Mind & Meaning

Who is in Charge of Your Emotions?

Human beings experience a range of emotions everyday. Typically, an external event triggers an emotional response, which prompts us to take some sort of action. Though most psychologists view emotions entirely apart from the Divine, Christians know that God created us as emotional beings. Since our emotions are part of our nature, which is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), why do they so often seem to lead us astray? If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, you might sense that you are powerless in the face of emotions. To the contrary, God has equipped you with the internal ability to appropriately deal with your emotions with His help.

To start, we must establish a fundamental truth: you cannot be human without your emotions! Your emotions are a physiological response to your external circumstances, which means that they are neither good nor bad. In seasons of depression or anxiety, unchecked emotions can cause us to make poor choices, which might lead us to the false impression that emotions are bad. Your emotions are just part of who you are as a human being—they are as fundamental to your humanness as your heartbeat. The good news is that there is a connection between your emotional and spiritual health! In his work, Spiritual Emotions, Robert C. Roberts says that emotions can be shaped, or determined, in their internal nature, by the concepts and narratives of grace (Roberts, 9). As with all aspects of our lives, our emotions can be submitted to the Lordship of Christ, who is sovereign over all things.

Chip Dodd, author of the famous work on spirituality and emotions, The Voice of the Heart, identifies eight basic emotions: hurt, loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, shame, guilt, and gladness. According to Dodd, each of these emotions has a “redeemed” reaction. For example, hurt leads to healing, loneliness leads to intimacy, and fear awakens us to danger and begins wisdom (Dodd, 34). Each of these emotions, which are active and alive in every human being, is mentioned specifically in Scripture. Joshua mentions fear (Josh. 1:9), the author of Ecclesiastes discusses sadness (Eccl. 3:4), Paul references anger (Eph. 4:26), David points to gladness (Psalm 30:1-12), the Proverbs speak of hurt (Prov. 14:13), God Himself talks about shame in the Garden (Gen. 3:10), the book of Hebrews alludes to guilt (Heb. 9:14), and the Psalms speak of loneliness (Psalm 25:16). Clearly God is distinctly aware of human emotion, since He did not exclude a single one from the Scriptures!

Because we know that God cares for our emotional journey, we can offer our emotions to Him. Our emotional responses often direct us to a deeper spiritual reality in our lives. Too often, we treat our emotions as separate from God, when in reality they are part of God’s good design for us. In order to be genuinely in charge of our emotions, we must learn to experience them with the Father. When we experience emotion, it is helpful to walk through a processing activity with God. First, we must name our emotion. Why do I feel the way I feel? What exactly is it that I am feeling? Second, we must allow the emotion to take place in us, knowing that it is the language that God chose to communicate our inner truth to us. While we experience the emotion, we should do so in God’s company. Finally, we must ask God what need is surfacing from this emotional experience, and seek His help to respond appropriately. By walking through these three steps, we become more equipped to control our responses to emotional situations. Through obedience to the Father, empathy from Scripture, and careful consideration through prayer, we are equipped to truly become in charge of our emotions.