Emotions are notoriously difficult. Many Christians are unsure of what to do with their own emotions and those of others. Many find themselves at the extremes of either accepting the intuitive authority of their emotions or dismissing any meaningful role for emotions in the Christian life. J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith have provided a great guide to this complicated topic in Untangling Emotions. Groves and Smith are not ignorant of the broader discussion of emotions in secular literature but are primarily interested in providing a Biblical perspective on the topic. Writing for those who find emotions dominating their life and those who feel grey most of the time, and for people interested in their own emotions and those seeking to walk with others through their emotions, Groves and Smith argue that emotions, according to the Bible, “are an indispensable part of being human and play a crucial role in our relationships with God and others” (17). They identify love as the root of our emotions: we feel certain ways when those things we love are exalted, threatened, etc. Because they flow out of what we love, emotions help us to love God and others rightly. Among their many important roles in our lives, emotions help us love better by functioning as a diagnostic, revealing when our loves are astray or helping us interpret our experience in terms of our fundamental values.
Untangling Emotions is divided into three parts. In Part 1, Groves and Smith address “the emotions of everyday life, untangling and explaining the complexity of our emotional experiences” (18). Part 2 then walks through engagement with emotions, guiding the reader in the proper and wise response to their own emotions and the emotions of others. Part 3 concludes the body of the book with an analysis of the emotions fear, anger, sorrow, guilt, and shame. This part explores the contours of each emotion and walks through our engagement with them. The book ends with a short appendix on God’s “impassibility.” following recent books like Rob Listers God Is Impassible and Impassioned, the authors claim that God possesses affections—that he feels analogous to the way we feel—but does not experience spontaneous passions, the uncontrolled, unexpected emotions that characterise the uniquely human emotional experience. He is not “jerked around by creation,” nor does he have good or bad days (217).
The authors of Untangling Emotions have attempted to be practical throughout the book, so it is better worked through than read through. The authors continually shed light on the troublesome areas of our hearts and how God has shaped our emotions that we might better love him and our neighbours. I was particularly convicted by the case study on anger and found much practical wisdom in that section. I commend Untangling Emotions as a valuable resource for personal study, for use in a discipleship context, and particularly for the pastor looking for a biblical approach to the tangle of emotions that confronts us daily in ministry.