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  • Writer's picturePatrick Norris

07. EMOTIONS ARE SPIRITUAL, PURPOSED AND CAN BE STUDIED


God is an emotional being. Emotions are not unspiritual; on the contrary, they are spiritual. If emotions were unspiritual than God, who is a spirit, would be incompatible with emotions. We know God and emotions are compatible, therefore emotions are spiritual. To understand more about the contrasts between God’s and human emotions see last month’s (September) eNewsletter “Are Your Feelings Unspiritual?”

Our emotions are designed by God, and therefore serve an intended purpose. From a brain perspective, neurons firing with neurons are the technical underpinnings of thoughts. A common mantra is, “When neurons fire together, they wire together.” This means that when we have continual activations of neurons with other neurons, they will build a kind of brain-circuit, or highway. The more they are firing together the stronger that circuit becomes, and the more paved the highway becomes.

When neurons fire together, they release brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and hormones) that are the technical underpinnings of emotions and feelings. These circuits run through our brains into our brain stem and nervous system, then down through every organ and tissue of our body. Emotions aren’t just feelings; they are embodied experiences. We carry emotions in our whole body.

Because of a lack of understanding, many have kept emotions in a vague, indistinct, intangible, and unscientific space. Kind of like skunk spray, you don’t know where it is, but you for sure don’t want to get any on you. Yet emotions can be seen in fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scans by watching and matching brain activity and biomarkers, all in real time.

Emotions can, for the most part, be observed, studied, analyzed, and repeated. While the scientific community is still working through consensus on various aspects of emotions, there are many legitimate handles that scientific discovery has gifted us with. This means that emotions are designed to not just happen to us, but they are designed to happen with us. When we understand emotions as a gift from God, we can then functionally manage them, stimulate them and increase our quality of experiences because of them.

EMOTIONS ARE EXPERIENTIAL

Any human experience has an emotional aspect to it. All our memories are either housed in our emotional brains (limbic system), or they are interactive with our emotional brains (all other parts of the brain).

Consider this: A human to human relationship that is not experiential is actually not a relationship at all. We cannot have relationships without emotional experiencing. Bonding happens when oxytocin, a hormone, is secreted. Oxytocin is called the “love hormone.” It is released in activations of empathy, compassion and gratitude. When oxytocin is released by both humans, attachment happens. Emotional bonds are formed. This is emotional.

When we worship God, groomed in advance for the anticipation of His delights in us, His love for us and generous nurture of our overall needs, our brains release oxytocin. This is how our spirit, soul and body bonds to God. God designed our brains and nervous systems to carry our worship holistically through our entire body and being.

The same is true of when we read our Bibles. If we read the Bible as love letter from God, revealing His heart and soul to us, we will experience oxytocin washing over our body. Then we feel bonded to the Word. Over years when we return to various texts, we trigger memories of times God spoke to us out of that exact text, and emotions surge again. We are attaching to the Bible as a precious and valued love letter. This is how the Psalmist experienced God’s Word, “It is like honey on my lips.”

The neurochemicals in our brains create experiences for our entire body and being. Consider again: A human to human relationship that is not experiential is not actually a relationship at all. We cannot have relationships without emotional conditioning.

Relationship emotions cause us to experience desire, hope, preoccupation, anticipation, vulnerability, trust, joy, laughter, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, contentment, and so much more. All of these experiences are individually a cocktail mix of emotional happenings. More specifically, each experience only happens with the secretion and release of neurochemicals to give us feelings.

Things like trust and distrust, faith and doubt, love and fear, intimacy and self-preservation, hope and contempt, dreams and depression – all are embedded in emotional circuits. As I stated above, we cannot even have desire for someone or something without emotional formation.

Are emotions spiritual? Are they important?

We don’t have to journey far before we meet someone who diminishes the need for emotions. They may say, “I’m not an emotional person. I’m logical.” And when you bump into their personality it feels like you have thumped into a thick, rigid shell, their armor, revealing only a form of themselves that they want you to know them as.

But logic and intellectualism aren’t all that unemotional.

People who diminish their need for emotions usually have sustained relational and emotional injuries over a lifetime. They need higher levels of structure, predictability and logic-based security to mitigate the anxiety they feel in social settings, or in professional projects, or in religious circles. The great need for logic, and the aversion to emotional experience, isn’t always because God gifted us with cognition; it is often the escape, hyper-management and seeking control of environments so that a person feels safe physically, socially or spiritually. The