10Publishing, 2017, 126pp
We live in an age where feeling has trumped thinking. People are told to, ‘follow their hearts’, or ‘do what feels right to them’. I can scarcely think of worse advice. For, as the prophet Jeremiah tells us, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). The emotions of fallen humanity are not to be trusted. But neither are emotions to be discounted. In his great work, The Religious Affections Jonathan Edwards argued, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” He defined “affections” as,
all the exercises of the inclination and will… either in approving and liking, or disapproving and rejecting, so the affections are of two sorts; they are those by which the soul is carried out to what is in view, cleaving to it, or seeking it; or those by which it is averse from it, and opposes it. Of the former sort are love, desire, hope, joy, gratitude, complacence. Of the latter kind are hatred, fear, anger, grief, and such like
Our ‘affections’ reveal our inmost desires; what we delight in and what we dread, or despise. As Catherine Haddow puts it, “Emotions are mirrors of the heart”. When we ‘let rip’ at someone for some trivial offence, the state our hearts is revealed. The unwitting irritant has touched something precious to us, disturbing our selfish preoccupations. If we view the future with fear and foreboding because we cannot control it, our lack of faith in God’s sovereign care is likewise disclosed.
Most of us experience a certain amount of emotional turbulence, ranging from extreme grief to ecstatic joy. Usually we trundle along somewhere in between those two poles. Sometimes people get stuck in the negative end of the emotional spectrum. Anger, anxiety and misery prevail. We call it depression.
People suffering from depression may be referred to a counsellor for sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This ‘talking treatment’ has its uses in helping to correct distorted thinking and disturbed emotions. Haddow draws on the insights of CBT, but also seeks to bring biblical principles to bear. She proposes a ‘tbH’ model, deploying an approach that addresses ‘thoughts, biology, behaviour, and Heart’.
The mind of a depressed person may become dominated by anxious, fearful thoughts. That, in turn, may make them feel nauseous when under pressure – a biological response. To avoid feeling that way, the sufferer will alter their behaviour to evade what they perceive as stressful situations. They begin to move in ever decreasing circles. But all this says something about the Heart. Perhaps the person in question is seeking security elsewhere than in God? In that case, they need to bring their heart to trust him as their refuge and strength. Their distorted thinking needs to be corrected in the light of God’s Word. Then they may know his peace that relieves us of soul-sapping anxiety, Philippians 4:6-7.
Haddow devotes chapters to ‘The sneers’, ‘The fears’, and ‘The tears’, applying her ‘tbH’ model to each type of negative feeling. The book makes for a searching read. The writer probes our hearts in the light of God’s word that we may see the things that often lie at the root of our disturbed emotions; pride, control-freakery, and a festering sense of loss that refuses to acknowledge that what the Lord has given he may also take away.
I found the book useful for my own spiritual life. But it also has value for pastors and indeed all believers who are trying to offer guidance and support to people with emotional problems. Helpful direction is given on how to counsel such friends with understanding and biblical honesty. Haddow offers no pat answers, or silver bullets, but her ‘tbH’ approach provides a useful framework for biblical counselling.
It is refreshing that the author does not wrap counselling in a shroud of professional mystery. She urges the usefulness of the ordinary means of grace; church life, exposure to the Bible read and preached, prayer and the Sacraments. But, contrary what Haddow says on p. 110, we are not to trust in the means of God’s grace to put him in the ‘driving seat’ of our lives. We are to trust in the God who works through means in order to impart all needed grace to his suffering people.
Jonathan Edwards said of the Ministry of the Word, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth”. Edwards wanted his people to know 'joy unspeakable and full of glory' in their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Some of the Lord's people, however, find themselves cast down and emotionally broken.
Jesus, the Servant of the Lord par excellence confessed, ‘The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.’ (Isaiah 50:4) Emotions: Mirrors of the Heart is full of sound, scriptural instruction on how to minister to believers with emotional difficulties. In one way or another, we all find ourselves in that camp. May this work be widely used to help afflicted Christians recover the joy of their salvation.