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.