I have a question prompted by seeing a play called "The Whale," a story of people who try to stop feeling anything through overeating, alcohol, drugs, sarcasm, etc. If our feelings are natural and God intended us to have them, why would anyone want to escape what's only natural?
-- E., Lake Worth, Florida
"Dogs" is the answer to your brilliant and elemental question. What's the difference between how dogs handle their natural urges and how people handle them? Dogs simply give in to their desires to do whatever they wish. We might yell at them, but we don't blame dogs for their behavior because they have no moral conscience, thus no moral restraint. And since animals have no moral awareness, they have no moral culpability.
God made humans with a dual nature. We're partly like animals and partly like angels. We're partly hominoid and partly spiritual creations. We're made of earth, and we're made in the image of God. Our destiny is formed by our struggle to both embrace and transcend our animal being, and thereby enrich and elevate our spiritual being. Religion was the first and is still the most powerful effort of human beings to restrain our animal urges through its laws and rituals.
Warfare is permitted, but to limit our aggressive animal instincts, the Bible prohibits cutting down your enemy's fruit trees and other war crimes. Fasting is a ritual used in many faiths to restrain our passion for food and lead us to spiritual nourishment. Dietary restrictions teach us that eating need not bring death or suffering to what we eat.
For example, glatt kosher laws in Judaism require even kosher meat to be salted before cooking. These laws are derived from Genesis, where God, realizing after the Flood that compelling people to completely abandon their animal urges was impossible, gives in and allows Noah to eat meat for the first time: "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein" (Gen. 9:3-7).
Salting meat was a way to eat meat but not be spiritually degraded by eating bloody meat, which would make us indistinguishable from a lion tearing at its prey. Blood is the substance where animals' life and spiritual life touch.
Our animal nature is the reason for all our feelings. I agree with you that none of these feelings are totally evil. Sexual urges lead, when restrained, to stable and community-enhancing marriages. Fear can protect us from danger, as well as motivate us to create a safer world. Anger can be directed against injustice -- not just at intruders at the waterhole.
As theologian Martin Buber once observed, "There is nothing that is profane, only things that have not yet been sanctified." I disagree with you that just because we have a feeling that it is natural -- and that just because it's natural, that it is moral. Not being a saint, I can tell you that I often have feelings I'd never want to act upon.
I live in hope for that day when God will finally put an end to the twofold nature of the world and usher in the messianic age, when both animals and people will finally transcend their ancient limitations and share a world where every instinct is for good. In that day, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6).