Reformed Emotions: The Story Emotions Tell

Editor’s note: Recently, an animated discussion on faith and emotion took place in an online forum mostly comprised of Chinese house church pastors and Christian leaders. During the conversation, Grace, who teaches and does biblical counseling across China, shared her perspective on the intersection between theology and emotional understanding. Her thoughts were initially compiled for a video course she recorded for the Chinese counseling and research center, Tree of Life.

This is the first of a two-part series.


“Holy Affections”

Seeing all this discussion about emotions and the Reformed movement, I would love to share a bit of my own personal learning and understanding. These are my own observations and reflections.

In the modern Reformed church, the Puritan tradition is one of the most important. Among Puritan leaders, Jonathan Edwards was one of the most important. Edwards said that “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” In other words, if a person is accustomed to ignoring their affections, or to suppressing or repressing their emotions, that person may not even know if they have been saved and born again. Why is this so?

When we were created, God gave us the “function” of emotions and affections. Emotions are not just a way to express oneself. They are also, importantly, a way or a tool which we use to understand the world.

Human beings bear the image of God. They also have a dignity given by God. When we were created, God gave us the “function” of emotions and affections. Emotions are not just a way to express oneself. They are also, importantly, a way or a tool which we use to understand the world. Our feelings and sensations are not just emotions; they are a way for us to recognize and know what is going in with ourselves or our surroundings.

Not only that, our feelings often allow us to recognize and realize what is happening both in our surroundings and to ourselves and others. A lot of times, our emotions help us reach this sort of understanding more quickly and accurately than our rational minds are able to do alone.

Feeling versus Reason

For example, if there is a light on in the room you are in right now, then:

-What is the way you “know” a light is on in a room?

-Is the light on because your rational mind delivered an essay to you about it? Or because your logic taught you about the light so you understand it?

Our feelings often allow us to recognize and realize what is happening both in our surroundings and to ourselves and others…more quickly and accurately than our rational minds are able to do alone.

-On the other hand, do you “know” the light is on because you see and “feel” that the light is on?


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-If your rationality and reasoning are unable to tell you how the light is on, then does that mean there is, in fact, no light on in the room?

-Should you wait for your rationality and reason to make sense before you are able to make a judgment and know if the light is on or not? Or do you already know the light is on, no matter whether logic and rationality are able to follow?

-Maybe, you perceive that there is a light on in the room. But someone, a person whom you think knows, loves, and cares about you, is very good at using clear and logical arguments to tell you that the light is broken and is not working.

In this case, is the light on, or off? Is there something wrong with either your perceptions or your lucidity because you are not able to explain about the light clearly and rationally, like the other person did?

-If a person relies solely on logic to judge whether the light is on or not, if that person refuses to listen to or even suppresses what their senses are telling them about the light, then are they behaving rationally, or irrationally? What is the result of ignoring your senses? Will the result of this suppression of “feeling” be more or less in line with the actual situation?

-Suppose a Christian husband, citing Scripture and theology, tells his believing wife: “The Bible says I am the head. You should submit to me, and you should obey me in everything I command.” The wife may not be able to reason against her husband, and she may not be able to quote any Scriptural references against what he is saying. But does that mean that her “feeling” that what her husband said is not right is factually incorrect or even unbiblical?

I am not advocating here that we should follow our feelings. Instead, I want you to honor your feelings! Your emotions are God-given, and they are there for a reason, whether you like them or not.

I am not advocating here that we should follow our feelings. Instead, I want you to honor your feelings! Your emotions are God-given, and they are there for a reason, whether you like them or not. We need to hear, understand, and comprehend what our emotions are trying to say. Then, we bring our feelings into the light of reality and the Bible, and look to see whether they are wrong or right. Instead of minimizing, ignoring, or suppressing our emotions, we first need to listen to them.

Grace is a pseudonym for a biblical tutor serving in China.

Pray for Chinese believers to listen and pay attention to what their emotions are telling them.

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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