Struggling with Emotions…1600 Years Ago

Did you know that one of the giants of church history, Augustine (died A.D. 410), struggled with his emotions?  He struggled to keep emotion in its proper place with respect to reason; with respect to truth.  In a day and culture where emotion – i.e. Augustine_Lateran“feeling” – runs rampant as the domineering god of the moment (or rather, the tool of many domineering gods), it’s worth hearing from Augustine again.  Here he is then, from his Confessions,as he reflects on the struggle with emotion (interestingly, through the lens of his conflicting views about church music…indeed, there is nothing new under the sun):

“I notice that the different emotions of my spirit, by their sweet variety, have their appropriate expressions in the voice and singing, by some hidden relationship which stirs them up [My Editorial Note: Meaning, certain church music has a unique way of stirring up Augustine’s emotions].  But this gratification of my flesh, which must not be allowed to take control over my mind, often beguiles me.  My feelings do not serve reason, so as to follow patiently, but after having gained admission for the sake of reason, strive to grab the reins and take the lead. Thus in these things I sin without knowing it, but realize it afterwards…

“Yet when I happen to be more moved by the singing than by what is being sung, I confess that I have sinned gravely, and then would rather not have heard the singing.  See my condition now!  Weep with me and weep for me, you who can so control your inward feelings that good results follow.  For you who do not act this way, these things do not concern you.  But O my God, hear me and look up on me, and have mercy on me and heal me, you in whose presence I have become a puzzle to myself; and this is my infirmity.”– (from The Confessions of Saint Augustine: Modern English Version, Hal M. Helms, page 210).

Now, don’t trip over Augustine’s hang up with church music (though perhaps we should share more of that hang up at times than we often do these days).  Rather, just notice his clear sense that emotion is right, it is good, it is necessary, but it must not be preeminent.  Borrowing from the words of a biblical counseling curriculum titled Unbound (from Truth in Love Biblical Counseling), “A key point to gaining and maintaining emotional stability is by understanding that while emotions are real they simply are not the truth.  Even though our emotions may be based on the truth, they themselves are not the truth…We have to choose: either our emotions will control us and determine the path of our lives, or we will get our emotions under control and allow reason base on the Truth to guide and direct our lives…” [emphasis in the original].  Elsewhere the same curriculum says, “Making decisions based on our emotions is like allowing a drunk to get behind the wheel of a school bus-the bus will be all over the road and it isn’t going to turn out well for anyone.  Emotions can have a ‘seat on the bus,’ just not the driver’s seat.”

It’s good to know that my struggles in life are neither new nor solitary.  Thanks Augustine for giving me some insight into your challenges 1600 years ago…

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