The tyranny of feelings
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
“‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
“They’re not really human.” The young murderer feels smug and superior to “those people.” He’s never really cared to get to know them. He feels nothing as he pulls the trigger — again and again. “This will make people take notice. I know I’m doing the right thing.” The murderer has no name. He could be the end for any of us when we court our own feelings without regard to others.
“The world will hear us now!” The mass of people feel rage as they fill the streets. The opposing demonstrators clash when they encounter each other. They won’t talk or listen. They don’t really think. They just throw insults, then rocks and bottles. Someone picks up a two by four. Another aims his car at the crowd. They all feel they have “right” on their side. Nameless and faceless, they have forsaken their humanity. Their slavery to feelings is complete. They will destroy and harm and kill in a blood lust for revenge, raging for “justice” without mercy, a “justice” which they do not understand and a mercy that lies beyond their reach. The innocent people in their pathway pay the price — victims to the tyranny of the mob.
At this point political tyranny takes over, for the state will step in to enforce peace. Without an objective standard of what man is and of how he builds lasting relationships, the State will impose the will of those most enamored with power. This is the dream of dictators, for when emotions rule the hearts of men, the state will reign over all to keep the peace.
Thus it was in Rome during the time of Paul. Only the tyrannical rule of Rome kept the peace. Disturbances often ended with crosses lining the main thoroughfares as examples for others. Yet the underlying prejudices simmered.
Roman society was divided by race, economic status, national culture and belief. For example, Greeks saw all other cultures as barbarians and Jews believed that all Gentiles were “fodder for the fires of Hades.” Romans held legal and social domination over all others and were privileged, wealthy and worldly. Barbarians were looked down upon by all. Slaves were simply tools, not considered human at all. Women were not given much more consideration and were almost thought of as property. Children lived or died at the whim of the father. Romans, Greeks, Jews and Barbarians spent their lives separated by unbridgeable suspicion, prejudice and often outright hatred.
Against these divisions stood a clear voice. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) The early Christians honored women, respected slaves and cherished children. Their ways set them apart from the dominant culture because they would not conform to the irrational prejudices of the day.
We believe we have progressed beyond the “simple” people who lived in Roman society during the times of Paul. Have we? Our culture and politics explode in alienation. Our frustrations grow because we don’t seem to speak the same language. Our divisions widen into unbridgeable gulfs. Our hatred and prejudice is just as fresh: “Nazi.” “Commie.” “Snowflake.” “Bigot.” “Racist.” “Idiot.” Our contempt for others is as rampant as that of the Romans. We are under the tyranny of emotions unbound by reason — just like those older cultures.
We cannot bridge the chasm between us because we are fighting on the wrong front. Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood … but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Paul wrote so forcefully and clearly about his own struggle between mind and emotions because he knew most other Christians (and all men) were fighting the same battle. His words ring true to us today because we are no different. Our minds and souls face the same war. We live not under the light of mind and reason, but within the darkness of emotions that dominate us and drive us to justify actions we would never have imagined doing. Unbridled by “the law of [our] minds,” we have surrendered to the tyranny of feelings. We know not what we do.
As we have seen from the past two articles, the tyranny of feelings takes a particular path within us. It begins with our refusal to accept or consider any authority above our own minds. Once we have created our own kingdom within, we more easily make others the objects of our desires and seek to subject them to our whims. If those others will not submit to our views, our frustration grows into prejudice, alienation and hatred. Our emotions prime us to take whatever steps are needed to force people to our way of feeling. We do not reason together but resort to destructive impulses and actions.
Thus it was for that unnamed shooter who murdered nine saints at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. He wanted to spark a race war; he almost succeeded. As fallen humans, our emotional reaction to the murders was anger, loss, pain and the desire to take revenge on anyone and anything — as had recently happened in Baltimore and Ferguson. Charleston was poised upon that precipice of rage.
Then the families spoke. Just 18 hours after the shooting they stood in court, facing the murderer. “Jesus loves you and I love you. I forgive you.” Their statement transformed the city, resulting in a spontaneous demonstration: 30,000 people lined the Ravenel bridge in a celebration of love’s triumph over hate. Even today, that statement by the family members rings clear, a clarion call to love one another.
How could such a statement arise? What would cause people so grievously harmed to reach out in love? These families were steeped in Christian love. Their lives reflected deep study of God’s word and a deeper understanding of His purpose for them. They saw themselves and others through God’s eyes. They had “the mind of Christ.” They had been taught it all their lives.
“Jesus loves you and I love you. I forgive you.” In that statement lies the only answer to today’s radical alienation and destructive politics. May we live into God’s design for us, finding His purpose in loving others to the utmost end — as did the families of Mother Emmanuel.
Joseph Stringer writes and speaks on Christian issues in culture in the hope that we may realize transformation in our lives. Watch for his upcoming book, “God Came Down.” He prays that all who hear him or read his works might see through them to the One who has chosen us for life. Check out his blog at www.chosen4life.org.