Our summer series is going to look at our inner-person, and help us interact with emotions. As I was growing up I heard my mother often say, “Emotions are neither right or wrong, they just are.” That statement had a big impact on me, but one day I began evaluating this statement through the lense of Scripture, and what I found was that the Bible is full of emotion, and it addresses the breadth human emotion. The fullness of emotion we have was given to us by God as part of the Imago Dei, and often a reflection of the expression of values that flow from God. The Bible teaches us that God is angry at sin, but full of joy. The Bible teaches that God was ashamed that he made humanity at the time of the flood, and that He is full of contempt for the injustice in the world. Jesus wept, but He also attended parties. Most importantly, we learn that God’s glory is expressed in His pleasure and joy. Our emotions are a gift that are part of the wonderful image of God placed within us, but these emotions are also deeply marred by the Fall.
My mom’s statement is partially true. Emotions are a gift from God. But they are also deeply broken as a result of the Fall, and expressed sinfully because of our tendency to base our emotions on a self-centered view, which leaves us with strong feelings when things are done to us, and incorrect feelings when things are done by us. We too feel anger, joy, sadness, disgust, and fear. But the truth is that our emotions are often wrong. We often sin in our emotions by having the wrong expression of emotion, or express emotions in ways that are harmful, self-centered, and destructive. Puritan pastor Thomas Boston said:
The natural man’s affections (emotions) are wretchedly misplaced; he is a spiritual monster. His heart is where his feet should be, fixed on the earth; his heels are lifted up against heaven, which his heart should be set on. His face is towards hell, his back towards heaven; and therefore God calls to him to turn. He loves what he should hate, and hates what he should love; joys in what he ought to mourn for, and mourns for what he should rejoice in; glories in his shame, and is ashamed of his glory; abhors what he should desire, and desires what he should abhor.
The recent movie Inside Out gave a creative glimpse into the reality of human emotions. It showed us that people are wired differently, and that emotions are very difficult (say impossible) to control. These beauty of our emotions need to be affirmed in us, but we also need to apply the Gospel to our emotions. We need the cross of Christ properly applied to bring redemption and restoration to our souls, and to show us the reordering of our lives around the glory of God rather than exaltation of self. Our goal in this series is to help people interact with their emotions, to affirm their feelings as a gift, but also to help them apply the Gospel to their feelings.
To do this we are going to look at the Psalms. One of the amazing things about this book of the Old Testament is that we have the expression of just about every possible human emotion, but in each case the emotion is taken upward in prayer. In other words, the beginning point of our properly interacting with our emotions is that we take them to God, and trust Him with the outcome. So the Psalms show us how to have emotions rightly by feeling them for the right things, and how to rightly express those emotions in trust and hope in God through the Gospel. The Psalms are incredibly helpful here because they show us several things about our emtions. First, they give us permission to feel. So often we are advised to suppress our emotions, as if we can read a few verses and flip a switch. What we will find is that the writers of the Psalms feel deeply, and find great freedom in expressing their feelings. For our study we are going to intentionally choose the Psalms where the writer is expressing these emotions rather than the ones writing about the emotion. For example, David wrote Psalms that says, “When you are afraid…” and Psalms that are cry out of deep fear where David expresses anguish out of a situation that has left him in terror. We will deal with the second one, but find some hope from the first type. Psalms also teach us that God has given us permission to express our emotions honestly to Him, as long as the posture of our heart is worship. Being honest with depression, anger, fear, resentment is a healthy thing as long as we take this vertically to God and do this with a heart of awe, trust, repentance, and obedience. Otherwise we will begin making false gods of our own making who will justify our emotions rather than redeeming them. Furthermore, the Psalms remind us that every emotion we have is actually a theological statement, revealing what we genuinely believe about God, the Gospel, our idols, and ourselves. When we go vertical with our feelings and end with trust in God’s providence it shows a Gospeled heart. But when we run from God or seek to manipulate Him our idolatry is revealed which shows us our need for the Gospel.
Our hope is that the tone of this series will be gracious and redemptive, especially for those who have deep feelings as a result of hurt, brokeness, resentment, and struggle. I also do not want to neglect the reality that the depth of the Fall as expressed in our emotions results in a complex problem that involves our minds, our hearts, and even our bodies. So there are healthy responses to unhealthy emotions that includes seeing a Christian counselor, and may involve other means including medication. Our goal is to give people a Gospel framework, not simple solutions to deep and complex problems. Furthermore, the Gospel rejects a performance model, so we must be careful not to subtly tell people to buck it up and get stronger. Rather, we should help people rejoice in their helplessness, but also repent by turning to Christ in their weakness so that the power of Christ might be evident. So we need to remind people weekly that pastoral counseling is a good option, and that they are free to make appointments with our Elders, and that seeing a good Christian counselor on a regular basis is a very good thing.
Resources for the series
I want to recommend three books that you might read along with us as we work through the series. These will be primary sources along with the study of the Psalms.
The Cry of the Soul: How our Deepest Emotions Reveal our Deepest Questions about God, by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III
Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life, by Brian Borgman