Teaching the Emotions

She didn’t lose anything by telling her emotions that they were wrong. Her experience wasn’t true to reality, and she knew it. The Word of Jesus is true to reality, and she held fast to that.

The following is an excerpt from a presentation I delivered at the annual Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education conference last summer, entitled “False Doctrine Never Made Anyone Wise.” You can watch the full presentation at this link.

Just as our reason by nature doesn’t function rightly, and thus we teach it theologically to know its place and train it to improve practically through the study of logic, so also, since our emotions don’t function rightly, we must teach them as well…

The account of Nicodemus is helpful for reminding reason of its place. The account of the Canaanite woman, recorded in Matthew 15, is similarly helpful for reminding emotions of their place. Jesus had withdrawn to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and as he was going along, a woman came up crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Mt. 15:22). She had heard the report about Jesus and knew he was the one to see about her daughter. The Lord is merciful and gracious, and she expected to receive mercy and grace. “But he did not answer her a word.” Well what is she supposed to do now? She knows what she heard, but her personal experience of Jesus isn’t aligning with the Word that she heard. The Word says that Jesus is the gracious Son of God who wants to have mercy on man. But her experience is telling her that she’s gotten it all wrong and Jesus wants nothing to do with her.

What does she do? She persists in asking Jesus to help her. She holds that the Word about Jesus is more trustworthy than her experience of Jesus and the accompanying emotions. She finally throws herself in front of Jesus, making him stop in his tracks, and says, “Lord, help me.” Jesus responds, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What should she feel at this comment? What does it matter? She knows what she heard about Jesus. She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” “Yes, Lord, I’ll be a dog, a lowly, little, begging dog. And you’re the master, as I’ve heard, and better than any earthly master. If even mere men feed their puppies, then you, my gracious master, my Lord and my God, you will do even more and better than that.”

And Jesus gives it up. He says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” The whole thing was just a ruse! Jesus was only pretending to be the woman’s enemy. Why? Isn’t that dishonest? Not at all. Jesus has made known the truth about himself in his Word, and that’s how he wants to be known: through his Word, not through our experience. So he took away everything else in which this woman might trust—her emotions, her experience, her own powers and abilities—and he left her with only the Word. She for her part determined to know him only through that Word, and she wasn’t disappointed.

There’s a woman who ignored her emotions and personal experience of Jesus and clung to his Word alone. And we all can see that she did well. She didn’t lose anything by telling her emotions that they were wrong. Her experience wasn’t true to reality, and she knew it. The Word of Jesus is true to reality, and she held fast to that.

In Christ,
Pastor Richard

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