The danger of emotions unrecognized and unexpressed

“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?

FEAR VANQUISHED

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

Conditional blessings (Isaiah 8:12-14a)

12 “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’
Regarding everything that this people call a conspiracy,
And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.
13 It is the Lord of armies whom you are to regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear,
And He shall be your dread.
14 
Then He will become a sanctuary. – Isaiah 8:12-14a

As we read Isaiah 8:12-14a, it becomes clear that the Lord is a sanctuary. He has always been a sanctuary and always will be a sanctuary. This is part of who He is. The question is, “Is the LORD your sanctuary?” And the answer to that question is, “It depends.” And so we encounter the idea of conditional blessings.

To be clear, for believers, all objective blessings of salvation are unconditionally given and sealed to the believer the moment the believer places their faith in the Lord Jesus. All these blessings depend only on God’s faithfulness and are conditioned only upon the sinner’s faith in Jesus. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, all the workers received a denarius regardless of how long they had worked in the vineyard, because they had all been hired by the master of the house.

But there are conditional blessings that accrue to the believer only when the conditions for those blessings are met. For example, in Psalm 1:3, we read of the blessings that will come to a certain man, but those blessings depend on the man not doing the wrong things (1:1) and also on him doing the right things (1:2). So, the Bible does contain conditional blessings, and here in this passage we encounter one of those blessings, the blessing of the Lord being our sanctuary. Would you have the Lord of hosts be your sanctuary? Would you receive the sanctuary blessings from the Lord? Then you must meet “the sanctuary conditions.”

We see, then, in Isaiah 8:12-14a that the Lord’s offer of His sanctuary is not automatically received. Rather, it comes to us “Then.” “THEN He will become a sanctuary (8:14a).” So, the LORD will become my sanctuary WHEN certain conditions are met.

This means that all believers do not experience the LORD in the same way, and it seems that this is because all believers do not seek the LORD in the same way or serve the LORD in the same way. All of God’s blessings are made potentially available to all those who have bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus, but the actual tasting of those blessings is reserved for those who meet the Lord’s “terms of blessing.” In the same way that the breathtaking grandeur of the Grand Canyon is experienced only by those who travel to that place in search of that grandeur, so the blessings of the LORD’s sanctuary are experienced only by those whose fear and dread is the LORD.

WHAT THE WORLD FEARS AND DREADS

The Lord commands us not to fear what this people fear or to be in dread of it (8:12). But what is it that this people fear, and what do they dread? They fear all the things that people without a sanctuary fear. There is no shelter and there is no refuge, so this people fear what all threatened people fear. That means they fear death and they fear getting old. They fear any sort of loss. They fear loneliness. They fear the future, and the unseen and unknown threats that the future may bring. They fear “conspiracy (8:12),” because they always feel insecure and distrustful about the schemes of others. They fear a lot of things.

What makes this situation worse is that the world’s fears only reinforce each other, so that their fears fester and increase. Because there is no sanctuary, there is no relief and no place to hide from the fears. What the world dreads cannot be defensed or defeated, so it only looms larger. For example, for the unbeliever, death cannot be defeated, and death cannot be defensed. It lurks out there in the future and the fear of death grows stronger as death draws inevitably nearer. Thus, when you fear something other than the LORD, your fears continually grow stronger.

WHAT THE BELIEVER FEARS AND DREADS

But when the LORD is the believer’s fear and the LORD is the believer’s dread, then the believer has gained a sanctuary. “He shall be your fear and He shall be your dread. Then He will become a sanctuary (Isaiah 8:13-14a).” Meeting the “sanctuary conditions” means that you receive the “sanctuary blessings.” When the LORD is your fear, then “ordinary” fears continually grow weaker. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The psalmist was delivered from his fears not because all his threats had gone away, but because he trusted that the LORD his Champion was greater than all his fears. When the LORD is the believer’s fear and dread, then the believer experiences the peace that comes from entering the Lord’s sanctuary.

When we encounter a “conditional blessing” in the Scripture, we should search the passage diligently to find out what the conditions must be met to receive the blessing, and then earnestly strive to meet those conditions, while asking the Lord for strength and guidance.

SDG                 rmb                 12/8/2020