Is Faith an Emotion?

This post flows out of some thoughtful questions asked by a reader in my last post. In short, I’ll pose it to you this way: Is faith an emotion?

To be sure, we are created by God to be emotional beings. However, do our emotions constitute the core of our faith? Said another way, what is faith?

The writer to the Hebrews says it this way: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews also notes that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Those who encountered Jesus recognized this—the father of a demon possessed boy cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24); and “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (Luke 17:5). But perhaps Jesus summed it up best in the assigned Gospel reading from this past Sunday: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Thus, putting it simply, belief in Christ is a matter of faith. The Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit creates faith, and the gospel (Good News) is believed. But does this mean feelings are not involved?

Without question, feelings come into play as faith is lived out. And I do recognize the verses of scripture that juxtapose faith and feelings, i.e. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). But I think it’s important to note that faith itself is not a matter of pure feelings. In other words, you are not to feel faith; you are to believe it! I know, this may raise an eyebrow or two, and I am open for discussion about it, but first consider the following.

I think there is a great amount of confusion today that makes faith all about feelings rather than about believing and trusting God’s Word in Christ. Further, I have yet to find a verse of Scripture that says you need to “feel” faith. The Bible talks about “believing” faith. I am not discounting the role of feelings and emotions in our Christian life. Rather I simply desire to properly order them so that the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, does not get lost in the volatility of our sinful emotions.

Again, consider the following. What happens when you do not feel God’s judgment? What happens when you do not feel that what you did was a sin? Does this mean that if you do not feel it, then it is not a sin? Or what happens when you don’t feel Jesus loves you?  “How could he love me? I am such a failure?” What happens when you don’t feel Jesus’ forgiveness? “He couldn’t forgive me. What I did was too terrible!” Thus, if you cannot feel it, does that mean that God does not really love you? Does that mean He does not forgive you? Can you see the perils of making faith simply a matter of our feelings?

Again, please do not misunderstand. I readily acknowledge that God’s Word does speak to our emotions. However, I hold its not dependent on them for it’s efficacy. Rather God’s Word powerfully expresses His feelings for us and to us. Thus, faith is wrought in us not from our emotion, but from God’s emotion (love) given to us through His Word.

For God’s Word is full of His promises. God’s Word forgives sins. God’s Word raises dead bodies. And faith believes these promises. It believes what God’s Word says. Not at the expense of our emotions, but despite them. Hence Luther’s Third Article explanation, “I cannot by my own reason or strength (perhaps emotion?) believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”

Yet, with that said, who of us does not desperately long for some hope, some comfort, or some love when tragedies strike, when loved ones die, or when we are caught in a sin? Likewise, guilt is an emotion. Shame is an emotion. The law (God’s Word) can certainly evoke these. And the Gospel (God’s Word) certainly remedies them; wherein there is great joy, hope, and consolation (also emotions).

Nonetheless, our emotions are not the core of our faith. Our emotions regarding our faith are the result of believing God’s Word. Faith (experiencing God) does not and cannot come from our own emotion. It comes from God’s Word alone where it evokes various emotions according to its law/Gospel purpose—trust (also an emotion) included.

Thus, in the end, faith is always believed—when we confess our sins, when we lose our jobs, when depression sets in, when marriages fail, when the diagnosis is given, when loved ones die—faith is believed. Feelings come and go, but faith is believed!

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).


Rev. Woodford


4 responses to “Is Faith an Emotion?

  1. Do you think that some of the confusion of making emotions into faith comes from those who teach the victorious Christian life? Those who say we need to straighten up, act right, don’t sin and give money to Gid because he will give a lot more back to us. That if we don’t feel happy and great, we either have some unrepentant sin hidden in our lives or we really haven’t accepted Jesus. It seems that emotions are played upon to make guilt show it’s face so that we will do what is wanted of us; either to participate/help more or give more money. Although I think the Holy Spirit does convict us (makes us feel guilty) for things we either know we should or should not be doing or even have done. That is where I think some of the problem lies in differentiating between them comes.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Mike. I do think that some of the confusion comes from you you say. This is why I think it’s so important that we focus on the objective Word of God rather than our subjective, and often irrational, broken emotions. My aim is never to be dismiss our emotions, but rather to emphasis the power of God’s despite our emotions. If the victorious Christian life is not about Christ crucified and risen, where we are also called to pick up our cross and follow Him, then it’s not the victorious Christian life, but, sadly, a misled life.

  2. I couldn’t get myself to read the whole thing.. But I looked up the question, and I agree.

  3. Faith isn’t moved by emotions. Faith is firm. Emotions are alright, I guess? =) Sometimes they are painful or awkward.

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