The Emotional Jesus: His Ups & Downs

(From The Presence & The Power by Gerald Hawthorne, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1991)

“The Gospels … stress the fact that Jesus was indeed a human being simply by recording that he, too, experienced those things – little and big – that go into making up human existence, such as paying taxes, heartily eating and drinking, climbing into fishing boats, and so on (see Matt. 17:24-26; 11:19; 9:1). They note that he was hungry, thirsty, and weary (Matt. 21:18; Luke 4:2; John 4:6-8), in fact, so weary that he was able to fall sound asleep in the cramped quarters of a small boat in a storm (Mark 4:38). They describe the full range of human emotions that Jesus felt – love, joy, grief, compassion, anger, gratitude, wonder,  and desire (see Mark 10:21; John 11:5; Luke 10:21; John 11:33-36; Matt. 20:34; Mark 1:41; 3:5; 8:6; Luke 7:9; 22:15).

The Gospels say, too, that he experienced those darker emotions of a troubled human soul – loneliness, perplexity, alarm, dismay, and despondency (Mark 14:33; Luke 12:50; John 12:27). He may also have experienced the anguish of being tormented by subtle and not so subtle insinuations about his birth, i.e., that he was illegitimate, a child conceived out of wedlock – people called him “the Son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). In a bitter reply to Jesus’ criticism of their conduct the Jews retorted, ‘We were not born of fornication’ (John 8:41). And it is know that other scandalous yet worthless allegations were made about his birth. ‘The scope of these sufferings,” B.B. Warfield observes, “was very broad, embracing that whole series of painful emotions which runs from a consternation that is appalled dismay, through despondency which is almost despair, to a sense of well-nigh complete desolation.’

And the Gospels also relate that Jesus at times gave way to these emotions and expressed his feelings physically – he wept (John 11:35),he even wailed (Luke 19:41), he sighed (Mark 7:34), he groaned (Mark 8:12), he flashed angry glares at people (Mark 3:5), he spoke with annoyance in his voice (Mark 10:14), or with chiding words (Mark 3:12). On occasion Jesus broke out in a rage (John 11:33, 38 as the Greek makes clear), or openly exulted (Luke 10:21), or cried aloud in utter desolation (Matt. 27:46). ‘Nothing is lacking [here in the Gospels] to make the impression strong that we have before us in Jesus a human being like ourselves.

The words of C.S. Lewis are apt at this point:

God could, had he pleased, have been incarnate in a man or iron nerves, the stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him. Of his great humility   he chose to be incarnate in a made of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that man is good or bad and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed the all-important help of knowing that he faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If he had natural courage, that would have been for many of us almost the same as his not being incarnate at all.

And, of course, there is everywhere in the Gospels the ultimate mark of Jesus’ humanity, namely his mortality. He died! The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is not that Jesus fainted from fear or swooned from pain, but that he expired from mortal wounds (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:57; Luke 23:46; John 19:30; Rom. 5:6; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Thess. 5:9-10).”

What would our faith be like with an emotion-less or passion-less Christ? What would change?