I’ve already said that the first reason we have emotions is so that there is a voice in creation that names some things as good and others as bad. So our emotions are, in a sense, a gift to creation. It is pleasing to God that there should be, within creation, a chorus of feelings emanating from his people celebrating that which is good and grieving that which is bad.
I suggest that the second reason for which God gave us emotions is as a gift to ourselves. Emotions add depth to what it means for us to be alive, to be in this world: We don’t just see the events that happen around us; they touch us all the way down inside. Through emotions, we become not just spectators of life, but participants, intimately connected to everything around us. When events touch us in this way, we call it a “feeling”.
So emotions are the process by which we “digest” our experience of the world, whether that experience is good or bad.
Think of it as if your heart is a balloon: The experiences and relationships in your life blow air into the balloon. When you feel emotions, that’s the air letting itself out of the balloon. It’s the balloon’s way of taking care of itself, so it doesn’t “pop”. (Please click on that. You will laugh.) And it’s something that happens over time, not instantaneously.
Let’s say something bad happens: Someone you love has passed away. This is a terrible thing, something that we instinctively know should never have to happen. A tragedy such as this does real damage to our souls. The emotional pain that you feel in this case is – surprisingly – not something to be avoided. Godly grief is actually the God-designed process by which our hearts heal from the damage that is done by evil in this world.
By living in this world, we come into contact daily with evil, brokenness, corruption, and meanness. It is as if contact with these things injects a little bit of their poison into our souls, and godly grief is the God-given way to get it out. Each tear cried contains just a bit of that poison. There is no way around the pain – we have to go through it, because the pain itself is the gift of God by which our hearts will heal.
Do you hear the echoes of Christ in these words? It is through suffering – not by avoiding it – that Christ redeemed the world. Similarly, the pain that we allow ourselves to feel for that which is broken in this world is, in a sense, redemptive. It is through this suffering that healing comes.
The same is true of anger. When we see and experience injustice in this world, our hearts fill up with anger. God gave us emotions, allowing us to “heal” from injustice by expressing the anger that it elicits in us.
(Of course, I’m not arguing that all of our emotions are godly. We have a responsibility to learn what separates godly sorrow from ungodly sorrow, righteous anger from unrighteous anger, and to learn how to deal with both kinds. I hope to address this more in future posts. But my point here is that the emotions began as good things, given to us by God, and necessary for our souls.)
Some relevant Scripture that floated through my mind during this post:
Ecclesiastes 3; 2 Corinthians 7:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13