The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About Godby Dan Allender, Tremper Longman, Joni Eareckson Tada (Foreword by)
An excerpt from the foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada: “With the book you are holding, you have stumbled upon the best of guides. I should know. I first read The Cry of the Soul decades ago when I was still sorting through a lot of hurt and frustration connected with my quadriplegia (yes, I read it on that music stand holding a mouth stick). The Cry of the Soul showed me what to do with my anger and hurtnot stuff it under the carpet of my conscience, or minimize it, but actually do something good with it.”
All emotionwhether positive or negativecan give us a glimpse of the true nature of God. We want to control our negative emotions and dark desires. God wants us to recognize them as the cry of our soul to be made right with Him. Beginning with the Psalms, Cry of the Soul explores what Scripture says about our darker emotions and points us to ways of honoring God as we faithfully embrace the full range of our emotional life.
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The Cry of the Soul
How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God
By Dan B. Allender, TREMPER LONGMAN III
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2015 Joni Eareckson Tada
All rights reserved.
Emotions: The Cry of the Soul
Our emotions connect our inner world to the ups and downs of life. Sometimes the connection is more than we can bear.
A woman whose husband had been fired grimaced as she told me what had happened. I asked her how she felt. Although her face began to contort in pain, she calmly stated: "I'm irritated that he was used for twenty-four years and then dropped to save on health care costs. He's fifty-four. Where is he going to find a job now? How am I going to keep him strong? It isn't fair." Her voice choked back confusion, anger, and fear.
I knew something about this woman's life. She was pleasant but determined. Her withdrawn, somewhat depressed husband did his duty each day and returned home to receive his orders for the evening. They lived a dull, conventional life that morally approximated the gospel. Now his job loss had opened the door to struggles in the marriage that they might have avoided by allowing their daily routines to distract them from the emptiness and distance in their lives.
Her grimace was the first acknowledgment that heartache was near. The heartache was over loss — job, security, prestige. But the deeper loss centered on dreams that had lain buried since the first years of their marriage. She had entered marriage with the hope that she had found a place of rest — an opportunity to let down and relax without fear. She had dreamed of the kind of intimacy that would allow her to enjoy her femininity. But gradually, those dreams were sold for the security of a stable marriage and college education for her children. Now even the payoff for her sacrifice was unraveling.
The thought crossed my mind: She'll survive. Why open the door to anything more? If she opened her heart to feel, she would battle with far more than finances. She would face her decaying marriage. She would grapple with questions she never had the courage to ask about her husband, herself, and God.
RIDING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF EMOTION
Emotion links our internal and external worlds. To be aware of what we feel can open us to questions we would rather ignore. For many of us, that is precisely why it is easier not to feel. But a failure to feel leaves us barren and distant from God and others. We often seem caught between extremes of feeling too much or not enough.
Emotions are like the wind — full of mystery. They come and go suddenly, often leaving havoc and debris in their wake. Our destructive feelings, in particular, can seem like independent, capricious forces that are confusing and out of control. A mature, professional woman recently told me,
Everyone who knows me would say I am stable, in control, and happy. Normally, I am. But every now and then some insignificant event will trigger a torrent of rage that is not only excessive, but irrational. Other times when I hear a friend is going through a tough time I feel so sad that it can haunt me for days. I know the words torrent and haunt are strong. I don't feel that way often, but when I do there are no other words to describe my feelings.
Emotions seem to be one of the least reliable yet most influential forces that guide our lives. Some days we feel great. Confidence and good tidings glide us into the new day; we tackle difficult tasks and succeed. Other days we might experience a downswing in emotion that we can't explain and are helpless to change.
We spend a great deal of energy trying to ride the crest above the churning undertow of emotion. What are we to do with the ups and downs of emotion? Why do we either ignore our feelings or battle them off as if they were an enemy?
WHY EMOTIONS CAN BE SO DIFFICULT
One explanation for why we avoid our feelings is that it's painful to feel. To feel hurt, hurts. To feel shame, shames. To feel any loss only intensifies sorrow. In one sense, that's true. But then why do we try to avoid good feelings? One woman told me that she always feels a slight dread whenever she begins to feel hope.
Perhaps a better explanation for why it's so difficult to feel our feelings is that all emotion, positive or negative, opens the door to the nature of reality. All of us prefer to avoid pain — but even more, we want to escape reality.
Even when life is delightful, joy is fleeting and its brief appearance only deepens our desire for more. Pleasure holds a wistful incompleteness because, even at best, it is a poor picture of what we were meant to enjoy. As a result, we never feel completely satisfied with our present life, no matter how well things go. Anticipation inevitably carries with it disappointment and longing.
Emotion propels us into the tragic recognition that we are not home. And if this is true of our most pleasurable moments, then isn't it even more true of our painful memories and experiences?
We will never fully enjoy what we were meant to experience until heaven. But it is not easy to embrace the tragedy of the Fall and our distance from home. Paul describes this recognition as an inward "groaning," equating it with the agony of a woman giving birth:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23
At this moment, the whole earth is caught in the agony of childbirth. In one form or another, we are all groaning in anticipation. Yet we are often numb to the anguish.
Consider the pain of one of my clients. Her husband was an elder in their church, an avid reader of theological works, a committed believer, and an all-around good family man. But one day, after nearly twenty years of marriage, he came home and announced he was leaving her. "I have never been happy," he declared. "I have never done anything just for me. I am tired of feeling like a hypocrite. I have met a woman who makes me glad to be alive. I am sorry to hurt you, but I am going to live for the first time in my life."
I talk to many people in pain, but this woman's face haunts me. She wanted help and answers more desperately than she wanted to live. But although her heart was heaving in grief, her words were hollow and numb. She was impervious to any hope that might open her to more pain. She didn't want to embrace the anguish of reality. She wanted to know what she could do to become a woman who would make her husband happy to be alive.
The pains of life in a fallen world turn us into something not fully human. When we experience pain, our deepest passion is to escape the bludgeons of assault, betrayal, and loss. Most of us don't resort to the deadness that buffered my client's pain. But in our desperation, each of us in our own way tries to dull the intensity of our groaning.
We might cling to emotional responses that enable us to cope with the harm that comes in small and large doses. For example, many men find it easier to feel anger than hurt. And many women find it safer to feel hurt or confusion rather than anger. So we buttress our sagging confidence and relieve our ambivalence by resorting to anger. We justify our flight through confusion and fear. We escape sadness by opting for shame; we bypass loss by giving in to jealousy. In other words, we use one emotion to hide from other, more painful feelings.
Another way to dull the intensity of our inward groaning is by attempting to avoid our emotions. For many, strong feelings are an infrequent, foreign experience. Their inner life is characterized by an inner coolness, bordering on indifference. Unfortunately, this is often mistaken for trust. In many circles, passionate emotions are discouraged as unspiritual. You are considered godly if you can handle difficult trials with a detached and apparently unruffled confidence.
But this conclusion is wrong. There are times when lack of emotion is simply the by-product of hardness and arrogance. The Scriptures reveal that this absence of feelings is often a refusal to face the sorrow of life and the hunger for heaven; it is not the mark of maturity, but rather the boast of evil (see Isaiah 47:8; Revelation 18:7).
Our refusal to embrace our emotions is often an attempt to escape the agony of childbirth and buttress the illusion of a safe world. It is an attempt to deal with a God who does not relieve our pain.
The presence of disruptive emotions that feel irrational or out of control is not necessarily a sign of disease, sin, or trauma. Instead, it may be the signal that the heart is struggling with God. Therefore, we must view the ups and downs of our emotional life not as a problem to be resolved, but as a cry to be heard.
LISTENING TO OUR EMOTIONS
Emotions open the door to asking hard questions: Does life make sense? Is there any real purpose to my pain? Why must every relationship end? Is God good? If we are to understand ourselves honestly — and, more importantly, know God — we must listen to our emotions.
But the voices are legion that counsel, "Ignore what you feel. It will only get you into deeper trouble. Just get control, repent of negative feelings, believe by faith, choose the right course of action, and trust that emotions will follow like an obedient caboose." Are those voices right? Is it a question of taming our emotional struggles and trying to do what's right, day by day?
The Bible reveals that our inner world is complex. By God's design we are complicated creatures. And further, we are deceitfully convoluted because of depravity. Through divine inspiration Jeremiah warns: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Clearly, handling our inner world is more complex than simply making a choice to manage our emotions.
The psalmist calls us to ponder our inner world, not neglect it: "Why, my soul, are you downcast?" he repeatedly asks. (See Psalm 42:11.) Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God.
If we want to know God, we must ponder and struggle with our feelings to gain an understanding of the passions that rule us. Nothing illuminates the ruling passions of our heart as dramatically or clearly as our emotions. And no book of Scripture illuminates our emotions as dramatically or clearly as the Psalms. In the next chapter, we will see how the Psalms provide a voice for us to bring the cry of our soul before God.
EMOTIONS REVEAL HOW WE'RE DOING WITH GOD
What are we to listen for in our emotions? The answer is, in part: We are to listen for the direction of our heart. The question, What do I feel? is in fact another way of asking, Who am I? What direction am I moving in?
We most often think of emotions in horizontal terms — how we're doing in relation to people in our lives. But in a deeper sense, emotions reveal what's happening on a vertical level. They provide a window on the question, What am I doing with God?
The heart's movement can be calibrated and assessed in light of many different criteria, but all evaluations eventually boil down to this: Am I moving toward God or away from Him? Am I turning toward God with awe and gratitude, or away from Him toward false gods of my own making?
Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice. To understand our deepest passions and convictions, we must learn to listen to the cry of the soul.
However, we often turn a deaf ear — through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God. Only face to face with our deepest ruling passions is there hope of redeeming the fabric of our inner world.
Listening is the first step toward altering destructive emotions. Are you pursuing God? Your emotions will tell you. Are you pursuing false gods? Your emotional life will provide strong clues to the nature of your soul's direction.
But how? Are we to presume that good feelings are the sign of faithful pursuit of God, and bad feelings the sign of idolatry? How easy if it were that simple. We can't slap labels on our emotions as positive or negative, good or bad. Neither can we "fix" our emotional struggles as if they were so many broken toys.
We can, however, view our emotions from the perspective of whether they lead us to engagement with God or move us away from greater dependence on Him. We can listen to what they tell us about our struggles. Emotions are like messengers from the front lines of the battle zone. Our tendency is to kill the messenger. But if we listen carefully, we will learn how to fight the war successfully.
Listening to our emotions requires that we know how to speak the language of the heart. That is what we will be doing in the rest of this book: learning to speak the language of the heart by discovering how our emotions, particularly the difficult ones, reveal our deepest questions about God. And, ultimately, we will discover how these flawed emotions can give us unique and priceless glimpses of the character of God.
Emotion is a difficult topic. If you picked up this book because you wanted to discover how to find tranquility and ease amid the uncertainties of life, you will be disappointed. Peace that passes all understanding is possible, but more often than not it is an occasional refuge that comes only after wrestling with the inner realities of our struggles with life and with God.
Therefore, don't assume that resolving your turbulent emotions is the key to meeting God. It is actually within the inner mayhem of life that a stage is built for the intrusive story of His light and hope. The absence of tumult, more than its presence, is an enemy of the soul. God meets you in your weakness, not in your strength. He comforts those who mourn, not those who live above desperation. He reveals Himself more often in darkness than in the happy moments of life.
This book outlines a journey that exposes the deepest questions of the heart. You won't discover the kinds of answers that alleviate struggle. But you can encounter a person, God Himself, who exults in using darkness to reveal the brilliance of His infinite goodness. In hope that you will meet God, we ask you to choose to plunge into the emotions of anger, fear, jealousy, despair, contempt, and shame that yearn to be transformed.
Excerpted from The Cry of the Soul by Dan B. Allender, TREMPER LONGMAN III. Copyright © 2015 Joni Eareckson Tada. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dr. Dan B. Allender received his MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and his PhD in Counseling Psychology from Michigan State University.
Dan taught in the Biblical Counseling Department of Grace Theological Seminary for seven years (1983–1989). From 1989–1997 Dan worked as professor in the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling program at Colorado Christian University, Denver, Colorado. Currently, Dan serves as Professor of Counseling Psychology and President at Mars Hill Graduate School (MHGS.edu) in Seattle, Washington.
He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love and forgiveness, worship, and other related topics. He is the author of The Wounded Heart (NavPress), and has coauthored four books with Dr. Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies (Tyndale), The Cry of the Soul (NavPress), Bold Love (NavPress), and Breaking the Idols of Your Heart (IVP). Dan and his wife, Rebecca, have three children and live in Seattle, Washington.
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This book is a must for spiritual personal growth. Both authors share their personal experiences. I am reading it for the second time.