The Emotional Life
My fourth concern is our struggle with emotions in general. Anger suffers from our more general lack of a way to deal with emotions.
Emotions. Can you trust them? Many Christians don’t think you can. This is the result of some unhelpful teaching on emotions that became pretty common in some circles. James Dobson wrote a book telling us we can’t trust our emotions. I am not going to dive into this discussion. If you want to do a deeper study on this, a very helpful, readable, and wise book is Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart by Matthew Elliott. If you want a very substantial study of emotions in the New Testament, then read Elliott’s book Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.
Today, more Christians understand that emotionally healthy spirituality, as described by Peter Scazzero (in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) is a better way for nurturing an authentic emotional life.
Emotions are not a caboose tagging on at the end of the train (see The Four Spiritual Laws by Bill Bright). Emotions are central to what it means to be human. Emotions are an essential component of the spiritual life. We are meant to encounter and experience God in our emotions. We are meant to think wisely about our emotions. And we are meant to savor our healthy emotions.
We don’t stuff emotions. We don’t neglect them. We don’t romanticize them. We don’t hype them. We don’t fixate on them. We experience them and we discover God in them. God is in all things. God is present in the experiences of life. God is present in your thought life. Your choices. Your desires. Your wants and needs. Your memories. And your emotions. That is what it means for God to be omnipresent (read Psalm 139:1-12).
When you are angry, God is present in that experience. You want to discover what God is doing and what God wants to do.
Do you realize what this means?
You don’t have to be afraid of your anger. Or ashamed of it. You don’t have to stuff it or vent it. But you do want to explore it. Understand it. Wrestle with it. And express it well. Your anger is one more occasion to draw close to God.
That is what the Psalmists do. You do see anger, as well as fear, doubt, discouragement, depression, and much more in the Psalmists. But they use all those emotional experiences as stepping stone occasions for theologizing (i.e., thinking about God) and for prayer (i.e., talking to God). They use these emotional experiences as the context for encountering God and then responding to God in emotionally healthy ways, like faith, hope, love, trust, surrender, obedience, worship, and much more.
In other words, anger, instead of pushing them away from God, becomes a catalyst to move them closer to God. But this requires self-awareness (including honesty) and high intentionality. It is not automatic. And for most of us, it is not natural. We have to learn how to pursue God with these painful emotional experiences.
I don’t hear enough guidance like this from our larger culture, and not even from our standard Christian culture. There are good voices, outliers like Scazzero and Elliot. It will take some time for those voices to seep into our crusty, rocky souls.
The next post is my final reflection (for now) about being angry with God.