Saturday, February 23, 2008

the cry of the soul

Like others, I am reading more than one book at once. I just gave a quote from John Stott - we'll get back to that. The book I am reading at the moment is Dan Allender and Tremper Longman's The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God (NavPress, 1994). I am just in the introduction. The premise is that
Every emotion, though horizontally provoked, nevertheless reflects something about the vertical dimension: our relationship with God. This book explores what difficult emotional struggles say about our relationship with God. And every emotion, including those we often view as negative, reveals something about the heart of God.

The are four core convictions that structure their approach to the book:

1) It is our conviction that emotions are not amoral- they vocalize the inner working of our souls and are as tainted as any other portion of our personality. Here they observe, "Part of understanding difficult emotions, however, is comprehending why we avoid them. The reason we don't want to feel is that feeling exposes the tragedy of our world and the darkness of our hearts. No wonder we don't want to feel: feelings expose the illusion that life is safe, good, and predictable.

2) The reason for looking inside is not to effect direct change of negative emotions to positive emotions. Instead, we are to listen to and ponder what we feel in order to be moved to the far deeper issue of what our hearts are doing with God and others. To accentuate this point they aver that "struggling with emotions is not a matter of solving problems with a little more information and practical knowhow. We are not machines that can be repaired through a series of steps - we are relational beings who are transformed by the mystery of relationship. We are radically disposed to idolatry, illusion-making, and attempts to secure our lives without bowing before God. Our core problem is not a lack of information - it is flight and rebellion. So what they are arguing is that instead of looking for answers that work, pursue relationship with God regardless of the outcome.

Going on they write: "Rather then focusing on trying to change our emotions, we are wiser first to listen to them. They tell us how we are dealing with a fallen world, hurtful people and a quizzical God who seldom seems to be or do what we expect of Him. Although emotions are generally aroused in a human context, they always reveal something about how we are dealing with [or relating to] God." To be certain, they are not encouraging any sort of excessive preoccupation with the self as this hinders true growth and change. Instead they encourage just enough honest inward examination to gain wisdom in determining what is going on with one's emotions and how one is relating to God.

3) Our guide for this pilgrimage of revelation is the Psalms. The authors argue here that no other portion of Scripture more poignantly exposes the inner world of our heart and more vividly reveals the emotional life of God than the Psalms. This will be interesting to see how the authors work this point. It has been my understanding that Psalms are more about the people praying them than they are about God - they reveal more what the pslamists think about God than what God thinks about the psalmists per se. I agree with Bonhoeffer that the Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible. Even so, they will focus primarily on what Walter Brueggemann has called "Psalms of disorientation" or Psalms of Lament. This type of Psalm, they write, "captures the struggle of the heart as the poet attempts to grasp the goodness of God in light of the heartache of life." At the same time, they "will allow the poetry of the Psalms to move us into the divine imagery used by the prophets, Paul, and Jesus Christ as we explore Scriptures invitation to taste the mystery of God's goodness."

4) All emotions, including the darker ones, give us a glimpse of the character of God. This is the heart of the book. Far more important than the way in which our most difficult emotions - anger, fear, jealousy, despair, shame, contempt, - uniquely reveal something about the heart of God. They are are quick to point out that the supposed "positive" emotions (joy, peace, pleasure, etc) also show us much about God. The reason for the focus on the more difficult emotions is to show that they can be more positive and necessary to life than most are prone to recognize. It is important to realize that God too feels these emotions (the darker ones) and they reveal something about who he is - but even more interestingly and gloriously (as they put it), each one points to the scandalous wonder of the cross of Christ. As we discover how they point to the cross, they will lead us to the worship of God!



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