The Feelings of Jesus' Heart
His Whole Person's Affective Narrative
Jesus' Feelings Study
Extrinsic Portraits to Intrinsic Profile
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?”
What is the portrait of Jesus that you have in your faith portfolio? Do you think Jesus would agree with your portrait—and affirm “that’s me and where I am” (as he requires of all his followers in his discipleship paradigm, Jn 12:26)?
Our portrait of Jesus could show different angles of his profile, which he may agree with or not. This is an open question that we need to examine in comparison with how Jesus sees himself. Without knowing a clear answer to the question, the Jesus that Christians portray in their faith, gospel and discipleship is often formed from assumptions, and therefore likely incomplete, distorted or misleading. The consequence of having such a biased lens portraying Jesus has reverberated through the global church to effectively bear false witness to who, what and how Jesus was, is and will be. Given this existential reality, is it surprising to hear Jesus still say to his disciples today, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?”?
I grew up in a Christian home in a Chicago (USA) neighborhood, which had a surrounding majority of Catholics (including DePaul University and a Catholic hospital). The main portraits I saw of Jesus portrayed him in a manger and visibly on the cross. Later, when I became a true Christian and engaged in formal theological education, I added multiple angles of Jesus’ profile to my faith portfolio. For years, however, the intrinsic profile of his whole person eluded me, as if I was in a theological fog. Not surprisingly, this fog permeates churches and the academy to cloud the lenses used to see Jesus—blurred lenses which perceive a biased profile of Jesus that focuses mainly on extrinsic portraits (e.g., what he said, did, taught). How does such a portrait evolve?
For most Christians, the incarnation is not an issue even though they only have mental photos of Jesus: who Jesus is the one embodying God in the body of a human male. Yet, for most Christians, what Jesus embodied as a human male usually does not encompass his whole person—that is, the what distinguished only be the heart of his person from inner out. Portraits alone of who Jesus is can never capture the what of his whole person, no matter how much his portrait is touched up or enhanced as has evolved in ecclesial and academic contexts—in effect, duplicating the common work of Photoshop.
The unavoidable issue facing all Christians in their portraits of Jesus is this:
Without knowing and understanding his person, we only have information about Jesus from outer in that depict extrinsic portraits; and having this knowledge (no matter how much) of Jesus doesn’t result in the existential reality of truly knowing him, his whole person.
Such fragmentary knowledge was merely the quantity of information his first disciples had of him (disappointing his heart, Jn 14:9); this signifies the boasts of many church leaders and academics today (cf. Jer 9:23-24). And since many of his servants (past and present) essentially utilize what amounts to a Christological Photoshop, “where I am” is not distinguished in their theology and practice for them to “follow my person” nonnegotiably, and thereby “be also with their person” irreducibly—definitive discipleship with nothing less and no substitutes.
In other words, according to the Word, the portrait that most Christians have of Jesus is not the full profile of who and what he embodied and how he enacted that person in daily function. The dominant portrait that Christians have in their portfolios is of Jesus depicted triumphant on the cross—his crucifixion outcome. Beyond that, Christians possess various portraits of Jesus from diverse interpretations of the Word, which amount to partial, indirect or distorted snapshots of his profile. In order to have the full profile of Jesus’ whole person, we have to return to the Word and listen carefully (as in Lk 8:18; Mk 4:24), and thereby vulnerably embrace who and what he embodied and how he enacted that person vulnerably from his heart in our presence, and thus was relationally involved as the full profile of the face of God (as Paul distinguished, 2 Cor 4:6).
This study seeks to recount the narrative of Jesus, whose affects vulnerably reveal the heart of his whole person. To pay attention and listen carefully, however, requires us to suspend our current bias that effectively speaks for Jesus, in order to allow him to speak for himself. As we respond to the Word accordingly, his intrinsic profile will emerge and unfold for us to indeed “follow my person and be where I am in relationship together”—with the relational outcome that unequivocally “knows me, my whole person,” portrayed with nothing less and no substitutes.
All Christians have some type of bias that limits Jesus from fully being himself, and that constrains his person from having all the affects of his heart. These limits and constraints represent the “old” in us, which needs to be redeemed so that the “new” can arise in our theology and practice as followers of the heart of Jesus’ whole person.
Therefore, as the affective narrative of Jesus unfolds, we also need to be reconsidering the following:
In your photo album you have from the Word,
what is the profile that emerges to define your knowledge and determine
your understanding of Jesus?
How completely do you think that profile
encompasses who, what and how he was?
3. Most important in all this, how vulnerably do you effectively fathom his heartbeat for both face-to-face and heart-to-heart relationship together?
This is crucial to examine, because after all this time we don’t want to find ourselves like the disciples who “don’t you know me?” and didn’t understand why.
The Gospel narratives provide all the essential accounts and necessary details of Jesus’ earthly life for anyone to know who and how he was. Less explicitly noted, however, are further expressions of Jesus’ person that help complete his profile of what he was also. This is the inner-out intrinsic profile of his whole person, which is often overlooked by Christians with the consequence of integrally not knowing Jesus and not being like him as a person. That’s why we need to return to the narratives of Jesus to rediscover the intrinsic profile of his whole person, in whom was clearly distinguished “the image of God” (Col 1:15) for his followers to “follow me” and to be “where I am” in his very likeness.
The affects that Jesus experienced in his heart (not just his mind) are essential to his whole person. These affects are not about merely the human dynamics of what Jesus was. His feelings are integral to the emotions of God, which ongoingly have been shared openly in Scripture for the sake of God’s people, and now are further and more deeply expressed distinctly by the heart of the embodied Word enacted vulnerably with his person. God’s emotions are simply essential to distinguish God beyond merely as the Object of our beliefs. When God’s emotions are overlooked, ignored or even discounted, God then is reduced from being the Subject whose overt ontology is vulnerably present and actively (as Subject) involved directly in relationship with us. The complete profile of the whole of God doesn’t emerge and unfold whenever God is related to as Object, no matter how venerable the profile.
A significant introduction to the emotions of God is compiled by David Lamb, who rightfully outlines the scope of God’s emotions by giving equal attention to the negative emotions of God’s hatred, wrath and anger. Yet, the weight given to God’s harder feelings doesn’t imbalance God’s love, rather it keeps it from being distorted, for example, by idealizing or romanticizing it. In contrast, most Christians usually tip the emotions scale in favor of God’s love, whereby the profile of God is distorted to fit a portrait framed by our biases and assumptions. Nevertheless, the incarnation of the Word reveals the affective narrative that vulnerably discloses: (1) the heart of the whole of God, and (2) the heart of God’s image and likeness by which human persons are created and now transformed in the new creation—with nothing less and no substitutes (2 Cor 3:18; 5:17).
Therefore, the transition to Jesus’ intrinsic profile is neither optional nor negotiable with anything less and any substitutes. Yet, with the diversity of Christian witness characterized today with anything less and any substitutes, global Christianity is at a crossroads for the integrity of its identity and function as the followers of Jesus. At this pivotal stage of Christian faith, Jesus’ followers need to understand his affective narrative, so that—no matter the surrounding context—we can unequivocally “be where I am” (Jn 12:26) and thereby make heart-to-heart relational connection in order to intimately know nothing less than and no substitutes for his whole person from inner out.
Be on the ongoing alert, however, because this irreducible and nonnegotiable profile of Jesus emerges only on his relational terms for this relational process and outcome in ongoing reciprocal relationship together; and to reemphasize, the integrity of our involvement in this relationship can neither be reduced to nor negotiated by our terms (no matter how committed). Peter especially learned this experiential truth and relational reality the hard way, with relational repercussions that resonated in Jesus’ heart and reverberated in the early church.
From the beginning, Jesus experienced the issue, the defining issue, that he ongoingly encountered others having only a partial portrait of him—profiles often distorted or misinformed. So, not surprisingly even the early disciples’ incomplete profile of Jesus prevailed, because they didn’t listen carefully to his feelings and slow down (or simply stop) to embrace his whole person affected vulnerably before him. Compare Luke 24:6-11, for example; whose words were listened to?
Likewise, these are issues for Christians today, those who in daily practice are in essence on auto-pilot about Jesus’ profile—not slowing down or stopping their trajectory to be aware of who they’re following and where he is. Consequently, there isn’t a distinct consciousness that distinguishes Jesus’ whole person but only the image of his profile from the biases of Christian lenses. Moreover, this existential reality has evolved to the
stage that we become
preoccupied with the secondary matters surrounding us, in which our
profile of Jesus emerges often as if generated by AI. Such a profile,
at best, only portrays the data feed into our version of AI, whereby our
auto-pilot becomes a simulation of the epistemological illusion of Jesus
from the virtual limits of AI.
We are now challenged—if not confronted—to enter into the affective narrative of Jesus’ intrinsic profile. To connect with Jesus’ person (not just his words and actions) as we navigate this narrative, we also need to make our person vulnerable in order to be involved with the heart of his whole person. The Spirit is present and involved to help us in this heart-to-heart involvement.
 David T. Lamb, The Emotions of God: Making Sense of a God Who Hates, Weeps and Loves (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2022).
© 2023 T. Dave Matsuo