My friend’s husband snapped these pictures of his daughter being her typical goofy self. He has four daughters, a whole house full of women, and he titled this shot, “House Full of Women = Emotional Roller Coasters.” As much as I hate to admit it, I am an emotional roller-coaster. I turn from happy to sad on a dime and sometimes it isn’t even justified.
If I’m sad, I cry. If I’m overwhelmed, I cry. If I disappoint someone, I cry. If my husband runs over the neighbor’s cat (purely hypothetical), I cry. I’m a feeler. If there were an award for most emotional girl, I might win it. This isn’t an overstatement, just ask my husband or anyone who knows me. It’s embarrassing, really.
But when do feelings cross over the line? When are they no longer personality or hormonal and when have they become sinful? I struggle to place my emotions under the authority of scripture. If I’m sad, is it a lack of faith? If I’m happy (about anything other than God) then maybe I’m holding onto a blessing too tightly. If I’m worried, I must not trust God.
I don’t want to be a robot, never feeling or emoting, but I also need to get a grip some days. What can I learn about feelings from scripture?
Feelings date back to the first people ever named. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, before eating the forbidden fruit, they were not ashamed of their nakedness. They felt comfortable or confident.
When their eyes were opened after eating the forbidden fruit, they felt ashamed and hid themselves. They had reason to feel ashamed, they had sinned against God’s command. They feared the consequences to their disobedience. God saw their guilt.
Angry over their willful disobedience, God punished them by casting them out of Eden and cursing the ground they worked on. Sadly, because they followed their curiosity into sinful disobedience, they would forever feel the punishment of one fateful choice.
After being kicked out of Eden, Adam and Eve started a family. The fallenness continued to play out before their eyes. When their two sons brought offerings to God, He accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Fierce anger burned in Cain’s heart.
“The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire if for you, but you must rule over it.’” – Genesis 4:6
Cain chose not to rule over the crouching sin. He ignored God’s warning and in anger, killed his brother Abel. God cursed Cain and would no longer allow him to be productive as he worked the ground. No doubt, Cain had regrets and he realized the wrong he’d done. He went away from the presence of the Lord after this.
We know from later books of the Bible that feelings are not sinful in and of themselves. Jesus wept bitterly before going to the cross. He mourned with those who mourned and rejoiced with those who rejoiced. He even demonstrated righteous anger inside the temple. But Jesus demonstrated his emotions, sinlessly.
Feelings can be a gift. They can reflect love and gratitude in response to God’s provision. They can burden us to serve others. They provide compassion and empathy for us to relate to those around us. But, they aren’t always for good purposes and we would be wise to keep close watch on them as they crop up throughout our day.
We have a choice.
In the first four chapters of Genesis, we’ve already seen severe consequences to following after sinful emotions. We ought to heed God’s warning: sin is crouching at our door and it’s desire is for us. And perhaps, it is our feelings that have come knocking.
When Satan tempted Eve, she considered her choices. There was no sin in the temptation, Jesus was tempted without sin. But when she chose her own feelings and desires and believed the goodness of the temptation over the promises and instructions of God, she fell for something less than God’s best.
When Cain chose to hold tight to his anger and ignore God’s clear warning, his feelings of rage led to sin and ultimately to complete separation from God. I’m assuming the punishment felt much worse than the original anger.
We have a choice too.
Which feelings tend to guide your choices?
On any given day, I might feel rested, exhausted, patient, impatient, cheerful, grumpy, thankful or dissatisfied. Feelings can be helpful or deceptive. When feelings get intense, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is my feeling of _______, luring me away from obeying God’s commands or leading me to trust God more?
- Would I rather feel the disappointment of denying my feelings or the remorse of disobeying God?
Our sinful feelings were crucified with Christ.
These questions may help, but they aren’t the formula for keeping emotions in check all the time. Knowing I have peace before God, because Christ died to break down the dividing wall of hostility between my sin and His perfection, keeps me striving for continual emotional sanctification.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” -Eph. 2:14-16
How does that good news make you feel?