We’re made to experience great, big feelings, in response to things in the world around us.
We’re made to experience wonder, looking up at the night sky, or mountain ranges, feeling at once very small and at one with everything else.
We’re made to feel anger at injustice, where we see, first- or second-hand, people withheld what they need to flourish, on account of being viewed as different, as inferior.
We are made to be swept off our feet by the beauty of another person, to catch our (common, God-given) breath at the beauty of every person.
We are made to experience fear, when those we love are put in danger.
We are made to experience joy and peace and grief and revulsion and all the big feelings. Not simply because they kept our early ancestors alive long enough to hand on their DNA, but because we are made in the likeness of a god who is not impassive, a god who knows, first- and second-hand, the fruit of both good and evil. A god who loves and grieves, who both marvels at the ingenuity of creation and constrains the overstepping of boundaries with wrath.
We’re made to experience great, big feelings, but we are trained to respond to them. We’re schooled to respond, for good or ill. To take that person who ignited feelings in us, and dominate them. Or to channel our feelings for good. To share in God’s nature is not only to bear God’s image but also to reflect God’s glory. Not only to experience big feelings but also to respond to them as God responds.
There’s a gem of an insight in the Letter to the Hebrews (a circular letter to early Christian communities among the Jewish communities of the eastern Mediterranean coast) that says of Jesus:
‘Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...’
Hebrews 5:8, 9
That is, though he—like us—bears the likeness of God, Jesus engaged with the big feelings caused by the impact of others upon us (that is, what we suffer) in a particular way. He disciplined himself to listen out for God’s voice in response to the big feelings, to be shaped by how God responded to the big feelings as recorded in the stories handed down in the Bible. (To obey means to hear, to actively listen and be responsive; not to reductively follow rules.) He conformed his life to God’s life, projected into our lives. It was a process, of learning to be like God (and this is a mystery, for Christians claim that Jesus was very God from very God).
And because Jesus engaged with this process, he became the source by which God’s life is extended into our world, to us, moving us from destruction at the hands of our big feelings—which can toss us about like ships thrown onto rocks by a stormy sea—to the safe harbour of integration, wholeness. If we in turn listen for his word and seek to conform our responses to his.
It is an ongoing process, and while there are times when we might wish the feelings weren’t so very big, or the learning so very long, it is a mystery that fires the soul.