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Can We Trust Our Emotions Or Are They Wild Horses?

I have often heard it said in Christian circles that emotions can’t be trusted. I don’t like things that can’t be trusted. Imagine a fuel gauge in your car that is giving accurate feedback 50% of the time, but you have no idea when it’s right and when it’s wrong. Basically, it becomes 100% useless.

For most of us, our emotions don’t always line up with our core values and beliefs. We sincerely desire to experience and display emotions that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), but frequently we find ourselves inwardly (and outwardly) experiencing and displaying the opposite (Romans 7:15).

What the heck?

As a result, many of us have concluded and have even been taught that we should work hard to suppress negative emotions. And if we are going to have any emotions at all, we need to work on conjuring up the positive ones. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked for me or those closest to me.

If you study emotions in the Bible, it is apparent that God has emotions and that the key characters in his story experienced them too: sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. So, if God made them, they must be good for something, even though they seem to behave like wild horses at times.

How useful would it be if God gave us a gentile pin prick every time we began to take action or think in a direction that was based on a lie that we unknowingly adopted as truth? How about a whisper of encouragement in our ear when we are taking action or thinking in a direction that aligns with his truth? I believe God uses emotions to give us helpful cues. If we pay attention, these cues are incredibly useful. They are still very complex and challenging to manage, but these “wild horses” can be bridled and ridden. They can take us to an often mysterious destination: a place where we see what we actually believe at an instinctual level. We can then focus on challenging our false beliefs and affirming the beliefs that are true.

Example: My three-year-old son begins to defy me. After several attempts to reason and negotiate, my emotions begin to “rise” (read: unhealthy anger). My attempts to gain compliance and control only seem to drive my son further into rebellion. I know that I should not be disciplining in my anger and that yelling, threatening, and even physically restraining my son are not recommended strategies listed in any respectable parenting book; however, I am compelled by my deep emotion of anger. In retrospect, I discovered that the intense emotion was not the problem, but an indicator of a false belief. I believed that my dignity depended on my three-year-old’s respect and compliance. That’s a ridiculous belief, but keeping my dignity is not. Time to reject the lie that ties my dignity to a three-year-old’s behavior.

I would propose emotions are not something to be ignored or shut off. They have important purposes, including uncovering what we actually believe about ourselves and God. The process of bridling and riding these “wild horses” to their destination (our hidden beliefs) takes some humility and introspection with the Lord, but it’s a ride well worth taking. Remember, our negative emotions are not the problem; it’s our instinctual beliefs that drive them. It’s been said that emotions do not validate truth, BUT they do validate what we believe the truth to be.

5 replies
  1. Casey
    Casey says:

    Saw your post on Relevant. Love what you wrote there and here, especially in the introduction, about the idea that God designed emotions purposefully; to guide us. Only, I am left with the question, how do we evaluate our own belief analysis? I could take an emotion like fear about the results of a job interview and declare “Oh, I am not trusting in God!” rather than deconstruct that fear and realise it’s a fear based in me attempting to act in my own power, outside of the way God designed me. And that said job isn’t a good fit! Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Bill Overton
      Bill Overton says:

      Thanks for chiming in Casey. Great question in regards to the evaluation of our beliefs. I am not sure that I have “the right answer”, but here are a few thoughts…

      In the job interview scenario, I think that doubting God is the core issue no matter how you slice it (in fact, I think doubt of God is probably to core issue of all sin). If we attempt to act in our own power, we must, on some level be doubting God. I also think that it is important to drill down on what it is specifically or why it is that we are doubting (i.e. doubting God will provide, doubting that my identity is secure even if I am rejected by the perspective employer, doubting that I am a good husband/father even though I am unemployed, etc). Identification makes it possible to reject lies and false beliefs more thoroughly. If we don’t reject them thoroughly, they almost certainly continue to hang around (and even when we do reject them, they often try to come back since we’ve believed most of them for so long). When we do reject the lies, the door is now open to put the truth of scripture solidly in it’s place — our hearts. What I have done and seen others do is to try to insert the truth of scripture without rooting out the specific lies that are being believed. It can become difficult and confusing to discern up from down when we unknowingly allow both truth and lies to inhabit our heart.

      I hope that this makes sense and is helpful.

      Reply
  2. Phil Herndon
    Phil Herndon says:

    Hello Bill-

    Thank you for your post! I too came over from the Relevant article. I am saddened by so much Christian talk about “how bad emotions are.” Feelings are the language of vulnerability–the language with which I cry out to my Father. For example, rather than “do not fear” as an edict, what father would fault his child for crying out to him when in fear in a dangerous world? Preposterous to think God would want us to shut down the very language in us to show us the way to Him in our vulnerability.

    I am so passionate about this, I co-wrote a bible study based on a book my good friend and partner in ministry wrote, called “Voice of The Heart.” Here is a link if you’re interested in checking it out.

    Whether you look at it or not, I am grateful for your voice on this topic

    http://www.amazon.com/Voice-Heart-Second-Bible-Study/dp/0984399151/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421191584&sr=8-1&keywords=voice+of+the+heart+bible+study

    Reply

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