Feeling the Psalms

A common criticism of Reformed Evangelicalism is that we are far too focused on cognition and don’t give sufficient space for affection. In other words, we are very good at thinking and very poor at feeling.

I think that this is true from personal experience. It is not uncommon to meet Reformed Christians who are really sound in their theology yet also very cold in their emotions – myself included.

However, a careful study of the Bible should lead us to be wary of this type of Christianity. Why? The Psalms is filled with a Reformed view of salvation and it is filled with so much emotions.

For example, joy is a repeated theme in the Psalms. It often overflows from a reception and deep aware of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. And this joy sings (Psalm 5.11, 27.6, 28.7, 33.3, 81.1, 89.12, 96.12, 107.22). There is a deeply emotional response to God’s grace and mercy. And I think this really ought to correct the way we live.

To be sure, there is a danger of emotivism. And I think that’s what Reformed folk are afraid of. We are afraid of leading with our hearts and our emotions. We are afraid of being so driven by unbridled passions that we quench our passions and emotions. Interestingly enough, fear is an emotion and we are allowing that to govern us. Scripture shows that this is actually unhealthy spirituality.

Healthy spirituality actually produces right emotions in response to what’s going on around us. Sin distorts emotions. it causes to feel wrongly. But God in Jesus Christ redeems our emotions and God by His Word and Spirit sanctifies us so that we may be able to feel rightly, Therefore, if something prompts us to anger, we ought to be angry (and not sin). If something prompts us to grief, it would be wrong to dance, sing, and be merry. We ought to grieve. But if something prompts us to joy and gladness, it would be wrong to be sombre and indifferent.

How do we correct this? A careful reading of the Psalms which will help us to feel the Bible. This helps us because we enables us to anchor deeply in the Bible while also responding with the Bible.

Here is Augustine’s framework for reading the Psalms:

“If the psalm is praying, pray yourselves; if it is groaning, you groan too; if it is happy, rejoice; if it is crying out in hope, you hope as well; if it express fear, be afraid. Everything written here is like a mirror held up to us.”

Enarrationes in Psalmos 30[4].1

Read the Psalms and feel the Psalms. It’ll rehabilitate you from emotivism and indifference. It’ll bring us one step closer to being able to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It’ll grow us into the likeness of Christ who was angry (Mark 3:4-6), grieved (John 11:35), compassionate (Matthew 9:36), and joyful (Luke 10:21) at the appropriate times.

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