I’ve just finished a 12 week spring session (in our Recovery meetings) entitled “Feelings and Faith: Exploring our Emotions.” I found a lot of inspirational support in Robert Solomon’s True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us (Oxford, 2007). I like a lot about Solomon’s take on emotions. He writes against reductionist theories that view emotions as mere chemical reactions which occur in the brain, as based in physiological disturbances (William James), or which displace responsibility for emotions by transferring determination of them away from ourselves and in external influences (whether in terms of Skinner’s ‘Behaviorism’ or some other mechanism). He views emotions as “evaluative judgments” which are purposive strategies the self adopts for living in the world. Emotions are neither irrational nor do they happen to us. They are ultimately strategies adopted by the self for the maximization and management of the self’s well-being.
This worked really well with my main point in the series (in pursuit of exploring how apatheia is realized in our own experience and faith) which was that since emotions are some ‘self’ interpreting the events of life in terms of that self’s perceived well-being (either as an expression of well-being or an attempt to secure it), the ‘self’ is at the heart of our emotional health. That is, “who” we believe we most fundamentally are is what shapes and directs the emotional life, not the other way around. This is a fundamental Stoic insight (as well as that of Eastern philosophical/religious traditions) and we think it reflects biblical truth (as we shared previously).
If one’s ‘self’ is defined most truly in terms of relationship to/in the risen Christ, then one is as transcendent of the world as is Christ, meaning nothing in or of this world can define who we are and what we most fundamentally mean. No worldly event (neither height nor depth, life nor death, sword nor sickness, etc.) can threaten the Christ-centered self. And you can’t fear or be angry at or anxious about or depressed over what cannot possibly harm or diminish you. In Romans 8:15 Paul tells us that we are not given a spirit which makes us again slaves to fear but are instead given the Spirit of Sonship “by whom we cry ‘Abba’, Father.” There it is. God’s own self-talk. The Son’s own sense of self. It is ours. We are given it to step into. And so it is that “not I but Christ” or who I am is on the inside of who Christ is (the “new self, created to be like God….” (Eph. 4) As Paul asks, “If God be for us, who and what can be against us?” Who or what indeed! What would happen to our emotional and psychological turmoil if we chose never to view ourselves or step outside the truth of this relation?