by Carrie Albert
Have you ever felt like an emotional mess? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed full of emotions not knowing what to do? You are not alone. Most of the time we never slow down and think about our emotions, we just keep reacting to them. On any given day you probably have over 101 things that you think about and for each of those 101 things you think about, you have feelings or beliefs about. Those feelings and beliefs turn into reactions that come through your thoughts, your words and your actions. Those responses lead to more feelings, then the process starts all over again and becomes a vicious cycle.
God understands. He created us with emotions. He knows that those emotions are distorted because of sin. He loved us so much that He sent his son to live among us, being subject to all that we experienced including emotions. Jesus experienced being tired and hungry. He enjoyed friendships, yet experienced betrayal. He experienced popularity, yet experienced being alienated. He attended weddings and funerals. He had the joy of celebrating holidays, and experienced accusations. He was falsely arrested. He was a man of Sorrows, yet it was for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross. God made a way to redeem the world, and this includes redeeming our emotions in Christ. We all want a healthy emotional life. This takes work, time, practice, and a lifetime of grace. Praise be to God that He has an endless supply of grace, and His mercies are new every morning!
What does it mean to be created with emotions and what are they for? Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 defines emotions as “A moving of the mind or soul; hence any agitation of mind or excitement of sensibility.” We don’t try to feel emotions, we just have them. We get excited when receiving good news, or become sad when we hear a loved one has died. We feel anxious getting pulled over by a police officer, happy when our family is all together, anger when we see an injustice, and excitement when a baby is born! God created us with all kinds of emotions. They are one of his good gifts to us. Without emotions we would not be able to live out the two greatest commandments: love God and love others. We would not be able to have a relationship with God or with each other.
We are created in the image of God, and we see throughout scripture where God expresses emotions. We see God hates (Jacob I loved Esau I have hated). We see God loves (for God so loved the world). We see God sad, (Jesus wept). We see God angry (God feels indignation everyday). We see God pleased (my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased). We see God grieved (it grieved God that he created us). We see God jealous (for I am a jealous God). We see God rejoice (he will rejoice over you with gladness).
God is not ruled by his passions, but our God has emotions. We are made in his image, therefore we are emotional people. Notice that not all the emotions I mentioned are positive. Some are what the world would call “negative emotions,” such as anger, hate, sadness, grief and even jealousy. Our negative emotions have a purpose and a place in our lives. It may seem like these feelings are not great gifts, but these were designed to help us see the world as God does and to respond the way he does. All emotions play a necessary role in our lives.
When Adam and Eve felt shame, guilt, and fear, it was good because those feelings indicated something was wrong. Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate.” This sad verse describes the day sin entered the world and affected the whole creation.
Let’s look at this passage in Genesis 3. First, Satan said to Eve in verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat of it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” This stirred in her. Satan planted a seed of doubt of God’s character. She may not have noticed it, but her emotions were communicating to her. She began to think about being wise. She liked it and wanted it. Emotions express what we love and value. She now placed value on being wise over being with the one who is wise. When your emotions go astray, ask yourself, “What am I valuing more than God?”
Second, her emotions connected her to others. She perceived that she was right in eating this fruit and she wanted her husband to join her, so that he would be wise too. Eve in responding this way damaged her relationship with God and also with her husband. When we share our emotions with others it has the power to strengthen or harm our relationships. Where have you seen relationships damaged when you reacted in your emotion?
Lastly, see how her emotions motivated her to act. She ate the fruit. She did not hesitate; she acted. She didn’t consult. Instead, she chose to lean on her own errant understanding. Do you cry out to God and ask for wisdom, or do you trust in your own heart and act on your feelings? Now after the action, she had more feelings: guilt and shame. They realized they were naked and so they went out on their own to cover themselves. Adam and Eve ran away from God instead of running to God to solve the problem. When you fail and react in your emotions, do you draw near to God? Who do you turn to for help? Perhaps you run away and hide from Him? Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD walking in the garden, they hid themselves from his presence because they felt afraid. Our emotions go bad when our desires for things other than God begin to rule our hearts. We can run away from Him, but God is greater than our hearts, we can turn to Him even when we fail. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God is an ever-present help in time of need.
How does the Lord set right our wayward desires and redeem our emotions? Genesis 3:8 shows us who God is. He is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Here he calls out to Adam and Eve, but they are hesitant to come. God knew that they had failed the test, yet we see the grace of God gently coming to them, calling, “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” This is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. He comes to us, what a great God we have! Later they received a consequence for their actions, but even this is an act of kindness on God’s part, because a good Father disciplines his children. God shows them kindness and grace, by loving them and making them garments out of animal skins that were much nicer than just leaves. He clothes them. Then he gives them a promise, that He will one day send a redeemer to undo the sin and damage they have done. A second Adam who will not fail.
We live on this side of that promise. Just like God came to Adam and Eve Christ has come to us. He lived in this broken world sinless, yet died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we could have life, even a healthy, godly emotional life. He has overturned the damage done on that sad day. We can cast all our anxieties on Him because He cares for us. He is our great High Priest who can sympathize with us. The Lord is at work in us, taming our passions and training our hearts to obey him.
When life causes our emotions to stir, instead of reacting, cry out to God. Tell him how you feel. He is the God who hears, who is never surprised at your wandering heart, who has compassion on His children, and is your only help in the day of trouble. When you hide from God, He will call you out to you. When you turn to His word, He speaks to you, and reveals what is capturing your heart. He leads you in the way of righteousness. He wants to be near to you, so draw near to Him. This isn’t just a one-time deal; it is an ongoing practice and discipline. It is grasping the truth and reminding yourself of it as you grow in belief. It’s crying out, ‘I believe but help my unbelief.’ It is saying, ‘You are good and you do good even though in this moment things do not look good. I know your word is truth, and I am choosing to believe and to walk in this truth, walking by faith and not by sight, nor on my own understanding.’
Take some time and think about where you go to sort out your emotions. When difficulties arise, when life overwhelms you, and your thoughts are racing, how do you untangle your emotions? What habits have you formed to handle your emotions? Where is your refuge? The Christian life is an ongoing process of change, and part of that process is God redeeming our emotions. Emotions communicate what we love. The more you walk with Christ, the more He will change what you love. May you turn to Him who is able to give you a peace that surpasses all understanding and who can guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Carrie Albert is a member of Living Hope Church. She and her husband, Miles, have four children.