Obvious Observation 1: Our society (Christians subcultures included) has no idea how emotions work. We’re like a child with a gun – we know nothing about what it is, how it works, or what it does, but we don’t care because we really want to play with it . . . and it will likely kill us.
Less than Obvious Observation 2: I love Pixar. I do. Seriously, they are seemingly the only massive movie company dedicated to producing genuinely wholesome content. Much of their work even conforms to God’s revealed truth. But this does not stop me from having some serious concerns about their new movie Inside Out. If you haven’t already seen the movie, please watch the trailer before continuing:
This one scene beautifully illustrates many of the most deadly misconceptions about emotions all tied up with a tragic bow of sex-stereotypes, served with some death-of-a-family fruitcake.
Let me say, from the start that I have high hopes that Pixar can still manage to turn this one around.
[Editor’s Note: I have since seen the movie and love it (as I knew I would)! However, the observations I make in this article and the next are still universally accurate and important.]
I acknowledge that it’s a trailer designed to interest us in the movie. And, like all good storytellers, likely they will eventually resolve this conflict (and others) to the best of their ability.
But will that be good enough?
And how many more lies concerning our emotions will be solidified in the watching? Our society cannot bear the weight of more emotional misinformation. What we really need is just the opposite . . . or we’ll continue destroying our families with popcorn-stained fingers.
God’s Gift of Emotion
I start with this Truth to diffuse any potential “you’re just an unemotional robot/Vulcan/rock” or “you hate emotions” attacks.
That’s patently untrue. I am not a robot . . .
or a Vulcan,
or a rock.
I am an incredibly emotional guy (proved dramatically by the fact that Pixar hasn’t made a movie yet that doesn’t make me cry). I love emotions . . . just like I love guns. However, I try my best to understand the purpose and place of emotions in life lest I hurt myself or the people I love.
Firstly, the Bible doesn’t use the word emotions or feelings like we do. It often refers to emotions using pictures that ancient cultures would understand. The “heart” and the “bowels” are two examples. However, not every use of these organs refers to our emotions. Still, one of the best examples that emotions are from God is that He makes time for them.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 says,
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh.”
Both of these actions (neither of which are emotions, by the way) are purely motivated by what we feel, and God has scheduled those times of high emotion into our lives.
But we must observe secondly that most of the direct commands concerning specific emotions are in the negative. Here are just a few, token examples:
“Be anxious for nothing.” Philippians 4:6
“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife.” Proverbs 15:18
“Do not be frightened.” Joshua 1:9
What do we take from this? Well, just like a gun-safety class, most of the information you learn is what not to do with the gun, followed secondly by how to carefully do the right thing with the gun. Why? Because it’s dangerous! Warnings never accompany innocuous things (unless you’re an American businessman who doesn’t want to be sued).
In the same way, emotions can be so destructive that God spends more time talking about their dangers than their merits.
God’s Design for Emotion
Feelings are not desires. They’re not thoughts. They’re not beliefs or behaviors. They’re not decisions. Feelings may play into any and all of those things, but they’re a unique creature.
Most psychologists agree that an emotional response requires three things: an external experience, an internal physiological response, and an external behavior. But at their basic core, emotions are simply chemical reactions to stimuli. They’re the “internal physiological response.”
The two things that are similar with all emotional responses are that they are powerful, but they are also equally subjective.
1. Powerful – I don’t believe any evidence concerning the strength of emotions in needed. They’ve been blamed for everything from passionate love to wholesale murder.
2. Subjective – This point is harder to make because we only know our own reaction to emotions. Still, the research is there. Let me illustrate it this way: a teenager has been called on to present his oral report in class. Immediately his body becomes tingly and his appendages start shaking. His voice waivers and his sweat glands burst forth. He’s a wreck and everyone can see it. Some time after the speech he divulges to only his closest friend that he was petrified. Another boy, one who signed up for Speech class that semester, was also asked to give his report to the same class. Immediately, he feels the same rush pour over his body. However, he learned in Speech that what he was feeling was a God-given adrenaline response to high-stress situations. He knew that he could allow it to control him or that he could use the tool God gave him to deliver a better speech. So, instead of freaking out, the boy focuses on using that extra energy to make his gestures more powerful, his voice louder, and his inflection more interesting. When he gets home he tells his mom that giving the speech was “a rush” and that he really “enjoyed it.”
Same situation, same chemical response, two very different “feelings.”
Why was there a difference in the boys’ perceived emotional response? Simply, what they knew and believed about the chemical reaction dictated how they responded to it. What’s interesting, is that other students would likely have no intense chemical response to this situation at all!
People are fond of saying, “You can’t control your emotions.” But that’s a lie!
If I placed two pieces of cake in front of you – one was a dried up piece of boxed white cake with a famine of crusty frosting and the other was a moist, delicious slice of chocolate perfection made from scratch, you would likely be very happy about eating the chocolate cake . . . until I told you I poisoned it.
Now, what just happened to your emotions? That depends. Do you believe me? If you believe me to be like Captain Hook – so detestable as to endanger a person’s life with a slice of rich, moist cake – then you are no longer excited about eating it. However, if you believe I’m kidding because I’m “just that kind of guy,” you’ll dig in because, hey – free cake!
The point is, you had direct control over how you felt. From the moment the cake was offered, your mind decided which cake it would be excited about and whether or not to abate that excitement because of something stupid I said. Your belief about the cake, me, and the situation dictated how you felt . . . not the other way around.
God’s Purpose for Emotion
God gave us emotions for three main reasons:
1. To make it easier to accomplish tasks. Adrenaline is often called anger, fear, passion, and a panoply of other emotions because it appears in so many high stress situations and is interpreted so many different ways. But in reality, it’s just a tool to help us deal with the situation at hand. You may interpret it as fear or delight as you careen down a roller coaster, but it’s just there to help you handle the experience. And what you believe about the feeling will dictate how you use it.
2. To make life more meaningful. This one’s easy. Praise God for genuine happiness, passion, excitement, and exhilaration!
3. To warn us when there’s a spiritual problem. This one is often overlooked. Because we put so much stock in our emotions, whatever we feel becomes right. However, what if we feel sad when God wants us feeling glad? What if sin makes us happy? It’s at those times that we should notice the fact that our emotional response is not lining up with God’s Word . . . and that should concern us enough to seek for change.
This is where Inside Out is lying to us. They would have us believe that all of our reactions are motivated by various emotional responses. This is akin to saying that an employer is managed by his employees. It may work that way in some businesses (on the brink of failure), but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We get hurt and we hurt others when we allow our emotions to do a job God never created them to do.
Emotions are a response to stimuli. They may make it easier to enjoy, accomplish, and interpret events . . . but not dictate them.
Inside Out is painting a world where emotions are responsible for making every decision in our lives. Those seemingly capricious chemical responses are given the reigns of every word, thought, decision, desire, action, and belief! Talk about the cart before the horse!
When emotions are allowed to dictate the beliefs that are supposed to influence the emotions, we enter a spiraling vortex of death-by-emotion. Choose your favorite TV odd-ball: Sherlock, Monk, Lucy, or House . . . and what do you have? People who allow their chemical responses (or lack thereof) to determine what’s right in the world. Monk suffers from every imaginable disorder and phobia the medical community’s ever made up. He’s afraid of milk. Why? Evidence? No! The man solves murders and complex crimes, but he can’t put two and two together to see that milk isn’t going to kill him?!
These examples aren’t mere fantasy either. Real people struggle with similar emotional addictions all over the world. You, likely, have your own favorite flavor of emotional addiction. Maybe it’s an irrational fear of spiders. Perhaps you hate being told you’re wrong . . . even when you are. Others of us love our sinful pleasures so much that even though God says they’ll destroy us, we foolishly roll around in the vomit of our sin.
In each of the above scenarios the emotion was allowed to dictate the reality. Instead of relying on practical and biblical truth, we allow Fear or Anger to decide how we’re going to respond to our family. AND IF PIXAR IS RIGHT ABOUT THE EMOTIONS AT THE HELM, WE’RE IN TROUBLE!!
Are you kidding me? My life is ruled 4/5ths of the time by emotions I don’t even like?! This list was taken directly from Paul Eckman’s research in the 1970’s (minus Surprise). Of course, later, he expanded his list to include many other emotions such as amusement, embarrassment, and pride. Needless to say, Eckman’s model isn’t the only one out there.
When we buy into misinformation like this, it makes the Bible seem ludicrous when It says “count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations [emphasis mine].” How is poor little Joy supposed to overcome Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness all the time?
Philosophies like this make it not surprising to see a family dissolve in a mere 2:10 seconds.
Now check out Part II where we pick apart each stereotype and emotion-ridden response to see how it lines up with Scripture, and then investigate how the foundation of the family is being dynamited away.