God created humans to be emotional beings. We can’t have deep, meaningful relationships with God or with other people without emotions. If we truly love God, we should be emotionally moved from time to time when we spend time in Scripture.
But the goal of Bible study is not to achieve some sort of emotional buzz. Good Bible study seeks to understand the intent of the author, regardless of how the text makes us feel.
Have you ever sat in a Bible class and heard someone say “Well, I don’t thing God would ever _____” Or “I could never serve a God who _____”? These are common phrases that come from an emotional approach to Bible study. This is a dangerous way to study the Bible. What if the Bible is actually supposed to challenge our emotions from time to time? If we go to the Bible and ask “Okay, what can I pull from this verse that feels good to me?” we will end up skipping over all kinds of texts in the Bible just because they don’t incite the kind of emotional buzz we are looking for. Or worse, we may disregard the author’s intent entirely if it doesn’t match up with our more emotionally appealing reading of the verse.
For example, look at Romans 8:31 without considering what happens before it:
“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
At first glance, it sounds so empowering! “No one can stand in the way of my dreams!” But this over simplified, and misleading understanding of the verse fades away entirely when we study the verse in context. If we ask harder questions, such as “What did Paul mean when he said this?”, and “How would the original audience have understood Paul here?”, we will easily notice that Paul is actually encouraging Christians to embrace a life of Christ-like suffering! If we understand a verse differently than how the original audience would have understood the verse, we’re the ones who have it wrong.
Sometimes people will speak of “letting the Spirit lead them” in order to justify this kind of emotional-response method of reading. But the Bible actually teaches nearly the opposite. “For God has given us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). A spirit that has self-control over emotions is actually a gift from God.
Nowhere do we read that the early Christians “Searched the scriptures daily” to feel a certain way. Bible study is not about you. We study to gain a better understanding of God, a better understanding of His plan, and a better understanding of what He wants from us. God created us as emotional beings. We can’t have a true understanding of God – and the emotional impact that brings – without disciplined, self-controlled study of God’s word.