A place where ideas stir the waters of our mind.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What is healing? part 2

Those Pesky Emotions

Trying to answer questions about emotions and “emotional healing” always reminds me of the carnival/arcade game, “Whack-a-Mole.”  

 In Whack-a-Mole, the player stands with a large foam “whacker” in hand, and faces a flat surface with a series of holes in it.  The object of the game is to “whack” a mole on the head every time he pops up randomly from one of the holes.  Once whacked, the mole disappears back into his hole – and another one pops out somewhere else. Good whackers discover that the faster they dispatch a mole, the faster and more frequently multiple moles appear simultaneously. Before long, the moles are moving too quickly for the player to respond to them all.

Discussions about emotions and emotional healing generate questions in the same way!  Here are only a few of the kinds of questions that quickly arise:

  • What’s the best way to deal with emotions such as anger, sadness, shame or hopeless despair?
  • Are emotions like these inherently “sinful?”
  • Do we eliminate these primarily through repentance and renewal of the mind with God’s Word – or is the capacity to experience these emotions part of our God-given makeup?
  • Is emotional healing much more than changing our belief systems to change our behavior?
  • If negative emotions are part of our humanity, how do we learn to manage them?
  • Are deeply troubling emotions signs of a deep wounds and a painful past that needs healing?
  • Isn’t it better to “stuff” emotions than act out when we’re upset?
  • If we’re really walking with Christ, should we ever experience emotions like these?
  • And where in the Bible is the term “emotional healing” found anyway?

And lists like this tend to multiply exponentially for 2 very profound reasons.  First, the subjects of emotions and emotional healing generate controversy in the church. Second, we all experience sometimes confusing emotions to one degree or another as part of our human experience.

My purpose in discussing issues related to emotions and emotional healing is not to try to answer every question that has – or will arise – around these issues. I want to describe a fresh, clear definition for healing that includes each of the following elements listed below. 

Healing should:

  • Be broad enough to include physical healing as well as healing for those who are hurting on the inside.
  • Use terminology explicitly found in Scripture to end the “is it Biblical or not” controversy.
  • Proactively focus on healthy growth and maturity, and avoid a self-limiting emphasis on pain, problems and suffering.
  • Be invitational, and help all members of church community recognize the significant role they play in healing and maturity.
  • Multiply easily from one person to another (self-propagate).


Emotions are important

First, we are created in the image and likeness of a kind, good, loving and intelligent God who has emotions. As the Son of Man, Jesus experienced an intense assortment of emotions ranging from serious anger (Mark 3:5), to sorrowful grief (John 11:35). In the person of Jesus, we see a living picture of God’s own character and nature. Jesus told His apprentices, the disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” (Col. 1:15). Jesus also spoke what he heard His Father saying (John 12:49), and told His disciples, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner,” (John 5:19).
This is profound! What was happening when Jesus was enraged at the stubbornness of hard-hearted leaders or cleansed the temple with a whip? What about the time he wept over Jerusalem or grieved at the grave of a dear friend? His emotions and actions were simply reflections of what He saw His Father doing. In the person of Jesus, we see the rich emotional life of God demonstrated for us! This alone makes emotions a very important part of our lives and design. 

Second, emotions are some of the most personal things about us, and to a large degree, tend to motivate our behavior.  Ignoring or dismissing the importance of how God, others or we feel is a grave mistake. This kind of behavior explicitly communicates, “God, others or self, I don’t really care what you feel or are experiencing emotionally right now.” As a result, we also implicitly, convey the message that we don’t value God or others – or our relationships with them – too highly either. Sadly, the tendency to ignore/dismiss the importance our own emotions tends to indicate that we don’t value ourselves as highly as God does. These messages of rejection bless no one, perpetuate relational breakdowns and prevent us from learning to regulate emotions in the way that Jesus did.

An example will help make this point more clearly. Suppose a child falls, skins her knee, bleeds a bit and starts to cry. What kind of parent would ignore their daughter’s obvious distress and continue to check email on their smartphone? What message would that communicate to a child in pain? Suppose the parent stopped looking at their phone long enough to say, “Stop crying and let me get back to this important task.” 

What kind of message would this communicate about God? What would the child learn from this experience? 

  • When I am in pain, no one (including God) cares or comes to help.
  • I am on my own and must take care of myself.
  • I cannot trust others to help me.
  • My pain is unimportant, especially when I am upset.
  • Nobody cares when I am in pain.
  • I am not very important.

Clearly, this kind of behavior is not OK and the messages learned create serious emotional and relational distortions in the life of the child. We could run scenarios involving the death of loved ones, overt racial intolerance, beatings and all manner of abuse, and the messages would be the same.  Ironically, we communicate the same kinds of rejection messages when we dismiss/ignore positive emotions.

Dropping a Bombshell

Having described the importance of emotions, let me now make a statement that may surprise many in the “emotional healing” community. I want to make this point now, and promise to develop much more fully in my next several blogs.  

While emotions are important, they are not the most important things about us and are not the primary issue that must be addressed in the context of “inner healing.” From a Biblical and Neurological perspective, the real problem with negative (and sometimes intense positive emotions) is that they damage, distort and disrupt our relational connections with God, with others and with ourselves. 

In my opinion, the term “emotional healing” sows confusion.  I would very much like to banish the term from the healing language used in church. Not only is this un-Biblical, it runs contrary to good neuroscience.

By definition, the name “emotional healing” suggests that emotions should be the real focus of healing ministry, and leads us off track in the inevitable and unending quest to “fix” our emotions so that we feel better. This term elevates emotions to a place they are not intended to be, and unintentionally makes emotions and “feeling better” an idol. I would like to smash that idol right now!  

Biblically, the restoration of relationships and the ministry of reconciliation are quite clear. We are created to learn to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We called to grow together into the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph. 4:13). The calls to love and relationships are Biblically non-negotiable.

Developments in neuroscience increasingly reveal that the brain really only learns to manage, regulate and express emotions in the context of relationships when those relationships are joyful.  To my brain, joy does not mean that I’m happy.  Joy is the fruit of an interaction with someone who is glad to be with me. Neuroscience defines joy as coming from others, and emphasizes the role that others have in helping us learn emotional regulation.  As a Christian, I believe that interactions with God, who is always glad to be with His children, are also an excellent source of life-transforming joy.

This is why reconciliation and restoration of relationships to God’s intended design are the solid foundation upon which healing ministry should rest.

As we’ve pointed out, emotions are important.  God feels deeply, is willing to share our distress and asks us to help bear one another’s burdens.  We never want to minimize the importance of anyone’s emotions. But, we also do not want to elevate emotions in life – whether positive, negative or horribly traumatic – to a place not found in scripture.

In my next blogs, we will take a look at what I believe is a proper focus for “inner healing” that is both Biblical, relational and true to the brain’s design. I will also begin to lay out exactly what I believe about emotions from both scripture and neuroscience as we move towards a fresh, clear definition for healing. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is Healing?

Part 1: To Heal or Not to Heal

One of the quickest ways to start a theological argument is to start throwing around the words, “Inner Healing,” or “emotional healing.” Like a group of grizzly bears
with fresh meat, heresy hunters, those self-appointed internet guardians of all things Christian, will rip the term – and the unwary feeder – apart. Name calling, personal and professional attacks systematically seek to destroy the credibility of anyone who might use those terms. Those attacks deter bystanders – or those who serve hurting people – from entering the fray. The fear of being found “guilty by association,” deters and discourages churches, ministries and individuals from exploring tools to help bring wholeness to hurting people.

Furthermore, there is often considerable confusion surrounding the use of the terms “inner healing” or “emotional healing” in traditional denominational circles. Neither term is explicit in scripture, although the concepts are implicit. As a result, those seeking a firm foundation for a Biblical approach to ministry are reluctant to embrace them. They simply do not want to introduce non-Biblical approaches to ministry.

This is even more complicated because there are so many dispensational augments concerning whether or not God even heals today. While recognizing that God clearly worked miracles in the New Testament Church, some dispensationalists argue that era in Church History is over and that God no longer miraculously heals. Thus, the entire concept of physical healing – let alone inner/emotional healing – is suspect. In addition, some churches are willing to embrace the idea that God is still in the business of bringing physical healing to people – but do not believe that ministry to help people overcome the areas on life that keep them stuck on the inside are needed. Contending that receiving Jesus makes us whole, these churches believe that salvation alone, combined with exercise of the will and forgiveness for others make any other type of ministry to hurting people unnecessary.

The problems multiply further because there is often a difference of opinion as to exactly what “inner/emotional healing” really is. Because the term is not explicit in Scripture, it is hard to establish a clear, contextual definition of these terms from the original texts. It is important to note, however, that there is a clear mandate in Scripture concerning the call to bring healing to the brokenhearted as well as numerous citations describing elements that bring us freedom. As my friend, Andy Reese makes clear on his Freedom Resource Website (www.thefreedomresource.org), Scripture contains many references to the concept of bringing healing and freedom to people in pain. These include:
  • Healing the brokenhearted is (Luke 4:18).
  • Confessing sins to another and prayer for them is (James 5:16).
  • Casting out demons is (Mark 16:17).
  • Setting up godly defenses (Eph. 6:10).
  • Speaking prophetic encouragement is (1 Th. 5:20).
  • Taking thoughts captive is (2 Cor. 10:5).
  • Releasing the captives is (Luke 4:18).
  • Forgiving is (Eph. 4:32).
  • Renouncing past sinful practices is (2 Cor. 4:2).
  • Being led by the Spirit is (Rom. 8:14).
  • Asking God for miraculous input is (Jer. 33:3).
  • Bearing one another’s burdens is (Gal. 6:2).
  • Wanting freedom is (Gal. 5:1).
  • Speaking truth to someone is (Eph. 4:15).
  • Setting free the oppressed is (Luke 4:18).
  • Knowing and saying God is near to the brokenhearted is (Psalm 34:18).
  • Comforting the afflicted with what God has shown us is (2 Cor. 1:4).

Finally, it is important to point out that our culture is full extra-Biblical approaches to helping people heal. “Extra-Biblical” simply refers to something not specifically mentioned in scripture. Some examples of extra-Biblical approaches to healing include things like antibiotics, surgery or other direct medical/treatment interventions. Things like losing weight to manage high blood pressure or diabetes are helpful, although scripture remains silent on issues of high blood pressure and diabetes. Treatment or interventions for things like alcoholism or other substances of abuse can be included here also. All of these good things are consistent with Biblical principles, and followers of Jesus utilize approaches like these frequently with a clear conscience.

At the same time, it is clear that other approaches to healing are not consistent with scripture. These include the use of “spirit guides” or some forms of “guided imagery” under their leadership, which are clearly not consistent with the teachings of scripture. By "spirit guides, I am referring to spiritual beings who represent themselves as God or as higher forms of "spiritual consciousness" that promise greater spiritual enlightenment to anyone willing to interact with them. I am not referring to Share Immanuel or other approaches to healing in which participants interact directly with God and are led by Him. New Age influences muddy the waters and in the minds of many heresy hunters, make any approach to healing the brokenhearted unacceptable. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

To me, we need a clear and fresh definition of healing. This definition should:
  • Be broad enough to include all forms physical healing as well as healing for those who are hurting on the inside.
  • Use terminology explicitly found in Scripture to end the “is it Biblical or not” controversy.
  • Proactively focus on healthy growth and maturity, and avoid a self-limiting emphasis on pain, problems and suffering.
  • Be invitational, and help all members of church community recognize the significant role they play in healing and maturity.

In my next post, we will take a look at a new definition of healing!

Photos by ThinkStock.com

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