Jeremy Berry - July 10, 2017
This evening, my family and I got to watch a fantastic play at Ritter Park: Beauty and the Beast. It is one my favorites and I was so excited for my daughter to see the show. At one point she turned to me and asked, “Why is the Beast so angry?” For the audience, it is both his anger and lack of self-control that make him into the frightening, semi-villain, in the first act. As you most likely know, as the story progresses, he becomes less angry. In fact, by the end of the plot, his anger is all but gone. All that exists is a vapid beast who cannot muster up the slightest bit of anger as the villagers pillage his home, hurt his life-long servants, and threaten his own life. Now this blog post is not about a play (though a movie review may be needed in the future). Rather, this post is about emotions. The story of Belle and Beast sums up what we think about emotions. There are positive emotions and negative emotions. We assume love is good and anger is bad. But is that true? Is that biblical?
I believe emotions are like coins; there are sides. As complex as emotions can be, it may be more like a 20 sided die but you get the point. Think of it this way: we are image bearers, made in the likeness of God. Our emotions are not unique to us, the creation. They are but a shadow of our Creator’s perfect, balanced emotions. It is interesting to think that God has emotions, but He does. He loves, He hates, He experiences jealousy, He has desires, He knows joy, and happiness. God is emotional. Now if you are like me the term “emotional” carries with it some negative baggage. For me, that's only because I categorize emotions as negative/positive rather than misplaced.
So when we assign emotions as only positive or negative, what are we actually doing? We are missing the point of why we are given particular emotions. It's easy to do. For instance, when we think of anger, we may think of an unhealthy manifestation of wrath. Anger can certainly be negative. Scripture tells us our God is and has been angry. There are two questions I'd like to ask: first, what makes God angry? Second, what does unrighteous anger look like?
Not to go too deep here, but to get my point across, I want to ask another question: Why does God get so angry at sin? You may be thinking, "Because He’s holy!" Now take a second and think about that response. Out of His holiness, comes anger. Anger does not have to be unhealthy. God’s anger is not a sign that He needs counseling. There is no evil that dwells in God. The Lord’s anger burns towards sin because it both separates us from Him and denies His authority in our life. Sin denies Jesus what is, at a minimum, due to Him. So, righteous anger reflects the heart of God. It is out of holiness and from a position of love that we are to experience anger. That is how we can be exhorted by scripture to be angry and not sin. However, if we're honest, our anger is often neither loving or holy.
Unrighteous anger is focused on what I think I deserve. It has no root in any biblical mandate. It is out of selfishness rather than love. Personally, I believe that unrighteous anger will manifest an ungodly wrath and vengeance that belongs to God alone. We see God in scripture pour out wrath on those who deny His authority, but we are called to love our enemies. God can choose to love His enemies, bringing us to Himself, or He can pour out His vengeance. He’s just to do so. Given my position, my past, my sin, and my failures, it would be unjust for me to condemn anyone at my hand.
Lets take anxiety! This is definitely a negative emotion, right? I have heard pastors talk about how anxiety is caused by unrepentant sin. For me, this is highly frustrating, as it is for anyone who experiences anxiety. Let me be clear, all emotions can be unhealthy, but is anxiety always wrong or caused by sin? I think of when Jesus was praying at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is about to experience the wrath of the Father. He will be beaten, mocked, and tortured to death. Knowing what is to come, Jesus asks, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” The cup spoken of here is God’s wrath. After Jesus prays, scripture tells us that he was in “agony” or “anguish.” In Matthew it is recorded that he says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Given His future, Jesus seems a bit anxious! Understandably so. Jesus was going to become sin for us.
So if God can experience anxiety, is there a righteous anxiety? Well, if Jesus is sinless, then yes!
I had a roomate who was the most apathetic human being I’ve ever met. I do not mean to be insulting...it is just an observation. He never cared about anything. There was no anxiety in him at all. Given that he hadn't paid rent, lost his job, watched his car get towed due to overdue tags, and kicked out of school…he had reason to experience some distress. Some of us, being good friends and all, tried to encourage him, shame him, make fun of him…anything to get him to see the circumstance he was in, but nothing would work. He had absolutely no anxiety.
Some things should cause us distress. If my daughter or son were terminally ill and I felt no distress, I wouldn't appear loving or holy. If a loved one is suffering from an addiction, to not feel distress is inhuman. Our distress in these circumstances actually mirrors our Creator. God is not indifferent to our pain or sin. In fact, scripture says that our sinful actions grieve God. Too many times we view holiness as transcending human emotion. I should grieve, care, cry, and have distress over people I love. Healthy anxiety does two things: first, it drives you to action. Second, it drives you to prayer. The latter is most important. Healthy anxiety shows you that you cannot do it alone or by yourself. It proves that the source of our strength has to be our God.
Before I talk about unhealthy anxiety, let me give a disclaimer. Some have medical issues that cause us to feel anxious, depressed, etc. Just as diabetes is a physical issue, not a spiritual one, the source of anxiety and depression can be a physical issue. Though for most, it is primarily a spiritual fight.
Many times, anxiety can swell when our level of comfort is challenged. It may be finances or social situations, but whatever the circumstance, our unhealthy anxiety does not draw us to our knees. Instead, it causes us to retreat. The unhealthy anxiety isolates us from being challenged and pits us against growth. In the end, it seeks the idol of comfort as its refuge rather than the Lord.
Finally I want to discuss the most misunderstood emotion, the one we mistakenly assign as good: love. It's all you need! Love has become the catch-all term to solve the problems within ourselves and around the world. There are two ways we misappropriate love. We either love others or ourselves supremely, making either one an idol.
When we love others supremely, they are doomed to fail. We place expectations on them and when they crash, not only is unjust anger poured on them, but we are crushed because our god (idol) has failed. Another way this rears its ugly head is when our idolatry of others causes us to excuse evident sin and sometimes even defend it.
When we love ourselves supremely, people become tools...merely a means to our end, which is self glorification. Our “love” is a commodity that is traded for their usefulness and once that has dried up, these people are sent away.
In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston has many "fan-girls." Probably my favorite character is an exaggerated version of unrighteous love. Gaston is selfish and in the words of Belle, “positively prime evil.” His roadies are an exaggerated version of idol worship. Their idolatry is evident (because they are cartoon characters). The problem is our own idolatry is not alway so easy to identify.
Do you manipulate others, using “love” to make your spouse or children dependent or guilt ridden? Do you forsake truth within your relationships because another's soul is not worth the price of a hard stand or a seemingly awkward conversation?
My favorite magician is Penn Jillette, an outspoken Atheist. He once said, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” An unrighteous love forsakes the good of God’s creation and more importantly God’s glory. My prayer for myself is that I stop masking or justifying unrighteous love. I pray that my love will not be used to further my brand but rather the gospel of Jesus. I want our love to be pure and point others to who Jesus is. I want to love like Jesus loved.
Scripture says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” For His glory and our good, let us love our Lord supremely so that we may love all others appropriately.
If you struggle with abnormally strong emotions or urges, first let me tell you that there is no shame in your struggle. Get help. Talk to someone, whether it is one of your pastors or professional counseling. Do not be ashamed. Isolation only increases the difficulty.