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Friday, August 7, 2015

"Joy and Tears" (Gerald W. Peterman)

TITLE: Joy and Tears: The Emotional Life of the Christian
AUTHOR: Gerald W. Peterman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Emotions play a huge role in our daily lives. While feelings are natural part of being human, how much should we allow them to affect us? Is it wrong to let our feelings determine what we do? Should we feel guilty about having such emotions in the first place? Are emotions something to be suppressed like a liability or to be received as a gift? The reality is, our culture tends to give greater weight to objective thinking instead of subjective feelings. More importantly, the Bible asserts the importance of both head and heart. Gerald Peterman, Professor of New Testament studies at Moody Bible Institute is a self-confessed recovering stoic, who grew up thinking that the intellect is more important than the emotion. Such an attitude led to suspicions of emotions. This book journeys his shift toward a more balanced and affirmative use of both mental and emotional faculties.

Peterman points out some of the way our culture had downplayed the role of emotions. In matters of faith, it is generally accepted that faith is more about thinking and thoughts. In the hymns we sing, there seems to be a general tendency toward escapism such as Joseph Scriven's "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" where weak emotions are to be rejected. The words "we should never be discouraged" seem to put discouragement as a bad emotion to be avoided. Likewise, Horatio Spafford's "It is Well With My Soul" tries to numb emotions like "whatever my lot" to force a wellness in the heart. In our thinking about love, we tend to see love more in terms of what we do rather than what we feel. This goes against the teaching of Scripture that does not deny emotions but embrace them. Just check out the Psalms.

He then discusses how emotions work, what it is, and why they matter. He gives various steps toward a healthy emotional life. Interestingly, he even gives a cognitive theory of emotions as some food for thought. The rest of the book talks about joy as the fruit of the Spirit; the predicament of feeling shame and guilt in spite of being forgiven; the problem with anger; love; fear; contentment; holy longing; and sadness, among others. Joy is in spite of circumstances but the reality of the human self is that circumstances do affect. How then do we deal with that? Peterman brings in the idea of maturity that does not deny the existence of negative emotions but embrace them in the light of the Spirit's gift of joy. Peterman makes a distinction between guilt and shame, where the former is about a belief of having done something wrong while the latter is more about embarrassment. In Scripture, forgiven means learning to deal with both guilt and shame objectively in the love of Christ. I appreciate Peterman for taking the time and space to deal with these emotions empathetically instead of simply sweeping them under the carpet of Christian talk. It is only when we experience the gravity of guilt and the sensitivities of shame where we realize the significance of being forgiven. Anger is also an emotion that troubles many people, including believers. One reason why anger is such a difficult emotion to deal with is because people seldom talk about it. As a result, they are unable to express it, or when it comes out, it comes out in a manner that hurts. Anger can also be directed at God. Like the way he handles guilt and shame, he points out that there is a difference between anger with God and anger about God. The latter is more cerebral while the former takes it deep and personal. Through lament, we can express anger in a way that does not sin against God. We learn to complain like Job and Jeremiah; temper our anger with Scripture; and to seek appropriate help. The topic of love covers both action and emotion. In action, love is about an intentional activity or a disposition to want to love people. In emotion, we can learn of the love of Christ through prayer and spiritual formation, to love people in the way that pleases God. This is contrasted with fear in which Peterman dishes out both good and bad aspects: Good in the sense that it prevents us from harming ourselves carelessly; Bad in the sense that it inhibits ourselves from taking appropriate risks. After dealing with the basic emotions, Peterman presses onward with contentment in earthly living and holy longing for heaven. Sadness is also a natural emotion that usually comes in times of loss. It is ok to be sad as long as we are not sucked into a spiral of depression. The last chapter deals with spiritual and emotional transformation that can only be possible with God.

This book is a literary journey of emotional ups and downs from a spiritual perspective. Packed with experience and empathy, Peterman engages emotions with both intellect and affection without losing sight of the biblical perspectives. He explains each emotions by both definitions and contrasts. Sometimes, emotional words can be used vaguely that people are unsure what they actually mean. Every chapter, regardless of positive or negative emotions, have a section on how to cultivate a healthy emotional life. This is based on the conviction that as redeemed people in Christ, we have been empowered to be overcomers in Christ. The questions for discussion form a useful platform for small group discussions and Bible studies. I sense there is a certain order with regard to the way Peterman arranges the discussion of each emotion. The first two chapters are more technical in nature, with a cognitive overview of how emotions work. Tackling the human emotions first, he leaps off toward the ups of joy and float along the downs of sadness, guilt, and shame. He engages the discussion of anger from both a human and spiritual perspective. He addresses the place of fear from both angles before dealing with human longings for things beyond. If the first part of the book is about temporal living, the second part of the book tends to be more about the things regarding eternity. In all of these, we are to be transformed and renewed in mind. This book is Peterman's attempt to help us renew our minds and our hearts transformed, with God's Word guiding us.

There are already very few book on emotions. There are even fewer that talks about emotions from a Christian perspective. Thankfully, this book is able to address this need.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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