HOW TO MANAGE OUR EMOTIONS IN A HEALTHY WAY

When Marion Duckworth was in first grade, the Depression had just ended, and talking about anything related to sex especially sexual abuse was taboo. So when an older man coaxed her away from her paper dolls one afternoon and fondled her, Marion felt she had to keep her dirty secret to herself. And she did.                 

Marion didn’t tell anyone about the incident until she was 21 and engaged. Her fiancée John, was furious. He wanted to hunt the perpetrator down, but she pled with him to let it go. She insisted the man was too old to hurt anyone else. What Marion couldn’t tell John, though, was that she had suffered from flashbacks ever since the day of the abuse. She had no visual memory of the incident, but she could feel vividly the man’s repulsive touch. Any lurid or sleazy image would trigger these sickening flashbacks.                 

One afternoon, as Marion and John perused a drug store, John showed her a steamy magazine cover, disgusted by what children were regularly exposed to. Experiencing a flashback, Marion quickly agreed with him, then hurried to another part of the store to be alone. She wrote later in Today’s Christian: While I pretended to contemplate Noxema, the Holy Spirit spoke shocking words to my mind. ‘You’ll never relive these feelings again. The message rang with authority; I didn’t doubt it was God’s voice. I decided I’d know for sure this was a genuine miracle if the feelings never returned. They never did. Not once through the years had I asked God to heal that memory. It hadn’t occurred to me that He would do such a thing. I was too ashamed to talk about it to a Christian counselor much less to a holy God. So I simply tried unsuccessfully to suppress it.

From that day forward, whenever I was exposed to some image of sleaze, I reminded myself with profound gratitude of what didn’t happen. There was no flashback. Just sorrow over sin and a prayer for God’s intercession in our broken world.[i]                     

In our broken world painful things happen to people. What is tragic is the aftermath. How to handle those painful emotions. How do you handle hurt, frustration, infatuation, and anger, to name a few emotions?

One thing we forget is that God not only created us with emotions, He has them. How does God handle His emotions and what can we learn from Him? How does God handle His disappointments, hurts and frustrations with us?  Just because God loves us, does not mean we do not hurt or disappoint Him. Those we love the most are the most capable of stirring various emotions in us. They are often the ones that can cause the greatest pain. Knowing how we often fail God, how does He handle His emotions? Reading from the Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, I was confronted with this powerful picture of how God handles His emotions.

The history of the nation of Israel was one of continual rebellion. In spite of God’s incredible grace and patience, He eventually allows the consequences of sin to discipline their sinful decisions. The ultimate result of the sinful actions of the nation of Israel caused dispersion and exile. 

One of the prophets who was taken into captivity by the Babylonians was Ezekiel. Though the nation had been conquered, it had not been initially destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar placed a vassal king on the throne to govern the land, while taking the leadership structure apart. Much of the nobility had been taken captive. In Ezekiel 20, those now living in Babylon were wondering what God was about to do. Would God quickly restore and return the people to their land? Reports from Jerusalem suggested that many were prophesying of that very thing. So they came to Ezekiel, to inquire of God. What God had to say through Ezekiel was not what they expected or wanted to hear.

God knew the condition of their soul, that they lacked real sincerity and repentance. They did not seem to grasp that it was because of their sin that their nation was being disciplined. All they wanted was to have the blessings of the covenant restored. Ezekiel’s message confronted them not only with their failure, but the failure of the nation throughout its history. Ezekiel relates how the history of the nation was one of continual disregard for God which led to sin. In one of the greatest moments of betrayal, while Moses was receiving the law from God upon the Mountain, the people under Aaron fashioned golden calves to represent God and perverted themselves. Listen to how Eugene Peterson translates this text revealing clearly the nature of God’s grace in spite of their sinfulness. 

“At that time I told them, ‘Get rid of all the vile things that you’ve become addicted to. Don’t make yourselves filthy with the Egyptian no-god idols. I alone am God, your God.

‘But they rebelled against me, wouldn’t listen to a word I said. None got rid of the vile things they were addicted to. They held on to the no-gods of Egypt as if for dear life. I seriously considered inflicting my anger on them in force right there in Egypt. Then I thought better of it. I acted out of who I was, not by how I felt. And I acted in a way that would evoke honor, not blasphemy, from the nations around them, nations who had seen me reveal myself by promising to lead my people out of Egypt. And then I did it: I led them out of Egypt into the desert.’[ii]

Despite their sinfulness, God forgave, then blessed and delivered them. He did not deal with them according to how He felt. His decision was based on His character, rather than His emotions.

How often this is the very place where we fail. We are an emotionally driven culture. Things today seemed less restrained. People are expressing themselves in unhealthy ways and pain is the result. For others, there is a growing suppression of emotions. Those who suppress their emotions are walking time bombs waiting to explode. All that is needed is some sort of triggering event. Often the response seems excessive and uncharacteristic of the person.

How should we handle our emotions? Since we are made in the image of God, we need to understand the nature of our emotions. Emotions in and of themselves are not wrong, it is what we do with them that causes blessing or sinful actions.  God has emotions. If we want to learn the best way to deal with our emotions, then we need to learn from God. There are basically three things we can do with our emotions: (1) Express them; (2) Suppress them; or (3) address them. What do I mean by addressing our emotions? We need to come to terms with our emotions, but that doesn’t mean we act on how we feel. 

Here in our text, it states that God acted out of who He is, not how He feels. Emotions are only a part of who we are. They should not determine or define who we are. From this passage we discover some things about God and how He handles emotions. There are three things about handling our emotions in a healthy way.

THE FIRST THING WE DISCOVER ABOUT HANDLING OUR EMOTIONS IN A HEALTHY WAY IS THAT WE SHOULD NOT SUPPRESS THEM

God does not deny how He feels, but he does reveal to us in Scripture how he feels and what he does about them. We read in various places in the Scriptures the way in which God expresses His emotions in a healthy way in a difficult and painful situation. In Genesis, it states that God was grieved that He made man because of how great man’s wickedness was.

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and his heart was deeply troubled.[iii]

Here we see how God emotionally suffers when we sin. It states that God regretted, in another translation it reads, was grieved and that his heart was deeply troubled. This is an emotional description.

In the Ezekiel text we read that God was angry with His people. If God is angry and God does not sin, we can safely say that the emotion of anger is not sinful, rather it is how we express our anger that determines if we sin or not.

Notice the apostle Paul understood that anger is a God-given emotion. However, we need to handle that emotion properly.

…in your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.[iv]

There are some things we need to get angry about. Anger is a great motivation to deal with life’s injustices and inequalities. When people are being abused or taken advantage of, people who are angry about it are more likely to do something about it. There is nothing worse than apathy in those situations. Indifference, apathy, and a lack of involvement, even if it is simply prayer, is a sin.

Dr. Neil Clark Warren in his book, “Make Anger Your Ally: Harnessing Our Most Baffling Emotion,” states:

Anger is a physical state of readiness. When we are angry, we are prepared to act. Physiologically, what happens is this: more adrenaline is secreted, more sugar is released, our heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises, and the pupils of our eyes open wide. We are highly alert.  …anger is simply preparedness and power.”

He goes on to say: “The term ‘anger’ often has negative connotations in people’s minds because it is mistakenly linked with ‘aggression.’ …Aggression is a behavior, and it is intended to threaten or injure the security or self-esteem of the victim. It means to go against, ‘to assault,’ ‘to attack.’[v]

Anger may start us to action, but it cannot be the driving force in our lives. There is nothing more damaging than allowing anger to be the primary emotion in our life. Many psychologists believe that depression is often a form of repressed anger. In other words, people are angry but don’t know of a healthy way to deal with it and therefore repress it within. They suppress it and then it expresses itself in emotional pain like depression. For others, anger can cause physical expressions like arthritis or other physical sicknesses. Let me make a qualifying statement: Not all depression is a result of suppressed anger, nor are physical ailments a result of suppressed anger. However, some of it is.

Often anger is there because of unresolved issues where a person has been violated or shamed and they have been powerless to do anything about it. Folks, one of the great liberating truths is the power of forgiveness in order to be delivered from this kind of painful emotion. That is a healthy way of addressing our emotion of anger when we have been hurt or violated. We need to forgive.

God acknowledges His anger but does not respond in anger. Anger is often a feeling of being hurt or neglected. Here God decides that His response to Israel’s sin is to fulfill His promises.  He does what is good despite their evil. Why? God is concerned about how this will affect others. God is more concerned about revealing Himself to others, the surrounding nations, than to destroy Israel because of her sins.

The true measure of a person is how they respond to life’s injustices and challenges. When God could find no basis in them for extending to them His mercy and grace, he did it solely for His name’s sake, that is, for His own glory. …If God had poured out His wrath on His people, though they warranted such action by their multiplied transgressions against Him, the heathen could well have concluded according to their reasonings that God was unable to deliver His nation from their enemies.[vi]

Here in Ezekiel, we find that God attributes this rationale to Himself. When we read the incident from Exodus 32, it seems that Moses made this his prayerful reasoning for God not to destroy the nation.

But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. ‘LORD,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

Then the LORD relented…[vii]

Do you believe that Moses is more compassionate than God? I’m convinced that God placed this thought in the heart of Moses to reveal God’s own nature. That though He was angry, He did not act on what he felt. The dialogue between Moses and God gives us a window into the heart of God.

THE SECOND THING WE DISCOVER ABOUT HANDLING OUR EMOTIONS IN A HEALTHY WAY IS NOT EXPRESSING THEM APART FROM REFLECTION

We need to exercise self-control. God does not respond to things apart from being consistent with who He is. God does not react to things, He responds to them. His emotions are not driving His decisions. He considers the effect of His actions. This is how we need to respond to the situations we experience, with self-control and thought. 

A talkative woman once tried to justify the criticalness of her tongue by saying, ‘It passes; it is done quickly’. To which the famous evangelist Billy Sunday replied, ‘So does a shotgun blast.’ Such is the action of a critical, angry tongue that it leaves devastation in its wake.[viii]

He didn’t act out of His emotions, but neither did He repress them, rather He communicated them in a healthy way. He communicated His displeasure. God warns because He knows that our sin will prove destructive to ourselves and others. Here in our text, we find a challenge because of the unfaithfulness of the nation toward Him. They had violated their covenant agreement with God.

A. When had Israel demonstrated idolatry in the wilderness?  

It is obvious that God is speaking about the golden calf incident. That incident is recorded first in Exodus 32. After delivering the nation of Israel from slavery and revealing Himself to them on Mt. Sinai, Moses had gone up the mountain. However, he was gone for forty days receiving the law. It’s while Moses is gone that we pick up the account, including the attitudes and actions of the people.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’[ix]

What drove these people to embrace idols? It was possible that they were motivated by fear.  They ask the questions: “Where is Moses? Is he coming back? What are we going to do now?” Another driving factor was impatience. “Where is Moses? How long are we going to be camped here?” Impatience has led many a good person down the wrong road. Notice their comments:  “…Come, make us gods who will go before us.” They attributed their deliverance to a man, rather than to the Invisible God “…as for this Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Here was a people trying to comprehend that there is only one God. Before Judaism there was no monotheistic concept. Aside from our first father, Adam, most of our ancestors were idolaters. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. However, there were individuals whom God revealed Himself to. Abraham was one such man. 

The temptation in the wilderness was to fall into the pattern of the culture around them. The temptation for us is to follow the path of our society and culture, to embrace the gods of our neighbors: the god of money, the god of power and prestige.

So the One who had delivered the Israelites from slavery was soon abandoned in favor of an image made from human hands. Before we criticize them to severely, we need to be aware of our own propensity toward idolatry, which is often looking to what our world offers rather than to what God promises. 

B. How do we know that God’s anger was justified?  

God knows that idolatry always corrupts us as people.

Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.[x]

They had a corrupt understanding of God. Is that not one expression of idolatry, to have a distorted concept of God? The problem with idols in our lives is that it leads to sinful behavior. 

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.[xi]

When sin is in control of our lives, we have lost control. The apostle Paul describes it this way.

Notice the contrast that the apostle Paul paints when God’s Spirit is in control in our lives. The result is a very different life. One of the characteristics of the Spirit of love ruling in our lives is that we are gentle and have self-control.

But the fruit [result] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.[xii]

In other words, a person controlled by God’s Spirit is a person whose emotions are under control.

THE FINAL THING WE DISCOVER ABOUT HANDLING OUR EMOTIONS IN A HEALTHY WAY IS THAT WE ADDRESS THEM

God does not suppress, nor does He allow His emotions to be expressed apart from His nature and character. He does not deny His feelings, as we read of their existence. What God does is address his emotions in light of who He is.

I acted out of who I was, not by how I felt (Italics mine). And I acted in a way that would evoke honor, not blasphemy.[xiii]

I remember reading of “a little English girl who was doing her lesson which had to do with the royal family. As she studied the genealogical chart in the book, she became aware of the astounding fact that she was next in line to the throne! At first she wept, and then she looked up at her tutor and said, ‘I will be good!’ The fact that little Victoria would one day be queen motivated her to live on a higher level.[xiv]

A. How can we address our emotions in a healthy, biblical way toward others?

Consider the Psalmists. We can first of all bring our emotions to God in prayer. He already knows how we feel. We will not shock Him. Listen to the various situations and emotional state of the Psalmist. Listen to the frustration and disappointment even directed toward God that is expressed to Him.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever. How long will you hide your face from me.[xv]

Here is someone who is disappointed with God’s silence. They plead for God’s help.

B. Or how about the anger the Psalmist feels toward their Babylonians captors?

Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you according to what you have done to us-

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.[xvi]

We get a sense of anger and pain in those remarks. But notice whom these remarks are addressed to: they are addressed to God. But how were they to treat the Babylonians while they were in captivity? Listen to words of Jeremiah.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.[xvii]

Jeremiah tells them to seek the good, the peace and prosperity of the city that they are living in. That sounds a lot like the words of Jesus in how we should treat our enemies. We may feel like wringing their necks, but because of who we are as God’s children, we need to act differently.  

But I tell you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.[xviii]

C. How can we address the emotional issues that cause us to struggle in personal despair?

Not only are we to speak to God how we feel, but we also need to speak to ourselves what God has to say. Self-talk. We need to focus on God’s goodness and promises even though outwardly and yes even inwardly we may feel distressed. 

Why my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.[xix]

If we do not win the battle within, we lose the battle happening around us. If we do not handle what is happening within us, we will not be able to handle the challenges that life presents to us. 

Cain was jealous of his brother Abel. God in his grace challenged Cain because of his attitude and emotional state.

Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? [unjustified emotion] Why is your face downcast? 

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.[xx]

Who here is then responsible for their emotions? God says that Cain is responsible to deal with his emotions. If he does not address them in the right way, then we can expect a sinful response. That is exactly what happens.

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.[xxi]

Cain battled with his sinful attitudes and lost. What was the result? He murdered his brother.  What emotions does God want us to master in our lives? Jealousy? Envy? Anger? Hurt? Disappointment? Unforgiveness? Lust? Confess your feelings to God. Ask for His help. Speak God’s words into your situation. Stand on His promises. Often our emotional responses are an expression of discontentment.

Paul explains that he learned the secret of being content in every situation both when it was favorable and unfavorable. What was the answer?

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.[xxii] 

1. How do we manage our emotions: suppress, express or address?

2. What emotions in our lives seem to be controlling us?

3. How does the Holy Spirit empower us to control our emotions?

4. What kind of a difference will managing our emotions make in our relationships with others?

5. How does God’s example in dealing with His emotions help us deal with our emotions? https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/12/04/19/20/girl-1076998_640.jpg


[i]     Adapted from Marion Duckworth, “Stolen Innocence,” Today’s Christian, (May/June 2006).

[ii]    Eugene Peterson, Message, “Ezekiel 20,” (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 2002), 1520.

[iii]    Genesis 6:5-6, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iv]    Ephesians 4:26.

[v]     Dr. Neil Clark Warren in his book, “Make Anger Your Ally: Harnessing Our Most Baffling Emotion,” (United States: Double Day & Co., 1983), 102.

[vi]    Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, (Chicago, Il: Moody Press, 1969), 109.

[vii]   Exodus 32:11-12, 14.

[viii] Michael Green, Ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Book House, 1982), 378.

[ix]    Exodus 32:1.

[x]     Exodus 32:7.

[xi]    Exodus 32:25.

[xii]   Galatians 5:22.

[xiii] Eugene Peterson, Message, Ezekiel 20, 1520.

[xiv]   Michael Green, Ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 54.

[xv]   Psalm 13:1.

[xvi]   Psalm 137:8-9.

[xvii] Jeremiah 29:7.

[xviii] Luke 6:27-28.

[xix]   Psalm 43:5.

[xx]   Genesis 4:6-7.

[xxi]   Genesis 4:8.

[xxii] Philippians 4:13.

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