In my corner of Reformed Christianity we’re not particularly adept at expressing our emotions. Perhaps it can be chalked up to our Dutch immigrant roots; maybe to our ecclesiastical sub-culture. Whatever the case may be, we’re not given to putting ourselves out there emotionally. This certainly guards us against the sentimental excesses seen in some circles. But does this steely stoicism line us up completely with Scripture?
Job 19:25-27 is one passage which might suggest otherwise. Many people are familiar with this passage because it’s used in Handel’s Messiah. Oftentimes you’ll hear it at funerals. I always read it at graveside services and it provides a lot of comfort. It does so because it confidently speaks of the hope of the resurrection:
As you believe this resurrection gospel, which is fulfilled in Jesus, it shouldn’t leave you unaffected. It deeply impacted Job and that’s evident from the last line: “My heart faints within me!” Those words are pregnant with emotion. Job had a deep yearning to see God with his own eyes in his glorified resurrection body.
Can you relate to that? Does your heart “faint within you” when you hear about what the gospel promises in the resurrection of the dead? One could reasonably expect such a response, because of the nature of these truths. God gives us profoundly encouraging news here. But what if you can’t relate? What if these kinds of truths don’t touch your heart like they did Job? I have more good news for you.
First, our salvation doesn’t depend on our emotions and what the gospel does to us emotionally. Our salvation entirely depends on God’s free grace in Christ. So don’t be discouraged if for whatever reason you have a hard time relating to the type of heart-felt longing expressed by Job. The most important thing is: do you believe what God is promising us in Christ? Do you believe you have a Redeemer whom you will see with your own eyes after having been raised up from the dead?
Second, you can and should pray for the Holy Spirit to help you grow in your emotional response to the gospel. What we see with Job is an emotionally rich hope. Where does the believer’s hope come from? Here I’m not asking about the objective basis in the gospel, but how it is subjectively worked in the believer. Romans 15:13 tells us that we abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to believers and he works this deeply felt hope in their hearts.
It’s Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13 that the Holy Spirit would help believers to abound in that hope. There are at least two important things to take from that. Abounding in hope is desirable – it’s something worth praying for. You shouldn’t be content with a flagging heart. The other thing is in the fact that Paul had to pray about it. That tells us that believers don’t always abound in hope. Just look at Job again. As you read further beyond chapter 19, you see Job struggling again. He’s lamenting, wondering, and doubting. Job vacillates wildly. Here he’s on the peak; soon he’s again in the sodden valley. We’re no different. So abounding in hope is something for which we need to pray. We can and we should pray for the Holy Spirit to help us abound in the hope of the resurrection that we have in Jesus Christ.
But why does all this matter? Why give any attention to our emotional response to the gospel? You could simply answer: because Scripture does. But that just changes the question: why does Scripture give attention to this? Because the positive emotions we’re talking about show the worth of God. When a believer has the profound, heart-felt desire to see God, like Job did, it demonstrates how valuable God is. People and things that matter to us make an emotional impression on us. And who is of more worth, objectively speaking, than God? What is of more worth, objectively speaking, than the gospel?