I admit, I am not an overly emotional person. In fact, I find being around overly emotional people uncomfortable and there are at times instances when I wish certain experiences could evoke more emotion within me. However, as I also find that the discipleship and discipline process, in which God purposes some form of discomfort in the lives of His children, can produce a range of emotions. And here is where my emotions will heighten. We may not express those overtly, but I think honesty would admit this is the case. Sometimes, we just many only express these to God in the privacy of our prayer closet or hearts. God knows even if others don’t.
The believer in Christ will encounter difficulties, of one kind or the other. Some, I have discovered, seem to encounter more than their fair share. Trials have a way of purging selfish excesses and redirecting foci on God and His purpose for our existence. This squeezes us and quite frankly, hurts. Yet by design, trials should produce increased dependence upon God and form Christ in us who trust in Him, so that we look more like Him each day.
Faith in Christ, then is represented by assurance in His promises. Even in the midst of uncertainties, of unanswered prayers, of unrealized dreams, our reliance upon Him should produce a rest. After all, don’t these verses speak to the avoidance of angst:
Matthew 6:25 – Don’t worry
Philippians 4:7-8 – Don’t be anxious
I Peter 5:7 – Cast your cares
James 1:2 – Consider it joy
It seems to me that these verses indicate that if we are truly placing trust in God, then our hearts will be settled and negative emotions would not be present. I do find this to be a prevailing attitude, especially based on the passage in James, that there should be a delight in trusting God, a contentedness that puts emotions in their place and causes us to move on unfazed by present circumstances. Moreover, James indicates that whatever we ask God for, we must ask in faith not doubting. Perhaps, negative emotions are an indication that we are not quite trusting God.
However, I question if trust in God means we will not experience the raw side of human emotions. When we consider it joy to go through trials, does it mean we will be joyful? When Peter says should rejoice in suffering, does that mean we never get down? Does the existence of negative emotions really equate to a lack of faith on our part?
When we look at the conflict that notable figures in the Bible encountered, that an argument of silence could be made about strong faith free of emotional disruptions. For instance, when Joseph was wrongly accused, thrown in prison and then forgotten, the focus usually seems to be on the outcome. In God’s time, Joseph was elevated to such an exalted position that it made all those years of seeming defeat worth it. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego faced the fiery furnance and cited undying loyalty to YHWH, they cited no fear on their part, even though they realized God might not deliver them. When Esther made her famous speech at the behest of Mordechi’s urging her to possibly face death in order to save her people, that if she perishes, she perishes. In all these cases the text is silent concerning emotions.
But does that mean that Joseph did not have fits of despondency, despair and even anger? Did he at times feel forgotten by God after all he went through? Did Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego not feel fear and sadness at the prospect of a their possible demise? Or Esther for that matter? Do we think these stoic declarations of faith were completely devoid of emotion because of the text’s silence? The text does not say but after all it is people we are talking about.
People experience real emotions. For I see in several instances of varying emotional displays by servants of God placed their faith in God to come through for them. Consider when Jehosaphat was confronted with assault by the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites in 2 Chronicles 20:1-13. He was afraid and cried out to the Lord (vs. 3). Consider when Sarah laughed a cynical laugh at affirmation that God would deliver her a son after years of waiting in Genesis 18:10-13. Consider David’s many reactions to times of distress.
- Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God (Psalm 5:2)
- Be gracious to me O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed and my soul is greatly dismayed (Psalm 6:2-3)
- I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief (Psalm 6:6-7)
- In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears (Psalm 18:6)
Yes, David did much rejoicing but he also did much crying. I further think that the pain caused by trials produces a desperation for God and a yearning for deliverance that only He can bring. Consider Hannah’s grief and torment of reminders of her barrenness in I Samuel 1:1-18 that caused her to weep and not eat (vs 7). “She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly”. And who can forget the anguish of Job who was so distraught that all his friends could do at first was to sit and watch him through dust on his head and weep. He did not know what was going on but did believe that God had something to do with. Yet in his distress he still believed saying “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15). There is anguish of the soul that goes far in producing hope and trust.
While these are examples from the Old Testament, I don’t think believers in Christ are immune to these emotions. In fact, I contend that one of the chief motivating factors the New Testament writers picked up their pens was to encourage the followers of Christ to keep hope alive in the midst of trials. They knew that trials hurt. Consider what Paul tells the church at Thessalonica to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and be patient with everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:14). Even leaders could succumb to emotion and need encouragement. Paul recalls Timothy’s tears (1 Timothy 1:4) and reminds him that God has not given him the spirit of fear (vs. 7). Perhaps it was because Timothy feared.
So while believers in Christ are encouraged to rejoice in suffering and consider it joy, I don’t think that necessarily means that cheeriness will necessarily or always be part of that package. Nor do think that the presence of emotions in the midst of trials is indicative of an absence of faith. But I do believe they are in response to our human condition that will most assuredly let us know that God is indeed working in our lives.