Our emotions and feelings – do we just let them flow as natural expressions of who we are, or do we need to keep them in check? What do we do with the daily raft of different emotions? Our fatigue at the thought of yet another day at work? Our anger at the person who just cut in front of us? Or our joy in seeing our toddler learn a new skill?
We live in a world that celebrates an individual’s ability and right to express their emotions and heart’s desires. And at the same time, paradoxically, we live in a world where cancel culture is becoming prominent for certain views and beliefs.
How important should our feelings be?
Emotions and feelings are prominent as part of our self-expression, and it seems nowadays we can’t question someone’s feelings on a matter. For many, feelings are now so tied to my sense of who I am that they can become truth for me, they become part of my identity. Our feelings are even key in our social media communication– it’s the norm to react to people’s post and messages with emojis to describe our feelings about what was posted.
And yet the Bible tells us that ‘The heart is deceitful above all else’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
This is hard to hear in today’s world.
Of course, our feelings are given by God. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus expressing sadness, joy, frustration, empathy, sorrow, love and anger.
As such we are to not repress or ignore our feelings. However, the impact of sin in us is also seen in our emotions. I can have happiness that my friend has achieved that job promotion or happiness that they didn’t get the job promotion because I am jealous of their success.
Feelings in the midst of conflict
Emotions and feelings are a large part of conflict. When we are in conflict with someone, our emotions get stirred and they can play a significant part of our reaction to the conflict – do we head down the slope towards faking or breaking? Does our embarrassment cause us to attack, or our bitterness cause us to avoid the issue and the person? Our emotions can hinder our ability to live peaceably with others and to resolve conflict.
What do we do with our emotions when in conflict?
The Bible tells us that we must get the log out of our own eye before we approach someone with whom we are in conflict (Matthew 7:5). What do we do with our emotions in this situation? As people who are seeking to honour God in the midst of conflict, it is wise to examine our emotional reaction to what is happening.
Our heart needs to be trained and bought into alignment with what is honouring to God. For example, it is not enough to not actually murder someone but we also need to ensure we aren’t murdering in our heart. Eugene Peterson captures it well in The Message version of Matthew 5:21-22:
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’
I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.
Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.
The simple moral fact is that words kill.
Let’s instead look to see if our emotions are honouring God and if not repent. Rather than being controlled by emotion we can instead have them as a good gift from God under his control.
We have this wonderful opportunity to show the world how to not let emotions rule our responses to events. To acknowledge our emotions and repent of those which are not God honouring and encourage those that are.
To explore this further, we invite you to read The Peacemaker chapters 4 and 5 by Ken Sande.
This article was written by Ann Cunningham. Ann works as Care Pastor in an Anglican Church in Sydney. She is married to Corey and they have three daughters in late teens and early twenties. The principles of biblical peacemaking have been transforming her work in pointing people to Jesus to both strengthen their love of Jesus and restore relationships.