I think one of our biggest problems as a species is how frequently we act on impulse. We’re taught to think with our guts, to go with our hearts, and “just do it.” We believe that our feelings really do know what’s best for us.
Frankly, I’m beginning to think this is just plain stupid. In the words of the film High Fidelity, “my guts have s@#! for brains!” I think this statement applies to all of us. We’re told to follow what we feel is right, yet our emotions rise and fall like the Great Bear Roller Coaster at Hershey Park and change faster than we change our clothes each day. Having been a victim to my emotions for, oh, the last 23 years of my short life, I can attest to the foolishness of this thinking.
Yet what amazes me how much this is embedded in our culture. Nearly EVERY Top 40 song on the radio or previously on the radio is about impulse, whether its talking about following our emotions (like the song “Listen To Your Heart” by DHT) or talking about stupid decisions we made (“Blame It On the Alcohol” for one), or just doing what we feel (“The Lazy Song” comes to mind here). In our televisions and on shopping websites, corporations try to get us to buy things on impulse by showing us how great a bottle of shampoo will make us feel (I’m looking at YOU, Herbal Essences), or using slogans like, “Get yourself a little something” and showing you products you viewed (this is Amazon’s tactic). It’s pretty disgusting if you ask me.
Acting upon impulses is something every religion opposes, far as I can tell (except for, perhaps, Satanism, a religion built around self-indulgence). Buddhists and Hindus strive to keep their emotions in check with logical thought and through meditation on koans, or sacrifice to gods and consideration for such things as karma. Even the Hebrew scriptures have something to say about the matter. Anyone ever heard the story of Jacob and Esau? No? Well then, let me tell you about it:
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Let’s look at some background here: Jacob and Esau were the offspring of Isaac, son of Abraham, the father of nations. They were rivals from the womb; legend tells us that Jacob came out of his mother grasping Esau’s heel, as if fighting hard to be the firstborn, which meant the birthright and inheritance of all the father’s possessions and leader of Israel (not that the nation of Israel existed yet). Having the birthright as the firstborn was a huge deal in that time.
Now, looking at the picture painted above…what’s wrong with this picture? Esau comes home from hunting, and he’s starving. He finds Jacob making some stew, and begs him for some of it. Jacob, being the crafty individual he was (or perhaps just the jealous type, since he was second-born), asks him for his birthright. Instead of stopping for a second, overcoming his hunger, and thinking “Hmmmm…my birthright as firstborn really isn’t worth some stew,” he swears an oath and gives it up. For red stew.
Esau, I hope it tasted good, because we now know Jacob as one of the patriarch’s of Israel instead of you.
This same issue with impulse shows up throughout scripture, leading many great mean to urge us to not be so foolish. Jeremiah the prophet tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). David sent a man to die on the battlefield just because he was horny and wanted his wife(2 Samuel 11). Moses got angry with the people of Israel when they kept griping about being in the desert, struck a rock he was supposed to speak to, and lost his chance to enter the Promised Land (Exodus 20). Bottom line, if we keep acting on fits of lust, rage, desire, and anger, we are going to be slaves to our flesh.
Scripture teaches us keep our hearts in check, to guard ourselves against the foolish actions our emotions can drive us to. That doesn’t mean our emotions can’t tell us something, but we must be wiser than they to discern them. I can guarantee that I feel a rush of emotion when I think about my wedding day (good emotions, I promise :D) , or get angry when a coworker gets in my face. We cannot be slaves to our emotions, no matter how our anger might be justified, or our lust might grip us. Our guts have no brains at all, so we need to quit relying on them, and instead learn to rely on the instruction and guidance of the Lord through this life.
How about you? Are you impulsive? Do you rely on your emotions too much? Does your heart deceive you?