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.

    11 replies to "Faith and Emotions"

    • JasonS

      And Paul was sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
      Sometimes even the sorrow comes because others do not share our joy, and not because of our own failures.
      Thanks for this post. I think we need to learn to seek balance in the emotions and affections.
      I’m not quite there, though.

    • Andrew Vogel

      Thank you Lisa, I found myself echoing your feelings and thoughts as I was reading through the post. Very encouraging post (where normally I wish I could be more encouraged or emotional).

    • Daniel

      I think there is also the side that, since these are natural emotions and reactions for most people, those passages can serve, not just as imperatives, but also as divine reminders.

      How many times did Jesus or angels have to say, “Peace,” or “Don’t be afraid”? It’s what we do. The Holy Spirit is not called a “comforter” for nothing. No anxiety means no comfort.

      Part of the image of God is our emotional capability. God wants us to know that, as we do life in all of its emotional-roller-coaster glory, he’s there. Don’t be afraid.


    • Susan

      Recently, a couple of seminarians did a series in our SS class on Psalms. One of the main things they sought to bring out is the concept of lament…..that instead of thinking that there is something wrong with us when we feel excessive sorrow, we need to feel free to bring these laments before God—to express them fully and openly. The guys who taught encouraged us repeatedly to use the Psalms—to incorporate them in our conversations with God as a means of expressing our pain.
      Reading the Psalms does indeed teach us that we are not only allowed to vent, but are encouraged to do so before God.
      As I heard Ravi Zacharias say, “Jesus did not stifle His emotions.” When he grieved over Lazerus, He wept. And I think of how hard I fight weeping when I’m at a funeral. In a way, that isn’t really being honest. I’m more concerned with not making a fool of myself.
      Of course, the bad side of emotional expression is when we wrongly direct it at others.

    • Joe

      But when we begin to say pain is joy, isn’t the language being turned around so far, that words have really, no stable meaning at all?

      If a word can mean itself, or its opposite, then up is down, and bad is good.

      And there is nothing solid to hang onto, in a Bible that uses language that loosely.

    • cheryl u


      I am not sure I understand your point. The Bible does tell us to “count it all joy” when we go through various trials.

      Can you please explain what you mean a bit better?

    • Joshua Allen

      David spent a good deal of time being very distraught, and the Bible even tells us that Christ was “greatly troubled” when he revealed his betrayer.

      Maybe the idea is to orient our feelings in the right direction. Feeling sad about losing some money, for example, shows that we harbor feelings of love for the money (as Bernard of Clarivaux explained; our love for things is revealed by how we feel when we lose them). However, feeling sad about a friend who rejects Christ, would be a perfectly appropriate emotion for someone who puts Christ first.

    • Renju

      Good article, As part of a fellowship we are studying from the book of Genesis on the character of Joseph. This week (yesterday) we were looking at Gen 43:26-45:3. There we see two instances of Joseph crying or weeping.

      Joseph had emotions in his life, but he controlled his emotions, his emotions were controlled ( he ran out of Potiphers house so that he is not caught by the wrong emotions that could have raised by having intimacy with Potipher’s wife ).

      Job had emotions, Elijah had emotions sometimes they just wanted to quit their life but through that God taught them wonderful lessons.

      May God teach us and bring us closer to Him through all these things

      Love and Prayers

    • Mark

      This is such an in depth topic and I have found a wonderful resource that hits this theme perectly. It’s a book by Dr. Brian Borgman called “Feelings and Faith”. He uses the scripture to evaluate human emotions and puts them into biblical perspective. We are humans made in the image of an Emotional God. He calls us to be emotional people, yet those emotions have to be honoring to God. Feelings cannot be ignored we just need to know what God expects of us regarding our emotions. This book is so good. I am half way through now and am so impressed by the way this book is written. The topic of emotions is so very misrepresented in todays culture and this book brings feelings right back where they should be, before the throne of God. You can buy it through Amazon too.

    • Phil McCheddar

      I think negative emotions can be a good thing. If we didn’t get upset or anxious about evil, I doubt we would be motivated to resist it and overcome it. Fretting excessively about one’s own problems may be a sign of being too inward-looking. Our main grief should be provoked by God’s glory being despised and His kingdom not advancing and His people being downtrodden and unbelievers heading to eternal death. But I also think it is a natural and non-sinful part of being human that we should sometimes lament over our own problems.

      Our Lord himself experienced sorrow and distress:
      My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. (Mat.26:38)
      When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:33)
      As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. (Luke 19:41)

      Almighty God is described as being grieved:
      The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Gen.6:6, cf. 1 Sam.15:35, Jer.42:10, Ezek.6:9)

      The same man who said “Do not be anxious” to the believers at Philippi also said that he himself was “burdened down, worrying about all the churches” and that he “burned inwardly” when his converts fell away (2 Cor.11:28-29).

      If the Christian life was a continual joyride, what shallow people we would be! I have just finished reading the autobiography of a non-Christian called Eric Lomax who suffered ghastly atrocities in a Japanese POW cap in the 2nd World War. I got the impression that his experiences made him more noble, more great-hearted, and more ‘alive’ than many Christians I know (including myself) who have had a relatively comfortable ride.

    • Stuart

      The emotions aren’t wrong. Jesus felt many of them, even anger, distress, etc. It didn’t reflect a lack of faith at all, but it did show that he was being affected by what was around him.

      I believe the directives are not that we don’t experience emotion, but that we do not let it control us. Our commitment must be stronger than our wavering emotion.

      Gold withstands trial by fire, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get hot. (I’m sorry for mixing analogies, but I think the point is clear enough.)

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