Summary: God created us as emotional beings, yet even our emotions should come into captivity to Christ. This message on joy is the first in a series on human emotions.
Back in the summer, Disney’s Pixar Studios hit yet another home run with the film Inside Out. The film enters the mind of eleven-year-old Riley, and personifies five dominant emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The five characters in Riley’s head, led by Joy, man a control panel that guides her through life, forming memories, the strongest of which form islands of personality that define Riley (silliness, hockey, friendship, and family). The movie is entertaining and inspiring, and seeks to engage us all in a way that will change us. After watching, you likely will not witness a temper tantrum or tear-filled meltdown in the same way again. The writers and animators do an excellent job exposing and making us all feel the absurd, but real tensions inside the human heart. Chris and I both, after watching the film, thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the whole idea of human emotion from a biblical standpoint.
Inside Out deals with only with five emotions (which is one of the problems with the film, but that’s another discussion). There are many more emotions in life, but researchers have basically boiled them down into eight categories—anger, sadness, fear, joy, disgust, surprise, shame and love. Almost everything we feel in life can be categorized into one of those eight. Over the next four weeks, Chris and I will take a biblical look at only four, and we start this morning with the emotion of joy.
Let’s admit, right up front, that we are emotional creatures. We are made in the image of God, and that means we are made to feel. God feels, and Jesus had emotions. Take a quick look at John Chapter 11, and you’ll see that Jesus expressed a myriad of emotions in a very short period of time. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, we can read of Jesus expressing anger and sadness, but at the same time, giving praise to God. Emotions are real and they make us feel certain ways. Having emotions and being an emotional person is not the problem. How we deal with those emotions is what matters. Emotions can be confusing and overwhelming, but as disciples of Jesus Christ, even our emotions need to reflect our discipleship.
In the film, the first emotion born in Riley is joy, and we find joy frantically trying to micromanage all the other emotions so that everyone and everything remains calm and happy. Of course, we soon see the problem with trying to make everyone happy when Riley’s world is turned upside down by a move from the simple, comfortable life of rural Minnesota to the hectic urban life of San Francisco. That move causes an emotional upheaval, and it reflects the reality that life can cause us to crash into some stormy waves of our own.
I find it interesting that the writers and producers ground Riley’s life in joy but leaves it rootless. The joy is real, and even mature, but it’s not safe or reliable. It’s not made or even expected to last the stormy waves that will crash into our lives. When one island of personality falls — whether silliness or hockey or friendship — we’ll start building another. Pixar beautifully illustrates the problem, but doesn’t present a satisfying solution. Joy, in the film, is almost Pollyanna. Sometimes, we make it that way in our lives, too. Our joy is not rooted in anything outside the circumstances of our lives, and that’s why it’s so easily lost. We’ve created this Pollyanna world where everything is supposed to be perfect and happy, and when it’s not our lives fall apart.
Joy is supposed to be different, though. I suppose we must first understand what joy is, and what it is not. If we think joy is feeling happy all the time (which is the world’s definition), we’ll always live with confusion. But, if we understand that joy is grounded in something other than circumstances, we’ll respond to life with greater emotional intelligence. Actually, Daniel Goleman argues in his book Emotional Intelligence, that how we deal with emotions is the greatest determination of success in life—greater even than being the smartest kid in the class.
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation. That’s why the Apostle Paul could instruct the Philippians to rejoice. Rejoicing is rooted in joy. Paul believed it so much he repeated the admonition—rejoice! As disciples, our lives are rooted in joy. Joy is the core emotion of disciple’s life. Let me use the Pixar imagery…joy is supposed to be at the control panel. The other emotions are present, for sure, and each has its own place, but joy is our driver.