“Emotions are good.” This is a statement that it has taken me decades to affirm. When I was much younger, I was even more cognitive than I am now, because I viewed emotion, all emotion, with suspicion. Emotions were associated with pain, and the best way to avoid the pain from emotions was to smother them.
But slowly, step-by-step I have learned that, if I want to be a healthy human being, then I must become comfortable with my emotions. In fact, my emotions tell me where I am hurting and what I am feeling so that I can address those hurts. And I have learned something of how to express my emotions to others so that they can know what is going on with me.
“Emotions are good.” How do I know that is true? Jesus Christ, the perfect God-Man, had emotions. Of course, His emotions were expressed in sinless perfection, expressed exactly as God had intended when He first created man, but Jesus had emotions. So, emotions are good. Also, we read of human emotions throughout the Bible, and especially expressed in the book of psalms. Psalms is God’s great sanctioning of emotions, as He not only allows them, but He also gives us many expressions of them. In this beautiful book of poetry and praise and prayer, we find models for pouring out all sorts of emotions in God-approved ways.
THE DANGER OF EMOTIONS UNRECOGNIZED AND UNEXPRESSED
The more I have learned about emotions, the more convinced I am that the danger is not in emotions felt and inappropriately expressed, but rather in emotions that are unrecognized and, therefore, unexpressed. These unrecognized emotions are the ones that will build up and will manifest themselves in sinful actions. I think that anger is usually not so much an emotion as it is the sinful manifestation of other unrecognized and unexpressed emotions. When I cannot recognize or express what I am feeling, my frustration builds up inside me and is eventually vented as anger. But I am not feeling anger, at least not as the basic emotion. Rather, I am feeling sadness or disappointment or loneliness or rejection or, the most common and most basic of all emotions, fear, but I don’t know how to identify these feelings, much less communicate them with others, and so the feelings erupt as outbursts of anger, an “emotion” that we fallen humans are all able to express.
FEAR, THE ORIGINAL EMOTION
The most basic of all emotions is fear. Fear is the original emotion, the feeling expressed by Adam and Eve against the LORD God the moment sin entered the world. In their guilt and shame, they rightly feared God and hid from His presence (Genesis 3:8). The LORD God had told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17).” Now they had eaten, and fear was the natural consequence of their disobedience.
And fear is still the original emotion, the basic emotion. As Adam sinned and feared, so we children of Adam all experience sin and fear. As fallen people, our default is fear. And why would we not fear? The world is a vast and hostile place full of strangers who are against me. The world is complex, and I am simple. The world is dangerous and threatening, with the constant possibility of loss and, eventually, death. And I am all alone in this world. The only rational response to this situation is to feel fear. Really, how could this ever change?
Then we read in Psalm 34:4 – “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The psalmist claims that he was delivered from all his fears. Is this just poetic hyperbole? No! Fear is an inside job. Fear is always subjective. Therefore, my fear is always my responsibility. But how was the psalmist delivered from all his fears? When he realized that the LORD has answered him, he also realized that there was no longer a reason for fear. If the LORD is with you, you can be confident. I may or may not be delivered from my objective dangers, but I am no longer a slave of fear, because the LORD is with me.
In 1 John 4:18, the Word says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” There is something about knowing the Lord that directly addresses my fear. If I have grown in my relationship with the Lord such that I know His power and I know His love for me, then my perfected love will cast out my fear.
We read in Isaiah 43:1, “But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are Mine!’” Why is the child of God not to fear? Because the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth, has redeemed you and called you by name. You are His! Fear is no longer acceptable, because the One who ordains all things and who has created all things, the sovereign LORD has personally redeemed you and called you by name. There is nothing to fear.
The One who has written the script of history and who now, through His providence, divinely directs all the action on the stage according to His will, is also the One who loves me with an everlasting love and who has promised to guide me safely to heaven to spend eternity with Him. My God has sovereignly ordained all the events of my life and He has, through my faith in the Lord Jesus, become my Abba, Father. I have become His beloved adopted son. Therefore, I will continue to walk in faith. He has delivered me from all my fears.
SDG rmb 3/24/2021