My wife sent me a link to a Children’s Sunday School Teaching aid titled, “The Emotion Wheel.”

The wheel features five main categories: Strong, Afraid, Calm, Mad, and Happy. From each type, like spokes on a bicycle, are six further headings for each category.

For example, the six sub-headings for “Mad” are Jealous, Annoyed, Frustrated, Critical, Hateful, and Hurt. For each subheading, there is an attached Bible verse.

The categories are color-coded. Red is the color for Mad, Purple for Afraid, Orange for Strong, Blue for Sad, Green for Happy, and Teal for Calm. 

It is an attractive wheel. I should point out that an INET search turned up numerous emotion wheels of varying complexities. This says something about the influence of psychology on the culture and the church since more than a few feature attached Bible verses.

This wheel appears to be a take-off on an emotional wheel developed by Dr. Robert Plutchik, a psychologist and repurposed for children’s Sunday school. The idea is to connect the children’s feelings with a biblical verse.

So what is wrong with that?

To understand what is wrong with focusing on emotions, we must first understand what the Bible means by the word heart.

Thayer’s Greek Dictionary defines the heart like this:

Kardia: the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors of the will and character of the soul so far as it is affected and stirred in a bad way or good, or of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.

As we can see from the biblical definition, emotions are part of the heart. The heart (kardia) is the biblical word to describe the inner person. The heart is a person’s immaterial (non-flesh) part that includes our thoughts, beliefs, desires, mind, feelings, intentions, and emotions. It is often referred to as the control center of our being.

We live in a culture, often a church culture, where we link the heart almost exclusively to our emotional component when we speak of the heart. A phrase like “speak from the heart” means to follow your feelings and talk emotionally about this or that. A word like, follow your heart” means to follow your feelings. We live in a culture dominated by feelings due to the influence of secular psychology. When the heart is not referred to as a physical organ, it usually means “feelings” or “emotions.”
I assume the Emotion Wheel for Children’s Sunday School means older children in the Junior High range since it would require at least some basic knowledge of Scripture. Jr. High kids need to learn about the heart and how emotions fit into the biblical category of the heart rather than trying to find an out-of-context verse that somehow ministers to whatever emotions they are experiencing.

Here are a few quick examples from the Emotion Wheel to illustrate my meaning.
The verse selected for Sad-Tired is Matthew 11:28:


28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29  Take my
yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find
rest for your souls.  30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 


I was unaware that being tired was an emotion, but I suppose one could argue that a person could be emotionally drained or exhausted. I will assume that emotionally drained is meant since we are probably talking to drama-type teens. How would the verse apply at face value?

If the teen knew that “come to me” meant come to Jesus, the promise is to rest if you are emotionally burdened by something. If the teens read on, and I hope they will, they will further find that they could learn from Jesus and that in learning from Jesus, they will find rest from whatever emotional burden they are carrying, and from that learning, they will find emotional rest. The question that should be obvious is what is meant by burden (heavy-laden, NASB) and rest for souls. The passage has nothing to do with a person’s emotional state. As the ESV Study Bible explains, the passage in context has everything to do with the gospel:

11:28–30 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden. There is an echo
of the first beatitude (5:3) in this passage. Note that this is an open invitation to
all who hear—but phrased in such a way that the only ones who will respond to
the invitation are those who are burdened by their own spiritual bankruptcy and
the weight of trying to save themselves by keeping the law. The stubbornness of
humanity’s sinful rebellion is such that without a sovereignly-bestowed spiritual
awakening, all sinners refuse to acknowledge the depth of their spiritual poverty.
That is why, as Jesus says in v. 27, our salvation is the sovereign work of God.
But the truth of divine election in v. 27 is not incompatible with the free offer to all
in vv. 28–30.
11:29 you will find rest. I.e., from the endless, fruitless effort to save oneself by
the works of the law (cf. Heb 4:1–3, 6, 9–11). This speaks of a permanent respite
in the grace of God which is apart from works (v. 30).

Let’s look at Galatians 3:26.

26  For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. (Gal. 3:26, NET Bible)

Since emotion wheels are used extensively in psychology and psychologized churches, it is safe to assume that “valuable” is connected to a teen’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Psychology places a premium on a person’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Biblically speaking, we already think too highly of ourselves. The passage is called an identity passage, and the giveaway is the words “in Christ.”  To be “in Christ” means to be a “son of God” (male or female) because they have put their faith in Christ. The issue is to esteem Christ highly, not yourself since you can do nothing to earn your salvation. The only thing a person brings to the salvation table is their depravity.

Once again, we see a passage with everything to do with the gospel and nothing about a person’s emotional state. One more example will suffice. I wanted more fun with this one, so I picked Proverbs 17:22 from the Happy-Cheerful categories. Who does not want to be happy and cheerful?

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Pro.17:22. ESV)

Once again, we have to assume the emotion\psychology lens the authors of the wheel must intend. In psychology, as explained above, heart means feelings. So, feeling joyful is good medicine and something to be strived for.
The first half of the Proverb is contrasted with the second half, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. The second half uses biblical language (crushed spirit) to describe depression. The crushed spirit affects the inner person’s (soul, heart) bones.
The Proverb simply states the way things tend to be. A joyful person is not a clinically depressed person. I am uncertain what a teen could gain from going to this passage without understanding the contrast and the reasons for the crushed spirit.

One of the cross-references in the ESV Study Bible is:

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. (Pro. 14:30,ESV)

Here, the word heart means an inner person or soul. Tranquil means peaceful, so a heart at peace gives life to the outer person (the physical). Proverbs are wisdom literature, and wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God. The wise person seeks God, and the proverbial fool ignores God. By implication, the tranquil heart is peaceful because the person seeks God and God’s ways (Pro. 1:7). The second half of the Proverb, but envy makes the bones rot, states what ruins the tranquility sin of envy. The envious person is rotten on the inside. I once counseled a woman who struggled to care for an un-believing disabled husband. She was not clinically depressed, just sick and tired of caring for him since he was demanding and mean (according to her). She envied the people in her church who did not have that burden. The woman’s feelings trumped her theology. After explaining the reasons for her sadness and going to appropriate passages (in context), the woman began to feel better because she repented of envy and began to accept that taking care of her husband was her primary ministry at that stage of their lives.

The point is that without context and the biblical view of the heart, the utility value of the evangelical baptized Emotional Wheel is nearly useless unless one wants to take the time to see how the passages fit into a heart\Bible context. Viewing the Bible through a psychological lens is a bad plan. The Bible is not about feeling good or feeling bad. Emotions are important, but they are only a part of the heart. Emotions tell us what is going on inside of us. Emotions often serve as alarm bells that lead us to look inside the heart to diagnose the root issue.

See The Process of Biblical Heart Change by Julie Ganschow and Bruce Roeder for more on what the heart is and what heart change is.


Pastor Bruce Roeder


Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor

Bruce is an Elder/Pastor at the Vine Community Church in South Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife Elizabeth of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great grandkids. 

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