The Bible & Emotions

John 11:35 – "Jesus wept."

This past week my wife and I took the kids to see the latest Disney/Pixar movie, Inside Out. It was a colorful and fun children’s movie [spoiler alert] emphasizing that every emotion plays an important role in life, including unpleasant and unwanted feelings. While not completely theologically accurate (what movie is?), watching the movie provided an opportunity to talk with our kids about their emotions, [spoiler alert] moving a great distance, as well as what God says about emotions. Here are 5 things about emotions that Brian Borgman wrote about in his book, Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life.

God feels and expresses emotion!

Our Creator feels and expresses the full range of emotions, and because of His holiness he does this perfectly. Consider the following: God loves and delights in His Son (Matt. 3:17), delights in justice and righteousness (Ps. 33:5), grieves and experiences sorrow (Gen. 6:5-6), feels anger (Ex. 22:22-24), is compassionate (Ex. 33:19) and loving (Jer. 31:3; Jn. 3:16).

Despite the thought that God is some kind of cold, impersonal being or force, He instead reveals that He is a dynamic being who deeply and profoundly feels, and in His holiness He perfectly responds and expresses those feelings.

Christ perfectly modeled how to use our emotions.

There are several NT passages which remind us that Jesus has given us a living example to imitate (Jn. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil 2:5; 1 Jn. 2:6).

Consider applying that principle emotionally. Jesus perfectly modeled what godly emotional responses look like in real time! Every sad tear, every angry flush of his cheek, his earnest prayer in the garden, every compassionate act, all of these demonstrate perfect emotional responses.

God’s word appeals to our mind, will and emotions.

Contrary to the perception of some, the Bible does not read like a cold legal brief. God inspired a variety of authors, with varied life experiences, skills and personalities to write different types of literature. Each literary type appeals to a different part of us. For example:

  • After more than two decades separated from his family, Joseph encountered his brothers as they attempted to purchase grain in the land of Egypt. Emotions flooded him during the meeting. When he could no longer control himself and began to weep, we are meant to weep with him (Gen. 45)!
  • When God expressed his broken heart over Israel’s unfaithfulness in Hosea 11:8, our heart should also break.
  • In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal, grateful tears should quickly fall as we read of the merciful father who lovingly forgave and welcomed his contrite, humble and hurting son (Lk. 15:11-32).

“Scripture not only speaks about emotions, it also speaks to and through our emotions. The Bible itself is emotional literature, filled with emotional expression and designed not just to communicate with our rationality but also to stir us emotionally, thus affirming our emotionality.” – Borgman

Biblically every person is broken by sin and needs to be made whole.

Every person who sins experiences its corrupting effect. It corrupts our minds (Eph. 4:17-18), enslaves our wills (Rom. 6:16) and our emotions become out of balance as we allow ourselves to be led by them (Jer. 17:9).

“Like a Picasso painting, all our parts are distorted, out of place, backwards, and usually dark. The Biblical portrait of us in our sinful state is unflattering. So much for self-esteem. The proper relationship of the emotions to the will and to the mind is twisted; it is out of border and out of proportion.” - Borgman

When we are redeemed by Jesus and begin seeking the kingdom of God, He goes to work putting everything back into alignment. We begin the process of being recreated into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). Our minds are renewed (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23), our wills are to be conformed to God’s (Mk. 3:35; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Jn. 2:17) and our emotions are realigned (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Eph. 5:1-2). We are not passive in this “remodeling project.” We are called to faithfully respond to His instruction.

God’s word instructs and holds us responsible for our emotions.

From all of the points above, we see that God cares about how we feel. He also instructs our feelings. He tells us to be joyful and rejoice (Matt. 5:12; Rom. 12:8, 12, 15). We are to forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35). We are to love earnestly (1 Pet. 1:22), as well as with brotherly love (Rom. 12:10). We are to revere/fear God (Lk. 12:5; Rom. 11:20). “Biblical fear certainly is a response to biblical thinking, but it is thinking that moves the heart, stirs the emotions, and propels us to action.”

Besides this, God commands his people to demonstrate self-control. This includes our emotions. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23), a gift of grace (2 Tim. 1:7) and pointedly commanded (Acts 24:24; 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Pet. 1:6).

How amazing that being created in His image includes the blessing of emotions, which are meant to be used to communicate and reflect what we think about life! Equally refreshing is that our emotions, broken by our sin, can be redeemed and trained to be led by His will and modeled after His Son. How refreshing that being redeemed by Christ includes having our emotional life put back together, and learning to feel about things the way God does!

Jeremy Dehut