”People have a pervasive illusion that they make their decisions rationally, although their lives are often dominated by emotions”, says a well-known Finnish brain specialist Lauri Nummenmaa.
He quotes Jonathan Haidt, an American psychologist. According to Haidt, reason and emotions are like an elephant and its rider. The rider, representing reason, imagines that the elephant, or the emotions, will go wherever the rider wants. But in actual fact, the elephant will go exactly where it wants, and the rider can only hang on and stay on the ride. The problem is made more severe by the fact that the elephant and the rider do not speak the same language.
”This is a known fact in advertising and politics. It is much easier to influence people by appealing to their emotions than their reason.“ Nummenmaa quotes the confusion about childhood vaccinations as a good example. The countless studies that have shown vaccinations to be safe are not enough to convince worried parents, when an online rumor about a single child getting sick because of vaccination goes viral. Emotions beat reason ten to zero.
According to Nummenmaa, the basic emotions – anger, happiness, fear, disgust, sadness and surprise – are based on biological predispositions common to all people. Regardless of their culture, people feel disgust at seeing blood or a purulent wound, are afraid of the dark, and feel more sadness or happiness for those dear to them than for complete strangers. ”It is astonishing how little we can modify these basic emotions. When a person attends piano classes for a year, he or she learns to play the piano. But if a person has developed a phobia or anxiety, it is very hard to unlearn it.”
How do reason and emotions affect faith? I have often been asked how I can believe the way I do when there are so many different kinds of faith. Our reason focuses on facts. Is there proof that one faith is the correct one? Christians say that we have God’s word and historical information about Jesus’ life. But no matter how much information we have, it cannot arouse faith is us.
Apostle Paul writes that we cannot know God by our own wisdom, ”For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe”(1 Cor. 1:21).
Martin Luther, in his explanation of the third article of the Creed, says, ”I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel.”
When Apostle Paul preached the gospel in Philippi, there was a God-fearing woman called Lydia among his listeners. ”The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). Faith is completely a work of God and a gift of God. He gives us the strength and enlightens our understanding to comprehend the mysteries of God’s kingdom. ”By faith we understand ” (Heb.11:3).
Yet knowledge and information do play a role in religion. When Christians do mission work, they explain to their listeners what is meant by God’s kingdom and salvation prepared by God. In other words, they give rationally comprehensible information to people who have never heard about salvation. When we teach our children about faith at home, in Day Circle, Sunday School or Confirmation Class, we give them information about these matters. Yet, faith is not merely knowledge, reasoning or insight.
Some people feel that their personal internal experiences and feelings have led them to faith. They base their relationship with God on their emotions. We may hear them say, “My God is not so strict about this.”
Religious movements commonly appeal to emotions. I experienced this personally when I searched for God’s kingdom. Some prayer meetings were highly charged emotionally: many people prayed aloud and downright pressured one to make a decision. Some said, “Listen to your internal voice and follow its advice.”
Living by one’s emotions is like being on a roller coaster ride for great experiences. It is certainly true that God can grant a believer warm feelings of grace. They rise from faith when God’s grace warms the sinner’s heart. God allows such feelings according to his will. They do not give rise to faith, nor are they necessary signs of faith.
Both reason and emotions give us poor advice concerning faith. Faith is a gift of God granted and maintained by God through His Holy Spirit. God enlightens us through His Spirit and gives us the necessary understanding for temporal matters. He also gives us gratitude, contentment and happiness along with our faith as well as joy and love of other people. Believers can securely trust in God’s guidance in their life.
Text: Olavi Vallivaara
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original Finnish blog post here.
Monet suunnitelmat ovat tänä poikkeuksellisena keväänä muuttuneet. Muun muassa perhejuhlien järjestelyjä on pitänyt miettiä uudelleen. Tämä on koskenut myös avioliittoon vihkimisiä. Nyt vihkimisiä on toimitettu niin, että koolla on ollut vain joitakin läheisiä, ja muu juhlaväki on seurannut tilaisuutta ehkä virtuaalisesti. Hääjuhlia on jouduttu siirtämään myöhäisempiin ajankohtiin. Jotkut hääparit ovat siirtäneet tämän vuoksi myös avioitumistaan.