WARNING: TEST YOUR EMOTIONS BEFORE PROCEEDING
Emotion is reshaping reality in the postmodern
world. Are your emotions an asset or a liability to the future
church? Find out by answering the following questions:
Do your emotions encourage faith rather than
Do your passions expand toward something larger
Do you rejoice solely in what the Spirit likes
and scorn only what the Spirit rejects?
Do your feelings reflect a wondrously vicarious,
Are your feelings relatively free of external
Are your feelings more faithful than fickle?
Are your emotions selfless rather than selfish?
Do your emotions reflect humility rather than
merely pride in your humility?
Do passions strengthen you rather than exert
power over you?
Do emotions release your life rather than rule
Do your feelings transcend the selfish
manipulation of others?
Do you feel like a victor rather than a victim?
Do your pent-up passions build God’s kingdom
rather than tearing it down?
Does your joy recall a taste of bitter in its
sweetness? Does your grief contain seeds of hope? Does your passion,
in other words, reveal paradox?
Do your feelings prompt repentance rather than
simply regret for being found out?
Do your emotions bring a "wisdom of the heart"
that both "sees" and "feels"? Do you sense meanings rather than just
If you answered "yes" to most of the above
questions, you are ready to lead the church into the future. For
more insight on how emotion plays a role in the future, read the
A New Veracity
The world is feeling its way toward a "felt
knowing." Starting in the ‘60s, "love" warred against "progress,"
and the same battle persists today. Right or wrong, the favored
medium of religious experience, for example, prefers feeling God’s
presence—not merely reasoning the Word.1
We’ve always chased the eternal virtues of
"truth, goodness, and beauty." But to all but the most faithful,
postmodernists have virtually wiped out truth and goodness. So
beauty—or "felt meaning"—remains our best hope . . . our probing
purpose . . . our primary quest.
As a result, we prefer perceptions to conceptions
. . . sensory knowing to sensible knowing . . . subjective intimacy
to objective intangibles. We value intuited proof more than
empirical proof . . . sensed logic more than sure logic . . . seen
keenness more than cerebral certainties.
In short, we welcome the nonrational workings of
the Holy Spirit and the redemptive glory these workings bring.
This change is not a mere style nor a trendy
add-on. It’s not something warmed over from the past nor reinvented.
We are not once again "getting religion," for example. Nor are we
returning to an old Romanticism with its primitive feelings,
melancholy moods, and sick illusions.
Instead, the body—with its feelings, senses, and
emotions—more and more provides the veracity of reality once ruled
by enlightened logic. Scholars already proclaim, "Emotion lies at
the very root of civilization" and remains "central to the issues of
modern times"2 . . . that "Emotions, not IQ, may be the
true measure of human intelligence"3 . . . and that
"Emotion is central to the process of rational thought."4
Now, we question even rational thought. For
aesthetics—or feeling beauty—typifies the new apologetics . . . the
new proof of Truth.
On this journey, we will change as well. We will
feel differently, sense differently. Our emotions and feelings will
become bridges between spirit and mind. And the mystic interplay of
these "felt knowings" will hearken to something "not there" . . .
something beyond us . . . something unseen. Then, in a perceived
beauty, God’s empowered passion can claim us . . . transform us . .
. even heal us.
The Invasion of the Cyborgs
Technology is no innocent bystander. Personal
computers are getting "personal" and will get more "personal" than
we can possibly imagine. For the digital world requires feeling
phenomena. It requires a supremely sensuous, multisensory world.
A "graphic interface," for example, is part of
that world. The visual metaphors—or "icons"—on the computer screen
take on meaning far beyond their eye appeal. In fact, they create a
virtual "space," immersing us in the images of a new landscape. Most
of today’s high-tech terms, for example, trace to this virtual
world: "cyberspace," "windows," "desktops," "surfing," "navigating,"
"webs," "chat rooms," "dragging," "dropping". . . .
And these metaphors are not mere clichés.
Nor are computers mere exalted typewriters that mechanically extend
the power and reach of our fingers. Instead, these new images open
to real environments . . . real spaces to be explored. We can
project our senses into this world, "bump" into things, even get
lost. These are "landscapes" in the truest sense of the word.
But a graphic interface is only the beginning.
This virtual realm is only a glimpse of a new medium in its infancy.
Future interfaces will involve all senses . . . all gestures. By the
end of the century, this new environment . . . this new world may
prove more real than reality itself.
The wedding of senses and sciences began in
earnest with ‘60s television. Today, we not only "see" the image on
the screen, we also "feel" we are seeing it. We find its "content"
through our experience and its "meaning" through our response. The
computer only expands these conspiring trends. It blends the
scientific with the sensuous, technology with touch, and the
Internet with intimacy. In short, it morphs us more and more into
"cyborgs"—blending cyb(ernetics) with our org(anism).
We see this change specially in the youth. They
already know visceral images in their movies, videos, and CD’s that
boldly merge spirit and body . . . mind and emotion. Now, their
high-tech "rave" culture, with its primitive spirituality, throws
open the gates to ecstatic dancing, techno music, and visionary
unity. And the same ecstasy inspires their online virtual reality as
Whether young or old, virtual reality is the
power behind sensuous technologies. Virtual reality, or "VR," is
simply the realistic simulation—or metaphor—of reality. In other
words, it looks real, but isn’t real. Yet, when combined with
prophetic faith, it speaks powerfully "of nonexistent things . . .
as if they [already] existed."5 Then, suddenly, what it
points to becomes real.
An airplane pilot training in a flight simulator
knows an environment so real that "crashing" his plane causes a
life-changing experience. Virtual realities pointing to spiritual
Truths, though, cause even more potent changes. In the near future,
the world will discover virtual realities impelled with supernatural
This should not surprise us. All art is virtual
reality. All art reflects something "not there." All art conveys a
message. And VR’s endless sensory expression will certainly provide
more depth than any previous art.
Already, virtual reality is the domain of
tech/artists—cyber geeks who create new recipes of technology and
art: videos, computer graphics, holography. . . . Not since the
discovery of painted perspective during the Renaissance have
technicians so miraculously transformed the spatial imagination.
Even the global economy is indebted to the new
aesthetics of creativity, for innovations—not possible without
emotions—drive today’s businesses. We’ve always known that intuitive
visions and inspired feelings deeply require each other. And now,
the profit motive only deepens that bond. Amy Lowell wrote, for
example, "Whatever (creativity) is, emotion, apprehended or hidden,
is a part of it." For "Only emotion can rouse the subconscious into
So virtual reality is the language of the future
. . . prophetic metaphor is the power within virtual reality . . .
and emotion is the power within metaphor. VR and prophetic passions
will doubtless walk hand in hand. The art form of the future will
alter everything we’ve known about the life and language of the
"Intuition depends . . . on (both) feelings and
Must we apologize for lifting "feeling" to the
level of "knowing"? Must we hedge our bet for claiming "thinking"
from some kind of "felt-meaning"?
No! The facts suggest neither apology nor
First, "Mind and body (or feelings) are so
intermingled that it is pointless to separate them, even in theory."7
There is no experience devoid of emotional content. There is nothing
ever really neutral. That’s the reason Eugene Gendlin created the
phrase, "felt meaning," to describe the way we really think.
After all, the very meaning of "experience"
includes "the totality of knowing given by the senses." In other
words, experience includes a personal encounter at every level of
perception. Honest minds can actually see a shift from ideas to
imagery. Often, what begins as abstract thought turns quickly to
hidden personal drama.
We’ve seen even infants making sense out of
sensory TV. In the same way, "comics" stand as the world’s most
widely read literature.8 Why? The very meaning of
"language" includes "expressing feeling," and visual feeling remains
the language of the world.
Yet, feelings are more than visual. All senses
create their own feelings. Usually, though, we focus only on
feelings . . . often, without the senses. We easily picture "blue,"
for example, without seeing. We naturally taste a pickle without
eating. We often "leap for joy" without moving. And we imagine
sounds without hearing.
Still more secret, feelings can reflect several
senses at a time. They can easily translate from one mode to
another. The texture of music, for example, may feel "thin" to our
intuitive "touch." Its color may appear "dark" to our inner eyes.
And its melody may savor "sweet" to our innate taste.
Finally, though, the "mother of all metaphors"
compounds several emotions in one moment. We feel an unexplained
joy, for example, in our sorrow. We see the slow motion of history
in our haste. Or, we endure an aching loneliness in our busy crowd.
These mood mixtures . . . these felt meanings are
usually unawakened. And their emerging awareness is, at first,
fathomless. But these feelings are universally true, and their
messages bear universal Truth.
The "Significance" of Life
Emotion "thinks" more than we think it does. The
Greek poet Simonides proved visual memory more reliable than textual
memory. The psychologist Eugene Gendlin suggested sensory "thinking"
more accurate than the mind. And Albert Einstein witnessed rapture
more often than reason.
Why? Because feelings claim an awareness beyond
either "induction" or "deduction." They teach, instead, by
"abduction." Unlike the mind, we can’t argue with feelings or
dismiss them with propositions. Instead, they capture us! They won’t
let us go.
"Objective" minds must be honest here. We
actually measure significance by emotion. Everything we do, we do in
order that we may feel . . . or more to the point, that we may feel
its significance. For without feeling, nothing matters. Our reality
is personal . . . it is felt. And the relevance of reality is even
more personal . . . it is even more felt.
That’s why the real world of language requires
emotion . . . and interaction. Language is a "doing" as well as a
labeling. It requires both body and mind. It conveys our "point of
being" as well as our "point of view." For it shares a rich bond of
events, objects, and people. It expresses who we are as well as who
Take humor as example: Laughter reveals our inner
motives. We easily discern joyful laughter, vicious laughter,
mocking laughter, shamed laughter, spiteful laughter, and so on. In
this gleeful lingo, nonverbal sound is the language, laughter is the
medium, and comedy the context.
"To imagine a language is to imagine a way of
A Different Kind of School
Emotion is sacred as well as secular. It is
intrinsic, for example, to the world of Scripture—an emotional world
we’ve never really known. Contrary to traditional churches, faith is
much more than an idea. Scripture survives as a living language only
because it has refused the weight of mere ideas.
Scripture does not repress our desires or ignore
our feelings. It does not lend itself to precise definitions or
dispassionate readings. It serves neither apologies for scholars nor
propaganda for priests.
To understand Scripture, we must attend a
different school. Hebrew "words" emerged first from the body . . .
from visceral feelings . . . from the intuitive heart rather than
the logical mind. That’s why they even talked of "dancing" with
Scripture. To them, the "Word" was a living, aesthetic event.
The son of Sirach wrote, for example, "I sought
wisdom . . . (and) She came to me in her beauty."9
Jeremiah even called schools of religion
"deceptive." Countering their trickle-down truth, he proclaimed a
"new covenant" written on the heart.10 For he believed
intuition and passion commune with the Holy Spirit. And they still
Yes, revelation is rational. But it is much more
Consider the teaching of Paul. His message
focused on real events in real lives. His challenge was provocative
and spontaneous. Everything he wrote bore the marks of his
personality. He was "pleading, strident, exasperated, affectionate,
urgent, reflective, passionate, and at times, impatient."11
Whatever else occurred to his converts, he insisted that the
experience of the Spirit was essential.12
He required vigorous involvement of the heart as
well as the mind.
The rediscovery of this truth is an incredible
find. If we understand the ancient role of emotion in prophetic
revelation, we finally understand the divine intentions of language
in the coming world.
"I am He Who searches . . . feelings . . . and
the [inmost] hearts, and I will give to each of you [the reward for
what you have done] as your work deserves."13
A Death Wish?
But what will we deserve?
Will we deserve the rewards of just knee-jerk
human nature? Will we ascend with mere pie-in-the-sky passions? Will
we aspire with simple garden-variety emotions?
Even if our goals are noble . . . romantic . . .
poetic, can anything good come from base flesh and blood urges. Even
if we are "religious," can we trust sentimental proofs of manifest
Spirit? Can we rely on emotional "kicks" as a guarantee of
spirituality? Can we wallow in full sensory immersion and call it
Isaiah called these do-your-own-thing mysticisms
"self-made fires."14 The book of Wisdom branded them
"spiritual fornications."15 And Jesus later explained
why: "Flesh gives birth to flesh."16
So emotion sins as much as it saves. It distorts
as much as it discloses. And it lies as much as it verifies. We
don’t really know if our passion is God’s power or our power . . .
Spirit led or lying manipulation . . . unselfish or selfish . . .
faith or flesh . . . eternal or temporal.
What, then, must we do? As we leap into
postmodern emotionalism, where is the veracity of our sense
experience? Where are the definitions? What are the guidelines? What
are the cautions?
Are we courting disaster? Is this new world of
subjective "feelings" a death wish?
A Different Sensing
Gratefully, Scripture helps here. It speaks
endlessly of a different "seeing" . . . a different sensing. Yet,
the blindness of our ethos has missed the message.
Some emotions respond only to Spirit. Some
feelings relate only to God. Some moods mediate only with Truth.
These are vicarious, "not-us" emotions. They rejoice solely in what
the Spirit likes and scorn only what the Spirit rejects.
With these emotions, the Spirit witnesses to
spirit. The Word becomes flesh. The numinous becomes incarnate.
Then, the radically extraordinary forms within the ordinary. And the
supernatural infuses the merely exemplary.
It’s an ecstatic communion.
We recognize these emotions as a "knowing"
emotion . . . a "felt" meaning. It is a "wisdom of the heart" that
precedes reasoned understanding and finally stirs us to decision. It
yields light with its heat . . . revelation with its warmth . . .
insight with its inspiration. In the words of Henry James, it both
"sees" and feels, while normal emotions merely feel without seeing.17
These feelings "see" Truth even when it’s hidden
behind enigma and paradox. Spiritual joy, for example, always
recalls a taste of bitter in its sweetness, for it triumphs only in
what was overcome. And "Godly grief . . . never brings regret," for
it always hides a seed of hope.18
Again, these are "felt" meanings. By comparison,
we’re never compelled to ask what natural emotions mean. Only
spiritual emotions bring urgency to this question.
That’s why Carl Jung claimed that these moods are
a deeper and more moving experience than normal human passion. For
spiritual emotions are empowered passions . . . quickening
influences . . . impelling forces. By analogy, only muscles move us
when we exercise the natural body, but hidden powers propel the
Spiritual emotions, then, run counter to the
world. Indeed, they are dangerous to the world. They are the only
emotions, Paul Tillich found, that reflect both "infinite passion
and passion for the infinite."
"Spirit gives birth to spirit." John 3:6, NIV
A Different Discernment
We must learn to recognize these differences.
Day in and day out, we can discern natural
emotions because they’re selfish. They begin and end with
self-interest, self-centeredness, self-preservation, self-pleasure.
. . . They may "look good"—even altruistic!—and they may feel snug
and secure in the warm embrace of religion. But the needs of the
self remain their primary purpose.
Pride proves the most obvious example, even among
the "pillars of the church." It calls the things of God its own. My
doctrine! My church! My pew! It’s even proud of its own humility.
That’s why Jonathan Edwards called it "ostentatious hypocrisy." And
St. Paul called it "fleshly conceit."19
Natural emotions are also easily manipulated.
Random incidents demand our response. Daily events oversee our
obsessions. Sly leaders push our buttons. By definition, flesh and
blood feelings must instinctively respond "to factors outside the
individual—circumstances in (the) environment."20
It’s called tunnel vision . . . a narrow context.
Fleeting . . . fickle . . . and futile.
Worst of all, natural emotions never affect true
repentance or authentic change. For no effort of our natural
instincts can redeem the darkened human soul. We may "improve"
ourselves . . . even control our passions . . . or grow evermore
refined. But beneath these cosmetics we remain the same.
Finally, not all "spirit-inspired" emotion is
godly. Some of it is demonic! Seraph and snake abide side by side in
the realm of the spirit, so a "move of the spirit" may not be a good
thing. Some moods are maladies. Some passions are polluted. Some
sentiments are sinister.
They deceive and destroy.
It matters not whether we accept the reality of
evil. Ignoring demonic emotions is like trying to erase our shadow.
In summary, emotions take part in the way we
know. Life, after all, is bigger than logic. And, at this
precipitous moment, the future demands discerning the difference
between natural, spiritual, and demonic desires. For this purpose, I
call the reader’s attention to my book, I Felt God . . . I Think:
Authentic Passion in the 21st Century.21
Yes, we will always need faith. But faith and
emotion walk closely together. "Faith is the assurance (that is, the
heartfelt encouragement) . . . of things [we] hope for." It is "the
conviction (that is, the fervent belief) of their reality."22
A new language emerges out of the ashes of
modernism. A new reality rides with waves of emotion. Though brushed
aside by church historians, theologians and mainstream Christendom,
our feelings will soon be endowed with intentions and powers of
decision. Truly, the creative future and our prophetic passions will
Let us reclaim the power of our passion.
Spiritual emotion cannot be kept in its "proper place" any longer.
Its place is pervasive. And it will prove a far more potent language
of salvation than the barren Greek rhetoric of the past.
Yes, emotions seem dangerous to some. For the
fear of chaos threatens our world of exactness and control. What
science calls the "psyche," as example, is merely a question-mark we
defensively confine within the skull. In truth, it is a door that
opens upon the human world from a world beyond.23
"Why is one day more important than another, when
it is the sun that lights up every day?" Sirach 33:7
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Wade Clark Roof, "God is in the details:
Reflections on Religion’s Public Presence in the United States in
the Mid-1990's," a speech to the Association for the Sociology of
Religion, Washington, Summer 1996.
2. "Human Emotion," The New Encyclopædia
Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopædia
Britannica, 1994) 15th Edition, Volume 18, pp. 248-256.
3. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence
(New York: Bantam, 1995).
4. Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error:
Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Grosset/Putnam,
1994) pp. 48, 49, 159, 160, 234.
5. Romans 4:17, Isaiah 46:10; AMP.
6. Frank Barron, OMNI, April, ‘89, p. 44.
7. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 156 (The
parentheses are mine).
8. Tony Whittaker, editor, WEB EVANGELISM
BULLETIN Issue 23 December 2000,
9. Sirach 51:13, 14 The New American Bible.
10. Jeremiah 7:3-11; 31:31-34.
11. Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations
in Grace and Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
2000) p. 187, 196, 197.
12. Gordon D. Fee Paul, the Spirit, and the
People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers,
1996) p. 88.
13. Revelation 2:23, AMP.
14. Isaiah 50:11, AMP.
15. Wisdom XIV:12, Apocrypha.
16. John 3:6, NIV.
17. Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process
(New York: Mentor Books, 1955) p. 155.
18. II Corinthians 7:10, AMP.
19. Colossians 2:18, AMP.
20. Austin E. Grigg, "Emotion," Encyclopedia
Americana, 1990 ed., X, p. 309.
21. Thomas Hohstadt, I Felt God . . . I Think:
Authentic Passion in the 21st Century (Odessa, TX: Damah Media,
22. Hebrews 11:1, AMP (my parentheses).
23. Carl Jung, quoted in Brewster Ghiselin,
The Creative Process (New York: Mentor Books, 1955) p. 216.