I have thought a lot over the years, since becoming a Christian, about what relationship feelings or emotions are meant to have with my faith in Christ. There are numerous Scriptures addressing the subject but putting together a full picture requires balancing one part of Scripture against another, as is usually the case. Certain Scriptures are very popular with believers while others which I feel have bearing upon the subject are so seldom quoted or preached upon that I can't help but wonder if people know them, or recognize any relevance.
One of the most popular, of course, is in chapter 2 of Paul's epistle to Phillippi, which says to, "be anxious for nothing, but in all things, with prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." There is also Galatians 5:22, which describes self-control as a component of the fruit of the Spirit. Well and good, but does this mean that all Christians are supposed to possess a perpetual state of utterly unruffled emotional equilibrium -- and that those of us who do not are in sin? Or at least showing ignorance of what we could have?
Jesus Christ himself showed strong emotions at times. Most of us know that he wept when he witnessed the grief of the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, when he had come to Bethany to raise him from death. Jesus also wept over Jerusalem, knowing what was to come upon the city in future years because he would be crucified by its rulers. Angels were sent to strengthen him in Gethsemane as he sweated blood facing the prospect of Calvary. In Hebrews 5:7, speaking of Jesus, the Spirit-inspired author wrote, "Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear." When his hand-picked followers, the apostles, asked if they should call down fire upon a Samaritan city that had evicted them, he was angry with them, saying, "You do not know what Spirit you are of." More than once he expressed frustration with his disciples or with the people, saying such things as, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?" Knowing these about Jesus should make it clear that His Word does not mean to reprove us for having feelings.
The Hebrew Scriptures deal with this subject abundantly. David, the Psalmist - a king and a man of war - spoke of times when his tears drenched his pillow. (Just as one example, Psalm 40:12 says, "For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me.") He prophesied Christ's suffering on the Cross in Psalm 22:1 and was quoted by Him in Mark 15:34 - "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Yet he also knew great rejoicing - he danced with such fervent joy when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem that his first wife, Michal, thought it totally unbecoming of royalty. (She was King Saul's daughter and evidently did not share the same spiritual faith as her brother Jonathan, David's closest friend.) Even the prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of God's judgement of Jerusalem, recorded that God told the angel with the inkhorn, sent out to mark those to be spared from judgement, to mark those who "sigh and cry" in their prayers to lament the abundant sin and corruption.
The "big picture," as I see it, is not just what emotions we have or display, but the subjects about which we have them. The Apostle Paul had a great burden of care daily, praying for all the churches. The "flip-flopping" of the Galatians, who at first loved him ardently and then were turned away from him by the false apostles, caused him frustration. Some things are recorded as grieving the Holy Spirit, or grieving God, and they should grieve us. Being overcome by concern for the lost world around us, as happened to famous evangelists like Dwight L. Moody, once observed weeping as he embraced a globe, is no sin, nor a failing. We are told to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." But the truth of the Resurrection, Paul told Thessalonica, means we are not to grieve as do "those who have no hope." His second letter to believers in Corinth said we are to draw on the comfort which God has given us in our troubles to comfort the troubles of others. The Bible has never said to act as if we have no problems. It does say that we can eventually learn, as did Paul, to rejoice in the way that these troubles can show us and those around us how great is our God and his grace that He gives us to get through them.
Our feelings should never control our faith. For that matter, they should not control us. The well-known (and probably copyrighted) illustration by Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ, of the train with Faith as the engine and Feelings as the caboose, pretty well expresses the way of things. All of the power to pull the train is found in the engine. The only way the caboose can lead is if it is going backwards or coasting downhill by gravity. But we will always have emotions. Some of us have stronger emotions than others. Some of us are quicker than others to understand what we ourselves feel, or those around us. When we don't understand, God is gracious (through Peter) to tell us to come to the throne of grace in time of need. On our own behalf or for others.
True spiritual victory, I believe, does not lie in subduing and hiding emotions - most certainly not in eliminating them - but in subjecting them to the Spirit and aligning them with His Word, with His ways, and with His priorities. Yes, "the joy of the Lord is your strength," (as in Nehemiah). There is also an Arab proverb, however, that "all sunshine makes a desert."
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