Humans are emotional beings. Today’s social media is like standing in front of a spewing emotional fire hydrant. The things we post, share, and read are invested with happiness, sorrow, outrage, or rejoicing. These days cold, logical arguments strike readers as inauthentic. Nothing rings with more true than a heart-wrenching testimonial or an experiential editorial piece. We treasure authors who pour out their feelings and wear their hearts on their electronic sleeves.
That is, unless they are the authors of Scripture.
We may have our doctrine of Scriptural inspiration hammered down tight. We know 2 Peter 1:20-21. We’ve got 2 Timothy 3:16 written on the backs of our eyelids. But in all of our orthodoxy, our theology of inspiration has a glaring hole. In fact, it’s something our Twitterized culture understands better than many of us do: human words are invested with emotion. If the writers of Scripture were human–which they were–then the words of Scripture cannot be devoid of human feelings.
All books are packed with emotion, even the Bible.
We underestimate the human authors of Scripture. Practically speaking, we often treat Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, John, and the rest like disinterested conduits of Spirit-dictated words. But nothing could be further from the truth. The pages of Scripture pour forth from human hearts filled with joy and pain. We must rediscover the obvious truth that these men had vested interest in the things they wrote.
On top of that, we sell the Supreme Author, the Holy Spirit, woefully short. Literature classes across the world discuss the emotional investment of writers like Dickinson, Dostoyevsky, Whitman, and Poe–authors that Christians know to be creatures of the Almighty Creator. We acknowledge that these creatures packed all sorts of emotion into their works. Would we expect their Creator to be a lesser author than these? Yet we rarely ask the question, “How does God feel about this?” with an expectation that His Word might actually give us an answer.
Authors write because they feel.
Authors experience an emotional connection to their work. Even as I write this article I find my brow furrowed in thought, my fist in a ball of consternation as I mull over each sentence. I experience a sense of satisfaction as I place each period. I feel strongly about what I’m writing! (Can you tell?). We read and write theological articles about inspiration and authorial intent, but what about authorial delight?
Have you ever considered that Moses experienced a mix of wonder and rapture as he penned the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2? Does it ever cross your mind that Matthew actually enjoyed sewing Old Testament allusions into the tapestry of his Gospel narrative? Have you considered how the author David clawed for the right words to express his despair in the Psalms? Have you thought about the sense of frustration, despondency, and abiding hope the prophet Jeremiah felt as he inked his story?
Authors don’t write merely to communicate information. Authors write with smiling faces or tearful eyes, not passive disconnection. We argue about the main idea or intentions of an author when dealing with a specific passage, but we forget that authors have emotions, too. The Bible is not a giant textbook full of theological dictionary entries. Often, a biblical author’s feelings would be the first thing we’d recognize if we didn’t approach the Bible like a textbook.
We must sympathize with the authors of Scripture.
We need to take time to sympathize with the human authors. Ask yourself what kind of emotions they have poured into the page. Many of the original pages of God’s Word must have been sprinkled with tears. Others must have been filled with frantic scribbling from an exuberant author’s hand that could hardly keep up with his thoughts. We need to allow ourselves to actually experience the emotion, the joy, the delight, the sorrow that the author’s words express.
Most importantly, ask yourself what the Holy Spirit feels about the passage. God communicated to us a rich literary trove of stories, arguments, parables, and narratives that were meant to be fully experienced. When we read Scripture, we should not merely seek to mine the spiritual truth from the text. Read with emotional investment. In the pages of the Holy Scriptures, we have the opportunity to commune with the saints of old. We have an ability through the Holy Spirit to mourn over the sins of God’s people, to rejoice in the victories of our Righteous God, and to renew our sense of hope as we look toward the return of our conquering Savior.
Note on art piece: This work by Caravaggio is the lesser known of his two depictions of Matthew writing the Gospel, yet I really enjoy the intimacy of the picture. Matthew’s expression is priceless. I also enjoy the commonness of this “oafish” Matthew. This depiction certainly downplays Matthew literary genius, but it emphasizes his humanness–his similarity to us as his readers. In an article discussing the emotions of the authors, I felt this was a great visual representation of my argument: