Emotions are a good thing. You know how I know? Because Jesus wept. God created us with emotions, and even a sinless Christ without a sinful nature experienced them. Not only that, but He experienced the full gamut of emotions, from joy to anger to grief.
But, one thing He didn’t allow to happen was for His emotions to control His actions. God gave us emotions so that we could fully experience life, but not so that we should be controlled by them. Don’t get me wrong, emotions can be a useful indicator, but they should never be our guide.
So, today I want to write a bit about emotions, because I think this is something we struggle with in Christianity a lot. Christians tend to be all over the map on this one. Some believe there are bad emotions, or that all emotions are bad and we should be reserved and stoic. Others believe that we should just give in to our emotions, believing them to be the spirit’s leading, yet others think that emotions are something to be controlled and contained, that showing them is weakness.
So, what is the truth?
1. Emotions are good, but sin has found a way to twist them
As I said earlier, emotions are a good thing. We know because God created them and even Jesus experienced them. You should be joy when you experience God’s blessings. You should feel anger when God is attacked, or His Truth compromised or twisted. You should feel grief when the sin of this world impacts His creation.
However, Satan has managed to twist all emotions into destructive counterparts. Anger at sin twists into hate of individuals. Joy for life turns into greed of possessions. Grief for the sin in your life turns into shame and sorrow past the point of forgiveness and redemption.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
You see, these emotions are good and God-given, but we accept Satan’s twisted versions of them and adopt them into our life. We lead lives that are then contaminated by feels that continue to harm us far past the initial damage. In essence, we give the enemy another weapon to hurt us with, one that is internal to us and even more powerful in it’s ability to harm us.
We give Satan a stronghold in our lives from which to further attack our soul.
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. – Proverbs 16:32
So, we need to be able to recognize our emotions for what they are. Is what I’m feeling godly, or born of sin? Does it help me draw closer to God and others, or does it separate me from them? Does it help or harm?
And it’s hard, because those sinful emotions feel powerful, in a way. We fool ourselves into feeling that we have control, but the truth is, we’re just allowing the emotions to control us and rationalizing it after the fact.
Accepting the lie allows the enemy to continue hurting us, for hours, days, weeks, months, even years and decades. We choose to feel hurt well after an incident has occurred. We give Satan that power over our lives by not only accepting, but adopting the lie of “this is just how I feel”.
But feelings were never meant to lead us.
2. Emotions are indicators, not guides
Our emotions can tell us a lot about ourselves. Unfortunately, we rarely use them as indicators for our lives. We tend to accept their lead and then just follow along.
Unfortunately, emotions as guides yield extremely different results than emotions as indicators.
If you feel hatred towards someone, if you use that as an indicator, it will tell you that you need to forgive them and ask God for forgiveness. That you need to repair those relationships.
If you use it as a guide though, you will treat them as an enemy, either distancing yourself completely, out of hatred, or attacking them in return, either overtly or subtly.
If you having a craving for something, be it food, porn, or anything else, as an indicator, this can show you that perhaps this thing has too much control over you and this is an area of your life you need to work on. Perhaps it’s pointing to feelings of abandonment, a lack of emotional connection that you’re trying to cover up, or shame you are trying to avoid.
But, if taken as a guide, you will instead indulge in those things you crave every time. At first it will harm you because the continued guilt will eat at you until you repent and return to God. If you don’t, then eventually you won’t feel guilt anymore. You will cease to listen to the prompting of God to turn back.
Unfortunately, our society teaches us that that godly sorrow is just conditioning of our conservative religion and that eventually we will overcome it. The truth is that eventually you will condition yourself to listen to a new god, one that cannot save you: yourself.
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. – Proverbs 25:28
Either way, emotions are powerful. If you let them guide you, you will find they have the power to ruin your life. If you use them as indicators along with the Bible, you will find they point you towards Christ’s power to change your life for the better.
3. Do you control your emotions or do they control you?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23
The Bible exorts us often to decide to love, to have self-control, to be gentle and good, and kind. These things are not possible if we’re letting our emotions control us. Rather, we should listen to the immediate reaction of our emotion, recognize what it is they are indicating, and then make a decision about how we’re going to feel about the situation.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. – James 1:19-20
It is difficult, at first, to decide to be slow to react, to be mindful of the reactions of our emotions and then choose to redirect them into a path that is good, healthy, and above all, godly. There are two ways to help with this though:
a. Consider likely scenarios before they happen
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ – 1 Peter 1:13
Sometimes we know something is coming. For example, if you have a friend who is often late for appointments and you are planning to meet with them, then you can decide ahead of time how you will react if they are late again.
That way you can prepare your mind so that if you feel the reaction of hurt or frustration, then you can decide to act in a way that is still loving and uplifting. That doesn’t mean being a pushover, the most loving thing in that situation might be to hold them accountable. It depends on the situation. The point is, make a decision ahead of time of how you will react, how you can show them God’s love, both for their own benefit and your own.
b. Judge your reactions after the fact and decide if it was appropriate
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9
The part I want to point out in that verse is “and knowledge with self-control”. Sometimes you can only built your self-control after you realize what it is you did. Sometimes we need to have made the mistake in order that we can look back and say “I could have handled that better”. We all have moments where we didn’t act the way we should have, where there was a better option, where we feel we should have had more self control.
When you have those moments, when you feel that twinge of guilt, sorrow, or “I wish I had”, then think it through. Use these questions:
- What was the stimulus (what happened that set me off)?
- How did I react?
- Why did I react that way?
- How could I have reacted better?
- What might have been the outcome?
- Is there anyone I should apologize to and/or ask forgiveness from?
These steps can help you judge your actions after the fact and then teach your brain new ways of dealing with stimuli as they come up. You can’t go back in the past and undo what you did, but you can change the course of future events.
So, what about you? Do you let your emotions control you? Or do you let your emotions tell you more about yourself, and then in return tell them how to behave? Are you using them to live life to the fullest? Or letting them push you into into sinful reactions?