Anger, fear, jealousy, despair, contempt, shame. In His humanity, God suffered every painful emotion He allows to enter our lives, and He suffers them still as He walks through the highs and lows in the lives of His children, His co-heirs with Christ.
The words “value” and “place” have two different meanings, especially when considered in context of emotions in the life of a Christian. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, “value” points to the “worth, usefulness or importance in comparison with something else.” Value is personal. How does emotion change me? What value is lost when I flee the pain, choosing to try to live with the absence of emotion?
The word “place” holds many definitions, but two that stand out in the Merriam-Webster entry are “physical environment or space” and “a way for admission or transit.” It’s clear that emotions take up space in our lives. Daily, our emotional range carves a path in our thoughts and even our actions. From the emotional high we take away from a time of blessed worship with God or a pleasant relational encounter to the disappointment we carry when we are denied a request to the anger experienced when we’re wounded by someone we love. The space or place emotions demand in our lives can be positive or negative, depending on our reaction.
The second definition of “place” prompts an even deeper consideration as it relates to our emotions and begs the question “Can our emotions become the way we secure admission or transit into a deeper relationship with Christ?”
According to Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III, authors of “The Cry of the Soul”, the value and place of emotions in our lives is to “link our internal and external worlds”. Emotions can be difficult to face because “all emotion, positive or negative, opens the door to the nature of reality”. Once that door is opened, what is on the other side will impact us personally. It will change our lives and our view of who God is. The emotion—for better or for worse—takes on value. It has worth. But if we walk into the emotion, face it down, claim it and examine it, the emotion can also secure admission into a deeper relationship with Christ, claiming space in the lives of His followers.
The authors remind us that pain and suffering are guaranteed to the Christian, even when they stem from our emotions. But, they remind us that we also “experience joy and encounter glory” through our emotions. “Our dark emotions reveal God; they open the road to true joy,” say the authors. “This is the central message of the book of Psalms: We encounter divine goodness in the midst of pain” (229).
The Psalms, which John Calvin calls “an anatomy of all parts of the soul,” offer us as Christians a triad of response to pain: lament, thanksgiving and praise. In fact, as pointed out by pastor and author Eugene Peterson, in an interview with Krista Tippett for the podcast On Being, “the Psalms train us in honest prayer.” If we receive the three postures or voices presented in the Psalms as avenues for finding value and place for the emotions God instilled in us, we can accept that lament is a natural reaction to pain—our complaint and plea for God’s intervention. The authors call lament “the voice of one who feels out of relationship with God, angry with God, afraid of God”. However, to be complete, our prayers must transition from lament to gratitude for reconciliation with God and joy (praise) over continued fellowship and the absence of obstacles in our relationship with God.
In the throes of pain, it’s hard to accept that “our dark emotions have a redemptive side”. The authors point out that attempting to change or avoid troubling emotions is actually an effort to “master” God as we try to escape what He put in place because of the Fall.
If, as a follower of Christ, we desire to show the face of Jesus to those around us, we must allow our emotions to surface. To deny them is to deny Christ and to turn from God. Considering “the righteous rage God intends for us to feel in order to mock the evil one and destroy sin” (49) we can see that this “dark side bears the imprint” of what God intended.
The Psalms are full of strong, emotional language declaring indignation and calling out demands for retaliation: “May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.” Psalm 69:28
If such language can release our emotions to bring us to a place of thanksgiving and praise, our anger has achieved God’s intended purpose: to declare God’s character, power and glory. The authors tell us we can “view our emotions from the perspective of whether they lead us to engagement with God or move us away from greater dependence on Him”.
The value and place of emotions in the life of a Christian is to continue shaping each of us into the likeness of our Creator, as exemplified in His Son, Jesus Christ. If it were possible, I believe every follower of Christ and believer in the truths of Scripture would return to Eden, to the days before sin brought upon us the pain of our emotions. But if we did that, wouldn’t we also miss the joy?
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17
I’m cheating a bit today. The word “whole” is our prompt from Five Minute Friday as we write one blog post each day in October. This piece took way more than 5 quick minutes to write. It’s my assignment for a course I’m taking at Moody Bible Institute. But, as I wrapped it up, I gave thought to the reality that to consider ourselves whole in our relationship with God, we must be willing to receive it all — the good and the bad, the pain and the glory. I learned so much reading the book The Cry of the Soul and I’d like to share a portion of it with you. This essay is a long read, but I pray you’ll find it edifying and that it will prompt you to consider how allowing ourselves to receive all our emotions can move us toward wholeness in Christ.