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Emotional Intelligence

James Grayston

In 1995, Daniel Goleman an American journalist and psychologist published a book which popularised the concept of emotional intelligence. Traditionally, it was argued that if you wanted to be successful in life, you needed to have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient). In other words, people who were clever or intelligent were expected to be high achievers. Goleman's book introduced another factor, emotional intelligence - sometimes referred to as EQ. This is the ability to control our emotions and to recognise and respond to emotional issues in other people. Goleman claimed that the lack of emotional intelligence has made a major contribution to the breakdown of society.  

I am not writing this blog to encourage readers to read the book entitled 'Emotional Intelligence' nor am I going to debate whether or not Goleman's arguments are correct. However, I am going to introduce you to what the Bible has to say about our emotions. The Bible uses the word 'heart' as a short-hand for our emotions and also our will and our thinking. If you find this strange, just think for a minute of the most common symbol in Valentine cards. The heart is also the seat of moral conduct and it is interesting to discover that Goleman sees a strong link between emotional competence and moral behaviour. In other words, if we can learn how to control our emotions, we will learn how to be a good person - according to Goleman.  

The Bible is much less flattering - the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah states that 'The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick' [Jeremiah 17:9]. From God's perspective, the human heart is incurably sinful - there is no human remedy for the problems of the heart (and here we are not thinking of the human organ which pumps blood around the body).  All human efforts to improve the human sinful condition are doomed to fail. This might seem a very pessimistic message. God who is able to appreciate fully what we are really thinking and the true motives for our behaviour concludes that the heart is wicked and crooked and that this situation is incurable in human terms.  

The Bible has also a message of good news. The same chapter in Jeremiah describes two contrasting lifestyles based on a person's attitude to God. In verse 5 we read of a person who is 'cursed' because he trusts in man and his 'heart turns away from the Lord.' He is rebellious and self-sufficient and he is cursed by God. In stark contrast in verse 7 of the same chapter we find a person who is 'blessed' by God and it says of this person that 'his trust is in the Lord.' In the Book of Acts in the New Testament we meet Lydia, a religious woman, but it says of her that 'the Lord opened her heart.' Her life was never the same again after making Jesus Lord of her life. [Acts 16:14]

The secret of true emotional intelligence is a life where we surrender to God's will and we allow the Lord Jesus to take up residence in our 'hearts.' In his letter to the Ephesians (chapter 3), Paul the apostle speaks of his prayer for the Christians who were living in Ephesus. He does not pray that they will be financially secure or materially prosperous. He does not pray that they will enjoy better health or be physically fitter or spared from life's trials. He prays 4 things for these Christians and how wonderful if all of us could experience these in our lives.  

1.     He prays that they would enjoy strength in the inside - in their inner being. This comes from the work of the Holy Spirit. This is not physical strength but spiritual strength - or even emotional intelligence! This is the strength to triumph in the midst of life's problems. [Ephesians 3:16]

2.     He prays that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. Of course, every Christian has the Lord Jesus 'in their hearts' but the idea of Paul's prayer is that the Lord will be at home in their hearts. The sinless Son of God cannot be at home in a life that is full of sin - he cannot tolerate our arrogance, selfcentredness, gossip, jealousy, bitterness, hatred or prejudice. [Ephesians 3:17]

3.     He prays that the Ephesians will grasp the love of Christ which he admits is beyond our measure. This might seem like a paradox - because divine love is so wonderful that it cannot be fathomed. It is wonderful to begin to grasp the greatness of God's love for us - demonstrated first and foremost at the cross of Calvary. [Ephesians 3:18-19]

4.     He prays that they will experience constant refilling from an inexhaustible supply - 'that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.' [Ephesians 3:19]

As I close this blog, I pray that I might experience these four prayers in my life. I pray that any Christian reading this may also have this same blessing. We cannot begin to imagine what God can do in our lives through this divine power - 'he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.' [Ephesians 3:20]

I would be really thrilled if this blog is being read by someone whose heart is not opened to the Saviour. I pray that you too will discover the wonderful thrill of allowing Jesus into your life. Please notice that the verses in Ephesians repeatedly speak of divine intervention in our frail human lives. Daniel Goleman was emphasising human agency - instead of admitting that we need divine intervention to remedy the deceitful heart which is desperately sick and cannot be cured by human remedies.