Emotions And Passions

Alastair Roberts comments on the distinction between the two:

It seems to me that there is a huge danger of confusing emotions with passions. One of the things that I so love about Reformed and Presbyterian traditions, and higher church liturgical tradition, for that matter, is that they teach us how to distinguish between the two. They teach us to distrust emotions, but to cultivate passions. Right now my emotions are shaped by a huge range of different factors: by the lack of sleep that I had last night, by the attractive woman who just smiled at me, by the sugar rush from the epic slab of banoffee pie I just ate, by the impending deadlines that I have to work towards, by the kind gift of a friend, etc., etc. However, by focusing on passions, I learn to strip away the ephemeral and shallow feelings of the moment, and learn to focus upon those most important and deep driving passions that inform my profoundest identity. Rather than being tossed to and fro by the emotions of the moment, I feed and draw upon my deeper passion for enjoying God in his love and goodness, my passion to glorify him in what I do, and to serve others in Christ’s name.

Many people who look at Reformed churches or more liturgical churches from the outside generally don’t get it. They think that passion is something that has to be fully seen on the surface and constantly on display in extroverted, bubbly, and emotionally demonstrative forms of church that many of us find so stifling, but which are de rigueur in many evangelical contexts. They judge emotionally undemonstrative churches to be cold, dead, or lifeless, when often nothing could be further from the truth. Many people also presume that outward emotional displays are proof of deep internal passion. While they often are expressions of such passion, shallow emotion really isn’t that hard to conjure up and such shallow emotion can occasionally serve as a veneer masking a deeper absence. Paradoxically, it can often be our most powerful passions that we are least inclined openly to express in an emotional form, as this can be felt to trivialize or cheapen them.

One of the things that I so love about the work of a theologian such as John Calvin is that one gets the clear sense of a deep-seated passion for Christ, a passion that, while undoubtedly there, is a signal that is hard to hear beneath the noise of fleeting emotions in many of the evangelical contexts in which I find myself, where the shrillness of the expected upbeat emotional expression tends to drown out the deep feelings and passions that one finds in the psalms and elsewhere.