This is the second of four posts recapping a teaching series on practical aspects of the Christian life. These lessons were taught first in Big Gathering sessions and then as Family Camp seminars. This post is part one about emotions. Click here for part two. You can see the post about work here. Remaining posts coming soon.
How are you feeling these days? When people respond to this question anonymously in a class setting, I receive a variety of answers. People feel angry, peaceful, bitter, hopeful, anxious, joyful, depressed—sometimes all in the same day! How are we to understand this prominent, yet illusive aspect of humanity? Here are four biblical facts that help.
1. God is emotional (sort of).
This is a complex and controversial statement because shifting emotions imply change, and God does not change. This is called the doctrine of immutability. However, without getting too entangled in doctrinal debate, we can all agree that scripture attributes emotional qualities to God.
For example, in Genesis 6:6, “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” God says in Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols.” Zephaniah prophesies that God “will rejoice over you with gladness.”
While it is doctrinally dangerous to equate God’s emotional qualities with human emotions, it is clear that emotions are an aspect of God’s image in humanity (Genesis 1:26-27). When you do good work and look upon it with a feeling of satisfaction, when your children rebel in dangerous ways and you feel loving rage, or when you see a sunset and you feel joy—that’s God’s image within you.
2. Jesus is emotional.
Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and he is emotional. Isaiah prophesied that he would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Surely he felt anger when he made a whip and drove out corrupt money changers from the temple, pouring out their money and flipping over their tables in John 2:13-17. At the funeral of a friend, he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). We know also that he experiences and expresses joy (Hebrews 12:2 and Luke 10:21).
We do not follow an unemotional, Terminator-type savior. Since Jesus is emotional, he will not dampen our emotions as we become more like him. He will redeem them.
3. The Bible is emotional.
Of course a book can’t be emotional. But the Bible is full of emotional content. The Psalms are soaked in emotive language about loneliness, grief, sorrow, joy, peace, passion and guilt. Job is a 42 chapter exploration of a man’s emotional devastation. Solomon could have been diagnosed clinically depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Grief drips from the pages of Lamentations.
The fact that God chose to address emotions so frequently and deeply in Scripture means that they are important. They are part of God’s image in us and will continue to be a major part of our lives as we follow Christ. Emotions are a central part of humanity and not to be ignored or suppressed, but redeemed.
4. Human Emotions are Complicated by Sin
Unfortunately we cannot think about human emotions without acknowledging sin’s central role in complicating our emotional experience.
Let’s start from the beginning. The only glimpse of human emotion we see before Genesis 3 (the sin wrecks everything) is when Adam first sees Eve.
And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.
Like every groom upon seeing his bride step through the church doors, Adam joyfully exalts in the blessing of a wife: “At last!” But other than this one clue, there is no mention of human emotion before Genesis 3, when sin enters the story. Only then does the Holy Spirit begin to employ emotional language to depict Adam and Eve’s experience.
This is not to say that humans were less emotional before the fall, but perhaps that emotions were so harmonious with the rest of creation that there was no need to mention them. Not so after the fall. Adam and Even are immediately filled with shame and fear (Genesis 3:10). Since that moment, emotions have become incredibly complicated. In this fallen world, circumstances, personality traits, physical health, thought patterns, beliefs, spiritual forces and other influences affect our emotions.
Dealing with Problematic Emotions
So how are we to deal with problematic emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, shame, etc. as Christians? This is the question we will tackle in the next post.