By Blair Parke, Crosswalk.com
Emotions: they are what can trigger us to get mad at an instant, cry at the drop of a hat, fester unforgiveness in one’s heart, and drive us to succeed at all costs in life.
It’s not foreign to God for humans to have emotions in life, as Jesus famously wept in John 11:35 over the death of His friend Lazarus (who He later brought back to life). The Bible also regularly shares about when God and Jesus were angered by what people did on earth.
However, what does the Bible say about our emotions, primarily how best to handle those feelings we have in ways that are pleasing to God as well as to ourselves?
It is possible to manage these emotions God has gifted us in these bodies. But it is through understanding what emotions are and how we should act with that we are able to manage these unpredictable sensations properly.
The Bible’s Take on Emotions
First, the Bible states that any emotion (happiness, sorrow, worry) should be brought in prayer to God, as stated in Philippians 4:6-7, for bringing our concerns to God allows His peace and guidance to come to us. 2 Corinthians 10:5 also comes into agreement with Philippians 4, encouraging believers to cast down anything against God’s knowledge (emotions used negatively) in favor of following Jesus’s leadership and judgment (using emotions positively).
Basically, it is conveyed that emotions and feelings can sometimes warp our senses of right and wrong, or completely change them to where innocent people get hurt and/or we are pushed further away from the loving hand of God. God and Jesus also have the same emotions that we have, but the difference in how we handle our emotions compared to the Father and the Son is that neither of them acted out of selfish needs or desires.
Our emotions are tied to what we desire or need, and when we feel we may not get those desires and needs fulfilled, we tend to act out in ways that may or may not show us in the best light. However, not all emotions are bad. Some can be used to help others while furthering God’s kingdom.
Several will recognize one of the main Scriptures to characterize positive emotions can be found in Galatians 5:22-23, listing positive behaviors such as love, kindness, gentleness, and joy as fruits of the Spirit. The verses are situated in a chapter that states those who operate by the flesh (jealousies, outbursts of wrath, murders) would not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:20-21). The fruits are what we should have inside that show the Holy Spirit in us, while making life easier for those around us.
Colossians 3:12-14 also expounds on the need for Christians to wear tender mercies and meekness every day, forgiving and dealing with others every day and loving everyone as Jesus has done for them.
God also prompts us to have courage in the face of fear, encouraging His faithful follower Joshua to, “be strong and courageous” and to not be afraid, for God was with him in whatever situation.
Fear is a common feeling that can hold our emotions hostage, which is why fear is discussed several times in biblical text because God wants us to not be afraid when facing dangers, uncertainties, or discouragement. The only fear we should exercise is the fear of God, and fearing life without Him in our lives to love, guide, teach, and forgive us.
The simple truth when it comes to negative emotions is that they are emotions that keep us from enjoying the blessings and love of God. Negative emotions can damper the small miracles God gives us each day and blind us from the true paths of destiny we are on.
As stated earlier, God commanded Joshua to not be afraid because fear is one of the strongest negative emotions we humans can have. Fear can push us to lash out in anger, to cower in a corner, or jump into situations that are not healthy. Moses spoke of this paralyzing fear when he reprimanded the Israelites for being fearful to enter the land God had provided for them, telling them not to be fearful or discouraged because this land was a gift to them from God.
Anger is another emotion that can lead people to make poor decisions that not only hurt themselves but also their loved ones and even strangers. Who could forget how the anger of Balaam pushed him to strike his donkey, who was laying down in respect to an angel of the Lord? Balaam sure got a lesson about his anger when the donkey asked him, verbally, why he struck him and confirmed to Balaam that he had never done anything like this before and always served him faithfully.
Another recognized negative emotion we exhibit at times is worry/anxiety, which could be connected to fear. Jesus teaches us the silliness of worry when He states in Matthew 6:28-30 how flowers and birds don’t worry about their protection or meals, and we shouldn’t worry about our needs being met either. Worry demonstrates to God that you doubt His love and provision for you, which only causes more negative emotions to take over your judgment and cloud God’s still, small voice in your life.
What Stories Show Strong Emotions in the Bible?
You don’t have to look far in the Bible to see countless examples of people letting strong emotions lead them down certain paths, good and bad. Take, for example, Adam and Eve. Eve’s desire to be like God led her, and eventually Adam as well, to make a choice. That choice led to their removal from Eden and also brought sin into the world. This decision was only rectified through Jesus’s sacrifice.
Their sons, Cain and Abel, also experienced strong emotions. Cain’s jealousy over God’s favor towards Abel’s true sacrifice led Cain to murder Abel in calculated anger.
King David’s lust for the beautiful Bathsheba caused not only an innocent man to die (Bathsheba’s husband) but for their first child to succumb to death. It wasn’t until King David realized how he had displeased God with his selfish actions that he truly began to be a man after God’s own heart.
There are also stories of strong emotions that led to life-changing decisions for the better. Mordecai’s public display of grief over the plight of his people and Esther’s courage to tell the king Haman’s murderous plot exemplify using strong emotions like passion and anger to do goodwill for others.
Jesus’s anger was displayed when he overturned the tables of those profiting at the temple. This showed those around him that the temple was a place of prayer, not of money-making.
Probably the most moving tale of how strong emotions can affect a person could be found in the story of Saul-turned-Paul, who started his journey down the road to Damascus hating Jesus and all Christians. An encounter with the risen Savior on the road changed that hatred to love and led Paul to be one of the most beloved apostles in the Bible, and among Christians today.
How God Handles Emotions
So, who is best to look to in handling our emotions? None other than God Himself, embodied in Jesus, can help us manage our emotions. He is after all the God who willingly gave His son as a sacrifice so that we could be reunited with Him without sin in our lives. He is also the one who made us in His image, which means the emotions God feels are cultivated in us since before we became twinkles in our parents’ eyes.
More than anything, God is a God of love and instills this in all of us by loving us at our best and at our worst. He is a God of judgment but also a God who forgives, who redeems, and who only wants the best for His children. One strong example of this is the love God showed Noah, when He changed His intention to kill all of mankind because Noah found favor with God in how different he was from the disrespectful people around him.
So, how God handles emotions is the way we should handle our emotions: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). Following these simple actions with our emotions might be easier said than done, but it’s true that if we are slow to get angry about things, if we are overflowing in forgiveness and love, and if we are gracious and patient with others, our emotions will become more positive than we ever thought possible.
God's Compassion for Us
Our emotions can be the fire behind our successes in life, or sometimes our downfalls, but they are, nonetheless, emotions we were born with and emulate our Creator Himself. There are positive emotions, such as joy, love, and trust, as well as negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, and jealousy: all given to us by the God who has them Himself and all to be used as much for good as for bad.
The Bible is a great source to use in understanding the emotions we have and how best to make decisions with these unpredictable feelings because it displays what God and Jesus have also felt. Jesus teaches that even when you are upset that someone has hurt you for the umpteenth time, you are to forgive them again and again just as God has forgiven all the mistakes you have made.
If you ask God a prayer request in faith, you must do so without fear or doubt creeping in and causing you to become a wave in the sea, moving back and forth between faith and doubt.
What is most moving is that when we read these stories of those who acted out in strong emotions, acting in ways that are similar to how we act today, we realize how much compassion God offers to us. He knows how we feel and forgives us for our actions. It can cause us to become emotional, in a good way, in realizing how much God loves us and is willing to “go over it again” in learning to handle our emotions a different way to make better decisions.
Yes, it is good to have emotions, even strong ones, but it is also good to know when certain emotions must be expressed that are less about us having our own way and more about God’s love being shared through us.
Photo credit: Getty Images/Rawpixel
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.