiveness, sorrow with the understanding of promised joy and worry with the knowledge of God's protection.

Truth also works as a safeguard when our feelings confuse us. In the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays", Mr. Spock finds himself trapped on an alien planet with a beautiful woman and Dr. McCoy. It is unclear whether he is being affected by ancestral passions or by emotions that are finally too strong to resist, but whatever it is, he yields to the temptation to jealously compete with McCoy for the girl. As he holds the doctor by the throat, Dr. McCoy pleads: "Is this what you really want to do?" Spock then realizes that he is doing something impossible — yielding to passion at the expense of his very identity. This understanding is what gives him the strength to fend off his passions and return home.

Likewise, a true understanding of who we are in Christ can save us when our emotions respond to lies and our passions threaten to take over. But if we believe the lie that God has no emotions, and that our emotions are therefore shameful, we might just grow into a tortured and repressed being whose reaction to God's love is purely logical.

TagsChristian-Life  | God-Father  | Health-Wellness

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Published 1-31-12; Revised on 3-3-15