ACTING, EMOTIONS, AND
"All the world's a stage," I understand someone once said.
I've been thinking about this in connection with the jurisdiction and authority of
God's Law over my emotions.
Many people misunderstand God's Law in the Old Testament. They think that it's all
hypocritical, external, and heartless, and that the New Testament brought in love from the
heart. This is false. The Old Testament -- and certainly the New -- brought the whole man
under the authority of God and His Law. We are not just commanded to refrain from killing,
we are to feel a certain way toward people; not just when we "feel like
it," or when "it comes natural," but at the instant God commands it!
Ironically, those who say that the Old Testament is external while the New Testament is
heart-oriented nevertheless feel that heart-type emotions are somehow optional. The Spirit
may fill you with "love," they say, but you're not obligated to feel
"mushy" unless He does ("I just didn't feel 'led'").
Once again, the "sons of light" missed the boat and the children of the Old
Age are "wiser in their generation." It was Hegel who said that Christianity was
even more reprehensibly authoritarian than Judaism, because while Judaism commanded
actions, Christianity commanded feelings. I fear many Christians would reach the same
conclusion ("reprehensible") if they realized the premises ("commanded
So how do I obey God's command to feel?! This is what I think about, especially
in connection with the line about life being a stage.
The very first step in feeling a certain way is for me to act as if I do.
I recall seeing a comedy sketch or sit-com where the scene opens with a couple
apparently swept away with love for each other. The romance just drips from the screen, as
they coo and gurgle over how "wonderful" and "lovely" the other is.
Then off-stage we hear "CUT!" from the director and the couple immediately puts
nine yards between themselves, with each one muttering, "Idiot!! "Creep!"
"Who can do a decent job of acting with that bozo in the scene?!?" etc.,
etc. They sure fooled me. If I were in love I would prefer that the person I loved at
least appear to love me. I would at least feel better than if I were insulted.
Appearances are important, and that's why God commands them.
I have to conclude that even if I don't "really" feel a certain way about
someone or something, I ought to pretend. I am striving to become a good actor.
I know what you're going to say: "This is legalism
Not necessarily. It is, I admit, sort of "external." But it depends on your
motivation. I remember reading a story from Corrie ten Boom, the woman who risked her own
life by hiding Jews in her home. She met someone, an ex-Nazi, whom she had come across
before. Bitter memories. Hatred in her heart. Then she felt the prompting of the Spirit
bringing to her mind the Law of Christ ("Love your enemies"). She wrestled with
the will of the flesh and the will of God. She was quite negative about the man -- and who
wouldn't be? -- but knew what God required. She asked the Spirit, "I will go up to
him and make the first move; you must do the rest." (Words to that effect.) With great
difficulty she went up to the man she despised and offered a handshake. He was overjoyed;
he had recognized her too, and had assumed that she hated him; he was afraid to speak to
her. After shaking her hand, he asked for her forgiveness, and sincerely repented of his
deeds as a Nazi. And, of course, at that point she was empowered; the Spirit gave her a
forgiving and loving heart, just as He promised (Ezekiel 36:26-27). It was a moving story.
External obedience -- as a first step -- is truly obedient. It's something that can be
done by everyone, even if they don't have the requisite feeling. Corrie ten Boom did not
at that moment want reconciliation, but she obediently acted as though she did, in
a spirit of overall obedience. God's promise to make our enemies at peace with us (Ps.
16:7) was likely fulfilled through the mechanism of
1. Corrie Ten Boom acting as though she didn't despise the Nazi.
2. Offering a handshake
3. The Nazi seeing her apparent openness and friendliness, and then
4. making the next move (which was more than just apparent, but genuinely heart-felt)
of asking forgiveness.
5. This made it easier/possible for Corrie to then genuinely be at peace about
Action and reaction ping-pongs back and forth between the parties, on a course of
increasing obedience to God's commands. But the whole process of reconciliation and
heart-felt union was initiated by a feeble, "external," but required
(and effective) "acting job."
So I must learn to be an actor. That is the first step.
How do I do that? How can I be a better actor?
I hear that the best actors and actresses use a system of meditation and
"self-hypnosis." Constant repetition, exhortation, mental reflection. "I am
King Lear. I feel (as King Lear does)." Etc., etc.,
But life is not just a stage. It is real. It counts eternally. Still, God requires us
to act. Life is a play; God's play. His Law is our script; it is up to us to
act it out, or the Shepherd's crook is going to drag us off, stage left. It should be easy
to act out God's play, because we know how it ends. If we start out as obediently as we
know how, however feeble, however "external," we know that puts us on a
"patriarchal" course of increasing obedience, the blessing of peaceful feedback,
which increases our obedience, increasing our blessing, and so on (cf. Deuteronomy 8).
We too, I think, need to prepare for our roles. We need to say to ourselves, "I am
the Lord's servant," or, with Mary, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord"
(Luke 1:38). We need to present ourselves before God as servants ready, willing, and able.
I like to call this process of preparing for our roles, "spiritual
imagination." We imagine ourselves as the people God has called us to be. We
rehearse. We imagine ourselves in the role, giving a spectacularly Godly performance. In
the Age of the Spirit, the Age of Gospel Prosperity, there is certainly no justification
for sitting around imagining ourselves as sinful, cowardly failures. And, as with all
things we can do with our time, there is no neutrality. So I'm going to imagine myself in
the role of God's Servant.
The program of meditation presented here is similar to that used by Hollywood's finest.
People like the New Age hucksters are hired and paid handsomely to help professional
actors develop rehearsal imagination. Nevertheless, I still think the program is
legitimate! I invite you to judge it.
I think the Spirit will honor it.